NORTHERNPRESS ONLINE

Subtitle

LES RUSSES DÉBARQUENT

Voilà des mois que l'Occident craignait une invasion de troupes russes en Ukraine, mais début janvier c'est chez un autre voisin, le géant kazakh, que des troupes ont été déployées, une expédition à l'invitation d'un président débordé. En effet le début de l'année a commencé avec un coup d'éclat au Kazakhstan lorsque le dégel du prix du carburant a provoqué de violentes manifestations qui ont pris la ville principale et plusieurs autres municipalités d'assaut, entrainant la chute du gouvernment.

Après quelques interventions sans conséquences, le président Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev, ré-élu l'an dernier, a contacté son homologue russe afin d'obtenir de l'assistance afin de mater la révolte. Car même après avoir accepté la démission du gouvernement, nommé un nouveau premier ministre et ordonné un nouveau gel des prix, les violences se sont encore répandues à traves le pays, les protestataires s'en prenant aux forces de l'ordre et à plusieurs édifices, dont les banques et autres commerces.

C'est un choc dans ce pays autoritaire qui a réussi à attirer des milliards en investissements étrangers grâce à sa relative stabilité dans la région.  Tokaïev, qui a pris les rênes du pouvoir suite à la démission choc de l'homme fort Nursultan Nazarbaïev il y a presque trois ans, a accusé des 'provocateurs" étrangers et "extrémistes" de déstabiliser l'ancienne république soviéti-que d'Asie centrale de 18 millions d'habitants, les bouc émissaires privilégiés par les dictateurs.

Tokaïev s'est en premier lieu engagé à mettre fin à la crise en proposant de nouvelles réformes en vue d'une "transformation politique" du pays afin de clore "cette sombre période dans l'histoire du Kazakhstan." Dans le passé ce dernier a beaucoup parlé du besoin de réformes afin de créer un environnement encoura-geant la "compétition politique", mais sans y donner suite, et la patience de ses sujets semble avoir atteint ses limites.

Le pays reste sous l'emprise d'un parti unique alors qu'internet et les communications étaient  plongés dans le noir pendant la crise, le caviardage électronique de plusieurs régimes tyranniques. Les marches initialement pacifiques ont vite dégénéré en violence lorsque les forces de l'ordre et édifices publics ont été pris pour cible, notamment le bureau du procureur d'Almaty. Des manifestants ont par ailleurs pénétré dans le bâtiment du gouvernment d'Aktioubé, dans l'ouest du pays.

"Les citoyens sont surpris par la vitesse à laquelle la situation est devenue violente, témoigne un jeune Kazakh expatrié à France 24. Nous sommes très choqués. Nous avons peur de perdre notre indépendance" et que des pays voisins, dont la Russie, en profitent. Tokaïev n'a d'ailleurs pas tardé de faire appel à l'assistance de Moscou et de ses alliés pour mettre fin aux émeutes.

Ces pays font partie d'une alliance cherchant à tenir tête à l'Otan dans la région, comptant notamment le Belarus et d'autres pays anciennement réunis sous la bannière de l'URSS. Ce genre d'appui entre despotes a bien été documenté lors de la crise à la frontière du Belarus, et récemment dans notre série READ. Le premier ministre arménien, à la tête de cette alliance, a déclaré que des forces seraient envoyées "pour une période de temps limitée".

En 2010 la Russie avait rejeté l'appel du Khirghizstan pour une pareille intervention lors des éclats qui secouaient cet autre ancienne république. C'est la levée du plafond du prix du gaz liquéfié qui a précipité la crise au Kazakhstan, plus que doublant le prix du carburant. Mais la crise se développe sur fond d'appel aux réformes de longue date, provoquant une grogne généralisée contre le pouvoir.

Les participants ne se gênaient plus de s'en prendre à l'homme fort Nazarbaïev, qui conservait une influence importante, brandissant des pancartes où l'on a inscrit "vieil homme va-t-en" dirigés contre l'octagénaire qui est resté au pouvoir une trentaine d'années. Tokaïev profita de la crise pour mettre fin aux derniers rôles de l'ancien dirigeant, dont les supporters ont d'ailleurs été accusés de tentative de coup d'état. Le pays était-il proie a une lutte de clans?

Avec cette répression sans pitié, autorisant l'utilisation d'armes à feu avec l'instruction de tuer, certains craignent que le peu de soi-disant libertés permises lors des dernières années soit chose du passé. "On avait un genre de pseudo-liberté, expliqua un résident d'Almaty de 29 ans à l'AFP. On pouvait mener une vie normale. Mais c'est fini. Il faut blâmer le système mis en place par les autorités."

Selon Marie Dumoulin du Conseil européen des relations internationales, les revendications faisaient appel à des réformes en profondeur. "Les contestataires réclament des changements politiques profonds et des réformes beaucoup plus larges comme un retour à un système parlementaire ou la possibilité d’élire les autorités régionales désignées jusqu’à présent par la présidence. Il s’agit d’un ensemble de mesures qui ont un impact sur la gouvernance politique et économique du pays."

Celle-ci note que l'intervention russe ne pourrait que compliquer la donne car elle "peut potentiellement déstabiliser ce pays à dominantes ethniques. Le Kazakhstan est en effet composé d’une mosaïque d’ethnies au sein de laquelle il y a une très importante communauté russe. Il y a toujours eu, depuis l’indépendance, des tensions récurrentes." Des tensions qui pourraient éventuellement se répandre chez des voisins méfiants de Moscou malgré leurs relations rapprochées, notamment au Khirghizstan où les manifestations kazakhes pouvaient être vues avec sympathie.

Mais la répression (plus de 200 morts) a-t-elle réussi à tuer tout esprit de révolte dans l'oeuf pour l'instant? Puis, alors qu'elles se retirent, à quel prix cette décision de faire appel aux troupes russes, notamment par un dirigeant dont l'image a été affaiblie? On redoute que cette intervention étrangère risque d'avoir changé les enjeux géopolitiques dans une région ordinairement plutôt tranquille.

ELUSIVE PEACE

More than half a decade after the 2016 peace agreement many hoped would end the violence in Colombia, occasional skirmishes between familiar acronymns show ending conflict takes more than a few signatures.

As a new year began old rivalries caused further bloodshed in the country's border area, as two dozen people were lost to the latest fighting between National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissident factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who rejected the peace process.

The dismantling of most of FARC and its transition into a political party left ELN as the country's largest guerilla group, and the shootout in Arauca on the Venezuelan border is just the latest clash between the two groups there, which go back over a decade. Bogota reacted swiftly by sending  two helicopter-backed battalions to the area all the while accusing neighboring Venezuela of harbouring the armed groups.

"As you know these groups have been operating freely in Venezuelan territory with the consent and protection of the dictatorial regime," claimed Colombian president Ivan Duque. This has (Page 3) (From Cover) - been vehemently rejected by the Maduro regime. Colombia's army says drug trafficking is behind the clashes while the human rights ombudsman office deplored "the escalation of the armed conflict in Arauca due to the confrontation between illegal armed groups that put the civilian population at great risk."

The office says the situation in the border area has fallen out of control. "There have been homicides, threats, illegal detentions, mass displacements and risk of forced displacement in border municipalities," a region where the violence has reached its most alarming levels in a decade.

The largely uncontrolled Venezuelan border, crossed by thousands fleeing the regime in Caracas as the situation has worsened in recent years, has made it a volatile flashpoint as groups have come to replace the security void. "Everything from drugs to stolen cattle, to kidnapped people crosses," Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America told Al-Jazeera. "Armed groups tax every-thing, even beer and food. Also there's a lot of oil Arauca, which means there's a lot of extractive businesses that armed groups could extort."

These groups are also challenging the government in other parts of the country, such as the familiar Western city of Cali, where troops were deployed last year to stop the violence which exploded as the country's third largest city reeled from anti-government protests.

At the time intelli-gence reports said in the lead up to the violence that Cali had seen “a more active presence of irregular armed groups, the ELN and the FARC, both with their militias." ELN said it was behind a recent bomb blast. But local experts said these groups weren't solely to blame, citing violent local gangs competing in drug turf wars and the attack of protesters by paramilitary groups as police looked on.

The violence some hoped would end with the peace agreement has far from come to a close.  And activists say what is feeding the conflict at a local level, as in Arauca, is lack of government support  and social programs in areas where unemployment is high. "The solution is not military," says local activist Mayerly Briceno, "the state must make social investments ."

LA RUE NE LÂCHE PAS

Las de coups d'état, les manifestants refusent de lâcher prise au Soudan et poursuivent leurs manifes-tations osées depuis le putsch d'octobre dernier qui a mis fin au partage du pouvoir entre civils et militaires.

Lorsque le premier ministre Abdallah Hamdok a avancé une nouvelle proposition de partage ils l'ont rejetée, précipitant son départ. Les derniers mois ont été plutôt mouvementés pour le chef de l'état sortant. Arrêté dans les premières heures du coup d'état, Hamdok fut relâché et retrouva son poste pour tenter d'apporter une entente entre des civils et le pouvoir, qui se livrent depuis à des éclats sanglants ayant causé la mort de douzaines de personnes.

Selon le général Abdel Burhan l'armée a agi l'an dernier pour "protéger la transition démocratique" et pour que le pays ne sombre pas au bord de la guerre civile, mais ses opposants  civils disent que l'armée n'a fait que rafler le pouvoir une nouvelle fois sans justification, ridiculisant les promesses d'organiser des élections en juillet 2023.

Ils disent refuser un retour au partage du pouvoir entre civils et militaires mis en place après le départ en 2019 du dictateur Omar Al-Béchir, à la tête du pays pendant 30 ans. Le Secrétaire général de l’ONU António Guterres a condamné « la violence continue visant les manifestants » et s'est dit regretter de départ du premier ministre ainsi que le fait «qu'un accord politique sur la voie à suivre ne soit pas en place malgré la gravité de la situation au Soudan », selon son porte-parole.

Le Comité central des docteurs soudanais a fait état de plusieurs morts aux mains des militaires, accusant les forces de l'ordre de "violations des droits de l'homme, conventions interna-tionales et normes sociales soudanaises" en faisant irruption dans les hôpitaux pour arrêter des suspects en balançant du gaz lacrymo-gène.

Dans un hôpital les policiers auraient tenté de retirer les corps de personnes tuées lors des affrontements, ailleurs ils étaient à la recherche de blessés qui avaient participé aux manifestations. L'ONU par ailleurs se disait préoccupée par l'utilisation de violences sexuelles et de tirs par balles de la part des forces de l'ordre lors des manifestations qui ont eu lieu dans les rues du pays, notamment Khartoum et Port Soudan.

Selon le représentant spécial de l'ONU pour le Soudan Volker Perthes « les auteurs de violences doivent être traduits en justice », ajoutant que pour lui: « les aspirations du peuple soudanais à une voie démocratique et à l'achèvement du processus de paix devraient être la pierre angulaire de tous les efforts visant à résoudre la crise actuelle ».

La pression internationale se poursuit contre le Soudan suite à la suspension de l'Union africaine et le gel de l'aide procurée par la  Banque mondiale, alors que le Conseil de sécurité de l'ONU réclame le rétablissement d'un gouvernement de transition dirigé par des civils. Entre temps un appel à la désobéissance civile après la mort de sept manifestants.

 
YEAR 3

If all people wanted for Christmas in 2020 was a vaccine, in 2021 it was a rapid test, as the number of people seeking peace of mind soared in the lead up to holidays once again disrupted by the pandemic which brought record infections in a number of countries and sent many schoolchildren home days early. The age of the vaccinated has so far not brought us back to the days of pre-pandemic freedoms.

"What was it all for? We're right back where we started," lamented one Ottawa parent in desperation as she replugged her child's computer in anticipation of the resumption of virtual learning. After lining up for PCR tests early in the pandemic, then again to enter stores reopened with limited capacity, and finally to get covid-19 shots, people living in the age of pandemic were lining up to get tested, pick up home rapid test kits or roll up their sleeves for boosters during  the holiday season.

In another blast from the past, N95 masks were once more prized and emptied of the shelves as health officials suggested better protection against an omicron variant which has been effective causing mass infections. The familiarity of the situation, as the pandemic enters its third year, is nothing less than dis-heartening, especially for those who had followed all recommen-dations and protocols only to see their efforts fall short. But this was not entirely unrewarded.

Those playing it safe and getting their boosters have tended to stay out of emergency rooms and, if infected, usually dealt with mild symptoms. Three years on this is the lesson to be drawn as indoor capacity limits were being reduced once more and cross border restrictions reinstated. And that rapid asymptomatic testing, while not as accurate as PCR testing,  was proving all the more necessary considering the large percentage of people walking around with no symptoms, according to one study.

One of four covid patients were asymptomatic carriers, according to a sweeping review of 30 million global cases, doubling previous estimates. “The high percentage of asymptomatic infections highlights the potential transmission risk of asymptomatic infections in communities,” wrote author Professor Min Liu of Peking University. The large number of participants was indicative on its own of the tremendous impact and staying power of the coronavirus pandemic.

For some, this latest wave is the straw that broke the camel's back. "That's it, I'm done!" lashed a Montreal correspondent, whose daughters were doubly vaccinated when they contracted the virus. "We've done everything we had to do: getting vaccinated 2-3 times, masks, distancing, vaccination passports... all to get back to square one? Screw them!"

Quebec closed a number of businesses before the holidays, from gyms to bars, and later closed restaurant dining rooms, Sunday shopping and extended the school break. Others went further, the Netherlands entering a complete shut down while Morocco extended its ban on flights.

Already closed to much of the world with a ban of tourists, Israel started a 4th dose immunization campaign for the most vulnerable, previous boosters having simply reinstated levels of protection to where they had been before the rise of the omicron variant. A British study warned boosters may lose their potency quicker, but experts also cautioned about distributing too many doses, saying it may affect the body's ability to fight the virus.

Data showed the highly transmissible omicron variant was less aggressive than its delta predecessor, leaving propor-tionally fewer in hospital. But the growing number of infections meant this could still up hospitalizations to the breaking point in many countries, which registered daily infection numbers higher than anything experienced earlier in the pandemic. "It's unlike anything we've ever seen," Dr. James Phillips told CNN.

"What we're experi-encing right now is an absolute overwhelming of the emergency departments." It was enough to discourage many in the fight against the virus, but not all. "We decided to postpone our trip to France where we planned to visit with family," wrote a Quebec correspondent. "So we're summoning the resilience we've developed over the last two years."

And with outdoor mask mandates in some European countries and curfews in others, that was certainly the operative word. In Canada Nunavut and Newfoundland restricted access from other parts of the country once more as some politicians lamented an apparent lack of progress, blaming federal government policies.

But others, such as Bruce Anderson of Abacus research, drew a sharp comparison with the neighbors. "Canada has lost 30,000 souls to Covid, the US 800,000. On December 17th we lost 20, the US 2,000," he Tweeted. "Pandemic manage-ment has clearly been better here." And this despite the fact Canada had to import both protective equipment and vaccines, often from the US.

The white north however maintained one of the most restrictive border measures in the world, requiring PCR tests before travel and upon entry, while imposing mask mandates on all modes of transport. And many of these were also disrupted during the holidays, as thousands of flights were cancelled due to cabin crew shortages caused by the pandemic.

Helping address shortages across the board of everything from pilots to emergency personnel, the CDC halved the period of isolation for asymptomatic infected indivi-duals from 10 to five days, measures which were quickly adopted by a number of Canadian provinces. Quebec, among others, said it would permit asymptomatic infected medical personnel to leave isolation sooner in order and get back on the job to avoid critical staff shortages.

Another small adaptation to life three years on. In one encouraging sign, South Africa, where omicron was first identified, said it had reached the peak of its new wave of infections without a considerable uptick in covid-related deaths. Perhaps a promising sign as the health industry mobilizes to target the variant causing chaos world-wide. But some still worry: "What will the next variant look like?" the Ottawa parent asked.

LA PAIX?

Il est difficile de parler le paix sur la péninsule coréenne, même 70 ans après les éclats de 1950-53, avec la présence de ce no man's land barbelé et miné entre les deux voisins, surveillés par des milliers de troupes de plusieurs nations.

La notion a cependant été évoquée en fin d'année lorsque les deux Corées, les Etats-Unis et la Chine ont accepté "en principe" de déclarer la fin de la guerre. Quelques mois plus tôt les responsables nord-coréens avaient bien rejeté un appel en faveur d'une telle déclaration, montrant du doigt la présence de troupes notamment américaines dans la région malgré la signature de l'armistice qui mit fin aux hostilités directes.

Pyong-yang dénonce encore et toujours l'"hostilité" de Washington à son égard - des sanctions économiques aux exercices militaires annuels- empêchant les camps de se retrouver pour des négociations officielles sur la déclaration.

A l'aube de 2022 il était clair que Kim Jong-Un avait d'autres préoccupations immédiates deux ans après que le royaume ermite se soit encore davantage isolé du reste du monde. Le pays a en effet rompu tous les liens, fermant notamment la frontière avec son allié chinois, dès l'apparition du coronavirus.

Depuis, un portrait de plus en plus alarmant de la situation économique et alimentaire se dessine, des rumeurs récemment nourries par le discours de Kim Jong-Un à la réunion plénière du Parti des travailleurs, marquant les 10 ans de son règne. Désignant l'économie et l'alimentation du peuple les grandes priorités de son pays en 2022, Kim qualifia les défis de "grande bataille entre la vie et la mort" sous forme de "mission importante pour faire des progrès radicaux afin de résoudre les problèmes d'alimentation, d'habillement et de logement."

 Son discours a largement ignoré les affaires internationales, ne faisant aucune allusion directe aux Etats-Unis ou aux voisin sud- coréen. "On peut dire qu'il s'agissait de loin de la plus brève mention des relations inter-coréennes et internatio-nales" dans le cadre du rapport de la plénaire, fait remarquer le chercheur Cheong Seong-chang de l'institut Sejong.

Alors que le pays a toujours nié l'existence de cas de covid-19 sur son territoire, Kim a fait du travail de "prévention épidémique" une des urgences de l'état, sans toutefois abandonner les projets coûteux - voire ruineux - d'armement, citant l'environ-nement militaire "instable" sur la péninsule.

Les misères du pays le plus pauvre de la région ont été exacerbées par plusieurs catastrophes naturelles en 2021, dont d'importantes inondations, laissant les organismes internationaux craindre l'aggravation des carences alimentaires, au point même de parler de famine. Mais pour ce qui est de la déclaration, Pyongyang continue d'exiger avant tout le départ des troupes américaines et la fin des sanctions, ce que refuse Washington  sans l'abandon du programme nucléaire nord-coréen. Le temps presse pour le président sud-coréen, qui quitte ses fonctions en mars.

SWEDEN'S NEW PM

It took a century of Sweden's progressive politics to emulate its neighbors and finally see the country's first female prime minister ovated in Stockholm's parliament, and little over 100 minutes for her to resign as the head of a minority government.

One hundred years after women were given the right to vote in the Scandinavian country Magdalena Andersson could only follow tradition after a party in the ruling coalition quit the government and her budget failed to pass. This paved the way for a new budget drafted by an opposition including the anti-immigrant far right, which has been gaining in strength over the last years. "I don't want to lead a government whose legitimacy will be questioned," she said after the Green Party pulled out of the alliance.

The Social Democrat was however promptly re-elected by the parliament, ending  days of topsy turvy politics in the land of the vikings. A feat in Scandinavia's most populous country, the election was hardly earth shattering for those other lands of the north. The previous month the election of Jonas Store in Norway had in fact made him the only male leader of the five Nordic countries, replacing Erna Solberg in Oslo after an eight-year run.

Andersson's leadership is sure to be tested as her party obtained only 100 seats in the 349-seat Riksdag, forcing her to work with others in the eight-party parliament, including the far right. The 54-year-old will then have less than a year to prove her worth before the country holds elections that may confirm the rise of extremist parties in Sweden.

Such parties have had influences in neigboring Denmark, which has considerably tightened its immigration policies in recent years. “We have the biggest group in parliament and a long tradition of working with others,” she said. “We are willing to do what it takes to move Sweden forward.” But the Nazi-rooted Swedish Democrats led by Jimmie Åkesson vow to boot her from power by supporting her Moderate Party rivals, who claim their alliance will be able to take over next September.

But the current state of affairs, despite the fragmented parliament, may not be the worst situation for Andersson. “Single-party governments tend to last longer than coalition governments, so there is reason to think that a government like this could be effective,” political scientist Jan Teorell told Swedish radio. “But we have never seen a single-party government tested in the complex parliamentary situation we have now.”

For now the region remains heavily Left-leaning, even if parties such as the Danish Social Democrats have had to toughen immigration policies to win support on the right. Observers say this may be a way for Sweden's Social Democrats to cling to power as well, but such moves could also drive away potential coalition supporters.

Anders-son wasn't the only one making Swedish political history recently, her female-majority cabinet also included the country's first transgender minister, Lina Axelsson Kilhblom, 51, who becomes the country's school minister. Among Andersson's priorities was the tabling of an action plan to tackle the country's covid-19 crisis as well as championing "a green industrial revolution" while improving a welfare system tested by the pandemic.


LA GUERRE?

La guerre menace-t-elle d'éclater sur le front est? Et pourrait-elle causer un choc entre les grandes puissances? Les rumeurs sont devues folles à cet égard car la question se pose depuis des mois avec le nombre croissant de troupes massées au long de la frontière russo-ukrainienne. La semaine dernière le président urkrainien faisait part d'analyses de ses renseigne-ments selon lesquels Moscou ne préparerait rien de moins qu'un coup d'état à Kiev début décembre, un terme d'habitude associé aux pays du tiers-monde, notamment d'Afrique, qui a connu sa part de putschs en 2021.

Cette semaine il faisait appel à des pourparlers directs avec Moscou. Car il ne s'agirait selon les experts que de la plus récente provocation russe après la crise des migrants à la frontière de l'Union européenne. Voilà en effet depuis des mois que des milliers de migrants se regroupent dans le no man's land entre le Belarus et la Pologne, se trainant  dans la pluie et dans la boue entre les arbres d'une froide forêt frontalière coupée par des barbelés.

La faim et l'hypothermie les gagnaient à attendre avec presque sans espoir pendant des semaines, voir des mois dans certains cas, espérant une ouverture, une brèche, un signe d'espoir. On aurait dû parler d'hommes mais il s'agissait plutôt de miséreux devenus du mortier dans une guerre dite "hybride", différente du bouclier humain mais seulement à quelques degrés de près.

Pendant des semaines, et jusqu'au récentes déportations, des milliers y sont restés coincés entre le Belarus et la Pologne, les premiers refusant de les reprendre, les autres de les accueillir au nom de la grande Europe. Au contraire, cette Varsovie endurcie prévoit un mur plus permanent comme solution contre les migrations.

L'entêtement des deux capitales leur a valu une condamnation presque universelle, mais surtout pointée contre le dernier dictateur d'Europe, qui ne faisait rien, au contraire, pour décourager le déversement de migrants vers l'Union européenne, y voyant une méthode peu orthodoxe afin de condamner les dernières sanctions communautaires contre son régime. Pourquoi "hybride"?

Car pour Varsovie le rôle de Moscou derrière la crise migratoire était indubitable et allait jusqu'à encourager le Belarus à attirer les migrants, une action indirecte digne de la guerre froide, payée cher par les plus démunis du monde, certains venant aussi loin que d'Afghanistan. Le terme était prononcé par le président du Conseil européen, Charles Michel, déclarant: "Nous faisons face à cette attaque hybride, brutale, violente et indigne".

Une guerre sans armes lourdes, mais non sans la crainte de leur utilisation. Pourquoi pointer Poutine du doigt? Car le maitre espion devenu Tsar à vie avait déjà employé de pareilles tactiques lors de l'invasion de l'Ukraine en 2014 par des hommes armés mais sans insignes qui avaient semé la confusion dans les rangs de l'armée ukrainienne assez longtemps pour s'installer dans l'est du pays, alors qu'il s'agissait de forces spéciales russes. Une guerre par procuration mais qui cette fois au Belarus comptait femmes et enfants.

Cette instrumentalisation de migrants avait été évoquée par le général français Thierry Burkhard en été déjà, alors quel les premiers groupes encore timides se présentaient à la frontière, avant le flot de l'automne. « Les réfugiés sont effectivement devenus une arme : certains les poussent en avant ou les manipulent. Le problème se posera différemment en combat de haute intensité, même si ce n’est pas exclu, dit-il en juin lors d’une audition parlementaire. Comme il s’agit d’une arme ou d’un levier politique, la réponse devrait être avant tout politique : il faudrait des prises de position claires, de manière commune si on est en coalition, et, le cas échéant, de gros moyens d’accueil ».

L'accueil n'était pas celui auquel on aurait pu s'attendre, soit une colonne de soldats en tenue anti-émeute de l'autre côté de barbelés. Du côté des migrants venant du Belarus, une présence non moins sinon plus intimidante de soldats béliorusses ne se gênant pas de frapper femmes et enfants ôsant de trouver sur leur chemin.

Pour ce qui est du lien avec Poutine, il n'était pas en doute selon le chef de la diplomatie américaine Antony Blinken, pour qui les «actions de la Biélorussie menaçaient la sécurité régionale et détournaient l’attention des activités militaires russes à la frontière ukrainienne ». En effet alors que le rapatriement graduel des migrants baissait les tensions sur le front biélorusse, il augmentait sur le front ukrainien, Kiev cherchant à son tour à s'équipper en armement face à "l'agressivité" de son voisin russe.

La théorie du complot de Volodymyr Zelensky, démentie par Moscou, ne faisait qu'augmenter les tensions, attirant l'attention de Washington qui du coup déclara qu'en cas d'invasion toutes les options étaient disponibles. Kiev estime à 100000 le nombre de troupes massées du côté russe, appuyées par chars et autres équipement lourds.

Selon le comman-dement ukrainien Moscou serait près à provoquer une crise en utilisant notamment une autre arme non-conventionnelle, celle de la manne énergétique en plein hiver. La thèse n'est pas entièrement sotte, Moscou ayant menacé plusieurs nations, notamment la Moldavie tout récemment, de serrer la vis des gasoducs si le petit pays ne réglait pas ses dettes. Moscou nie préparer quelque invasion, parlant plutôt de réaction aux exercices militaires de l'Otan dans la mer Noire.

Le Kremlin accuse Kiev notamment d'envoyer des drones contre les séparatristes pro-russes dans l'est du pays. Selon certains analystes, l'Ukraine reste la pièce maitresse à obtenir pour que Poutine laisse en héritage, alors qu'il approche les 70 ans, une Russie dont l'étendue retrouve ses dimensions historiques, lui permettant ainsi de rendre au pays un peu de son ancienne grandeur. Mais pour d'autres, le coût d'une telle intervention serait bien trop important.

NON MERCI, MR. KADHAFI

Avec le temps des noms familiers refont surface sur l'arène politique, laissant flotter des airs dynastiques, des Fujimori au Pérou aux Marcos aux Philippines. Leurs candidatures ne sont pas toujours couronnées de succès cependant.En Libye, un personnage quadragénaire qui voulait se présenter aux présidentielles de décembre au nom plutôt familier remontait de loin.

Capturé par des rebelles l'année de la mort de son père il y a dix ans, Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, le fils cadet, est condamné à mort quatre ans plus tard mais épargné par ses ravisseurs qui refusent de le livrer aux autorités et à la Cour pénale internationale, où il est recherché pour "crimes contre l'humanité". Libéré par la suite, il disparait de l'arène publique jusqu'à l'annonce de son intention de se porter candidat à la mi-novembre.

Mais l'ONU mise sur cet exercice électoral, dans un pays bien loin de connaitre la paix, pour mettre un terme au chaos post-Kadhafi. Y parviendrait-t-elle avec un membre de sa descendance? Sûrement non. Le pays était dès le début plutôt déchiré par sa candidature.

Bien placé pour succéder à son père avant la révolte de 2011, son appui en faveur de la répression contre les manifestants a fait crouler son image. Celle de son retour 10 ans plus tard est radicalement transformée, paraissant barbu, enturbanné et vêtu de manière traditionnelle un peu comme son père, il saupoudre ses interventions de versets du Coran.

Mais cette méta- morphose le rend pas moins recherché aux yeux du CPI. “Le CPI ne fait pas de commentaire sur les affaires politiques libyennes, déclare un des porte-paroles de la cour, mais le status de Seif al-Islam Kadhafi à la cour demeure le même," soit, recherché pour crimes.

Le procureur militaire libyen a de son côté demandé à la commission électorale de retirer son nom de la liste, ce qu'elle finit par faire la semaine dernière, mettant fin à ses ambitions présidentielles, pour l'instant. L'élection ne sera pas noins intéressante, car participeront au concours d'autres notables, dont le premier ministre Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, le président de la chambre et le commandant Khalifa Haftar, qui a baissé les armes pour se lancer dans une lutte politique après des années de conflit avec le gouvernement et dont les troupes s'étaient rendues jusqu'aux portes de Tripoli.

Certains manifestants avaient  bien accouru dans les rues de Bani Walid, ancien fief de Kadhafi père, et Sirte, lieu de son exécution, à l'annonce de la candidature, éphémère, du fils. Il faut dire qu'alors que le règne de son père avait été sans pitié, la période qui a suivi a été difficile à travers le pays, aux prises avec diverses factions, parfois assistées de mercenaires, en faisant un modèle de désordre généralisé noyé dans les armes. Même sans Kadhafi bis, un des 25 candidats disqualifiés, le pays aura de la peine à se relever.

OMICRON RISES

Africa's ability to avoid the worst outbreaks and tolls of the covid-19 virus since the beginning of the pandemic has surprised medical specialists around the world, especially as the countries have been slow to launch their immunization campaigns on account of poor supplies. But the latest strain of the coronavirus, as cases have been on the rise in the West, has placed much of southern Africa under quarantine.

The Omicron variant spooked markets worldwide as countries closed their air connections to over half a dozen countries including Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, the country with the most infections in the region, where an earlier strain of the virus had emerged.

Africa had just been coming out of its latest wave of the pandemic, but reported less infections than other continents, with some 8 million cases, roughly  a 10th of the numbers seen in Asia, and approximatively 220000 deaths.

But leaving the region vulnerable is the fact that vaccination campaigns are struggling to get off the ground, with less than 10% of the 54 countries expected to meet goals of fully vaccinating 40% of citizens. Subsaharan Africa fared particularly poorly, with only the Seychelles, Mauritius and Morocco meeting the goal set by World Health Assembly in Africa while Tunisia and Cabo Verde were close to reaching it.

A lack of syringes was notably hampering efforts on the continent. “The looming threat of a vaccine commodities crisis hangs over the continent," stated WHO's Dr Matshidiso Moeti. "Early next year COVID-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyze progress. Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production, fast. Countless African lives depend on it.”

The new variant only made the need for ramping up vaccination efforts more pressing as countries around the world started banning travellers from southern Africa while the effects of Omicron on current vaccines were being analyzed. Moderna boss Stephane Bancel said the current vaccines would be less effective against Omicron, and a number of months will be necessary to design a more targeted vaccine.

But Oxford university said there was no evidence of this yet. Not waiting to find out, Israel pulled all the stops, preventing all foreign travellers from visiting, but this did not prevent two cases from slipping in from Malawi. Japan  seconded that move while Australia put on hold reopening plans and Morocco banned all international flights altogether for two weeks. By then already officials in Europe confirmed the presence of the variant on the old continent while the United States was recording its first cases.

As with delta this strain could become dominant. Omicron may have been present in Europe before it was detailed by South African health officials. The World Health Organization called on countries to keep their borders open while Pretoria slammed countries who were banning South African citizens, saying it was paying the price for alerting others of the danger.

It soon became apparent the virus had spread to other countries, Canada's first cases being tied to travel from Nigeria, a country whose citizens it soon banned along with that of nine other nations. The US pesident called the variant a "cause for concern, not a cause for panic," in an attempt to reassure citizens. China's Xi Jinping meanwhile pledged to donate 1 billion doses to Africa, a continent where it has been expanding its influence.


NOT GREEN ENOUGH

As the Glasgow environmental summit took place, gathering world leaders who struggled to agree on how to pursue the fight against climate change while critics blamed them of uttering empty rhetoric, Beijing closed all its playgrounds. It wasn't because of the covid pandemic this time, making a comeback of sorts in the country where it all started, but related to China's constant pollution problem. Clearly it seemed to be an odd time for the middle kingdom to go AWOL on global warming - its leader choosing not to attend the summit - considering the thousands of lives lost there annually due to suffocating CO2 emissions.

Stopping defores-tation and fossil fuel subsidies, shifting away from coal and curbing methane emissions, these were just some of the measures considered by world leaders as they heard appeals from activists and protesters, but also greater powers such as British royalty and the Bishop of Rome, to do more and act with urgency and take climate change by the horns after another year marked by devastating wildfires, floods, droughts and severe storms.

In the end, after extending hours to reach a final deal, participants agreed to cut carbon emissions, reduce the use of coal and fossil fuels and help developing countries adapt to global warming. But the latter weren't impressed, accusing wealthy nations of being responsible for worsening conditions affecting them. The agreement "does not bring hopes to our hearts," deplored Shauna Aminath, the Maldives' environment minister.

The summit was marked by the absence of major leaders such as China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin, despite the fact these countries account for a third of the world's CO2 emissions. If anything China in fact has been instructing the country's coal mines to produce as much as possible to counter energy shortages ahead of the winter period.

And the US and other participants were hardly beyond reproach, Washington being no different by refusing to ditch coal, just short of embracing it as Joe Biden's predecessor once did, joined by India, citing development goals. Meanwhile some companies and multinationals the size of small countries were also being pressured to step up, among them billionaires shamed for their recent space race with so much work to be done on planet Earth.

Jeff Bezos eventually pledged $2 billion to fight climate change. But all this did nothing to prevent activists from considering the summit a failure from the very start, slamming as "green-washing" and "false solutions" many of the proposals brought forward by world leaders. They "are right to be frustrated," commented former US president Barack Obama. "My generation has  not done enough to deal with a potential cataclysmic problem that you now stand to inherit."

Still some enterprising spirits have come up with their own plans to fight climate change, from firms building giant vacuums to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere to creating CO2-capturing clouds. But to some this focus on mitigating CO2 emissions instead of preventing them to begin with was misplacing priorities.

US special presidential envoy John Kerry however refused to let the naysaying monopolize the summit. The conference "has already helped summon more ambition to face this emergency than the world has ever seen," therefore achieving success, he penned, noting countries representing nearly 65% of global domestic product stepped up to limit the rise in warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times.

But a report from Climate Action Tracker said these goals represented little more than "false hope", saying the planet was set to warm by 2.4C by 2100 under current measures. The conference notably pledged to tackle emissions of methane, "a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide," Kerry said, presenting it as "the single fastest option we have to slow warming."

Others weren't as optimistic, University of Montreal professor Michel Boyer declared the Glasgow summit a failure, like those held earlier in Paris, Katowice and Madrid "for a simple reason: pursuing the right policy with the wrong means." Essential to a solution, he penned, is the recognition that the economy and environment can go hand in hand with a fair redistribution of funds collected through carbon pricing, showing that, like freedom, using up the world's resources isn't free.

Britain even considered slapping a carbon tax on imports from countries that don't meet its obligations on climate initiatives. This environmental threat doesn't only lie in the future but is hurting people today, and a Canadian woman may be the first personification of this. A BC woman in her 70s has formally been diagnosed  as suffering from climate change after facing a number of breathing issues.

This occurred in the summer when the province was slammed by a merciless heat wave which killed 500 people there. "If we're not looking at the underlying cause, and we're just treating the symptoms, we're just gonna keep falling further and further behind," observed physician Kyle Merritt, who made the diagnosis. BC clinicians soon after formed Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health, which aims to work "to better human health by protecting the planet."

Merritt says they have first hand evidence of the impact of global warming on people's health. "Working with patients directly we are actually starting to see the health effects of climate change now. It's not just something that is going to happen in the future." Beijing's pollution, just like New Delhi's, the Indian capital imposing a lockdown as the air became unbreathable, was a reminder of this.

Which made these countries' last minute balking about "phasing out" coal all the more surprising. Coal would instead be "phased down". But perhaps young activist Greta Thunberg has it right saying the exercise was little more than "bla ble bla." Meanwhile the urgency of taking action was being reminded, as Western North America dealt with deadly storms and floods in a region so recently blasted by heat waves.

VIVE LE SASKATCHEWAN LIBRE

La conférence mondiale sur le climat aurait-elle provoqué une bouffée d'air autonomiste de l'autre côté de l'Atlantique? Alors que l'Alberta grogne depuis belle lurette à propos du manque de soutien fédéral pour les sables bitumineux et des oléducs, faisant planer une vague menace séparatiste, c'est le premier ministre de la Saskatchewan qui vient de lever le flambeau de son état-nation d'à peine un million d'habitants au coeur de la plaine.

Scott Moe a promis d'affirmer l'"autonomie" de sa province après les engagements fédéraux à Glasgow sur l'environne-ment, qui selon lui avaient été faits sans consulter Régina et lui portent préjudice. Moe ne veut pas seulement un véritable droit de parole sur les ressources à la table fédérale mais les mêmes pouvoirs détenus par la nation québécoise dans certains secteurs comme la taxation et l'immigration, faisant allusion à sa "nation au coeur d'une nation."

"Alors que le gouvernement fédéral met en vigueur des politiques qui heurtent notre province notre gouverne-ment va continuer à défendre les intérêts des Saskatche-wanais," dit-il en entrevue radiophonique. Il ne parle pas de séparation de la province mais de prendre sa place en tant qu'"entité culturelle saska-tchewanaise au sein de la nation canadienne."

Les décisions de Trudeau sur le plafond des émissions de gaz à effet de serre constitueraient "une attaque en règle contre l'industrie énergétique de la Saskatchewan" touchant 30000 de ses citoyens, dit-il, et grignotant 15% du PIB de cette province riche en ressources énergétiques.

Il lorgne par conséquent vers la belle province, notant ses accords particuliers, plus récemment "son entente sur les garderies - l'entente du Québec est très différente de celle des autres provinces au Canada et c'est ce que nous voulons," dit-il. Certains commentateurs ne se sont pas gênés de se moquer des similitudes avancées avec la nation québécoise.

Il ne s'agit peut-être pas d'un peuple fondateur ou parlant une autre langue, mais la fidélité des résidents de la province au curling et aux Riders suffisent pour en faire un société distincte, rigole un auteur dans le Globe & Mail. Les critiques du premier ministre provincial trouvent ça moins drôle et y voient plutôt un spectacle médiatisé cherchant à mettre à l'ombre ses tracas politiques.

Alors que son parti a réaffirmé son appui envers lui lors d'une convention où il obtenu 80% des soutiens, des opposants manifestaient contre sa gestion de la pandémie et la perte de milliers d'emplois au début de l'automne.

"Des milliers de personnes attendent pour se faire opérer et les enfants n'ont pas accès à leurs thérapies, lui reprochait un manifestant. De plus nous avons la pire fiche sur l'emploi au pays et Scott Moe dit avoir trouvé un juste équilibre."

La province venait de fixer son niveau de production de pétrole à la hausse, soit de 450000 à 600000 barils par jour, Moe préconisant "de rendre l’éner-gie canadienne disponible à travers le monde en remplaçant l’énergie produite dans ces autres pays" qui ont des politiques environnemen-tales moins vertes.

NOT GOING AWAY

Many were vaccinated, but that didn't keep personalities such as Bryan Adams, Sidney Crosby and Joe Biden's press secretary from catching covid-19, showing the virus is here to stay, sometimes under more virulent strains, but less dangerous to the vaccinated.

The high profile cases served as a reminder of the need to protect those who aren't inoculated, as children five and over become eligible for the vaccines, and as more vulnerable citizens gradually get access to a booster shot. More than 2 million children aged 5 to 11 had contracted the virus in the US, which sent 8,300 of them to hospitals and felled over 170 of them.

Nearly two years later, the coronavirus the world is starting to learn living with is still causing shut downs, from Russia, which is registering a surge in cases and mortality amid a population vaccinated with a domestic brand of medicine, to Tonga, the isolated Pacific archipelago which registered its first case.

China meanwhile, the source of the global outbreak, was telling citizens to stock up for the winter in case of new outbreaks and supply shortages. Much of the world is not fully vaccinated, though up to half of the globe may have received at least one dose. This brought G20 leaders at a recent summit to agree to step up global inoculation efforts, releasing millions more doses for less fortunate countries.

But now that the need for boosters is increasingly being recognized this will be sure to keep pressure on the global supply of vaccines. “Despite the decisions of the G20, not all countries in need can have access to anti-COVID vaccines,” Russian leader Vladimir Putin said in a video message to counterparts. “This happens mainly because of dishonest competition, protectionism and because some states, especially those of the G20, are not ready for mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates.”

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has been distributed in a number of  countries around the world, usually poorer ones struggling and desperate to get any brands, but isn't recognized in many countries, especially in the West. Does the rise in cases in that country reflect doubts about the homegrown vaccine or rather the fact no more than a third of Russians are inoculated?

Authorities ordered a week-long paid holiday to keep people at home and try to limit the number of new cases. But further West a feared rise of cases, as the cold season sends people indoors, is also being reported in the UK and Germany, despite high vacci-nation rates. Austria even introduced lockdowns for the non-vaccinated, sure to cause some outrage.

Improved conditions in North America allowed the longest undefended border in the world to reopen, so long as those crossing were inoculated. Conditions for entry in Canada however made some travellers balk Ottawa was also requiring a negative covid test to enter the great white north, a measure officials said they could reconsider. Cases counts there slowly increased in recent weeks however.

But we may be getting new ammunition in  the war against the virus in the form of antiviral covid pills, Pfizer saying its trials showed a dramatic drop in hospitalization and death rates following their use. Pills would add another tool to injections and IVs in the arsenal of weapons against the virus. And this right on time as parts of the West were starting to face a new wave of the pandemic with the return of the cold season.


TRADE WOES

The blocked megavessel in the Suez Canal earlier this year may have been a harbinger of things to come. Months later the backlog of deliveries is ongoing, not only associated to that disruptive incident but  across global commerce, as shipping containers, the vessels of trade, become a precious commodity them-selves in a world furiously rebooting after a pandemic slowdown, boosting consumer prices on practically everything and giving the just in time economy a run for its money.

Half a world away from Suez, the bottleneck of container ships off Los Angeles is the latest manifestation of the global backlog, putting the strains on longshoremen, truck drivers, shippers and others in the industry in a way front-line medical workers would relate. Indeed the transport industry may be the new frontline of the pandemic, especially as the holiday season approaches.

If higher food, vehicle and fuel prices weren't enough to contend with, the prospect of a shortage of toys in the lead up to Christmas was enough to send panicked parents across the world into a frenzy of early shopping, adding to the shipping glut, one which had been created by quarantined consumers eager for something from the outside.

Any disruptions would prove problematic to say the least, so when a storm swept the West Coast of North America, sending over 100 containers into the drink while others caught fire in the waters near British Columbia, it added further supply chain setbacks. The causes of the trade crunch are multiple, but demand is driving much of it, and skyrocketing prices are driven by a double whammy of shortages of everything including computer chips from Taiwan, declining inventories and higher fuel prices as the world economy recovers from months of pandemic-related slowdown.

Not to mention that the hunger for energy from all that ramping up, on the eve of the cold season, is sending demand skyrocketing for fossile fuels at a time the world needs to curb CO2 emissions. Ever starved for coal, China stressed it wouldn't let its environmental commitments stand in the way of progress, making its president a no show at the environmental summit. It's enough to make some rethink capitalism.

Certainly some employees in the transport industry have been doing some rethinking of their own, abandoning jobs which made them vulnerable to infection, resulting in worker shortages not unusual in the services industry. While the moment may come to pass and the strains ease in time, that time isn't now, on the eve of the holiday and cold season in the West, marked by jacked up energy and consumer products demand. In the old continent energy prices were seeing near historic pressures, climbing in some cases by 500% over the last year as nations competed for Russia's vital natural gas exports.

This could result in blackouts over the winter season affecting everything from homes to industries. There was some relief however after Putin asked Gazprom to boost gas supplies. China faces the same pressures, encountering natural gas as well as coal shortages to keep its home warm and plants humming. Any disruption would boost prices, and according to a former Obama adviser, inflation overall will be here to stay.

Prices “will go higher, and the Fed has misread the inflation dynamics in a big way,” according to former Global Development Council Chairman Mohamed El Erian, critical of the U.S. Federal Reserve's practice of "injecting $120 billion every month” to encourage spending and borrowing, stressing it was pushing up prices. In Canada the central bank meanwhile projected consumer prices would remain higher than usual through late 2022.

As a result, the days of low interest rates are creeping to an end. "The main forces pushing up prices - higher energy prices and pandemic-related supply bottlenecks - now appear to be stronger and more persistent than expected," the bank noted. It won't raise the rates right away, but gave plenty of indication this could be expected down the pikes. A TD Bank analyst said it expected the main rate to rise three times next year, after the last gasps of the stimulus.

This would help bring down inflation, but in the mean time the price hikes in the food sector have sent many to the food banks in Canada, leading the CEO of Food Bank Canada to suggest the nation review a "broken safety net." Shipping container giant Maersk said meanwhile this week it expected supply chain issues to last well into the new year.

The crisis has certainly been a boon to its business, recording its best quarter in 117 years of existence. As anything pandemic-related, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from this crisis, including on the supply issue, and that is for industry to reconsider hedging its bets on factories halfway around the world.

Just as the personal protection equipment industry looked to rely less on Chinese imports and more on manufacturers closer to home, businesses the world over are rethinking the wisdom of relying on faraway overseas suppliers and considering a more diverse approach based closer to home.

According to Thomas Insights, 83% of North American manufactu-rers are in fact looking closer to home for their supply needs, the higher costs of local business increasingly being matched by the growing shipping price tag after years of chasing cheaper labour overseas. The crisis has also made many reconsider the logic of just in time shipping, seeing some justification in stocking up on inventory for times of supply side shortages. 

Because, as hard as it may be to believe, things could also be much worse. "The supply chain challenges that are happening now, we believe are just the tip of the iceberg, that is going to be a continuing trend, particularly as the geopolitical situation deterio-rates and the U.S. seeks to decouple some of its supply chain from China," former Canadian minister Tony Clement told CBC.

AFRICA'S LATEST COUP

While anti-government protests are commonplace in most corners of the world  they rarely call for a military government to take over. When they do it makes them a tad suspicious to say the least.

But two years after the removal of strongman Omar Bashir in Sudan, protesters were doing just that and calling for the end of the coalition combining civilians and military, citing growing hunger in the drought-stricken land and lack of justice and equality.

Days later the military obliged, removing key leaders and claiming it was putting in place "competent" ones, ending the transition which for months had combined civilian and military leadership.

A member of that joint council, Gen. Abdel Burhan, blamed political infighting, a concept which lacks no examples in the democratic world but which was perhaps a novelty to him, and imposed a state of emergency.

This sparked new protests, against the military this time, by those anxious to try to reclaim some of their ephemeral liberties, which were often met by force. "We are ready to give our lives for the democratic transition in Sudan," one participant told AFP as some erected barricades.

Abdallah Hamdok, the civilian prime minister who took over in 2019, was among those arrested days after he conceded the country was facing its "worst and most dangerous" crisis. Gen. Burhan said incitement to violence during the political quarrelling forced him to take action, but critics say this and the staged protests were just pretexts to restore military rule in one of Africa's poorest countries with a history of coups.

Bashir had himself come to power in 1989 following a putsch and was facing charges for those actions. His removal had ended a 30-year hardline rule of the country marked by atrocities in Darfur still reverberating today. A rise in attacks in that region of Western Sudan has added to malnutrition woes after a number of poor farming seasons.

In Darfur's five states nearly three million people currently suffer from malnutrition.  The coup now threatens the much needed  foreign aid and support which had started trickling in after the 2019 ouster. Tensions had been rising since a failed coup in September which was attributed to forces still loyal to Bashir.

There have been repeat attempts to grab power by force since the country's independence in 1956. Political infighting has been rife in a country with anything between 80 and 100 political parties, leaving plenty of ground for dissent, a fracture making it nearly impossible to form a proper government.

A rift so widespread even the military seemed divided. Among the brass are rather sinister characters, including a leader of Janjaweed militias responsible for the atrocities in Darfur. Mohamed Dagolo leads the Rapid Support Forces and said the military cares more deeply than any politician about the future of the country, adding the army could respond to civilian protests with its "own street".

Questions about what this meant were quickly answered with the October coup, the fourth to rock the continent this year, not including two failed coups in Madagascar and the Central African Republic.

DIRE STRAITS

Hong Kong has fallen as a democratic outpost follow-ing the implementation of its security law. Could Taiwan follow? Not according to president Tsai Ing-wen, who is determined not to bow to the mainland's incessant pressure on the island China considers a breakaway province rather than a separate country.

The two must and will reunify, Chinese leader Xi Jinping insisted this month, adding this could happen in a "peaceful manner". But this was being said days after Beijing sent a record number of military war planes into Taiwan's air space, raising tensions in ways unseen in decades just days ahead of the island's national day.

In August, while the US was distracted by the rushed evacuation of Kabul, China conducted its most intense simulation of an invasion of Taiwan yet, sending rockets south of the island. Such actions had once provoked an  intimidating response by the Pentagon, which sent two aircraft carriers in the region in 1996. Beijing backed down at the time, a move still the source of embarrassment today.

But no more. In the quarter century since China has launched a massive development of its military, pouring in over $250 billion last year alone, boosting its capabilities in its near abroad despite America's military support of Taipei.

In Taiwan however Beijing's show of force is only boosting support for Ing-wen, a leader re-elected by landslide in 2020 who over the years has worked to secure support from some nations not easily intimidated by China on the world stage. But none of these countries matter as much as the United States, which according to the Wall St Journal has been sending marines and special forces to train Taiwan's military, a move sure to enrage Beijing and threaten the state of affairs in the region.

Taiwanese officials are increasingly wary a Chinese invasion may be just a few years away, a notion hard to dispell with reminders like these from the Chinese leader: “Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Beijing may also be emboldened by America's exit from Afghanistan, seeing a decreasing appetite for overseas intervention.

Would the US be ready to go to war for Taiwan, at a time it is bringing troops home? Meanwhile Taiwan said it is bolstering its defences "to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us," one the president insisted was "neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan nor sovereignty" for what she considers "democracy's first line of defence."

Beijing insists the flurry of recent military exercises are a "just" move to maintain peace and stability and ward off external forces, but Taipei has found the moves a provocation, and warned the mainland not to get too close to its territory. "The DPP (ruling party in Taiwan) authorities' hyping of the so-called 'military threat' of the mainland is to completely invert right and wrong, and a bogus accusation," said a spokesman for China's Taiwan affairs office.

"If the DPP authorities obstinately persist in going about things the wrong way and do not know how to draw back from the edge it will only push Taiwan into a more dangerous situation." Washington's shift out of Afghanistan and into a pact with the UK and Australia no doubt prompted China to be more aggressive in its annual exercises in the lead up to Taiwan's national day, opined Owen Greene and Christoph Bluth of Bradford university, but that doesn't mean an invasion is imminent.

"The consensus among military experts is that China is not (yet) ready for a military campaign to occupy Taiwan," they write in The Conversation. "China could easily strike targets on the island with airstrikes and missiles, as the recent air incursions suggest. But there remain two sources of uncertainty. The first is that China may not yet be ready to launch out an all-out amphibious assault on the island. Such an operation is likely to stretch China’s capabilities and result in substantial casualties on both sides. The other uncertainty for China is the response of the US. While military planners in Beijing may feel that China’s forces have now some degree of local superiority, it is unclear to what level the US would be willing to escalate a conflict if it comes to Taiwan’s aid."

And the costs to Beijing's wider economic and foreign policy objectives could be too devastating to bear, at least for now. In the meantime failure to get Taiwan to comply is leaving China rather frustrated, thus the massive show of force, according to Bonnie Glaser of the German Marshall Fund. "They want to intimidate Taiwan," she says. But Taiwan's allies are serving notice they will not be intimidated either, Canada and the US sending warships in the strait last week to demonstrate their commitment to "a free and open Indo-Pacific."

LES DO$$IERS

Après les dossiers de Panama voici ceux de Pandore, exposant l'utilisation de paradis fiscaux par les plus fortunés - souvent des personnalités politiques - et alors que les noms cachés dans ces 12 millions de documents peuvent changer avec le temps, l'habitude des mieux nantis de vouloir éviter de payer des taxes et l'immobilisme des gouver-nements, qui pourtant promettaient de s'en prendre à eux, ne changent pas du jour au lendemain.

Cette fois la mine d'or de fichiers mettait sur la sellette la famille du président kenyan, l'ancien premier ministre britannique Tony Blair et le roi jordanien. Voilà de quoi intéresser les pays qui procurent tant d'aide internationale au royaume, sans doute pas indifférents aux agissements du souverain.

Selon les documents le roi Abdallah II aurait créé au moins une trentaine de sociétés extraterritoriales et acheté par leur entremise 14 propriétés de luxe au Royaume-Uni et aux Etats-Unis pour environ 106 millions de dollars. Selon le Palais royal les "informations de presse sont inexactes, déformées et exagérées" et constituent une "menace pour la sécurité du monarque et celle de sa famille".

La nouvelle selon laquelle le premier ministre tchèque Andrej Babis aurait placé 22 millions de dollars dans des sociétés-écrans pour financer l'achat d'un château en France est plutôt mal tombée à quelques jours des élections. Il a alors dénoncé une tentative "de me dénigrer et d'influencer les élections législatives tchèques".

Quelques jours plus tard il perdait son poste. Le président équatorien, Guillermo Lasso, celui du Congo Denis Sassou Nguesso et le premier ministre ivoirien Patrick Achi figuraient aussi dans les documents, tous niant toute illégalité.

D'autres comme le président Uhuru Kenyatta, dont les avoirs ont également révélé un réseau de compagnies développé pendant des décennies, avaient même déclaré la guerre à la corruption, déplorant, lors de son discours à la nation l'an dernier, que trop de Kenyans vivent dans la pauvreté et que trop de dirigeants politiques se servent dans les coffres de l'Etat. Autant mentionner que la mention du premier ministre libanais Najib Mikati dans ces documents faisait particuliè-rement mal paraitre la gestion d'un pays du Cèdre croûlant dans la crise.

Certains dirigeants ont décidé de prendre les choses en main, le premier ministre pakistanais Imran Khan lançant une cellule d'enquête de haut niveau après les révélations de liens entre plusieurs de ses ministres et des sociétés extraterritoriales. Les hommes politiques ne sont pas les seuls à avoir été exposés, les personalités sportives comme Jacques Villeneuve et artistes dont Shakira ayant également pris des initiatives fiscales plutôt avantageuses. Certains prétendent que la décision avait été prise à leur insu par des avocats ou des comptables.

Quoiqu'il en soit l'enquête par un consortium de 600 journalistes du monde entier fournit une "preuve claire que l'industrie offshore fait le jeu de la corruption et de la criminalité financière, tout en faisant obstruction à la justice". Mais cinq ans après la fuite de la firme Mossack Fonseca de Panama, ne devait-on s'en être pris à ce genre de pratique?

Plusieurs gouverne-ments s'y étaient engagés, et pourtant la pratique parait plus populaire que jamais, surtout à une époque où la pandémie a sauvagement atteint les recettes de l'état. Même avant les documents de Panama, il y a huit ans, plusieurs gouvernements avaient promis une action coordonnée pour mettre fin à cette pratique, et pourtant certains sont à ce demander si le résultat n'a pas encore aggravé la situation.

Selon Bloomberg, la raison des échecs réside peut-être dans le fait que les personnalités qui ont le devoir de rédiger les lois et les traités régissant le flot mondial des capitaux sont plutôt à l'aise avec le système actuel, assistés de conseillés profitant de ce genre de pratique qui deviennent sur le coup des champions de l'esquive fiscale. Mais les efforts antérieurs ont tout de même parfois porté fruit.

Un ancien chef de cabinet à Malte a notamment été épinglé pour blanchiment d'argent et fraude suite à l'enquête de Panama.  Aux Etats-Unis ces dossiers ont été à l'origine de plusieurs projets de loi, même si le président antérieur a notamment fait la manchette pour avoir évité de payer des impôts pendant plusieurs années. Trump appellait ça être 'intelligent' mais plusieurs observateurs regrettent que, dans le cas de personnes ayant utilisé des comptes extraterritoriaux, ils aient souvent agi sans enfreindre la loi.

La semaine dernière un accord annoncé cet été a été conclu avec 136 pays sur la taxation des multinationales avec un taux minimum de 15%, et parmi eux les paradis fiscaux des Iles vierges britanniques et Caymans. Mais la décision ne faisait pas l'unanimité, les Barbades et quelques autres pays réfractaires résistant encore. Ceci dit c'est 90% du PIB mondial qui était englobé dans l'entente qui doit être mise en vigueur à compter de 2023. Evidemment, quelques malins pourraient trouver de nouvelles astuces d'ici là.

CODE RED

The middle of a pandemic would seem to be an odd moment to remove people on the front lines of the worst health emergency of out time. Their need has often required public authorities to call on those who had retired from the profession and move up for duty a younger generation in the midst of its education and early training.

If some front-line workers, exhausted from months of overwork not always fairly compensated, considered leaving their jobs before, would they not jump at the opportunity of doing so under new pressures?

Yet thousands of workers in North America, and more across the pond in Europe, have either been suspended from doing their jobs or discharged altogether as governments bring down the hammer on vaccine mandates, putting front line workers at the top of the list of those who should be fully protected against covid.

But if not those dealing with the sickest and most vulnerable, officials reason, who then? While the mandates have sent thousands who were previously hesitant to get their shots to the vaccination lines, the removal of others is no doubt putting new added pressures on a health industry crumbling under its patient load, sending some patients out of their jurisdiction to find the necessary beds and resources.

In New York tens of thousands of health care workers were thought of being left out when vaccine mandates went into effect, squeezing a sector already struggling with shortages. “It is their choice to not get vaccinated, but the other choice is that they won’t be able to work in health care,” said Thomas J. Quatroche of the Erie County Medical Center Corp., adding “I don’t think anybody predicted these numbers would be so high.”

US regions such as Rhode Island, Maine and Washington had similar mandates, while others such as California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland gave workers the option to get tested if they felt strongly against vaccinations. Across the border in Canada and across the waters in France thousands of others were also finding themselves ousted of an industry desperately in need of workers.

In Ontario vaccine mandates also required long-term care workers to be vaccinated by mid-November, adding to the woes of an industry savagely hit by the first wave of the pandemic, one in need of reform not close to being implemented. Quebec's health minister justified the vaccine mandate for health care workers in the province by stressing "we will not accept that those who are not vaccinated prevent those who are from having a certain normality."

Last week, sensing the urgency of the situation, Quebec extended its mandate deadline for a month.That province as well as others was also stressed by shortages and exits from burnouts striking the industry as others of the like across the world. In France similar mandates were sparking concerns of shortages both in hospitals and long term care homes. "If 5 or 10% of hospital personnel leave it's a health carastrophe," worried union leader Philippe Martinez. Holdouts have been more common than anticipated in the health field.

One medical expert in Ontario who only got her first vaccine after being told she needed it to keep her job said she wasn't an anti-vaxxer but believed, with her medical knowledge, too little was known about the long-term effects of the vaccine. "I only hope I'm not part of a class action lawsuit years from now," she said.

APRÈS DUTERTE

L'homme fort des Philippines Rodrigo Duterte a annoncé qu'il se retirerait de la vie politique au bout de son mandat de six ans l'an prochain, le seul que lui permet la Constitution, mais sa fille pourrait-elle lui succéder, et ainsi le protéger face aux poursuites pénales?

Pas encore candidate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, maire de la ville de Davao comme son père plus tôt, connait de forts succès dans les sondages. Son père ayant renoncé à l'idée de briguer le poste de vice-président en 2022, la voie serait dorénavant libre pour lancer sa candidature dans une course qui a déjà suscité une certaine attention depuis l'annonce de la participation du boxeur étoile Manny Pacquiao.

Est venu s'ajouter à cette liste de candidats Ferdinand Marcos, fils de l'ancien dictateur. Mais certains voient dans l'éventuelle candidature de Sara non seulement un moyen de prolonger le règne de la famille mais de protéger Rodrigo contre des poursuites pénales suite à sa campagne violente et sans merci contre la drogue qui a fait des milliers de morts depuis 2016 et attiré l'attention de la Cour pénale internationale.

En septembre la CPI annonçait  l'ouverture d'une enquête sur cette guerre antidrogue, estimant qu'elle "ne peut pas être considérée comme une opération légitime de maintien de l'ordre, et les meurtres ne peuvent pas être considérés ni comme légitimes ni comme de simples excès dans le cadre d'une opération par ailleurs légitime."

Manille s'est retirée de la CPI en 2019 lors de l'ouverture d'un examen préliminaire sur les violences qui n'ont épargné ni femmes ni enfants et auraient selon Amnistie fait 7000 victimes. Les juges trouvaient même qu'une "attaque généralisée et systématique contre la population civile a été lancée en application ou dans la poursuite de la politique d'un État".

Récemment la journaliste Maria Ressa recevait le Prix Nobel de la Paix pour sa "lutte courageuse pour la liberté d'expression" et son travail notamment sur "la campagne antidrogue contro-versée et meurtrière du régime Duterte".  Selon ce dernier le poste de vice président lui aurait possiblement procuré une certaine immunité contre ce genre de poursuite - une déclaration pas entièrement vérifiée - mais l'opinion publique lui a vite fait changer d'avis.

"Le sentiment dominant... chez les Philippins, est que je ne suis pas qualifié et que ce serait enfreindre la Constitution," dit-il le jour où il devait enregistrer sa candidature, proposant plutôt celle d'un autre. Malgré le choc de ses méthodes et de ses propos - causant parfois la consternation à l'étranger - durant son mandat de chef d'état, Duterte reste plutôt populaire. C'est à penser que l'objectif justifie parfois les moyens.

Il y a quelques années un rapport de l'ONU faisait état de brutalités policières, falsification des preuves et impunité des forces de l'ordre dans cette guerre à la drogue dans laquelle Duterte ne se gênait pas de parler de liquidation pure et simple des suspects.

Une présidente Duterte aurait-elle des airs de famille? Comme son père Sara est passée par le Barreau avant de se lancer en politique et est plutôt franc parler. Mais d'autres redoutent plutôt une autre candidature, celle de l'ancien chef de police Ronald dela Rosa, ce qui donnerait un autre élan à la campagne antidrogue.


NOW TO GOVERN

After sixteen years of being denied power, Germany's Social Democrats have claimed a slim win (25%) in parliamentary elections, the closest in recent memory, and right away started the always laborious work of trying to form the next government. 

The SPD would need the support of other parties to govern, as has usually been the case when Europe's economic powerhouse has gone to the polls. But it seemed the vote was as much about bidding outgoing Angela Merkel farewell as it was ushering in a new leader. In a way the duel for the top spot involved two candidates who competed to remind Germans of their departing political giant.

While Merkel backed her center-right CDU party's candidate Armin Laschet to succeed her, he fell short (24%), trailing center-left rival and former finance minister Olaf Scholz, who is well liked in part for reminding voters of Merkel's calm demeanour. Laschet's first words upon speaking on election night were directed toward Merkel, thanking her for her leadership. "In a way voters continued to vote for Merkel even if she was no longer on the ballot," observed analyst Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff. "Because they largely opted for a man - Olaf Scholz - who campai-gned and presented himself as the chancellor's natural political heir apparent." Both rivals, analysts noted, in any case represented a vote largely favoring centrist politics.

A return of the SPD, which by many accounts had just been resurrected from the dead, would continue the tradition of switching governing parties after long personal spells of power, starting with Helmut Schmidt's 8-year rule in the 1970s and including 16 years under Helmut Kohl, Merkel's mentor. The winner has big shoes to fill after the reign of a person at times called the most powerful woman in the world, who outlasted four US and French presidents and five British prime ministers.

Throughout her 16-year career as chancellor, this century's European Iron Lady, Germany's first female chancellor, maintained strong popularity and support despite encountering various crises throughout, from the 2008 financial crisis to the migrant influx of 2015, and most recently the covid pandemic, unwavering facing everything from the extreme right wing rioters to anti-vaxxer rallies.

A scientist, Merkel entered politics as the revolutions swept Europe in 1989, eventually toppling the Berlin wall and reuniting Europe's great central power. Scholz has his work cut out for him as he tries to bring together a coalition, and as many as three parties may be necessary to form government. “Long and arduous negotiations lie ahead before a coalition government can emerge. That’s likely to mean an extended period of uncertainty for financial markets as well as economic and fiscal policy,”  says Björn van Roye of Bloomberg.  Merkel stays at the helm in the interim.

 “When a new government is eventually formed it is almost certain to involve the Greens, implying a greater focus on climate change policies,” stressed Steven Bell, chief economist at BMO. “The feasible coalitions would involve compromise on all sides and imply no major policy shift.” In polls 59% of Germans said they favoured a coalition of SPD, Greens and Freedom Democratic Party to form government.

RETOUR DIFFICILE

Le retour en classe à l'automne avait un triste air de familiarité, la première réunion virtuelle avec les parents dans une école d'Ottawa révélant déjà la présence de cas de contagion. Un courriel de la santé publique confirmant le cas de covid-19 dans une classe de 8e et c'était un retour aux centres de dépistage dès la première semaine, malgré le haut taux de vaccinations chez les jeunes qui y ont accès. Par contre l'isolement n'était plus obligatoire chez les élèves doublement vaccinés, même en attendant leur résultat, qui d'ordinaire était disponible en 24 heures.

Pour la jeune mère d'un enfant d'un an et demie cependant, la réglementation rendait diffi-cile le retour au travail, sa garderie exigeant quatre tests en moins d'un mois en raison des divers symptômes inoffensifs de son bambin, à une période où le gouver-nement provincial redéfinissait les symptômes exigeant un test. A l'entrée d'un stade de baseball converti en centre de dépistage, une employée avouait s'y perdre un peu à propos de la réglementation changeante.

Quelques améliorations depuis l'automne 2020 certes, mais un rappel que les nouveaux variants restent bien présents pour hanter les corridors scolaires. Près de 200 cas d'étudiants exposés en Ontario après une semaine seulement (800 écoles rapportaient des cas quelques semaines plus tard, soit 17% des établissements ontariens), alors que quelques cas de contamination aux Iles du Prince Edouard semaient la zizanie, fermant plusieurs écoles pendant quelques jours.

A Montréal c'est une seule enseignante qui a causé la fermeture d'une école après avoir retiré son masque en classe. La rentrée annonçait une autre année scolaire bien autre qu'ordinaire malgré les campagnes de vaccination, en attendant que les plus jeunes y aient finalement droit, possiblement plus tard cet l'automne.

En Alberta ces plus jeunes de moins de 12 ans représentent le groupe le plus touché par les nouvelles éclosions. En attendant, sur fond de manifestations contre les mesures en bordure des hôpitaux, les provinces mettaient graduellement en vigueur leur réglementation sanitaire, suivant l'exemple du Québec qui impose la preuve de vaccination pour les activités non essentielles comme la visite d'un bar ou d'un restaurant.

L'Ontario et la Colombie britannique emboiaient le pas par la suite en dévoilant leurs propres "passeports vaccinaux", sous forme électronique notamment, en retard sur plusieurs pays européens. D'autres, comme la Grande Bretagne, revoyaient leurs objectifs cependant, en reportant l'utilisation de pass sanitaires pour événements de masse.

De l'autre côté de la Manche le chiffre était à la baisse, mais c'est tout de même 1700 classes qui étaient annulées pour cause de covid la semaine dernière. Autant noter que les mesures sanitaires variaient de pays en pays pour les voyageurs qui depuis l'été ont repris les vols. En France une reprise des manifestations régulières, gilets jaunes version 2021, cette fois contre les mesures sanitaires.

Mais pour celles qui débordaient un peu, comme les démonstrations près des écoles ou des hôpitaux au Québec, les autorités passaient à l'action législative, les interdisant, un geste pas accueilli avec enthousiasme par ceux qui y voient une entrave au droit d'expression. La députée conservatrice Claire Samson parlait plutôt de méthode "bulldozer" de faire régner l'ordre.

A DIVISIVE PACT?

It was an agreement between like-minded powers to unify against a common threat from the middle kingdom, but ended up dividing allies, creating a division between the Five Eyes and infuriating France.

The Aukus defence pact between Washington, London and Canberra also miffed its main Chinese target, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian claiming it "seriously undermined regional peace and stability, exacerbated the arms race and undermined international nuclear non-proliferation efforts" by sharing sensitive restricted technology with Australia.

Days after recalling its ambassadors France still seethed from the loss of a major $50 bil. submarine contract, Australia ultimately choosing nuclear powered American submarines over the conventional ones originally planned with France's naval yards. Paris also postponed defense talks planned with Britain, though it did not recall its ambassador there.

Another blow to one of the world's top military exporters came days later when Switzerland also passed on a French option to equip itself with Rafale fighters, choosing the American F-35 instead, the next generation jet model the U.S. is pushing its NATO allies to equip itself with. Just simple business? Paris took the matters rather personally.

Days later US president Joe Biden sought to reassure not only Paris but Beijing as well, about the nature of the pact. He called Emmanuel Macron after addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations where he stated the United States did not want to launch a new Cold War with China and vowed to begin an era of "relentless diplomacy."

"We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, technological exploitation, or disinfor-mation," he told the UN. "But we are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs. The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges."

But Biden may have upset some of his other Five Eyes partners stating his country "has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia" to prime minister Scott Morrison. The Five Eyes include New Zealand and Canada, close intelligence partners and neighbours left out of the pact.

The EU threw its support behind Paris, European Council president Charles Michel calling the pact "a lack of loyalty", requesting "clarifica-tions" from Washington. The pact involves a number of technological and diplomatic exchanges on everything from artifical intelligence to cybercrimininality. But it especially adds a new player to the exclusive nuclear submarine club which is limited to the US, France, Britain, China, Russia and India.

Australia claims its reversal was justified in view of major delays, cost overruns and lack of opportunities for its own naval industry in the French deal. "The politics are messy, but the reasons why countries want to be in the nuclear-powered submarine club are crystal clear," according to Andrew S. Erickson, author of Chinese Naval Shipbuilding: An Ambitious and Uncertain Course.

"Power and endurance, both for propulsion and the need to supply electrical power for onboard systems, are critical to any navy—and nuclear power is simply the best option. Even the French deal was done on the premise that the submarines could eventually be converted to nuclear propulsion."

Additio-nally, mastering naval nuclear power is a key part of Beijing’s global ambitions at sea, Erickson adds, suggesting possible assistance from Russia on this front could have been a catalyst for Australia's jump to nuclear technology.

Among the other Five Eyes Canada had once considered the opportunity of acquiring nuclear subs, the only type allowing thorough capabilities under its Polar ice caps, but opted to go diesel instead, buying cheaper used British submarines which remain a stain to its naval fleet.

Speaking to soften relations with France, UK PM Boris Johnson called the Channel relationship "indestructible" and said the pact was not made to exclude close allies. "Of course we'll be talking to all our friends about how to make the Aukus pact work so that it's not exclusionary, it's not divisive - and it really doesn't have to be that way," he said at the UN. "This is just a way of the UK, the US and Australia sharing certain technologies because that is the sensible thing to do in the world in which we find ourselves. But that does not in any way mean that we wish to be adversarial to anybody else, or exclusive, or crowding anybody else out."

If it seemed frictions warranted a little "relentless diplomacy", something like that achieved bringing down tensions between Paris and Washington when Macron and Biden talked on the phone and agreed "open consultation" should have taken place in order to prevent such misunderstandings between allies and should be commonplace in the future.

A welcome outcome after French officials had said the deal had been akin to "treason" and "stabbed" France in the back. Perhaps they were making a bit of a show about it to Macron's advantage, some analysts pointing out standing firm to Washington could work in his favor as he heads to the polls next year.

TRUDEAU COMES SHORT

Justin Trudeau's hopes of gaining a dozen seats to secure a new majority showed early signs of trouble from the get go in this year's snap election as Canada's Atlantic provinces delivered more seats to the Conservatives and fewer to the Liberals.

The election was eventually called in favor of the incumbent, who claimed his third victory in a row, as Conservatives failed to break through in Ontario or Quebec, but with roughly the same amount a seats (158) as two years ago Trudeau failed to regain his 2015 majority, leaving some observers to wonder whether Canadians would be back at the polls in the near future.

In the last days of the campaign the front runners had appealed to those lured by third parties not to support them, saying it would give their opponent the victory. Both Conservative Erin O'Toole and Trudeau had upped the attacks on the stump and in advertisement in the final days of the campaign. Election night ended an acrimonious campaign which not only involved the usual attack ads as opposition members ganged up against the prime minister, but sometimes violent demonstrators who protested against covid-19 measures, some going as far as throwing small pellets at Trudeau during one of his public events.

The disruptions were criticized by other party leaders but kept dogging Trudeau throughout the campaign. One leader who stayed silent on the issue and whose supporters attended the troublesome rally was right-wing leader Maxime Bernier of the People's Party of Canada, who eventually lost his seat but considered his movement alive and well across Canada nevertheless. Other candidates deplored threats made online and saw their campaign signs defaced by Swastikas.

A number of PPC supporters were seen at the event involving the gravel pellets and a PPC riding association president even-tually faced criminal charges. Bernier did not make the cut of minimal support to be part of the leaders' debates but saw his popularity grow as disaffected Conservatives not happy with O'Toole's leadership, and more centrist positions, switched their vote over to him instead.

Trudeau called the election as favorable ratings showed he had a chance to secure a majority, but these figures started slipping soon after, even putting the Conservatives slightly ahead in party voting intentions, as they were on election night in October 2019. Vote distribution however prevented them from taking power this year as it did two years ago.

Conservative numbers notably dropped after the three televised debates however, leading O'Toole to multiply attacks in the last week of campaigning, accusing Trudeau of creating a national unity crisis. O'Toole notably stumbled on gun control during the campaign, tweaking his platform vow to repeal gun control legislation in mid stream, saying he would keep a ban on assault weapons.

This wasn't well received in more Conservative circles who saw a more progressive leader than they wanted. O'Toole also said he wouldn't necessarily scrap carbon pricing, despite the fact his platform said he would "scrap the carbon tax backstop." Unlike Trudeau who attended a number of live in person events, O'Toole opted for more of a virtual campaign, choosing to make many announcements in front of cameras from an Ottawa hotel. Events held outside were usually limited to supporters and the media.

In the first debate Trudeau made himself no favors hinting he could call another election within 18 months if he failed to obtain a majority. In this and other debates the reoccurring question of why Trudeau chose to launch an election with two years left in his mandate dogged him. While two years is the average length of a minority government, the Liberals had been operating with the support of other parties and could have continued this, many agree, until their full mandate was up. 

This third party support may not come easy this time around. Trudeau said he wanted to call an election to engage a debate on the way forward in view of the differing opinions on the pandemic but was criticized over and over again for not only calling an "unnecessary" or "selfish" election to try to gain a majority, but doing so in the middle of a pandemic. In addition the election call was made on the day Kabul airport was closed to commercial traffic, triggering the Afghan crisis. The government's response to the emergency, which stranded Canadians and their helpers half a world away, was also panned by other party members. These weren't the only blows to Trudeau.

Despite closely collaborating with Quebec during the pandemic Trudeau did not get Quebec premier Francois Legault's vote, the latter telling a news conference voting Liberal, NDP or Green would be bad for Quebec, accusing these parties of wanting to centralize powers in Ottawa.

But O'Toole faced a similar blow after fellow Tory provincial leader Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta whose management of the pandemic he had praised, admitted he had been wrong in handing the health crisis as the province declared a new health emergency. The Tories saw a double digit drop of support in the province on election night.

During debates Trudeau was criticized for his record, accused of not delivering on promises after six years in power, from climate change targets to reconciliation, some even questioning his feminist credentials. "Mr. Trudeau promises things and doesn't deliver," O'Toole said. "Mr. Trudeau may care. I think he cares. But the reality is that he's often done a lot of things for show and he hasn't backed them up with real action," said NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

One thing the party leaders did agree on during the campaign was to open the purse strings, the Liberals promising $78 bil. in new spending, while the Conservatives promised more than $50 bil., leaving analysts worried about the cost of all that accumulated debt as interest rates rise.  

LES COLONELS

Après le Mali plus tôt cette année, c’est au tour du voisin guinéen de vivre son plus récent coup d’état, comme si une contagion gagnait ce coin de l’Afrique de l’Ouest à présent dirigé par des colonels. La dernière victime, un président élu il y a 11 ans lors de la première élection démocratique depuis l’indé-pendance mais qui avait depuis semé la grogne en cherchant à prolonger sa présidence, le réflexe des hommes au pouvoir dans plusieurs coins d’Afrique.

L’arrestation de L’octogé-naire Alpha Condé a été annoncée par les militaires du groupement des forces spéciales qui ont dissous le parlement et la constitution, en promettant de faire respecter des principes démocratiques selon eux bafoués par le dirigeant sortant. Acclamé par la rue, le geste des militaires n’est pas accueilli avec autant d’enthousiasme par la communauté internationale, qui fait appel au rétablissement de l’ordre, ou de plusieurs observateurs.

“C’est une déception, un sentiment d’échec, regrette Mamady Kaba de la ligue pour les droits et la démocratie en Afrique. Nous espérons qu’il y aura un nouveau départ, et une réforme des institutions.” Quelques jours plus tard la junte annonçait la mise en oeuvre d'un "gouvernement d'union nationale" pour assurer la transition politique, et ce sans "chasse aux sorcières".

Les ministres proches de Condé étaient cependant invités à s'abstenir. L’expérience démo-cratique est-elle donc  terminée en Guinée ou avait-elle déjà disparu depuis quelque temps?

Fin 2019 déjà Amnistie internationale dénonçait la “violations des droits humains qui se multiplient, notamment les homicides de manifestants, les interdictions de rassem-blements pacifiques et la répression des voix dissidentes” responsables de douzaines de morts.

Les militaires, avec en tête le lieut.-colonel Mamady Doumbouya, disent avoir agi pour mettre fin à "la gabegie financière, la pauvreté et la corruption endémique" ainsi que "l'instrumentalisation de la justice (et) le piétinement des droits des citoyens". Mais le parcours semble plutôt familier.

Le coup d’état précédent en Guinée remontait à 2008 à peine, suite au décès de Lansana Conté, qui avait lui-même pris le pouvoir par la force des armes. Le putsch suit celui du voisin malien au printemps, son deuxième en moins d’un an, plongeant la région dans l’incertitude.

Au Mali certains réclament le prolongement de la période de transition qui prévoit un référendum constitutionnel et des élections présidentielles, car ces échéanciers semblaient hors de portée. Conakry tentait de rassurer les investisseurs étrangers, la Guinée étant un important producteur de bauxite, se disant promettre de respecter "toutes ses obligations liées aux conventions minières" tout en rappelant son "engagement à favoriser les investissements étrangers."

Le pays reste pour l'heure sous un couvre feu qui rend le travail des petits commerçants difficiles. Le régime a cependant procédé aux premières libérations des prisoniers d'opinion du régime précédent, un geste encourageant mais pas sûr d'entièrement rassurer les critiques nationales et internationales de la junte.

Rien pour convaincre l'Union africaine, qui comme la Cédéao, a choisi de suspendre la Guinée. En attendant on annonçait l'ouverture d'une série de rencontres entre divers membres de la société guinéenne pour préparer la formation du gouvernement.

EL SALVADOR'S STRONGMAN?

Wracked by years of gang violence, El Savador has seen a drop of the kind of activities that have made it one of the most murderous countries on earth under the popular presidency of Nayib Bukele. But critics say the violence shaking the nation of 6.5 million now targets its democratic institutions after the 40 year old president stacked the country's Supreme Court with loyalists who then cleared a path for him to seek re-election in three years despite a constitutional ban on consecutive presidential terms.

Barely two years at the helm, the high court ruled the ball cap wearing president could stand for office in 2024. The ruling was made by judges appointed by a national assembly dominated by Bukele’s party following the removal of the attorney general and magistrates.

Party members also passed a law to remove one-third of the nation's judges and prosecutors, heeding Bukele's calls for a "purge" of the judiciary. El Salvador also announced recently it was adopting Bitcoin as national currency, a controversial move critics say was meant to eclipse the Supreme Court's decision.

Critics both at home and abroad panned the election decision.  “The dictatorship is consummated,” opined Óscar Ortiz of the Farabundo Martī Front for National Liberation,  a former vice president. US official Jean Manes said the move was “clearly contrary to the Salvadoran constitution” and compared the popular president's path to that of Hugo Chavez.

"For a moment, many Venezuelans believed that they were living in a democracy ... but little by little Chávez undermined the independence of Venezuela's democratic institutions. We know where this path leads, and we do not want it for El Salvador."

Bukele has in fact criticized the 30 year old peace agreement which ended El Salvador's bloody civil war and ushered in democracy as a "farce", claiming "democracy was a pantomime. When the changes aren’t cosmetic, you have to cut the problems at their root."

The decision to adopt Bitcoin was controversial on its own, leading many to fear adopting it as national currency is an unprecedented monetary experiment that could end up costing the country's fragile economy dearly.

The risks became apparent as Bukele announced the purchase of hundreds of Bitcoins before the rate took a 10% drop. Salvadorans would be able to download an application called the "Chivo Wallet," providing them $30 worth of Bitcoin in order to  promote the use of the cryptocurrency.

Supporters say the currency allows new possibilities for people who don't own bank accounts but the day Bitcoin launched demon-strations took place against the currency, some organizers fearing the country could become a narco-state as Bitcoins could be used for money laundering.

Two third of the population says it would rather stick with the much used US dollar. Criticized at home and abroad, Bukele did manage to reign in gang violence in the country, but an investigation by El Salvador’s former attorney general leaked to the media revealed his administration had negotiated with the country's main gangs to bring violence down. It suggested gang leaders could have agreed to lower violent attacks to obtain better prison conditions including more communica-tions with gang members on the outside
                     
NOW, TERROR?

Mission accomplished? The US administration having considered "completed" the original mission of ousting Al Qaida stood by its deadline of Aug 31 to remove its last soldiers from Afghan soil, ending activities which had killed thousands of American troops.

But this was after last week's devastating terror attacks at besieged Kabul airport which killed over 170, including a dozen US soldiers, hardly leaving the country safe from a return to terrorism potentially harm-ing the West in the future.

The Islamic State, a common enemy of both departing troops and incoming Taleban, claimed responsi-bility for the attacks, which had been largely anticipated by Western intelligence.

The US troops still on the ground, former US defense secretary Leon Panetta was already predicting their eventual return to deal with the threat which has emerged and already spilled the blood of both soldiers and civilians. “We’re going to have to go back in to get ISIS,” Panetta told CNN.

Others such as David Petraeus, former commander of US and allied forces, said it would now take longer for US troops to return to the country if needed, Washington having  committed to finding and hunting down those responsible for the recent attack, the most serious against the US in a decade, and that America's future intelligence capabilities in the country and region were seriously hampered just as their need reached new urgency.

Petraeus told the US Naval Institute of the equipment and resources needed for an eventual return to the region. “It’s going to take a fleet of aerial tankers to get [aircraft] there and stay there” to monitor terror groups, adding it would also take hours for military drones to reach Afghanistan from other US bases.

“We had this all set up” he said of pursuing counterterrorism efforts in the region, keeping some 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. forces there “would have been the way” to have eyes on the ground, but all this is lost now with the withdrawal. Both he and Panetta agreed Taleban promises to keep terrorists at bay were hardly worth the paper they were printed on. “They gave safe haven to Al Qaida before, they’ll probably do it again,” predicted the director of the CIA who oversaw the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

After all the Taleban had released a number of insurgents by opening up the prisons as they took over the country and were themselves “terrorists, and certainly supporters of terrorists, operating checkpoints for terrorists.” In the mean time at least Panetta was confident the US had “pretty good intelligence on the leadership of ISIS,” terrorist group who took responsibility for the blasts.

Indeed within days of the attack the US claimed it had killed planners behind the blasts and prevented another attack by sending a drone to take out a vehicle. But this was followed by IS rocket fire against the airport on the eve of final withdrawal. While some questioned the irony that America had been relying on the Taleban to secure the outer perimeter of the Kabul airport, Washington went as far as to give them lists of people they were seeking to evacuate so they could get through their checkpoints, leading some US officials to say the group taking over the country had in fact helped prevent attacks.

But new efforts will have to ensure the US retains intelligence capabilities in the sensitive region. “I understand that we’re trying to get our troops out of there, but the bottom line is, we can leave a battlefield, but we can’t leave the war on terrorism, which still is a threat to our security,” Panetta said. In addition to IS-Khorasan and other groups active in Afghanistan, it is feared the attacks could have a galvanizing effect on jihadists around the world from nearby Pakistan to Yemen, Syria and all the way to Nigeria and Mozambique.

All possibly heeding the propaganda the US and its allies were successfully flushed from the country. A knife attack by an ISIS sympathizer in New Zealand this week was already one incident which raised concerns of copycat attacks.

QUARELLING NEIGHBORS

Algeria and Morocco have had strained relations in the best of times, and in view of recent massive wildfires causing death and destruction in the North African region, these haven't been the best of times.

In fact Algeria is accusing its neighbor of supporting a "terror group" seeking the independence of the affected Kabylie region, which it said is behind the blazes which killed dozens. The claim is among a number of wedge issues which ruptured relations between the two countries who share a border which has been closed since 1994.

The two have long standing tensions on everything from the border to the sensitive southern region of Western Sahara, home to an independence Polisario Front backed by Algeria. Algiers also accuses Morocco of spying on its officials by using the controversial Pegasus spyware and said it failed to meet bilateral obligations, some of them notably involving Western Sahara.

"The Moroccan kingdom has never stopped its hostile actions against Algeria," said Algerian foreign minister Ramdane Lamamra, who also cited Morocco’s support for Israel to be awarded observer status at the African Union.

Rabat had joined other countries such as United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Bahrain seeking normaliza-tion with the Jewish state, an issue which has deeply divided the Arab world. Both countries would maintain consular services during this diplomatic break  which has brought tense relations to their lowest point in decades.

Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had recently visited the kingdom and said at the time Algeria was developing ties with Iran while opposing Israel's decisions to join the African Union as observer.

Under King Mohammed VI Morocco had been seeking better relations with its eastern neighbor and sought to reopen the border between the two countries, but Algiers has rejected this for security reasons. Rabat had however stoked tensions earlier when one of its diplomats in New York called for self-determination for the Kabylie people, causing Algiers to recall its ambassador.

The Western Sahara, which Morocco considers its own,  has been a continuous point of contention since decoloniza-tion and the issue flared up again last year when the Polisario Front said it was resuming its armed struggle.

The United States recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the territory last year after Rabat improved its relations with Israel. Lamamra said his government's position was unwavering. "Algeria will remain firm in its positions on the issue of Western Sahara," he said.

Morocco has denied spying on Algerian officials, saying it did not the possess the Pegasus spyware, an Israeli designed spying software used around the world. Cybersecurity group Citizen Lab says the software was most recently used against Bahrain activists by that kingdom's officials.

L'ABANDON

Le retour de troupes multinationales en Afghanis-tan aurait dû être accueilli avec enthousiasme et espoir en raison des gains effectués par les Talibans à travers le pays, capturant une douzaine de capitales régionales en quelques jours, dont la stratégique et symbolique Kandahar.

Or cette dernière mission militaire ne faisait que confirmer l'abandon du pays aux mains des islamistes, Etats-Unis, Grande-Bretagne, Canada et autres parachutant leurs unités spéciales avec le seul but de rapatrier le personnel d'ambassades bientôt assiégées.

Avant même l'arrivée de la totalité de leurs effectifs les Talibans avaient pris la capitale, tandis que le président afghan prenait la fuite. Les citoyens d'un pays longtemps à l'origine des plus importantes migrations de réfugiés à travers le monde étaient livrés à leur sort avec la déroute des troupes gouvernementales. Celle-ci était d'autant plus décourageante que des années et des milliards avaient été investis pour former les troupes, dont certaines unités ont fui dès les premiers combats, et même parfois pour les éviter.

Avec la chute de Kandahar, ancienne base canado-américaine et centre névralgi-que régional important, des milliers se précipitaient vers la capitale Kaboul, un dernier bastion gouvernemental qui n'a tenu que quelques heures de plus et n'a opposé aucune résistance. Alors qu'en conférence de presse les Talibans promettaient qu'il n'y aurait pas de représailles et que les femmes seraient respectées, les réalités sur le terrain étaient un rappel de la bonne vieille ligne dure infligeant des sanctions sévères contre ceux et celles qui n'obéissent pas aux règles religieuses strictes, sans parler de ceux qui avaient servi ONGs, le gouvernement ou  les troupes étrangères.

 La suite s'annonçait catastrophique pour ceux qui avaient vu leur conditions s'améliorer au courant des années, notamment les femmes et les jeunes filles. Ces dernières forment la majorité du quart de million de réfugiés qui ont pris la route lors des offensives, des éclats qui ont déjà tué plus de 1000 civils.

Précipitée par le départ des troupes américaines, pourtant annoncé et retardé depuis des lunes mais en fin de compte chaotique, l'écroulement du pouvoir avait lieu sur fond "d'impuissance de la commu-nauté internationale", selon l'analyste Bruno Daroux, et malgré les derniers efforts à l'ONU de mettre fin à l'offensive talibane. Alors que la société civile a pu faire quelques pas pour rétablir certaines libertés lors des dernières années, la faiblesse des institutions nationales et l'emprise des Talibans dans les régions éloignées du pays ont précipité la débandade, les troupes étrangères une fois sur le chemin du retour.

Le secrétaire de la défense britannique Ben Wallace s'avouait préoccupé par l'avenir du pays: "Les états ratés génèrent la pauvreté et les problèmes de sécurité, à l'interne mais aussi à l'international." C'était bien sous le même régime qu'Al-Qaida avait préparé ses attentats aux Etats-Unis il y a 20 ans. Le secrétaire général de l'ONU Antonio Guterres insistait qu'il était impératif que le pays ne serve plus de base au terrorisme.

"Vous ne serez pas ciblés depuis l'Afghanistan," promirent les Talibans. Mais les critiques du retrait des troupes, notamment américaines, ne se gênent plus de parler d'"humiliation" et de "défaite" de ces forces armées, une réalité dure à avaler par les familles des soldats perdus, et encore plus par les Afghans qui se sentent "trahis" par le départ des alliés. "Il s'agit d'une tragédie incroyable pour ce peuple qui souffre depuis longtemps," résume Guterres.

Pour Nader Hashemi de l'université de Denver, il ne s'agit pas moins d'une "défaite colossale des Etats-Unis et leurs alliés." Etant donnée la déroute des forces afghanes, qui a armé les Talibans, "les déclarations des commandants de l'Otan on grossièrement exagéré la compétence du gouvernment et des forces afghanes," dit-il. Des forces qui selon plusieurs experts n'ont opposé qu'une très faible résistance aux Talibans malgré des années de formation.

Et pour certains, notamment un président Biden attristé par la déroute mais sans regrets, ceci justifie le retrait américain, un retrait, selon lui, qui ne pouvait pas avoir lieu sans anicroches. Mais d'autres parlent plutôt du premier fiasco de son administration. "Le retour des Talibans va hanter l'occident pendant longtemps," se désole Hashemi.

COVID AGAIN

After a summer of so much promise many students are heading back to school with the option to continue the virtual learning of this spring or head to class while being kept in limited groups all the while wearing masks, even if they are vaccinated. Elsewhere infections are going back up as hospital wards welcome younger patients. What happened to the hope of a return to normal? Or is this what it looks like? The delta variant for one has reintroduced a higher level of infection requiring continuing work on the vaccine front, and forcing vaccination campaigns to go into overdrive.

Booster shots, vaccine passes or passports and masks, these are the tools of the endemic which covid outbreaks have become. And some say a new generation of vaccines may be necessary to truly keep the virus at bay. In the mean time not everyone is keen on all of these measures at this point in time, and this includes members of the scientific community, let alone the growing protest movements against health measures.

As some countries push third doses while others struggle to cobble the first, the World Health Organiza-tion wants to spread the growing vaccine wealth around before recommending third doses or booster shots. “I think we’re closer to the beginning than we are to the end [of the pandemic], and that’s not because the variant that we’re looking at right now is going to last that long,” said epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who worked closely with WHO.

“Unless we vaccinate everyone in 200 plus countries, there will still be new variants.” This means covid-19 could become a “forever virus” like influenza, requiring regular vaccines updated for the latest strain. WHO had earlier sought to slow vaccination campaigns for children in order to protect the most vulnerable around the world.

That category is however changing to incorporate anyone not fully vaccinated, not just those with health issues. And among the unvaccinated are not only those unable to obtain doses or skeptics, but children under 12 still not eligible to receive a shot, making the need to protect them all the more urgent as they return to school and children's hospitals fill up in some countries such as the United States.

 The US hopes to speed trials for children 5 to 12 to perhaps make a vaccine available before the year is over. This certainly clashes with WHO's call to maximize immunizations among those already eligible as most of the world's adults are not protected. Countries with low levels of vaccination have after all brought us the more contagious strains of a highly evolving virus, India, in the case of the delta variant, while Colombia saw the emergence of another variant experts say may become to next one to watch.

But even in countries with higher levels of vaccination, such as the United States, officials are growing concerned the vaccinated can spread the virus as well, even if it is less likely to send them to the emergency ward or morgue. The Centers for Disease Control have hence walked back suggestions to abandon masks indoors, among the reversals angering some citizens. But the situation there is once more dire as the country is averaging 10 times the daily infections it saw in June.

This is making some in Canada concerned as the world's longest undefended border once more reopened to road traffic, to limit the economic damage of another lost travel season. Meanwhile the United States, home of the worst global outbreak, after the failures of the previous administration, is going to ask visitors, military members and federal employees to be fully vaccinated.

 This as in the South the country's emergency wards are once again filling up as some states call out for help and ventilators, while some patients are being evacuated to medical centres with room remaining. As new variants emerge, boosted by regions worldwide where most remain unvaccinated, experts say a new generation of vaccines will be necessary, not just to prevent severe illness, but stop transmitting the disease, which the vaccinated currently can still do, threatening others.

Until then the fight against the virus will continue, and US expert Anthony Fauci says the public has been lucky the delta variant has been contained by the current vaccines so far. "Quite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness," he said. “If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble.”

Meanwhile vaccine passes are increasingly being embraced as a way to avoid future lockdowns. In France and Italy they became mandatory to enter restaurants and bars, with regional governments in North America also following suit in New York and Quebec, though not without controversy. This once more left divided a national capital with one set of rules on one side of the Ottawa River and a second set on the other. Canada later mandated that public servants, rail and air passengers also be vaccinated while saying it would work on a vaccine passport for travellers.

And while all vaccines are not created equal, with Chinese-made vaccines not recognized in the United States, the same can be said of vaccination regimens. Some are not recognizing doubly vaccinated individuals because they received different first and second doses of the vaccines. In addition concern is growing about the effectiveness of current vaccines dealing with the variants at hand in the long run.

According to one Mayo Clinic study the effectiveness of the much touted Pfizer vaccine was said of dropping to 42% in July, while Moderna's effectiveness still hovered around 76%. Another aspect of the ongoing race against a virus which has already seen many mutations to torment humanity.

AND THEY'RE OFF

By calling for a much anticipated snap election in September Justin Trudeau is gambling Canadians will appreciate his efforts fighting the pandemic and restore the parliamentary majority he lost two years ago, but there is no guarantee he will get one.

He faces a relatively under appreciated Tory leader in the short 36-day campaign, but polls once suggesting a majority may again be within the grasp of the Liberal party have tightened, with third parties playing potential spoilers.

And much can happen even in a short run to the polls. While Canada was less effective launching its vaccination campaign at first it quickly became one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, but the election campaign gets underway as a new wave of infections emerges, threatening more shut downs of the economy.

 Conservative leader Erin O'Toole has faced internal opposition ever since he was selected in the party leadership campaign, many in his own party finding him too centrist in a divided political landscape. He pledged to put the country on the path of economic recovery after what he called a bungled response to the pandemic which cost tens of thousands of jobs, in part by "unleashing innovation."

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who announced his campaign platform days before the official suspension of parliament, promised universal pharmacare, dental and mental health support if elected. He and O'Toole condemned Trudeau for launching what they deemed an unnecessary election, but agree on little else.

"The only reason for an election is because Trudeau wants a majority" chimes a Conservative TV ad. One Tory ad however was deemed so bad and amateurish it was panned by Tory MPs themselves, hardly the start O'Toole wanted.

The party's platform promised billions in new pandemic aid and to "take inequality seriously", a centrist swing perhaps not endearing to all Conserva-tives. The split of the vote among the five parties, including the Quebec-only Bloc Quebecois and Greens, threatened to leave parliament the way it was coming out of the Sept. 20 vote.

Singh's poll-topping personal likability could be a factor chipping away at the Liberals' hopes of a majority. The election call had been preceded by a wave of electoral announcements by the Liberals, from plans to develop a vaccine passport to health care decisions hoping to chip away at the support of the NDP.

In Ontario alone that party is sitting third at 26% but has gained 9 points since 2019 in the popular vote, while the poll-topping Liberals (34%) lost 7 points and the Tories slipped two point (to 30%), according to a Leger poll. "I think they need millennials certainly to win a majority," opined David Coletto of Abacus Data, pointing out these young adults have started looking to the NDP rather than Liberals in recent years, hurting their chances to add the necessary new seats.