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Peru Selects Its Third President in a Week Amid Massive Protest

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  • Peru’s interim president Manuel Merino resigned Sunday after only five days in office.
  • Merino took on the role after Congress impeached President Martin Vizcarra over corruption allegations that are still being investigated by prosecutors.
  • Vizcarra’s impeachment led to massive protests nationwide, which sparked accusations of police brutality and repression.
  • On Saturday, during clashes with police, 94 people were injured and two were killed.
  • On Monday, Peru’s Congress has chosen Francisco Sagasti as interim-President until new elections are held in April 2021.

Peru Embroiled in Massive Protests

Peru’s Congress named Centrist politician Francisco Sagasti the country’s new interim-president on Monday, making him Peru’s third president in just one week.

The announcement followed the resignation of interim-President Manuel Merino, who stepped down Sunday after just five days in office.

Merino, formerly the presiding member of Congress, faced widespread backlash during his short-lived presidency, though the outrage has more to do with who Merino was replacing.

Merino took the position after President Martin Vizcarra was impeached on Nov. 9 over “permanent moral incapacity” stemming from corruption allegations. More specifically, Vizcarra is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands in bribes while governor over seven years ago.

At the time of the accusation, Vizcarra denied the allegations, saying they are a response to his new policies which intended to fight corruption in Peru’s government. He told reporters, “Every time you try to defeat the virus of corruption, it defends itself by attacking. When you hit powerful interests, they don’t stay calm.”

Vizcarra has long had a contentious relationship with Congress. In 2018, he took on the role of president following the resignation of President Pablo Kuczynski, who was faced his own corruption impeachment.

Just a year later, in 2019, Vizcarra fought with Congress and dissolved the body, pending new elections. In response, Congress declared Vizcarra unfit for office. The crisis was eventually settled and Vizcarra held onto the presidency.

In September 2020, Vizcarra narrowly escaped impeachment after a push by opposition members. Just a month later he faced renewed corruption allegations. The allegations stemming from his time as governor are still being investigated by prosecutors, but Congress still overwhelming voted to remove Vizcarra from office by a vote of 105 to 25.

While his first impeachment was narrowly avoided because of partisan fractures, Vizcarra proved less popular amid Congress because of his alleged mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and economy.

Peru is among the leading nations in total cases, as well as per-capita deaths from the virus.

Vizcarra continues to deny any allegations of corruption but accepted the impeachment. On the day of his resignation, he took to Twitter to thank his supporters.

Protests Erupt for Vizcarra

Support among everyday Peruvians was something Vizcarra never lacked. The centrist president had proven extremely popular, despite Congress’ consistent claims of corruption. In fact, Vizcarra’s impeachment has led to a week of constant protest throughout the country.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Lima and other major cities every day since Vizcarra left office, demanding his return.

In general, protesters labeled Congress’ moves to remove him from office an illegal coup. The protests have been largely peaceful, although police interaction with protesters turned increasingly violent as the past week progressed. There have even been accusations by Human Rights Watch and the Ombudsman of Peru of police brutality and misconduct.

Tensions culminated on Saturday when clashes between police and protesters left at least 94 wounded and two dead. By Sunday morning, eight ministers had resigned from office over the growing crisis. By Sunday afternoon, interim-President Merino resigned from office.

“I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of the victims who died during the protest, where citizens practiced their right to liberty and went out to the streets to protest,” Merino said in a speech to the nation. “All of Peru is mourning. Nothing can justify a legitimate protest which ends with the deaths of Peruvians.”

“I want to announce to all the country that I present my irrevocable resignation of the post of the Presidency of the Republic,” he continued. “I call for peace and unity for all Peruvians. I will do the best I can to guarantee the Constitutional term. Peru deserves to move forward.”

Merino also added that every member of the cabinet offered their resignation, but in order to maintain some form of stability in the executive office, he denied their request.

The news of Merino’s resignation was met with celebrations on the streets of Peru, with many hoping this opens the possibility of a Vizcarra return.

Vizcarra himself was critical of the role Congress would play in deciding another president, who according to the Associated Press, said “It can’t be that the institution that got us into this political crisis, that has for five days paralyzed Peru, with deaths, is going to give us a solution, choosing the person who they best see fit.”

It’s unclear if Sagasti’s appointment to President will quell the unrest in Peru.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (NPR) (Associated Press)

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100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says

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Image via Pixabay
  • On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
  • Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard. 
  • The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.

Some Americans Left Behind

A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.

When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.

While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.

On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”

“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.

Overlapping Jurisdiction

The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.

The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.

The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.

While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.

While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.

Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.

See what others are saying: (Engadget) (The Verge) (Gizmodo)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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