Weekly Newscast – February 13, 2014

stefanogiantin via flickr

Kai Richter: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Kai Richter.

Rachel Yang: And I’m Rachel Yang. Russia has rejected a United States-backed draft resolution for humanitarian aid to Syria. Instead, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that his country’s draft focuses on condemning terrorism. The Syrian opposition has long been wary of the word “terrorism”, which the government often defines as any armed resistance to its rule, including by groups supported by opposition delegates. Russia’s draft also leaves out plans for a transitional government, a key section championed by the United Nations mediator at these talks. Violence in Syria has spiked since talks began in Geneva three weeks ago. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that nearly five thousand people have died in that time–the highest death toll since the conflict began.

Richter: This week, representatives from Taiwan and China held their first direct talks since the states split after the 1949 civil war. At the meeting, the representatives agreed to maintain regular, formal communication. Since the split, the Chinese government has kept missiles pointed at Taiwan and has threatened to attack if Taiwan declares formal independence. The vast majority of Taiwan’s inhabitants still, however, oppose reunification with China. Recent developments may suggest a better relationship for the future. President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008 in Taiwan and eased restrictions on cross-strait travel. In that time, trade has doubled between the island and the mainland. However, Ma has become increasingly unpopular at home, which may make additional progress difficult before the upcoming elections in 2016.

Yang: A military transport plane crashed in a mountainous eastern province of Algeria earlier this week. 77 passengers were killed and the only survivor remains in critical condition. The aircraft was carrying military personnel and their families to the northern city of Constantine when it crashed. The Algerian Defense Ministry cited, quote, “unfavorable weather conditions and storms accompanied by snow in the region” as the cause of the crash. The recently uncovered black box of the plane containing the pilot’s final communications may shed more light on the events leading up the accident. Earlier this week, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared a three-day mourning period to commemorate the victims of the tragedy.

Richter: According to a report released this week by the Human Rights Watch, Sudanese and Egyptian police forces have colluded with human trafficking groups to kidnap and extort Eritrean refugees over the last ten years. Hundreds, if not thousands, of refugees fleeing their oppressive home government have been kidnapped, tortured, raped, and killed by traffickers in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. Despite attention to this issue by numerous human rights groups, Egyptian officials have arrested only one person for participation in the attacks–an accomplice of a trafficker. Officials in the Egyptian government stated that they were attempting to control crime in the Sinai peninsula, but human rights activists have noted that the number of trafficking victims has only increased in recent months.

Yang: Earlier this week, representatives from the United Nations and Amnesty International declared the mass Muslim exodus from the Central African Republic an ethnic cleansing. The country’s minority Muslim population has recently been the target of violence by Christian militias. Many of these militias have blamed the Muslim community for the rise of the Seleka rebel group, which came to power in March 2013 and committed abuses against Christian citizens. Human rights experts have expressed fear that the discrimination against Muslims will soon snowball into a full-blown genocide. 2.5 million Muslim individuals have been displaced, and attacks against those who remain have only grown more common. Interim President Catherine Samba Panza, however, rejected the ethnic cleansing label. Instead, she suggested that the, quote, “security problem” be solved by increasing the international peacekeeping presence in the country.

Richter: Anti-government protests in Venezuela turned violent this week. Security forces fired rubber bullets at student demonstrators in the capital city of Caracas. The protest marks the latest in a string of opposition efforts against Nicholas Maduro’s government. The goal of the opposition efforts, according to opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, is to gain support for a 2016 referendum to bring down Maduro’s administration. In particular, Lopez cited rampant corruption, crime, and supply shortages as the key failings motivating the protests. Since Maduro entered office, Venezuela has had rising crime rates and significant economic problems, with a scarcity of staple products and an annual inflation rate over 50%. Last year’s elections signaled a deeply divided Venezuelan public, with Maduro winning by only one and a half percent of the vote.

Yang: Protests and burnings of government buildings began in Bosnia and Herzegovina last week in response to the sale of four state-owned companies to private owners that resulted in mass layoffs. Protests were precipitated by unemployment rates hovering around 40 percent, as well as widespread reports of regional government corruption. The average monthly Bosnian salary is less than 350 euros, while local parliamentarians make up to 3,500 euros–the highest salary in the region. Although some reporters have characterized the conflict as ethnic, most indicators point to socioeconomic disparity. Over the past week, protests of local governments have occurred in dozens of cities across the country, and some reports have even deemed the movement “the Bosnian Spring.”

Richter: A 3-year old girl from Kabul was diagnosed with polio this week, marking the first appearance of the disease in Afghanistan in twelve years. The case has since been traced back to neighboring Pakistan, where the virus is far more widespread, particularly in the tribal border areas. Today, there are just three countries in the world in which polio is endemic–Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. In Pakistan, polio vaccination became highly politicized after Dr. Shakil Afridi used a vaccination campaign as his cover for helping the United States Central Intelligence Agency locate Osama Bin Laden. In recent years, Taliban militants in the country have made frequent attacks on vaccination teams, accusing them of working with American spies. In response to the diagnosis, Unicef, the Ministry of Public Health, and the World Health Organization have launched a campaign to vaccinate tens of thousands of children in Kabul to prevent further spread of the disease.

Yang: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Nora Bailin, Anita Desai, Amy DiPierro, Joelle Hageboutros, Sabrina Merold, Dylan Okabe-Jawdat, Jerry Qin, Will Sullivan, Tyler Welsh, Zoey Werbin, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Rachel Yang.

Richter: And I’m Kai Richter. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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