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Nationalist Sinn Fein Party Wins Northern Ireland Election for First Time in History

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Irish unification remains a long way off, but the election may cause a political crisis within the governments of Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, and even the European Union.


A Historic Vote

For the first time in Northern Ireland’s 101-year history, the nationalist Sinn Fein party won the largest number of seats in the regional assembly.

The party downplayed its nationalist aspirations during the election campaign and focused on the increased cost of living instead, but leaders now say a plan to seek unification with the Republic of Ireland is in the works.

Supporters filled the room with cheers when the results were announced.

Sinn Fein held on to 27 out of 90 seats, while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports remaining in the United Kingdom, took 25.

The Centrist Alliance Party, which doesn’t align with nationalists or unionists, saw a surge in support in this election, claiming 17 seats.

“Today ushers in a new era, which I believe presents us all with an opportunity to reimagine relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, on the basis of equality, and on the basis of social justice,” said Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill just before the final vote tally. “Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds, my commitment is to make politics work.”

“I don’t think people fully understand the consequences of Sinn Fein’s success,” commentator Piers Morgan wrote on Twitter. “We’re witnessing the impending and I think now inevitable collapse of the United Kingdom.”

With the largest plurality of seats, Sinn Fein can now nominate a first minister, but to do so, the DUP must also choose a deputy first minister.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement created a mandatory power-sharing system in which the posts of first minister and deputy first minister are split between the largest nationalist party and the largest unionist party. The purpose of the rule was to force both sides to cooperate.

But the DUP has signaled that it may refuse to nominate a deputy first minister, needed to form an executive, and if that doesn’t happen in the next six months then the administration could collapse and trigger new elections.

The DUP has said it won’t form a new government at least until the Northern Ireland Protocol is abandoned. The Protocol, established early last year, imposed post-Brexit customs and border checks on some goods coming into Northern Ireland from the U.K.

In February this year, the DUP first minister resigned in protest over the Protocol, and the executive has remained dysfunctional since then.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said in a statement he will announce this week whether he will return to the government.

The United States, the Republic of Ireland, and the U.K.’s Secretary for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, have all urged the DUP to restore the power-sharing system.

Will Ireland Leave the U.K.?

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald told CNN that unification with the Republic of Ireland is a possibility.

“I think that within this decade we will witness a constitutional change on the island of Ireland and it is my absolute determination that that change is entirely democratic, entirely peaceful, and orderly,” she said.

She added that planning for a unity referendum could come within the next five years.

Sinn Fein, however, cannot unilaterally call a referendum on unification. Only Secretary Lewis can do that, as stipulated by the Good Friday Agreement.

In a statement Sunday, Lewis categorically ruled out that possibility.

The agreement lays out the conditions under which a referendum can occur, saying that the secretary must first decide that a majority of people might vote for it if it were held. But the definition of “majority” is ambiguous, with experts suggesting a combination of metrics including election results, opinion polls, qualitative research and more would be required.

Many also worry that a premature unity referendum could end up like Brexit, with an unprepared government struggling to design plans agreeable to all parties in a potential agreement.

When the Republic of Ireland held a referendum to legalize abortion in 2018, specific legislation had already been prepared so that voters knew exactly what they were voting on.

A History of Violence

In 1921, the British government granted Ireland independence to put an end to an anti-colonial war there, but the majority-protestant north opted out, preferring to remain part of the U.K.

In the 1960s, taking inspiration from the civil rights movement in the U.S., Irish nationalists began to protest anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Through the 1990s, nationalist militants led by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) waged guerilla warfare against the government, killing hundreds in car bombings and other violent attacks.

The fighting mostly ceased with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which the Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to keep intact by making the border between post-Brexit Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland porous while still respecting EU trade rules.

If the U.K. abandons the Protocol, then the Brexit deal will be thrown into crisis, but if it doesn’t abandon the Protocol, then the DUP may hold Northern Ireland in limbo.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The Guardian) (BBC)

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Leaked Documents and Photos Give Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Xinjiang’s Detention Camps

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The so-called vocational schools, which China claims Uyghurs enter willingly as students, oversee their detainees with watchtowers armed with machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as guards instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.


Detained for Growing a Beard

The BBC and a consortium of investigative journalists have authenticated and published a massive trove of leaked documents and photographs exposing the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims in unprecedented detail.

According to the outlet, an anonymous source hacked several police computer servers in the northwestern Xinjiang province, then sent what has been dubbed the Xinjiang police files to the scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz, who gave them to reporters.

Among the files are more than 5,000 police photographs of Uyghurs taken between January and July 2018, with accompanying data indicating at least 2,884 of them were detained.

Some of the photos show guards standing nearby with batons.

The youngest Uyghur photographed was 15 at the time of their detention, and the oldest was 73.

One document is a list titled “Relatives of the Detained,” which contains thousands of people placed under suspicion for guilt by association with certain family members. It includes a woman whose son authorities claimed had “strong religious leanings” because he didn’t smoke or drink alcohol. He was jailed for ten years on terrorism charges.

The files also include 452 spreadsheets with information on more than a quarter of a million Uyghurs, some of whom were detained retroactively for offenses committed years or even decades ago.

One man was jailed for ten years in 2017 because he “studied Islamic scripture with his grandmother” for a few days in 2010.

Authorities targeted hundreds more for their mobile phone use, like listening to “illegal lectures” or downloading encrypted apps. Others were punished for not using their phones enough, with “phone has run out of credit” listed as evidence they were trying to evade digital surveillance.

One man’s offense was “growing a beard under the influence of religious extremism.”

The Most Militarized Schools in the World

The files include documents outlining conditions inside Xinjiang’s detention camps, or so-called “Vocational Skills Education and Training Centers.”

Armed guards occupy every part of the facilities, with machine guns and sniper rifles stationed on watchtowers. Police protocols instruct guards to shoot to kill any so-called “students” trying to escape if they fail to stop after a warning shot.

Any apprehended escapees are to be taken away for interrogation while camp management focuses on “stabilizing other students’ thoughts and emotions.”

The BBC used the documents to reconstruct one of the camps, which data shows holds over 3,700 detainees guarded by 366 police officers who oversee them during lessons.

If a “student” must be transferred to another facility, the protocols say, police should blindfold them, handcuff them and shackle their feet.

Dr. Zenz published a peer-reviewed paper on the Xinjiang police files, in which he found that more than 12% of Uyghur adults were detained over 2017 and 2018.

“Scholars have argued that political paranoia is a common feature of atrocity crimes,” he wrote. “Here, it is suggested that the pre-emptive internment of large numbers of ordinary citizens can be explained as a devolution into political paranoia that promotes exaggerated threat perceptions.”

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Newsweek) (The Guardian)

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Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China

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Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.


Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion

During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.

A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”

“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.

Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.

Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.

The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.

Biden Sparks Controversy

The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.

“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”

Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.

Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”

In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.

Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.

“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”

“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”

“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”

Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.

The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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