- 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)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.