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MAJESTY


She was Britain's, indeed the Commonwealth's longest reigning monarch, having just celebrated her 70th year on the throne. This made Queen Elizabeth II's passing, despite weeks of declining health, all the more saddening not only to British citizens, but citizens around the world, many of whom carried objects and currencies bearing her effigy in their pockets. 


Three generations had grown up knowing only her as monarch, a symbolic and diminutive but powerful figure who, even at a young age, was one of the symbols of the free world's resistance during the Second World War and remained, in the words of the U.K.'s new prime minister, "the rock on which modern Britain was built." 


The rocky politics of the last weeks, months and years in the kingdom had most recently showed the significance of that contribution, no matter how subtle, in helping provide a sense of continuity and stability as Britain tried to ride, nevermind rule, the waves of the post-pandemic and post-Brexit inflationary war economy. While the reign was long, the transition could seem a bit abrupt in contrast, her son assuming the role of king instantaneously, under the title of Charles III, as the crowds were gathering outside Buckingham palace to mourn their monarch, a place they had so recently gathered to celebrate her reign. 


The Queen hadn't passed on there but in her retreat of Balmoral, where Downing Street's new resident had to travel to take on her role, the latest sign the monarch was seeing her final days. The year had been trying for the 96-year-old queen, still mourning no doubt the loss of her husband of 73 years. Just a week earlier Britain had also stopped to mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of Lady Di. 


The latter's ex-husband was now taking over the realms of the former empire after decades of waiting in the wings, rising to the throne at the age of 73, prepared like few others for the tasks ahead. While this doesn't mean his image now replaces his predecessor's right away on everything from police station portraits to coins, it does start the gradual process of changing quite a few nameplates and hymns. 


God Save the King, for one, played shortly after the BBC's announcements of her passing, a single union jack fluttering in the wind. Across the pond His Majesty's Loyal opposition, a new leader at its head, would now take their benches back as parliament returned from summer break in Ottawa, but only after a first session devoted to mark her passing followed by a national day of mourning punctured by the echoes of cannon fire. In the provincial capital, the legislature known as Queen's Park cancelled sittings as a sign of respect. 


The soon to be king had visited Canada earlier this year as a means to re-introduce himself to the masses as he slowly took over roles previously left to her majesty, such as delivering a speech to the British parliament in her stead. The transition was slowly taking place, and Canadians turned out in great numbers at every stop of his tour to see the future king, 12 years after his mother's last visit to Canada. 


But will the already fraying ties between the monarchy and its subjects be further worn under Charles III? Paying tribute, as so many around the world upon hearing the news of her passing, was the president of Barbados, which a year prior had broken its ties with the monarchy. From 32 at the time of Queen Elizabeth's coronation, the number of countries where the monarch served as head of state has dwindled to 15. And with her passing others could be lining up to leave, both far and near. 


Before being transported to London, the late Queen lied in state in Scotland, a region that has also signalled new intentions to break from the kingdom, though this discussion was muted for now. A poll this summer showed support for the monarchy by Scots down to 45%, with 36% venturing the death of the queen would be the right time to become a republic. The numbers may be similar elsewhere, including Canada. 


New Zealand's leader said that while separating from the monarchy wasn't a pressing matter currently, she saw it happening in her lifetime. And mourning wasn't for everyone, especially for people who in the past sufferted from colonial rule. South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighters party stated: "We do not mourn the death of Elizabeth, because to us her death is a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa's history." During his more recent travels Charles had expressed regret for some of the crown's actions in the past in the colonies. But it may have been too little too late. 



SIX MONTHS ON


The display was impressive as rows upon rows of Russian military vehicles finally occupied the center of Kyiv. Tanks, armed personnel carriers and other mechanical monsters of war lined up on the central avenue in front of the Ukrainian parliament, six months after the conflict. 


But upon close inspection many weren't in much shape to move anywhere fast. They were in fact captured trophies the Ukrainian army was proud to display, medals of bravery and defiance in full display for smartphone carrying pedestrians happy to snap away in the relatively untroubled capital. 


More than six months after the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine the eastern front has been largely swept, but the Russian gains were largely limited there, and at what cost. Sanctions are taking a growing bite into the increasingly isolated country, whose national airline has started cannibalizing plane parts, while continued military aid to Ukraine has put it on the offensive in the south of the country. 


Drones and other major pieces of Kyiv's West-backed arsenal have been laying waste to Russian military depots in occupied Crimea, while president Volodymyr Zelensky has been increasingly bold, refusing Russian overtures short of the return of all Ukrainian territory. This week Kyiv launched an offensive to recapture part of the south and east. 


Combined results are having a psychological impact on Moscow, Western officials say, especially strikes on Crimea which have taken place during much of August. Attacks on the Saki airbase on the 9th and ensuing drone and other Ukrainian strikes have effectively put more than half of the Black Sea fleet's fighter jets out of action, the fleet based there enduring continuous setbacks since the beginning of the invasion in February. 


In that part of the country at least it is Russia which is on the defensive, notably since the April sinking of the 186-metre Moskva cruiser. Continuous strikes on the peninsula since have turned Moscow's attention there instead of making progress elsewhere, occasionally firing shots in Kyiv and other regions as if to remind Ukraine of its continuing but dwindling reach. 


Things should have been settled by now on many accounts, and the prospects of a long war is causing grumblings in Russia itself despite the heavy hand of Kremlin censorship. Even fervent nationalists have taken to social media to criticize Vladimir Putin's offensive, panning failures on the battle field and accusing the military of being ill-prepared to attack its smaller but fierce neighbor. They deplored high casualties, the mention of which are usually limited on official media channels. 


Assisting Ukraine in the fight has been continuing U.S. financing. At the beginning of August Washington said it would send another $550 million in arms to Ukraine, for a total of $8 billion since the invasion began. This is understandably upsetting Moscow, which is increasingly accusing the U.S. and its allies of direct interference. Moscow was further riled after the explosion of a bomb a few weeks ago which killed the daughter of someone close to the Kremlin regime, accusing Kyiv of being responsible for terrorism. 


Ukraine denied any involvement and cancelled independence day festivities due days later in order not to further provoke Moscow, asking citizens to brace themselves for what were likely to be vengeful retaliatory acts. Ukrainians came out to party anyways, defiant all the way. 


The EU has also been boosting its spending to Ukraine, adding another half a billion euros in July, for a total of 2.5 billion. Other methods have been used to finance Kyiv's efforts, one more creative than the other. One web site gives supporters the ablity to write their own messages on bombs before they are launched against Russian targets. Canadians have asked that messages such as "With love from Canada" be written. Customers are then sent videos of their bombs being dropped. The web site has so far gathered some $200,000 to help purchase equipment in the war efforts such as drones and military vehicles. 


With the repeated attacks in Crimea, concern is growing not only among nationalist but other Russians as well. "People are beginning to feel that the war is coming to them," told the New York Times Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council. But in the mean time some strikes are causing concern of devastating consequences. 


The West multiplied its appeals to Russia not to target Ukraine's largest power plant, whether by shelling it or cutting power. But the shelling continued even as UN monitor arrived on site this week for what they hoped to be a prolonged stay to survey the state of the Zaporizhzhya facilities in the south of the country. 


The new round of shelling followed the killing of the daughter of a Russian nationalist close to the Kremlin. The latter accused Ukraine or committing terrorist act, observers speculating Moscow may be up to its latest false flag theories, seeking to justify more attacks against its neighbor.  


Six months in a top Ukrainian commander is estimating losses  at around 9,000 troops, but the government says Russian human losses are five times greater, also listing over 1,900 tanks, and hundreds of planes and helicopters as having been destroyed, figures hard to verify. But can the West sustain its efforts amid inflation and recession worries in Europe? To ensure the flow kept going into Ukraine UK diplomats made the rounds urging their counterparts not to cut their efforts both military and humanitarian. 


France's Emmanuel Macron vowed the support would keep coming. “Our determination has not changed and we are ready to maintain this effort for the long term,” he told the audience of a conference . But in the new Cold War that emerges, the other block is also solidifying. China is calling its friendship with Russia "solid as a rock" ahead of an expected G20 summit where the two leaders are expected to meet. 


Meanwhile just over half of Americans say they should back Ukraine until Russia withdraws. And Moscow is showing no sign of backing down, seeking to recruit another 137,000 troops by January. Current troops meanwhile were joining Chinese ones in large scale military exercises meant to send a signal of defiant unity.  


DUR A DÉLOGER

Y a-t-il quelqu'un pour freiner François Legault? Le premier ministre sortant du Québec et co-fondateur d'Air Transat a de l'altitude dans les sondages, qui laissent ses opposants libéraux et solidaires cloués au sol alors que démarre la campagne électorale au Québec. 


Autant le raz de marée caquiste était une surprise en 2018 qu'il est plutôt attendu cet automne, car avec 42% des intentions de vote, la Coalition Avenir Québec amasse à elle seule autant de soutien que trois des autres partis réunis. 


Le résultat est d'autant plus surprenant que cinq partis, un record, sont engagés dans la campagne. Evidemment, cette opposition est divisée. La chute est notable pour les partis traditionnels. Légère-ment en avance sur Québec solidaire avec 14%, les Libéraux n'ont cependant que l'appui de 7% des francophones, qui appuient principalement le parti au pouvoir. 


Les péquistent chutent sous les 9%, même s'ils sont le "second choix" des électeurs. Pourtant, tout n'est pas si rose s'il faut croire le sondeur Jean-Marc Léger à quelques semaines des élections.  


«Sur la majorité des thèmes testés, le gouvernement fait moins bien que les attentes. Ça, pour moi, c’est une surprise, quand on regarde la force de l’intention de vote, dit-il. L’insatisfaction peut ressortir pendant la campagne électorale, cette élection-là n’est pas terminée." 


Pourtant l'avance est aussi notable quand on demande aux électeurs qui devrait être premier ministre, car Legault récupère 44% des intentions de vote après avoir guidé la province pendant  l'épreuve de la pandémie. 


Après quatre ans de règne Legault 58% des Québécois s'estiment satisfaits par la démarche de son gouvernement dans une province qui a durement été touchée par le covid. Mais depuis quelques semaines la belle province s'enlise dans la violence des gangs de rue qui terrorise ses habitants, notamment dans la région de Montréal. 


Pendant ce temps Legault se faisait beaucoup moins présent sur le terrain que ses adversaires. Est-ce là le sujet brûlant qui pourrait miner l'appui de son parti? Son opposante Dominique Anglade lui reproche d'en faire peu sur la question, estimant que «la situation n’est pas prise au sérieux quand on se contente de réagir sur Twitter et de faire des réunions Zoom.» 


Pourtant celui-ci insiste, après une journée marquée par deux meurtres dans la métropole: «On ne lésinera pas sur les moyens pour remettre de l’ordre et protéger les citoyens. On appuiera nos forces policières pour que cette violence cesse». A la veille du coup d'envoi Québec débloquait $250 millions sur cinq ans pour permettre l'embauche de 450 policiers. 


Canada338 lui donne 99% de chances d'emporter un gouvernement majoritaire le 3 octobre, n'en déplaise ceux qui sont opposés à ses politiques du voile dans les institutions publiques ou sur la langue française.  La violence, l'inflation ou la crise des urgences pourraient-ils le rattraper? Plusieurs ne sont pas prêts à gager contre lui.


THE TRAGEDY OF TIGRAY

Sure there are many crises afflicting the planet. As the summer months recede after devastating fires and floods, showing the steady and deadly march of climate change, the war in Ukraine endures, as does the pandemic, threatening to increase its hold during the cold season. 


World Health Organization's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is fully aware of its continuing threat as covid-19 claims over 15,000 deaths a day worldwide, as he is of other emerging health emergencies, from monkey-pox to the Langya virus. But the famine in the war-torn Tigray region of his native Ethiopia is allowed to continue without the attention of other crises, he lamented, and this, he said, may have something to do with skin colour, a claim with has raised eyebrows. 


Some six million people are unable to access basic services, he deplored, calling it the "worst humanitarian crisis in the world," terms you would have expected from UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, the former head of the UNCHR, rather than the head of the WHO. Tedros, who was born in Tigray, was early on alarmed by the need for better health care after his brother died at a young  age of what was probably a preventable disease. 


His career later combined politics and health care, becoming minister of health and a member of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, part of the coalition of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front which eventually overthrew Mengistu Haile Mariam in the early 1990s. 


Ongoing fighting between Ethiopian and Tigrayan forces have left thousands dead and left many more struggling to meet their basic needs, a crisis largely ignored by the West. "Maybe the reason is the color of the skin of the people," suggested Tedros in a virtual meeting. 


According to the United Nations almost one in three children under five is malnourished in that region, asking for urgent action to save lives. Explaining this in part is that more than half of pregnant or breast feeding women were themselves malnourished. This requires "calls for urgent action to strengthen interventions to prevent excess mortality due to malnutrition," according to one assessment. 


Funding squeezes at the UN, in part due to the war in Ukraine, are making matters worse, says Claire Nevill of the World Food Programme. The rising price of food is leaving some 90% of the population "food insecure", making the harvest of the next few months critical. Assisting, perhaps, is the fact ships are finally leaving Ukraine's Black Sea ports after months of blockade, some of them headed for the troubled region. 


But getting to Tigray will be another matter. Other areas of the continent are also facing food insecurities, Save the Children saying northwest Uganda is currently gripped with a major food crisis as well. More than 40% of people in the region are struck by hunger, especially women and children. 


There the pandemic, droughts, locust swarms and attacks by armed groups are primarily causing the crisis, according to the charity organization. The racism charge has been levelled by others against the West, notably comparing the Afghan and Ukrainian aid efforts, but never by so high-level an official. 


Ethiopia's government criticized Tedros' statement as "unethical", saying it was unbecoming such a high-level position. Tigray forces retook much of the region in 2021 and this prevents humanitarian aid from coming in to the breakaway region of Ethiopia. And the suffering won't end any time soon. Last week Addis accused Tigray rebels of resuming fighting, ending their truce. Then over the weekend a strike hit a daycare in the Tigrayan capital.



ER ALERT


There were still a few hours left in the Montreal to Lisbon flight when the call came out. "Is there a doctor or nurse on the plane?" As the plane passed the Açores, the young nurse in row 27 shook her head and rose from her seat. 


Already exhausted from months of pandemic work, she diligently answered the call, remaining with the patient for hours until the Airbus landed in Portugal, occasionally retrieving items from her bag that could help with the emergency. It never ends it seems. 


Even hours into a well-deserved break from unending days of overtime and weekends in a Canadian emergency ward. Currently a staffing shortage in countries known for their accessible healthcare has brought their systems on the brink on both sides of the pond. 


In Quebec and Ontario emergency wards have been closed overnights in some hospitals already under full capacity, while an ambulance driver shortage stretched response into hours in Alberta. In France, one of Europe's model health care systems has also been pushed to the brink after years of pandemic and staff shortages, sparking strike action as the remaining workers crack from burnout. 


"We don’t have the adequate structure, neither the adequate conditions, nor the adequate tools, or enough staff. It's getting complicated,” nurse Maxime Bartolini told Euronews at the Fréjus St. Raphaël hospital on the French Riviera. "We’ve been working at a sustained, high pace, since December." As those countries faced rising patient intake amid a new wave of covid-19, the strains are showing after years of non-stop emergencies that have accelerated the departure of health care workers, while new recruits fail to make up for the losses. 


"The closure of the secondary hospital departments at night, it’s meant we’ve had to reorganise. The ambulances are also overwhelmed," he went on. "It's a danger for the patient and we're overloaded. We do more than our duties, we help each other. We do what we can, but now we're running out of solutions, it's pretty catastrophic." 


In France the issue dominated debates leading up to legislative elections while the president launched a task force to find solutions to the crisis. As the provincial legislature resumed activities after the spring's election in Ontario meanwhile, the issue was front and centre after a summer of closed emergency wards as nursing shortages impacted health care services. 


Nursing groups there also mention burnouts and lack of compensation which are driving workers out of the profession over time, calling for better pay and more efforts to bring in foreign health care professionals. Making matters worse are rising prices that have made affordability more difficult. Sparking debate, the returning conservative adminis-tration in Ontario said considering private health care solutions was not off the table, provoking rebuke from the Canadian Medical Association. 


This week the province clarified this meant having more surgeries done at private clinics that would be covered by government insurance. Still, critics say, this would not solve the problem and allow clinics to pick their clients. The country's  health care system is in crisis as one in two nurses  is thinking of quitting the profession, notes Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses union.  


 “It’s almost like health employers don’t care or don’t know what to do,” she said. “We are very concerned as health-care workers. What we’re talking now is the survival of our system.” Spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians Dr. Atul Kapur says the problem has been a long time coming.  “We’ve been sounding the alarm about shortages of physicians and nurses for quite some time,” he said in an interview with the Canadian Press, including problems that pre-existed the pandemic  and worsened with time. 


And the problem isn't only found out East. In the West the city of  Calgary had no ambulances available an average of 420 times per month from January to June 2022, doubling the number of "red alerts" in the first six months of 2021 and nearly tripling what was seen in 2020. "We don't have enough people, we don't have enough paramedics on the streets to take care of Albertans' need," said Mike Parker, the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta. 


There also some observe the problems have been a long time coming. "We can't continue to blame it on staff shortages due to covid or those sorts of factors," told CBC Lorian Hardcastle of  University of Calgary.  "This is a persistent problem. And the government needs to do something about it sooner or later. We don't want to get to a point where we have several catastrophic incidents where people die waiting for ambulance." 


Alberta Health Services noted the problem was nationwide. "This is not unique to Alberta — EMS is under similar pressure in health-care jurisdictions across Canada." Almost on cue Ontario's Durham region also announced it was unable to provide ambulances for a period. Ontario union president Stéphanie Taylor said the problems goes back years. "Paramedic services across the province have been inappropriately staffed for decades long before the pandemic, long before the staffing crisis in hospitals," she said. As a result 91% work ovetime regularly. 


As the number of covid-19 infections and hospitalizations dropped in Quebec, its health officials noted over 4,000 health care workers were absent for covid-related reasons at the beginning of August, down from 6,000 but still leaving a busy sector under further strain. Provincial premiers have been asking Ottawa for further health care transfers to assist in the crisis. 


In the meantime Quebec has asked sick health care workers back to work, is paying double for overtime, restoring covid bonuses provided during the pandemic. Canada fares poorly when compared to other  OECD countries, ranking 27th out of the 33 countries reporting data, Kapur notes. "In Ontario alone, we would need to add over 7,500 doctors (on top of the 45,000 currently licensed) just to reach the OECD average," he wrote in a letter to a newspaper. "Similarly, Canada ranks 30th for the number of hospital beds and 18th for nurses, adjusted for population." Hardly something to brag about.


JUSTICE AUX TROUSSES


Une perquisition chez un président provoque des condamnations de chasse aux sorcières anti-constitution-nelle sur fond d'accusations de corruption. Mais non, il n'est pas question de Mar-a-Lago, résidence de Donald Trump depuis sa déconfiture électorale, à la veille d'une comparution lors de laquelle il s'est retenu de dire mot, mais Lima, où cet autre chef d'état visé par une tentative de destitution n'en est plus à ses premiers démêlés avec la justice lui non plus. 


Pourtant cette fois c'est sa belle-soeur, qui réside au palais, qui faisait l'objet d'un avis de recherche pour implication dans "un groupe criminel" qui selon la presse "mettrait en place des appels d'offre illégaux." Selon d'autres médias le président lui-même ainsi que la première dame seraient impliqués. 


Pedro Castillo, pourtant en poste depuis un an à peine, réplique qu'il fait l'objet d'un complot de  la part de membres "du congrès, du bureau du procureur général et de certains membres de la presse pour destabiliser l'ordre démocratique." Un langage  bien trumpiste. Castillo, qui sombre dans des sondages montrant une impopularité dans les 74%, fait face à cinq enquêtes en cours par le parquet, dont une pour corruption. 


Comme la visite du FBI à Mar-a-Lago, l'opération policière visant Yenifer Paredes, 26 ans, était sans précédent au pays. Elle a finalement décidé de se livrer à la police quelques jours plus tard. 


Plus tôt dans la semaine un rapport parlementaire avait recommandé une disqualifica-tion et une enquête au criminel contre Castillo pour supposément avoir proposé de tenir un référendum pour déterminer si les Péruviens permettraient l'abandon d'une partie de leur territoire à la Bolivie afin de lui donner un accès à la mer. 


Castillo nie avoir fait une proposition formelle, qui serait contre la constitution du pays, elle qui empêche toute séparation du territoire national. Quoiqu'il en soit la famille présidentielle s'est attirée les projecteurs de la justice depuis quelques temps. Son neveu, qui avait eu le rôle de ministre des transports et de secrétaire présidentiel, étant également dans la mire de la justice péruvienne. 


Les enfants de Trump de leur côté ont été invités à comparaitre lors des enquêtes sur l'insurrection du 6 janvier 2021 au Capitole et aussi en relation avec les affaires plutôt nébuleuses de l'empire immobilier de leur père. 


Mais si les partisans de Trump voient avec la perquisition de Mar-a-Lago une occasion de brandir le flambeau de la campagne de 2024, les supporters de Castillo semblent moins fervents et ont plutôt abandonné leur commandant en chef. Castillo fait face en fait à rien de moins qu'une troisième tentative de destitution, pour "trahison" cette fois pour l'affaire du référendum.


COURTING AFRICA


As the war in Ukraine drags on, the African continent is getting a lot of attention from both sides of the conflict, with visits from Russian, French and U.S. representa-tives all trying to win over the support of countries no matter how far removed from the front. 


Countries from the continent have largely not condemned Russia's invasion of its neighbor, leaving a welcome map for visiting foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at the end of July on a tour of countries that included Uganda, Egypt, Congo-Brazaville and Ethiopia. Lavrov blamed the pandemic, the West's green policies and sanctions against Russia for rising food prices on the continent, with its devastating effects, rather than the war in Ukraine and the blockade of ports used to ship grain out of the country. 


Unlike his rivals however Lavrov did not announce any help for the suffering countries of the region. The US promised $1.3 billion to curb hunger and France, whose president was touring the region at around the same time, said it would support the International Fund for Agricultural Development's efforts against famine to the tune of over $3 billion. 


Emmanuel Macron  toured Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau and Benin, accusing Moscow of using food as a weapon of war. He also accused Russia of neocolonialism... an odd charge considering he made it while he toured a former French colony. Security was also high on the agenda of Macron's visit, which included a tour in Guinea, which had witnessed a failed coup earlier this year. 


Notably France withdrew its remaining troops from Mali this year, which have in some parts been supplanted by Russian mercenaries as the country struggles against extremism. Last week Putin and the leader of the Malian junta even held a phone call during which they praised their excellent military relations, a reminder Russia is a major arms supplier on the continent. 


Also tailing Lavrov closely in the region was the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Michael Hammer, who visited Egypt and Ethiopia, while the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, travelled to Uganda and Ghana. This was merely setting up the stage for Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken's own tour last week, which included South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. 


The competition is fierce for support among those countries in their own time of need and security worries, especially a member of the BRICS such as South Africa, part of a group of five countries largely supportive of Russia, which sits among them. The cordial meeting with president Cyril Ramaphosa did not change anything on Pretoria's stance, which refused to criticize the invasion of Ukraine, owing to long-standing ties with a country which had actively criticized Apartheid before the racist policy was dropped in the 1990s.


"Some are of the opinion that the former liberation movement still owes the Russians a lot since the days of the Cold War, and now we Africans have to shut up about the Russian invasion," told DW Angolan political scientist Olivio N'kilumbu, adding Russia wants to "revive the old connections between the Soviet Union and liberation movements". Critics say this leaves South Africa on the wrong side of history. 


Blinken announced what he called a new American engagement toward sub-Saharan countries, one he said which recognized them as equal partners while touting the region as a “major geopolitical force.” But one not without its challenges as the next countries he visited showed. 


In Congo he was urged to condemn neighbor Rwanda, which represented the next leg of his delicate tour, for supporting M23 rebels Kinshasa accuses of causing troubles in the East. This on the heels of a UN report saying there was solid evidence Rwandan troops were backing the rebels in that part of Congo. 




L'URGENCE VERTE


C'était il y a deux ans aux premières heures de la pandémie. Le Met office britannique ne perdait pas de vue les autres urgences de l'heure en 2020 et faisait une projection du climat du Royaume uni dans 30 ans. La carte estivale établie montrait du rouge écarlate sur l'ensemble du territoire, avec des pointes de 40 degrés par endroit. 


Le mythe des iles balayées par les pluies et la fraicheur à l'année longue, déjà remis en cause, était fracassé. Chose étonnante, la carte de la mi-juillet cette année retrouvait les mêmes tons. Avait-on fait un saut dans le temps? Ou les modèles devaient-ils être simplement repensés? 


Quelques jours plus tard le pays déclarait une première alerte rouge météo. Lors de journées particulièrement torrides le gouvernement recommandait d'éviter le métro ou les trains à Londres pour éviter les cas d'insolation. 


L'aéroport de Luton près de la capitale suspendait même ses vols en raison de la chaleur qui menaçait l'état des pistes. L'été 2022 se résume par un bond semblable et planétaire semble-t-il. 


Outre-Manche le réchauffement terrestre brillait non par sa présence mais son absence au défilé du 14 à Paris. Les bombardiers Canadairs prévus pour l'occasion ont dû être mobilisés pour combattre les flammes dans le sud du pays embrasé. La France, comme beaucoup d'autres pays du vieux continent - qui comptait plus de 1000 victimes - combat la canicule encore cette année, un phénomène qui est allé jusqu'à causer le décret de l'état d'urgence dans le nord d'une Italie assoiffé. 


La botte était presque en même temps frappée par un désastre climatique étonnant après l'effondrement d'un glacier qui a fait sept morts dans la région des Dolomites. Même spectacle terrifiant au Kygyzstan, où une douzaine de randonniers ont eu plus de peur que de mal après un phénomène similaire. Encore une fois la chaleur fracasse les records, prolongeant le sentiment d'avoir atteint un point de non retour à travers la planête. 


Il y a quelques années on faisait le deuil du premier glacier Icelandais pour cause de réchauffement climatique, mais on constate que ce n'est que le début de ce genre de dénouement après ces deux incidents récents et rapprochés. "Les glaciers ne vont que dans un seul sens et c'est celui de la disparition, note Peter Neff de l'université du Minnesota. Le sentiment après l'événement en Italie... est que ceci va devenir plus fréquent." 


Toute aussi spectaculaire, la lutte contre les brasiers s'étend de la Grèce, endeuillie par l'écrasement d'un hélicoptère combattant les flammes, au Portugal, site d'un autre écrasement de bombardier des pompiers de l'air, et aux Etats-Unis, où le park Yosemite voyait ses sequoias millénaires menacés par les ravages des feux ardents. 


Ailleurs en Amérique, les signes du réchauffement ne sont plus le produit de la projection mais constituent une réalité qui crève les yeux, comme les lignes blanches de niveau d'eau sur les parois des pierres en bordure du Lac Mead au Nevada, et les têtes de bétail effondrées par milliers en raison de la chaleur au Kansas. 


Les désastres naturels s'avèrent de plus en plus coûteux, notamment quand ils visent des communautés plus d'une fois. C'est le cas de la petite ville de Lytton en Colombie britannique, rasée lors de feux l'an dernier et à nouveau menacée cette année. Ailleurs sur le continent, la sécheresse ravage des régions de l'ouest américain au Mexique, où la ville de Monterrey souffre du manque de pluie, elle qui n'a pas vu une goutte tomber en 15 mois, forçant les autorités locales à rationner l'eau courante. 


Voilà un geste de plus en plus fréquent dans les grandes villes, du Cap en Afrique du sud à Chennai en Inde, frappées précédemment mais toujours menacées par de nouvelles mesures qui limitent l'accès à l'eau. A l'autre bout de la planête, les tempêtes de sable causent plusieurs morts dans les pays du Moyen-Orient, de l'Arabie Saoudite en Iraq. Plus fréquentes de mai en juillet, ces dernières frappent les régions concernées plus tôt et plus fréquemment. En plus de menacer les populations locales, ces tempêtes touchent les infrastructures vitales comme les lignes à haute tension, et menacent les transports tout comme les récoltes selon un rapport de la Banque mondiale. On estime leur coût à 13 milliards de dollars environ. 


Le coût planétaire de tous ces événemnents,  surtout visibles en été mais existant sous une forme ou une autre à l'année longue, s'avèrent astrono-miques, ce qui fait dire aux observateurs que le coût de mesures pour les affronter ou les limiter sont des investissements coûteux en fait largement justifiés, et moins onéreux malgré tout que l'inaction à long terme. Seul reste à déterminer si le point de non retour n'a pas, en effet, déjà été atteint. 


"Le changement climatique est bien là, on se rend compte que notre maison brûle et on ne peut plus regarder ailleurs, note le climatologue Jean Pascal van Ypersele. Les conditions que l’on voit maintenant vont devenir plus fréquentes, vont s’aggraver encore et vont devenir plus propice aux incendies de forêt, particulièrement dans le pourtour méditerranéen" avec des conséquences sur la santé humaine et non seulement l’environnement. 


Alors qu'une partie de la Californie était en état d'urgence en raison des feux, des avertissements de chaleur intense étaient en vigueur dans 70 villes de Chine, où les temperatures devaient dépasser les 40 degrés. Mais il y a peut-être du bien à long terme. En France le gouvernement interdisait aux magasins climatisés de garder leurs portes ouvertes, en Espagne on limitait les niveaux de climatisation tandis que les pays de l'Union européenne étaient appelés à réutiliser leurs eaux usées. Des mesures il en faut pour combattre les changements climatiques, qui menacent la planête, selon le secrétaire général des Nations unies, de "suicide collectif".


TAKING IT TO THE STREETS


When the people speak it can be at the ballot box or in the streets, and over the last few weeks those choosing the latter have upped the ante to condemn government action or inaction by storming legislatures and presidential palaces from Baghdad and Libya to Colombo. 


Last week supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr again stormed Iraq's parliament building, taking selfies and sitting at the desk of representatives to protest the nomination of a rival as prime minister as the country tries to resolve months of political impasse after recent elections.  


Earlier the clash in Sri Lanka, putting an end to the presidency as well as the premiership in charge after the takeover of the presidential palace, was a most spectacular display of people power. While plenty of tear gas was discharged there was little violence during the occupation which followed months of protest against  economic decisions. 


The south Asian country has been reeling from economic crisis for months, the government at one point giving workers an extra day off per week to grow their own food amid major shortages. Not content to make a statement and leave, protesters, who cooled off by dipping in the presidential pool, remained in the building to make sure president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who ultimately fled the country and was replaced in the interim by prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, wasn't coming back. 


But the latter also saw his office ransacked by the furious masses who accused him of being too close to the Rajapaksa clan, which has dominated politics ever since Mahinda Rajapaksa's government defeated Tamil separatist rebels in 2009, ending the bloody civil war, his brother Gotabaya being defense secretary at the time. 


The election of Wickremesinghe is sure to leave critics angry at the government and spoiling for a fight despite commitments to restore unity and tackle de nation's ills."I am absolutely disgusted at the result," said one activist. "MPs that are supposed to represent the people have completely disregarded the wants of the people." 


It’s been a summer of discontent in the streets of Libya as well, where protesters stormed an empty legislature in the eastern city of Tobruk to vent their frustration about deteriorating living conditions and political deadlock in a country where chaos has reigned since the removal of strongman Moammar Gadhafi 11 years ago. Video footage showed a protester driving a bulldozer through a gate, allowing other demonstrators to flood into the compound. 


Triggering the outburst were power shortages in a divided country where oil resources have been hampered by the blockade of fuel facilities. The country has been mired by a political deadlock since the 2021 elections were postponed due to bitter disagreements over candi-dacies. “Popular protests have erupted across Libya in exasperation at a collapsing quality of life, the entire political class who manufactured it, and the UN who indulged them over delivering promised change,” noted Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations. "Things are escalating quickly and the response will define Libya's summer." 


Some unrest have affected change quicker than others. In Uzbekistan (see READ) protest put an end to plans to rejig the constitution to deny the region of Karakalpakstan its autonomy. The outbreaks hardly resolved anything but showed the might of people power and occasionally its ability to affect change.


QUELLE PANDÉMIE


Alors que les cas de covid rebondissent partout dans un monde mieux immunisé mais plutôt épuisé par la pandémie, cette recrudescence semble largement absente en Afrique, où l'urgence semble ailleurs. 


Dans la salle d'attente portuguaise d'un vol partant pour Dakar peu de passagers portent le masque, même s'il sera obligatoire à bord. L'attitude est déjà beaucoup plus relaxée. Une fois sur le sol à Diass à une cinquantaine de kilomètres de la capitale, une ligne de travailleurs de la santé attend les passagers pour vérifier leur pass sanitaire, mais personne ne demande le formulaire de contact remis à bord de l'avion, et l'immigration une fois passée, les masquent tombent de toute parts. 


A peine plus de 1000 cas ont été rapportés par Dakar lors des 28 derniers jours, ce qui est guère beaucoup plus que les 800 au minuscule Cap Vert au large de la côte, où les gens étaient jusqu'à récemment contrôlés au thermomètre dès leur entrée. Les masques y sont un peu plus présents en public et un chauffeur de taxi, le masque au nez, vaporise les mains de ses passagers avant et après avoir embarqué dans son véhicule. Les passagers des minibus locaux le portent sans faute. 


A Dakar cependant, la pandémie semble avoir disparu, ou du moins son urgence, comme la murale du quartier du Plateau sur les mesures de précaution, blanchie graduellement par le soleil sans relâche d'Afrique. "Plus tôt cette année tout le monde l'a attrapé, un expatrié canadien, depuis ils disent que tout le monde est immunisé alors les gens s'en foutent." 


L'urgence est ailleurs, faisait noter le ministre de l'économie Amadou Hott lors du récent sommet du G20, notamment la crise alimentaire. Il utilise des termes qui suggèrent qu'on a déjà tourné la page de la pandémie. 


"Durant les temps du covid le monde s'est réuni et a pris un nombre de décisions extraordinaire en un temps record, dit-il. C'est la même chose ici. Si on n'agit pas vite on aura plus de victimes que durant le covid." 


Certains craignent même une compétition féroce pour s'arracher les ressources alimentaires pareille à celle de la course aux vaccins au plus fort de la pandémie, durant laquelle les pays plus pauvres ont dû attendre. 


Ceci a fait du continent le moins vacciné pour le covid, et il attend toujours ses premières livraisons pour le vaccin contre la variole du singe, qui fait pourtant partie du paysage depuis des années dans la région. 


“Il faut vraiment prioriser là où la variole du singe peut être stoppée à la source,” note Ahmed Ogwell Ouma du African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, ajoutant que l’Afrique est le meilleur endroit où s'y attaquer. Car les défis ne s’arrêtent pas là puisque l’Afrique est également confrontée à une demi douzaine d’autres éclosions dont celle du virus Marburg, la fièvre de Lassa, le choléra, la rougeole et la polio.



OUTRAGE IN THE STRAIT


The issue of Taiwan is already sensitive the way it is in the best of times, never mind when the island is already under watch in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Add a visit by the most high level US official in decades and you have a recipe for sounding every alarm bell from Taipei to the mainland coast. 


No sooner was US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landing in the capital that China was sending fighter jets into the air and preparing for the largest military manoeuvres ever around the nation of 23 million formally recognized by fewer than a dozen UN members. Ships circled the island as fighter jets violated its air space while rockets flew overhead and landed in nearby waters, alarming Tokyo which protested through diplomatic channels. 


"To have five Chinese missiles fall within Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone like this is a first," condemned defense minister Nobuo Kishi. While this wasn't the overture of an invasion of the island it did amount to a blockade of sorts disrupting the usually heavy ship traffic and grounding a number of commercial airline flights, isolating physically a land Beijing has been seeking to isolate politically. 


The trip was significant in that in reaffirmed America's support of the democracy in the Strait of Taiwan, as authoritarianism makes gains on the mainland and globally. “America’s determination to preserve democracy, here in Taiwan and around the world, remains ironclad,” said the visiting lawmaker, who has never shied from confronting China, during a meeting with Taiwanese nationalist President Tsai Ing-wen. 


Both she and the US president say they are committed to America's so-called one-China policy, which both recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations with Taipei. But the visit further disrupted some of Washington's ties with Asia's largest power, Beijing severing military and climate ties at a time global warming is impacting both powers, the world's top two polluters, and much of the planet. Climate change is in fact an area where bilateral cooperation has been notable, as has the common fight against illicit drugs. 


Beijing's punishing measures however also include halting cooperation on anti-drug efforts and immigration. While some have deplored China's reaction to the visit as childish, Xi Jinping has to appear strong and unwavering months away from a Communist party congress where he will seek a third term, even if one is widely expected to be granted. 


The crisis does enable him to deflect attention from the country's ills in a year marked by costly zero-covid measures which have provoked economic hardship and rare public protest. Pelosi and some experts say China is using her visit as an excuse for further squeezing Taiwan and trying to send a message to its nationalist leader, considering the preparations that would have been necessary for launching such extensive military exercises. 


Washington summoned its Chinese ambassador to protest what it called "irresponsible" actions. But China says America's bullying has made it a "saboteur of peace" in the region, leaving it prone to further escalation, some fear. In the future "some sort of military confrontation [is possible]," says Lynette Ong, author of Outsourcing Repression: Everyday State Power in Contemporary China. "We have never ruled it out, but I think the likelihood has been ratcheted up, definitely." 


China's military threat is more credible than it was 20 years ago notes Alessio Patalano of the King's College in London, adding "but it's hard to determine if the Chinese army can truly lead an operation as important as an invasion of Taiwan." 




A SAD PRIDE


On the 50th anniversary of the first gay pride gatherings, this one held a special significance. Days after two men were gunned down in a gay bar where 20 more people were injured, thousands of demonstrators in Oslo defied a request from local police to cancel this year's pride and marched on carrying banners that said "you can't cancel us." 


While pride marches took place around the world for the first time since the pandemic, not all were incident free, including one in Istanbul where authorities cracked down on the rally, arresting over 100 people. 


Turkiye is a rare Muslim-majority country that actually allows pride marches to take place, but a ban on them had been imposed in its largest city, showing continuing tug of wars between progress and regression. While Switzer-land allowed the first gay marriages to take place, catching up to most of Europe, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to end the constitutional rights to abortion, and one of the justices' comments in particular, led to fears that other rights could be removed, including gay marriage rights. 


The summer has had its ups and downs in terms of celebrating diversity. Causing more concern in this community is the rise of a monkeypox  virus outside of countries where it is endemic, especially among gay communities, creating fears of more stigmatization. The Oslo shooting was especially terrifying in such a peaceful country known for its tolerance and progressive politics, one of two stunning shootings in a matter of days in Scandinavian countries with the unrelated attack of a shopping mall in Denmark. 


Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere vowed the shooting, by a man in his 40s reportedly known for his anti-gay views, "did not stop the fight and the efforts to fight discrimination, prejudice and hatred.” 


As violence against gay marchers in Istanbul showed, progress on gay rights has not been even across the board, even in a country which has permitted these demonstrations in the past This year Turkiye ultimately banned all Pride events across the country and detained 30 who went on to march anyways in Ankara, after the Istanbul crackdown. Conservative counter demonstrators nearby were however left alone. 


And even in one country where gay rights broke many precedents, the U.S., there were fears of a looming crack down on acquired rights. In Florida a state law dubbed “don’t say gay” by critics came into effect, banning instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early schooling and causing some to fear the topic of gay rights is being removed from public debates, as other countries such as Russia have been doing for years. 


Florida is where one of America's worst mass shootings took place, in 2016, when 49 were killed in the Pulse gay nightclub. In addition, statements by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the possibility of casting a new look at gay marriage rights in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe vs Wade has caused alarm bells to go off in gay communities across the U.S. 


"In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, & Obergefell," Thomas said in his concurring opinion on the court's decision on Roe vs. Wade, referring to the case which legalized same-sex marriages in the U.S. by a decision of 5-4.  Obergefell later stated: "It has been a terrible several days for our nation," he said of overturning Roe vs. Wade. "Then to have Justice Thomas, in his concurring opinion, put a target on the back of the right to contraception, the right to intimacy with the person that you love and the right to marry the person you love, that should terrify everyone in this nation." 


Meanwhile scientists and health officials are trying to set the record straight and avoid the stigmatization of the past over the rise of a monkeypox virus in non-endemic countries which was particularly noted among homosexual and bisexual men. “This is not a gay disease,” stressed Dr. Ken Mayer, the medical research director of the Fenway Institute. “It’s the social network phenomenon,” he added. “It’s who you’re having contact with, not anything about the specific behavior.” 


Switzerland's decision to honour referendum  results to allow gay marriage however provided some reason to celebrate this year, even if the Alpine country is only catching up to other European neighbors which have allowed it for years. Also catching up is Slovenia, which like much of Eastern Europe is  behind much of the West in terms of gay rights. A top court said the country's bans on same-sex couples marrying and adopting are unconstitutional and ordered legislators to amend the laws.  


The ruling stated  discrimination against such couples "cannot be justified ", breaking ground in the region.  While Croatia, the Czech republic, Hungary and Montenegro have laws permitting same-sex partner-ships, Estonia recognizes same-sex unions formalized in other countries. That's as far as it goes in Eastern Europe, but that may be about to change. After members of Ukraine's gay community held their pride parade in Poland, some 28000 signed a petition to make same-sex marriage legal in Ukraine, a proposal now at the feet of its president.


LE JAPON SOUS LE CHOC


Alors que les fusillades se multiplient aux Etats-Unis  l'été 2022 est marqué par de rares actes de violence meurtrière semblables dans des régions du globe que l'on associe rarement avec des gestes armés. 


A Oslo et à Copenhague, des actes sanglant sont venus fracasser la période estivale dans de paisibles sociétés qui voient rarement survenir ce genre de drame. Encore moins au Japon, où les meurtres sont rarissimes, ce qui a fait de l'assassinat de l'ancien premier ministre Shinzo Abe lors d'un rassemblement politique un geste qui a traumatisé le pays du soleil levant. 


L'ancien premier ministre à la longévité record s'était retiré du poste en 2020, notamment pour des raisons de santé, mais restait actif dans les campagnes de son parti. Le sexagenaire est mort aprés avoir été attaqué par balle lors d'un discours. 


Rares sont ceux qui possèdent des armes à feu au Japon, où leur possession est strictement réglementée. Il faut avoir un casier propre, suivre une formation obligatoire et subir une évaluation psychologique également, sans parler de l'analyse d'antécédents détaillée et de la rencontre de proches. Ceci au point où même les gangs Yakuza préfêrent opérer à l'arme blanche. L'an dernier une seule personne est morte suite à une fusillade  dans ce pays de 120 millions. 


Le suspect de l'assassinat d'Abe aurait avoué son crime et serait un homme de 41 ans avec la hantise d'une organisation à laquelle, selon lui, l'ancien dirigeant appartenait. L'arme semblait de confection personnelle. 


Pourtant on n'en est pas au premier assassinat politique dans ce pays, le mieux connu remontant aux années 60 lors du meurtre du chef du parti socialiste par un extrémiste, et là encore il s'agissait d'un acte à l'arme blanche, mais pas n'importe laquelle: un sabre samourai. 


Le meurtre d'Abe a lieu presque un an jour pour jour depuis l'assassinat du président Jovenel Moise à Haïti, un pays presque aux antipodes tellement il est marqué par la violence, souvent armée. L'attaque n'a pas retardé la tenue des élections sénatoriales au Japon, qui ont ré-élu le parti au pouvoir avec une super-majorité qui avait possiblement quelquechose à faire avec le drame, même si une montée de la droite était attendue. 


Les dispositifs de sécurité ont été quelque peu changés lors des derniers jours de campagne, limitant le contact entre les candidats et le public alors que les forces de sécurité avouaient qu'il y avait eu des lacunes au moment de l'assassinat. 


Abe voulait notamment renforcer les politiques de défense et de sécurité de ce pays marqué par d'importantes restrictions d'après guerre, c'est une position que pourrait promouvoir la droite conservatrice renforcée au pouvoir et entrainer une révision de la constitution.


BYE BYE BORIS


It's been a turbulent three years for the British prime minister who rode a wave of populism, completed the path to Brexit and saw the island nation through the pandemic and the beginning of the war in Ukraine. 


In the end Boris Johnson, 58, the so-called "Teflon" leader, ran out of lives after years of wiggling himself out of trouble. After repeated calls for him to quit and nearly 60 resignations to protest his leadership, Johnson said he was stepping down as Conservative party leader, triggering a race for his successor who should be unveiled in early September. 


Just weeks ago he had survived a confidence vote with 59% support, not overwhelming but enough to stay at the helm and keep the business of government going. But the time this bought his premiership was limited. Within days byelection losses confirmed his irreversible slip among Britons, and soon this would extend to the closest people around him. 


Freshly returned from the annual Nato and G7 summits, Johnson admitted he was aware of the misconduct allegation put forth against the person he promoted to deputy chief whip, a senior party disciplinarian. Still reeling from partygate scandals, the subject of criminal investigations which had shown him and his staff ignoring strict shut down rules set in place during the pandemic, his chancellor and health secretary quit, starting a flood of resignations which culminated in the departure of 44 junior ministers and ministerial aides in a single day including other cabinet members. 


That day Question Time in Parliament was marked by the unlikely spectacle of MPs badgering their own leader while opposition members looked on in amusement, joining in calls for the remaining cabinet members to also abandon Johnson's sinking ship. Still, the premier maintained, the time was not appropriate to leave with so many pressing matters requiring attention. 


The next day however he stepped down as party leader, saying he would stay on as prime minister until a new party leader is chosen, noting: “At Westminster, the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves.” His own MPs are however pressing him to leave sooner rather than later. 


It will be the fourth party leader during this stretch of Conservative rule of a dozen years in Britain. While the move brings Britain, a major player in the alliance supporting Ukraine, in a new period of uncertainty, it remains a steadfast supporter of Kyiv and the party in power remains unchanged. Boris immediately reached out to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to pledge ongoing support. 


Soon eight people lined up to succeed him, among them  Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her predecessor Jeremy Hunt as well as former health secretary Sajid Javid, the first cabinet minister to resign. Johnson's departure did not seem to alarm fellow European legislators, quite on the contrary, some looking forward to perhaps better relations with the estranged European nation, which was recently seeking to override Brexit protocols. 


Dutch European MP Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "Boris Johnson's reign ends in disgrace, just like friend Donald Trump. The end of an era for transatlantic populism? Let's hope so" while French MEP Nathalia Loiseau called the announcement of his departure a "day of hope for improved EU-UK relations built on trust." But true to himself Johnson said he was leaving with his head high.

   


TURBULENCE


Remember when everything ground to a halt and people looked up at the sky from their window and sighed? At least, we thought, when we got back to flying again things would be different. Travel would restart in what had to be a more sustainable and less chaotic way. 


Fast forward to the long lines outside terminals and pass-port offices, where would-be passengers unsure of being able to catch their flights in time sit sometimes in rows reminiscent of large airliners, four deep on lawn chairs pleading for their paperwork to be done or access to be granted to the next line. Sure the masks are largely, though not always, gone, and so are many test and health pass requirements, but some passengers who have actually survived the ordeal of travelling on the eve of the busy travel season, shell-shocked from the experience, are a little apprehensive about any return to the skies. 


It's the sad early summer travel environment of 2022, when everybody can now travel freely and wants to exercise that right, at the same time, in great numbers. Perhaps a while back this would have been manageable, with a little extra hiring and triage. But in early 2022, after massive layoffs in the travel and leisure industry that have left bare bones operations  in a sector that requires minimum staffing for safety reasons, the chaos is spreading on both sides of the pond. 


Travel has been disrupted before during the pandemic, health measures at times barring some personnel from working on flights or in airport terminals, the number of departures themselves reduced dramati-cally for the few who would venture out to the skies, but the end of these requirements and mandates have had the immediate effect of boosting travellers in an industry struggling to cope with skeletal staff. 


Airlines in Europe and North America cancelled thousands of flights, unable to ensure minimum staffing both in and out of cockpits as the industry welcomed new travellers previously unable to get anywhere without proof of vaccination or test.  It turns out the industry is hardly able to accommodate the revenge travel millions with a pent up demand for beaches and sights have in mind. 


Travellers to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, a major European hub, were met with security lines stretching out well before the main terminal, complaining of a lack of facilities and water. Some were rushing to flights they hoped would take off despite a shortage of both airport and airline staff stretched to the limit. The same scenes could be seen in a number of airports, such as Lisbon, but also government offices such as outside passport offices, the weeks usually required to turn around applications became months. 


Passport offices from Montreal to Ottawa saw people camp out for days to get their urgently needed documents renewed, some there with imminent travel only trying to understand what happened to an application made months ago. Surging demand is one thing, but many of the flight cancellations are also due to mismanagement, argues Capt. Joseph G. DePete president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, which represents more than 64,000 pilots in the United States and Canada. 


"The flight scheduling issues are particularly hard to swallow given that U.S. airlines received a multibillion dollar federal bailout to allow them to prepare for this very moment" he writes in USA Today. "Some airlines failed to properly prepare for recovery. In fact, they bet against a strong recovery, ushering thousands of pilots out of the industry and ineffectively managing training resources for their current employees." 


The airlines are lashing back saying the FAA's lack of staffing was causing traffic control nightmares. The fault may lie with both, as airlines rushed to add new flights in airports not ready to receive them. In Canada the opposition parties hammered away at the government's handling of staffing at centers providing passports, saying the current surge in passport demand was predictable. 


In any case the surge in demand there has left hundreds lining up for hours and sometimes days in front of passport offices seeking their documents to be able to travel. Emergency cases only were being accepted in person, others were invited to come back later or apply by mail. But some in the lines said their mail-in applications were months old already. New staff are being brought in to process passports and ensure security at airports, but that takes time for training. That demand is however global for both passports and travel, while airports and airlines struggle to restaff after the pandemic. 


It will take months to reduce the pressure at airports like Schiphol, said Ben Smith, CEO of airline alliance Air France-KLM, and by then the summer rush will be over. The combined effect of all this is “creating bottlenecks in the system,“ said Julia Lo Bue-Said of the Advantage Travel Group, adding “when things go wrong, that they’re going drastically wrong.” Pushed to the limit by pressures, some crucial transport staff have been going on strike, just causing more delays and cancellations. 


This was the case at a number of airlines from Ryanair, Air Camada to Delta while overworked security staff at Brussels and Paris airports also walked off the job. While some mitigation efforts have been paying off, this hasn't been without creating another category of disgruntled passengers, those with too much time to kill. After all the frantic reporting about delays at Pearson airport passengers arriving hours before their flights have been sometimes as disappointed seeing empty lines. 


"I arrived at Pearson airport 3 hours early only to be told I was too early to get in the security lines," tweeted ZJ Hadley. Maybe that's more of a peeve than an actual ordeal. Because once you do obtain your passport, cross the security lines, get on a fully staffed plane and make it through border controls, you have to collect your luggage, which hopefully made it too. Worst of all, for the most part these are people who are looking to relax after two tense years of lockdowns and are finding little more than new frustration and more anxiety. And, don't look now, covid cases are going back up.


ENCORE PLUS CHER


L'inflation terrasse les pays du nord au sud, d'est en ouest, mais il y a des régions isolées où l'impact a été particulièrement virulent. Dans le grand nord canadien comme sur l'ile de Pâques qui appartient au Chili, des prix ordinairement élevés ont décollé de manière à y rendre les denrées difficilement abordables. 


Un parlementaire canadien revenant d'une visite à Inuvik, dans les territoires du nord-ouest, déplorait un carton de jus d'orange et le kilo de boeuf haché à 21$ et deux bouteilles de ketchup à 24$. "La facture de gaz des résidants dépasse les 1 000 $ par mois," martèle le conservateur Bob Zimmer, notant en conséquent "qu'il est presque impossible de vivre dans le nord." 


Ces situations ne sont pas hors norme dans plusieurs régions isolées du monde, dont l'ile de Pâques dont les prix se distinguent nettement de ceux du continent en matière de produits de première nécessité. 


La facture récente d'un consommateur qui a fait beaucoup jaser faisait état de 80$ de frais pour quelques citrons, tomates, mandarines et herbes. Ques-tionné là-dessus le représentant local faisait noter une anomalie: C'était beau-coup moins cher qu'il le pensait: "5000 pesos pour un kilo de tomates c'est bon  marché, note Pedro Edmunds. D'habitude c'est 6800 et ça peut grimper jusqu'à 7800 (11.40$)" 


Voilà qui met la crise actuelle en prespective.  La situation est d'autant plus critique sur l'ile chilienne  que l'interruption des vols durant la pandémie a eu un impact économique catastrophique. Ceux-ci reprennent à peine alors que l'ile s'ouvre à nouveau au tourisme après plus de deux ans de fermeture. 


Les gouvernements  se voient obligés de remédier aux problèmes à l'aide de programmes spéciaux, notam-ment celui de Nutrition Nord au Canada, qui permet de subventionner certains prix. Celui-ci a été élargi avec un financement de 170 millions de dollars. 


De plus "dans le but de compenser le fardeau financier causé par la COVID, nous avons également annoncé un soutien de 25 millions de dollars au programme Nutrition Nord Canada," note Dan Vandal, ministre des affaires du nord. Mais pour plusieurs cela n'est pas assez.  


Certains se tournent même vers Amazon pour se tirer d'embarras, le service Prime permettant aux résidents de certaines commu-nautés comme Iqaluit de  se procurer des produits à prix plus intéressant. 


Il y a quelques années lorsque Amazon a pensé annuler son service Prime dans la capitale du Nunavut ceci a suscité un tollé généralisé tellement il y était populaire. En décembre dernier Amazon a lancé un service de livraison de 5 jours dans d'autres grandes villes du nord, comme Yellowknife et White Horse, un service non disponible cependant dans les plus petites localités. 


Une peur bleue s'est installée momentanément à Iqaluit lorsqu'il y a eu inondation du centre névralgique d'Amazon dans la ville. Mais ce déploiement du géant alarme les commerçants locaux. "Chacune de ces boites empêche un commerçant local de survivre, note Duane Wilson de Arctic Co-operatives." 


Mais une autre ile à l'autre bout du monde ne se gêne pas de taxer davantage certains produits, pour des raisons préventives. La Nouvelle Calédonie envisage de taxer des produits sucrés dans sa lutte contre le diabète. cause de nombreux maux.      


A LEFTIST IN COLOMBIA


Capturing the mood of the moment in Latin America, Colombia elected an anti-establishment candidate who is also the country's first leftist leader, one who previously defied authority as a guerilla leader in a nation still struggling with armed groups spreading terror among its citizens. 


Gustavo Petro took in just over 50% of the vote in the second round of the election against political novice and right wing populist firebrand Rodolfo Hernandez despite the recent leak of recordings suggesting Petro's campaign sought to mercilessly target his opponents. 


Petro vowed to transform the country's economy amid mass protests condemning poverty and inequality. “The entire country is begging for change,” Colombian political scientist Fernando Posada told the New York Times, “and that is absolutely clear.” And that is what the incoming president vowed he would deliver. “We are not going to betray the electorate that has shouted at history,” Petro said after the win. “Starting today Colombia changes.” 


Petro was part of the M-19 guerilla group which dropped its weapons in 1990 and entered the political arena. This is third time lucky  for the former progressive mayor of Bogota who failed in his two previous presidential bids. 


Joining him making history was his vice president Francia Márquez, the first black woman to hold the position. The single mother and human rights defender had won the prestigious Goldman environ-mental prize in 2018. “After 214 years we’ve achieved a government of the people, a popular government, of people with callused hands, a government of the people on their feet, of the nobodies of Colombia,” she said. 


The task ahead for both remains daunting as the country struggles with guerilla groups and drug gangs that are terrorizing parts of the country. And Petro's past is not making him endearing for some elements of the conservative country. 


“Some Colombians fear how much can change with a left wing government,” told the Guardian Silvana Amaya  of Control Risks. “Some Colombians liken the left to Chavez and the socio-economic misfortune in Venezuela. Others consider that a country that has lived through an internal conflict for more than 60 years led by leftist guerrilla groups should not allow such an ideology to rule Colombia.” 


The victory marks another rare win for the left in a region where is has taken over leadership, but not always with similar results. It comes a year after the victory of Gabriel Boric in Chile, who has set one of the region's most progressive agendas in a country also known for conservative politics. 


Also looking to topple the right wing establishment is Brazil's Lula da Silva, surging in the polls as president Bolsonaro's numbers sag after years of turbulent politics. The left made historic gains four years ago with the arrival of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, the so-called first leftist president in the country in three quarters of a century, but one who does not necessarily agree with many of today's progressive ideals, from the right to choose to gay rights. He boycotted the Summit of the Americas over the absence of three leftist leaders the US did not invite due to their challenge to democracy, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.  


HEUREUX MAIS PRÊTS


Année après année les résultats sont aussi formels qu'ils peuvent l'être. Malgré ses longs hivers et périodes de noirceur, la Finlande constitue le pays le plus heureux de la planête selon ses habitants. 


Selon certains, c'est justement en raison de la douce vie qui y règne et qui accepte l'hiver tel qu'il est avec enchantement. Cette année en plus le pays nordique, également parmi les plus libres au monde, avait d'autant plus la raison d'être aux anges qu'ils avait accueilli et remporté les championnats du monde de hockey après une performance tout a fait honorable aux Jeux de Pékin. 


Mais tout n'est pas si rose au septentrion. Certaines statistiques, comme celles des violences envers les femmes au foyer et sur l'alcoolisme, sont plutôt alarmantes. Et son voisin l'est tout autant. Fort heureusement on a pu calmer les anxiétés d'Ankara de manière à faire progresser l'adhésion à l'Otan. 


L'heure est ainsi à la préparation défensive. Cette seule adhésion s'est attirée des reproches de Moscou, qui menace d'être moins amicale envers ce pays qui partage 1300 kilomètres de frontière. Anxiétés dans le pays du père Noël (bien que là encore matière à discussion) et des saunas à profusion (2 millions pour un peu plus de 5 millions d'habitants)? 


Pourtant le commandement l'affirme, le pays est prêt afin de faire face à toute eventualité. Selon le général Timo Kivinen, la Finlande a bâti un arsenal considérable depuis des années, et tient un atout qui selon lui représente la clé du succès et de la résistance: la motivation de ses citoyens. 


La remarque n'est pas anodine car celle des guerriers ukrainiens a été capitale afin de limiter les gains du rouleau compresseur russe. "La ligne de défense la plus importante est entre les deux oreilles, dit-il, et la guerre en Ukraine le démontre en ce moment." 


La Finlande reconnait bien la position dans laquelle se retrouve l'Ukraine car elle a elle aussi perdu une partie de son territoire à la Russie lors de deux guerres qui lui ont coûté 100000 vies, un chiffre astrono-mique alors que le pays ne comptait que 3,5 millions d'habitants. Selon Kivinen, la Finlande s'est préparée précisément pour le genre de guerre en cours en Ukraine et poserait une résistance farouche. 


Le pays de 5,5 million d'habitants n'a jamais retiré son service militaire, comme d'autres pays européens ont pu le faire, et pourrait en temps de guerre regrouper un quart de million de soldats sous les fanions, et plus de 800000 réservistes. Heureux peut-être, mais gardant un esprit guerrier qui ne semble pas avoir changé depuis le temps des vikings. 


82% des citoyens se disaient prêts à défendre la patrie au besoin selon un sondage récent. Alors que l'on attend avec trépidation l'adhésion formelle à l'Otan "la responsabilité principale de défendre la Finlande revient à la Finlande," soutient Kivinen. 


Quant à l'état d'esprit des compatriotes, pas sûr qu'il ait immédiatement changé pour autant, le tout dernier sondage de ce printemps confirmant la première place des heureux nordiques pour une cinquième année consécutive.




TROUBLE AHEAD


Sure the pandemic was something, closing businesses and hampering exchanges, but two years on the combination of inflation, distribution disruptions, rising interest rates and nosediving stocks have caused more hardship at a time government supports have been withdrawn, making 2020 look like the good old days. And now the r-word lurks around the bend. 


No wonder the International Monetary Fund warned the global economy may be facing "perhaps the biggest test since the Second World War" and "a potential confluence of calamities." In a way it feels like we are already there. 


The war in Ukraine exacerbated existing distribution problems, causing scarcities made worse as some countries responded by blocking exports of in-demand goods such as wheat and palm oil. India's decision to ban exporting wheat sent the price of that commodity soaring at a time Russian and Ukrainian exports are compromised. It later restricted sugar exports. Indonesia also sent palm oil prices rocketing when it temporarily banned most exports. Protectionism has been a costly reaction to crises, this is as true now as it was at the beginning of the pandemic when some limited access to protective equipment. 


Meeting in  Davos this spring the World Economic Forum sought to promote trade and lowering barriers to commerce, rather than hiking them, calling on the United States to end ongoing trade tiff with China, which have only made things more difficult for American consumers. China's struggle with its latest outbreaks of covid-19, has also impacted production and distribution in the country the world depends on for many of its products, further dragging down the world economy. 


According to the OECD the combined Gross Domestic Product of G7 countries including Canada and the U.S. shrank by 0.1% in the first quarter of the year, compared to the previous period, a path some fear may lead to a recession. The World Bank warned of the potential for stagflation over the next few years, rising prices coupled with weak growth. 


Like many leaders US president Joe Biden has been facing the heat of galloping prices, bringing him to consider making amends with someone he once vowed to treat like a pariah, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, following the killing of a Saudi journalist. Last week Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said "I wouldn't go, I wouldn't shake his hand. This is someone who butchered an American resident, cut him up into pieces and in the most terrible and premeditated way." Is America selling its soul for cheaper gas? 


The pursuit of resources has certainly not kept it from launching foreign missions of more lethal nature in the past. And Biden isn't the only one trying to alleviate pressures by meeting doubtful characters. The president of the African Union, Senegalese president Macky Sall, travelled to Moscow to plead for the grain superpower to free some of its stocks. He returned "reassured" by the talks saying Putin was "aware the sanctions and crisis are causing serious problems to weaker  economies such as African economies," but said he  conceded the crisis was a long way from ending, pledging to go to Ukraine next. 


Europe has also sought to fight inflationary pressures, especially on the energy front, as it poured billions of euros to mitigate the skyrocketing prices, anything from 0.5% to 3.5% of GDP according to calculations by think tank Bruegel. Among them Austria announced 2 billion euros in energy subsidies in March, including tax cuts and compensations. In Belgium the most vulnerable citizens benefit from a 80 euro energy check to pay their bills while in Bulgaria the government announced subsidies to companies for their energy consumptions. 


A number of countries have had to scale back climate change charges added to gas and other prices to make them more affordable. In the Czech republic electricity and gas were exempted from value-added tax. Canada's government has been facing pressure to follow suit by the opposition Conservatives, but the ruling Liberals insist consumers will get more money back than they pay in their periodic carbon-tax payment cheques. Brazil has also pumped subsidies to shield consumers from further financial pressures. 


"Sky high energy prices for a prolonged period of time, risks of energy rationing, and ultimately a recession are growing by the day," warned Livia Gallarati of Energy Aspects. Certainly rising food and fuel prices have heavily contributed to inflationary pressures, the Eurozone's hitting 8.1%, its highest level since the creation of the single currency in 1999. In the US 8.6% rise is the highest in nearly 40 years. Nor has Russia been spared, seeing a 17% rise in food prices since last year. 


In Canada the bite of inflation was also taking its toll on consumers, a new survey suggesting a growing number are struggling, sparking fears of hunger and insecurity. And if this is the case in such a wealthy country, how is it for poorer nations? Almost a quarter of Canadians say they are eating less as the cost of basic staples like pasta, bread and meat climbs. This was particularly true for those earning under $50,000. One in five Canadians even reported going hungry at least once since the beginning of the pandemic. 


In poorer countries the impact was more severe, with Chad declaring a food emergency. The prospect of famine in other countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia were very real considering the possibility of another bad rain season. Millions could die directly and indirectly from food shortages, warned Peter Sands of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. Apart from people dying from starvation "you have the fact that often much larger numbers of people are poorly nourished and that makes them vulnerable to existing diseases."


 And Russian ships carrying stolen Ukrainian grain heading to that continent  were going to leave desperate countries wrestling with a moral choice to feed their starving people. Italy says Russia's war amounted to "holding hostage and condemning to death millions of children, women and men." Latin America is also suffering from the ongoing war, a UN study saying Latin America and the Dominican Republic will see poverty rise to affect a third of the population in 2022.  


NOUVELLE GUERRE?


Pourtant  pacifiés par le dialogue depuis quelques années, le Rwanda et le Congo sont à nouveau au bord de la rupture diplomatique, et la cause de ce différend ne date pas d'hier. Il faut en effet revenir aux affreux lendemains du génocide rwandais et à l'exode de Rwandais chez le pays voisin pour retrouver les origines de cette crise liée aux milices M23 que Kinshasa accuse Kigali d'alimenter encore et toujours. 


Dans les années 90 des milliers de réfugiés avaient fui au Congo, certains choisissant de constituer des milices, parmi elles le M23, synonyme de terreur dans l'est sanglant du pays. Pourtant le groupe avait signé des accords de paix en 2013, mais a cette année repris les armes, accusant Kinshasa de ne pas respecter ses engagements, relançant le cycle de terreur dans l'est du Congo. 


Pour Kinshasa, cette resurgence du groupe se doit à l'appui de Kigali, l'armée congolaise déclarant que "la RDC est effectivement agressée par le Rwanda". Des propos repris par la président lui-même que nient Kigali. 


Les conséquences de ce conflit sont au compte de milliers de morts, et l'heure n'est pour plusieurs pas à l'apaisement. "Il y a des millions de morts dans l’Est de notre pays depuis plus de vingt ans," déplore Omari Le Brave, étudiant congolais à la RTBF.  " On naît dans la guerre et on y grandit, maintenant on connaît l’identité de l’ennemi, il n’est pas question de dialoguer". 


C'est ce que s'accorde à dire Patrick Muyaya, porte-parole du gouvernement congolais. "À quoi ça va servir de discuter avec un groupe terroriste qui doit être traité comme tel ? Le M23 a été défait depuis des années, mais comment ils arrivent à se réarmer pour avoir du matériel sophistiqué et aller jusqu’à faire écraser un hélicoptère de la MONUSCO", dit-il  en conférence de presse. 


Entre les deux une Union africaine qui tente tant bien que mal de ramener les partis à la bonne entente qu'ils entre-tenaient depuis quelques années avec l'investiture de Félix Tshisekedi à Kinshasa. Mais le géant du centre du continent fait face à plusieurs groupes armés au long de ses nombreuses frontières. 


Début juin une vingtaine de civils étaient tués par le groupe ougandais Forces démocratiques alliées, un massacre qui suivait de près un autre carnage dans  la région. De ses bases en Ouganda où le groupe islamiste s'en prenait aux autorités, l'ADF est allé s'installer au Congo, qu'il n'a pas épargné de ses folies meurtrières. 


Ce dernier serait responsable de milliers de meurtres dans des opérations incluant massacres, vols et enlèvements depuis 2013. Le Nord Kivu et l'Ituri sont en état de siège depuis plus d'un an. Rien qu'à Beni, au Nord Kivu, 1300 personnes auraient connu la mort depuis mai dernier. Le groupe ne figure que parmi environ 120 groupes recensés en opération au Congo. En plus du M23 cette région est également confrontée au groupe militant CODECO, qui se dit représenter l'ethnie Lendu. 


Au Sud Kivu une demi douzaine de personnes sont mortes fin avril lorsque des éclats ont opposé d'autres groupes, les  Banyamulenge tutsis congolais, contre la milice des forces d'auto défense Biloze Bishambuke, un catalogue de la mort qui touche notamment des populations civiles sans défense. 


Sur fond de manifestations au Congo, les tensions ont monté d'un cran après la mort d'un soldat congolais lors d'échanges de tirs à la frontière, fermant cette dernière peu après. L'état major à Kinshasa ne mange plus ses mots: "S'ils veulent la guerre, ils l'auront," dit-il haut et fort. Mais le ministre rwandais des affaires étrangères prétend, au contraire, être en quête de "désescalade"


THE FRIENDLIEST WAR


Land borders, Canada has nearly 9000 kilometres of them, but few countries to share them with. One in fact. Until now. The settling of a 49-year-old dispute over a tiny island off Greenland has created a new immediate neighbor. 


For years both countries' navies have been staging mock landings to raise their respective flags and drop off bottles of liquor on the icebound 1.3 sq kilometre barren knoll of Hans island in the Nares Strait. 


Both members of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Canada and Greenland have been able to work together for years to settle disputes of the North, but not this one, dragging dozens of ministers into the dispute over the years, until they decided the best way to come to an agreement was to share the speck of rock, hence the land border than runs through it. 


"It was the friendliest of all wars," quipped foreign minister Melanie Joly in her comments on the lighthearted dispute, quipping a Canadian singer could perhaps now enter the next Eurovision Song Contest. Counterpart Jeppe Kofod declared: "Welcome Canada to the European continent!" 


Global warming and Russia's militarization of the Arctic have increased attention to the top of the globe and the NATO allies decided settling this issue was a "testament to our excellent relations" at a time a united front was necessary against the Kremlin's aggressions and as the world united to fight climate change transforming the Inuit region. 


"It demon-strates our commitment to the rules-based international order and in maintaining our shared ambition of the Arctic as a region of low tension and cooperation," a statement said. "We commit to further strengthening this coopera-tion, which will bring important benefits for the people living in the Arctic." 


The approach seemed in line with suggestions from experts to settle the dispute by sharing the tiny barren pebble in the cold waters of the Arctic. That's what University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers and a Danish colleague suggested a few years back.


 “It would resolve a long-standing dispute that, although insignificant, has some small potential to cause friction in the future,” said Byers, calling for the creation of some sort a co-managed rocky condominium. 


Obser-vers at the time pointed to precedents, including Pheasant island, shared between France and Spain since the 17th century. “There have been tensions in the Arctic in some issues,” Byers added. “The federal government might see this as a way to signal a change in approach.” 


The bloody war in Europe "created an opportune moment to tell the world that responsible countries settle territorial disputes in a peaceful way," he said. It now becomes one of the most undefended borders in the world, leaving you the opportunity to stand in both countries and continents at the same time. If you can get there. There's  no transport and the closest populated area is Qaanaaq, population 650, 379km away. 



SHOOT, RELOAD 


While the war in Ukraine enters a new savage month, another war drags on for yet another bloody year. Signs of it are found in many public places. One reads "shop lifters will be shot" in a Vermont liquor store. Another warns against bringing guns into a school zone in Houston. 


The invasion there has come from within and is allowed to continue mercilessly due to decades of inaction. Decades after the Columbine massacre and despite the myriad of school shootings that have made attending classes a calculated risk, a distraught Connecticut Sena-tor could only lament. "What are we doing?" 


His state, like so many others, had seen the blood of innocent students spilled a decade ago, felling 26 souls in an elementary school. The problem isn't unique to America. A decade before Columbine Montreal reeled from the senseless shooting of female students at Polytechnique, and that city and others have seen a resurgence in shootings this spring. But the repetition of mass shootings, in and out of schools, leading up to the bloodshed of the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, made Chris Murphy lament "days a after a gunman enters a grocery store to gun down African American patrons we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. This only happens in this country and nowhere else." 


There is of course gun violence everywhere just as there is racism everywhere. The shooter of a Buffalo grocery store days before lashed out against the black community he targeted. Oddly enough it was Canada which this week introduced new gun control legislation that would freeze all hand gun sales and seek to buyback semi-automatic weapons, as the Supreme Court made a decision on the sentencing of the Quebec City mosque shooter and as an inquiry into Canada's worst mass shooting continued. Canada hasn't been spared by this violence, but reaction to it was radically different. 


No legislation like this seemed to be in the works in the U.S. despite the fact the Texas shooting came after a string of deadly attacks which included the Buffalo shooting, the shooting of a church in California targeting the Taiwanese community and other crimes in Chicago and other locations that herald a hot summer of gun violence in a country which enjoyed only a slight reprieve during the pandemic when millions were confined. The FBI reported a jump of 52% in shooting incidents from 2020 to 2021. And 2022 is off to a terrifying start. 


There were 213 mass shootings (at least 4 injured or killed) across the country up until Uvalde this year. Dozens more have occurred since. The U.S. president himself lamented, powerlessly “another massacre," adding “as a nation we have to ask when in God’s name we’re going to stand up to the gun lobby. We have to act and don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.” Painful words of helplessness by the most powerful statesman in the world. Twenty one were killed, 19 of them children aged 9 to 10, in a single classroom by the Texas gunman, a teenager wearing body armor and carrying an AR-15 assault rifle, who was later felled by authorities. 


It followed the racially-motivated shooting in Buffalo which killed 10. Only the motivations differ, the acts and their devastating results do not. Last November four students were killed and seven injured when a teenager opened fire in a school in Oxford, Michigan. Months before eight were killed in a FedEx facility when it was targeted by a former employee who had been under psychological care. 


These repeated acts, some described as terrorism, have lead some countries to issue travel advisories warning about the potential for gun violence in a country where the right to bear arms is the second constitutional amendment. The knee jerk reaction from such acts is always for a rise in gun sales, by those fearing their rights could be removed, a far-fetched scenario that will nonetheless be raised during primary season by Republican candidates and even some Democrats running in red states. 


As news of the Texas bloodbath came in and the number of victims revised upward, another senator, Republican Thom Tillis didn't just have thoughts and prayers but warned Democrats against having the “reflexive reaction” to try to pass gun laws. "What we need to avoid is the reflexive reaction we have to say this could all be solved by not having guns in anyone's hands," he said. "What people immediately want to jump to are red flag laws. Virtually everyone that I've seen here has been one that sweep up law-abiding gun owners into what I consider to be an overreach." 


Surprisingly, an NBA player involved in this year's playoffs provided some perspective about the shooting in a post-game interview, observing "It's a sad world we live in," noted Damion Lee of the Golden State Warriors. "Guns shouldn't be so easily accessible. It's easier to get a gun than baby formula right now, that's unbelievable" at a time of baby formula shortages. To immediately alleviate the formula crisis the U.S. chartered military jets to bring in much needed bottles from Europe. 


But no emergency airlift seemed imminent to rise America out of its gun violence crisis. Lee's coach slammed US politicians as "pathetic" for their lack of actions on shootings. Tillis suggested better mental health prevention but nothing about limiting access to guns - often military grade and unobtainable in other countries by civilians - used in those deadly acts. Assault weapons saw their ban expire in 2004 in the U.S. and background check proposals in Congress a decade later failed to pass. Currently gun legislation passed in the House on background checks remains stalled in the Senate. 


The latest school shooting was enough to make a foreign president under siege in a war zone, Ukraine's, send his condolences.  Sadly gun rights could be if anything expanded in the coming weeks as the U.S. Supreme Court looked likely to strike down a New York State law that asked people who applied to carry a handgun in public to provide "proper cause," limiting the power of the states on gun control. According to a Swiss study, there are 120 guns for every 100 Americans. In Canada, it's 34. In the UK, 4.9. 


Mass protests took to the streets of Houston as the NRA gathered for an ill-timed convention. There attendees refused to look into any possible reforms to gun laws. Unsurprisingly. What this will lead to is just more of the same. In fact as the first young victim of the Texas shooting was buried Americans marked Memorial Day, a holiday meant to honour veterans, now haunted by 14 mass shootings. 


UN AUTRE VIRUS?


Encore un virus qui nous parvient du monde animal qui se répand entre les hommes à travers les continents et met les autorités sanitaires sur un pied d'alerte. Vigilence certes, après ce que l'on a traversé ça s'entend, mais la variole du singe n'inquiète pour l'instant pas trop les spécialistes comme le covid pouvait le faire. 


Déjà le virus a quelquechose de familier et peut être largement paré par un vaccin existant. Mais certains pays touchés par son arrivée, notamment la Belgique, ne ménagent pas les efforts pour éviter sa propagation. 


Bruxelles impose en effet une quarantaine de trois semaines aux victimes qui en souffrent, même s'il s'agit ordinairement de symptômes et de lésions limités. Il s'agit d'une exportation d'Afrique rare de ce virus qui est apparu en 1970 alors que variole elle-même succombait à une campagne de vaccination. 


A présent plus d'une vingtaine de pays dont  l'Espagne et le Portugal ont recensé des cas. Pourrait-on être à l'origine d'une autre crise sanitaire? Pour l'instant les spécialistes ne craignent pas une pandémie même si les cas d'éclosion de multiplient. 


Puis la variole du singe semble moins grâve et moins contagieuse que le coronavirus, n'ayant causé aucune mort lors de son éclosion aux Etats-Unis il y a presque 20 ans, alors que le monde était surtout préoccupé par le SRAS. Le virus se transmet par des «contacts prolongés et rapprochés avec une personne infectieuse, précise le ministère de la santé du Québec, qui prévoyait déjà l'usage de vaccins. Sa contagiosité est donc considérée limitée par rapport à d’autres virus.» 


Mais certains spécialistes notent la particularité de cette  transmis-sion hors d'Afrique, et le fait qu'elle, dans certains cas, prenne l'apparence d'une maladie transmissible sexuelle-ment, notant le nombre de patients issus du milieu homosexuel, des données qui font craindre une nouvelle stigmatisation de cette communauté ciblée aux premières heures du SIDA. 


Selon le Centre européen de prévention et de contrôle des maladies le risque de contagion est très faible en général mais élevé chez les personnes qui ont plusieurs partenaires sexuels.  Mais on s'empresse de préciser que «ce n'est pas une maladie homosexuelle, comme certaines personnes sur les réseaux sociaux ont tenté de l'étiqueter,» note Andy Seale de l'Organisation mondiale de la santé. 


Celle-ci estime que la variole simienne «peut être stoppée dans les pays non endémiques», notamment en Europe. «C’est du jamais vu auparavant avec les virus de la variole du singe,» note le virologue belge Marc Van Ranst, notamment le fait qu'il y ait eu des cas dans plusieurs pays sans lien de voyage avec  l'Afrique. Le président américain multiplie les avertis-sements: 


"Il y a des raisons d'être concerné, résume Joe Biden. Si ça se répand il y aura des conséquences."  Depuis le début de la pandémie les nouvelles infections sont surveillées à la loupe. Le monde guette notamment la multipli-cation de cas d'hépatite chez les jeunes, et les cas de personnes qui souffrent de covid persistant. 


Des spécialistes notent que plusieurs virus connus se comportent de manière différente et ceci pourrait être dû au fait que la pandémie et ses mesures sanitaires auraient altéré leur comportement, sans néces-sairement les rendre plus agressifs, en raison de leur impact sur l'immunité au sein des populations.


AUSTRALIA GOES GREEN


Bespectacled men in their 50s in dark suits with a silver hairline, there wasn't much to distinguish the two top contenders for the job of prime minister in Australia at first sight. 


But when the 59-year old with the slightly thicker glass frames that calls himself the only candidate with a "non-Anglo Celtic name" to run for the office took the stage at the end of electoral night, it was the first time in nearly a decade Labor had swept into power down under, forcing out Scott Morrison and his centre-right coalition as the country endured another year of sweeping brushfires and intense floods. 


Climate change and inflation dominated the campaign as the country came out of its covid lockdown, allowing travellers to visit the nation continent once more. "Millions of Australians have put climate first," said Amanda McKenzie of the Climate Council. "Now it's time for a radical reset on how this great nation of ours acts upon the climate challenge." 


The election notably saw a number of independent and green candidates seeking tougher emissions cuts make important breakthroughs, the Australian Green party increasing its seats from one to three. After another year of devastating floods and brushfires threatening homes, lives and wildlife, Australians voted for "greater and faster action on climate change broadly," agreed Marija Taflaga of the Australian National University. 


In fact in the last three years record-breaking floods and freak weather events have killed more than 500 Australians and countless animals as the continent faced droughts and other catastrophes. As a result the country is experiencing no less than a "insurability crisis" leaving one of every 25 homes unable to get proper insurance according to a report by the Climate Council. 


Early on in 2022 the world is already seeing a number of freak climate-related events, from storms and twisters in Germany and Canada to record heat in Europe and South Asia, particularly Pakistan which has been seeing temperatures in the 50s. According to observers natural disasters and fighting are responsible for creating 60 million refugees worldwide this year, many displaced within their own countries. 


Labor promised to slash emissions by 43% and achieve net zero by 2050, but some critics say the incoming party's policies still don't go far enough to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 Celsius despite its pledges for new business incentives and a greener power grid. "Together we can end the climate wars," Anthony Albanese said in his victory speech. "Together we can take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower." 


The statement is quite a significant one considering Australia's reluctance in the past to jump on the green bandwagon, held back by its formidable mining interests. A man of modest background, Albanese was sworn in as Australia's 31st prime minister as it seemed his government would secure a majority that would help push through reforms, but with the weakest of margins.



SEEKING NATO


While Russia's war against Ukraine may have sought to prevent further EU and NATO expansion and sow division it appears to have provoked exactly the opposite, giving new life to once struggling institutions and fostering some sense of unity. 


A sense only, as divisions have emerged on a number of issues. Unity was certainly not evident from the get go, as the lack of a European common foreign policy and defense force caused much introspection the first days of the conflict. After some period of adjustment a common approach to the war did emerge, but still not all were ready to speak with one voice. 


Hungary said it would not host more NATO troops and declined to ban Russian oil, something a number of countries were in agreement with. But as the conflict stretches into another month, a common trend is developing, Ukraine, Moldo-va and Georgia are seeking EU membership while once reticent Scandinavian coun-tries have now applied to  formally join NATO. And  French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal to create a new broader European com-munity of nations that could welcome non-EU members such as Ukraine and Britain, suggested no one would be left behind on the continent where the common currency was once considered under threat. 


Similarly NATO faced a  bit of a crisis after the end of the Cold war. Now it stands to recruit new members, Finland and Sweden rushing to reverse decades of neutral policies by applying for NATO membership despite Moscow's condemnation, the Kremlin saying at first, not for the first time, it considered the move a threat. It later toned down this rhetoric but said it would respond to troop deployments.There's no lack of irony in that it was another neighbor's flirt with the West and NATO which sparked the Russian attack against Ukraine, and that this may only result in another border nation joining the Atlantic alliance. 


But the would-be newcomers have to convince a well established member, Turkey, which threatened to veto their candidacies. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims these Nordic countries harbor "terrorist organizations", including Kurdish militant groups and followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen, which he says carried out a 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan said supporters of these groups included members of parliament, prompting Helsinki and Stockholm to send a mission to Ankara for talks on their membership bid. 


Finnish officials  were optimistic they would be able to convince Ankara to change its mind but Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country's conditions would be for both countries to stop backing what he called terrorist organizations, including, the Kurdistan Worker's Party,  and lift export bans on Turkey. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto called applying to join NATO the opening of a "new era", adding he wasn't too concerned about Ankara's reaction. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said he was "confident we'll be able to find common ground." Some called Turkey's reticence a negotiating ploy, but Ankara blocked attempts to fast-track the candidacies. 


In the mean time the two countries are wary they may be vulnerable to possible attacks, as they do not yet benefit from NATO protection, but Russia's fumbling war in Ukraine hardly leaves it likely to launch another front any time soon. But Russia says it planned to create new military bases in response and was already cutting off Finland's gas supply. 


These are just the most recent applications for NATO membership, but other countries are also seeking to join the alliance, from Bosnia Herzegovina to Georgia, and others including Ireland, are reingaging in debates about possible membership. It is a far cry from the 1990s when NATO's purpose was cast into doubt with the end of the Cold war. It only took the prospect of a new one to make joining the Atlantic alliance attractive again. Russia has been seeking reassurances Ukraine would never join NATO, the possible condition to eventual peace in the region. 


While Turkey is a key NATO member which has sent crucial drones in support of Ukraine's defenses, it has, like a number of other allies of Kiev, balked at some of the sanctions levelled against Moscow. Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech republic and Bulgaria, which had previously been much closer to Moscow before the war, asked for exemptions if only to  have time to find alternative energy providers before observing a full ban on Russian oil and gas. 


Cutting off Russia's energy-based revenues is as key to stopping its war machine as weapons deliveries, the EU's 27 member states having spent over 24 billion euros on oil and 34 billion euros on Russian gas since the invasion. This isn't the only area where there are divergences. Macron's revival of an old idea to form a wider European club that would include aspiring EU members and other non-members on the continent is another one, as even those the club would seek as members, Ukraine, insist it should be no substitute for full EU membership. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda also called the idea "an attempt to cover up the obvious lack of political will to take decisive decisions on granting candi-date status" for Ukraine. 


But Macron insists a new broader European body could tackle cooperation in key continental issues such as security, energy and movement between countries. The idea of a confederation of nations was first proposed by predecessor Francois Mitterrand in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, but never took off. With nearly a dozen countries currently seeking EU membership, the idea isn't without appeal for some, but still lacks formality. 


There is no doubt Western and EU institutions are drawing new interest in this time of crisis and uncertainty. Kosovo said it would seek to join the Council of Europe, its human rights group, an institution Russia quit after the launch of the war. But one organization which however did not meet expectations for some was the OSCE, which Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said represented a failed security infrastructure which "did not work and was not able to prevent war."


LE RETOUR DES MARCOS


Le goût pour les hommes forts reste une constante aux Philippines, qui après le mandat d'un président controversé qui a dirigé le pays avec une poigne de fer vient d'élire avec une rare majorité absolue Ferdinand Marcos Junior, fils du défunt dictateur. 


Donné largement favori par les sondages, Marcos Jr. a promis de restaurer l'unité nationale, mais à quel coût. 


Rassurés de voir disparaitre Rodrigo Duterte en raison des excès des ses politiques antidrogues, les groupes de droits de l'homme craignent cependant l'arrivée au pouvoir du nouveau dirigeant de 64 ans, sa majorité lui facilitant la tâche de réviser la constitution et d'affaiblir la démocratie. 


"Duterte n'a jamais eu la discipline et les moyens d'aller au bout de son programme autoritaire, confie à France24 l'analyste Richard Geydarian. Cette opportunité historique pourrait échoir aux Marcos." 


D'autant plus que ce dernier ajoutait sous son aile la fille de l'homme fort sortant, Sara Duterte, une combinaison qui fait frémir certains observateurs. "Il pourrait y avoir un retour de la loi martiale et des morts associées à la campagne contre la drogue, comme ce qui s'est passé quand leurs parents étaient au pouvoir," note Myles Sanchez, militant des droits de l'homme. 


Le tandem avec Sara pourrait mettre son père à l'abri des poursuites de la Cour pénale internationale pour crimes contre l'humanité en raison de la sévère campagne antidrogue. Par ailleurs la dynastie Marcos a beau avoir connu ses effusions de sang, la campagne électorale a été marquée par un effort de désinformation afin d'assainir ce triste chapitre de l'histoire des Philippines, une révision des faits passés qui aurait pu avoir l'approbation de Poutine. 


Entre 5 et 10 milliards auraient été soutirés aux trésors publics lors du règne de deux décennies des Marcos, qui ont fui à Hawaii lors de la révolution People power des années 80. Beaucoup d'électeurs sont trop jeunes pour se souvenir de cette période noire et sanglante de l'histoire du pays. 


Comme à l'accoutumée, les élections ne se sont pas déroulées sans débordement, des hommes armés ayant ouvert le feu dans un bureau de vote de l'ile de Mandanao, région proie aux violences de groupes armés. 


C'est le genre de violence qui persiste malgré les promesses et les méthodes des dirigeants même autoritaires au pouvoir. Le pays reste proie aux éclats entre groupes armés, notamment dans le sud, mais également à la pauvreté et au sous-emploi qui peuvent alimenter ces crises. Marcos Jr. a par conséquent du pain sur la planche en ce début de mandat, déclarant "Ne me jugez pas selon mes ancêtres mais selon mes actions." 


Mais la controverse s'est invitée plutôt vite après les résultats de l'élection. En effet on aurait, sur les murs de la maison de sa mêre où il était allé célébrer sa victoire, noté la présence d'une pièce de Picasso qui devait avoir été saisie par les autorités parmi les biens pillés par la famille Marcos dans les années 80. 


Il s'agit d'un rappel qu'alors que Marcos Jr. prend les rênes du pouvoir sa famille est toujours aux prises avec des dizaines d'affaires judiciaires concernant l'accumulation plus ou moins doûteuse de son importante richesse. Le groupe des droits de l'homme Karapatan a fait appel à un rejet de la nouvelle présidence par les masses, estimant qu'elle était bâtie de toutes pièces par le mensonge et la désinformation "afin de déodoriser l'image détestable des Marcos."


US LEAK SPARKS DEBATE

While the leak of a draft decision of the U.S. Supreme Court suggesting abortion could soon no longer be a constitutional right came as a shock to right to choose activists and galvanized the right during primary season, it also came at a time a number of conservative and Catholic Latin American countries were coming around to legalizing the practice. 


Earlier this year Colombia's constitutional Court legalized the procedure until the 24th week of pregnancy, in line with simlar reversals in other parts of the Latin world. Argentina's congress legalized elective abortion until the 14th week   of pregnancy while  Mexico's highest court declared a total ban on abortion unconstitu-tional, even if restrictions remain in many of its states. 


Is this what is in store for the U.S., where over 20 states were ready to halt the procedure? If so a number of corporations, such as Amazon and Starbucks, were ready to step up and assist those seeking abortions in states that would still permit it, further deepening the great U.S. divide. 


Canada also served notice it would permit Americans seeking abortions to cross the border. The great White North wasted no time entering the debate, the ruling Liberals vowing to protect the right to abortion and announcing new funding to make access to abortion easier. 


But not all countries have been moving in the same direction on the delicate topic. The year Argentina changed course a court ruling in Poland sparked protest and "women strikes'" when it introduced a near total ban on abortion in the heavily Catholic country. There, as in a number of US states which may revert to ban the procedure, a majority of people polled were against the change. Termina-tions were only allowed in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the mother's life. 


This wouldn't be the case in some US states looking to turn back the clock further. For at least half of the world's population this is what the new restrictions would amount to, and a U.S. reversal would have a global impact. "In a country that is a political, financial, military empire, a supreme court decision has a contagious effect. Because everything moves together,” told the Guardian Debora Diniz, co-founder of an NGO pushing to decriminalize elective abortion in Brazil. In that country the procedue is only allowed in cases of rape, risk to the woman’s life and certain congenital conditions. 


“For Latin American countries, like Brazil, like Mexico, like Colombia, the US supreme court was a very important precedent behind the simple idea that courts are a legitimate space in which to decide abortion [rights],”  Diniz said. Central America is where sweeping prohibitions remain in place against the practice, leading to long prison sentences in case of transgressions. 


"It is an awful precedent for the coming years for the region and the world," said Catalina Martínez Coral of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The issue is as divisive in non-Catholic countries. 


While the procedure is widely available in Israel since the late 70s, Iran went in the other direction after the revolution, while Tunisia has allowed abortions for up to 12 weeks since the 1960s. The Ukrainian crisis has exposed its refugees to differences between European countries on the matter. 


According to local authorities over 100 women were raped by Russian soldiers and some reconsidered relocating to Poland because of its restrictive policies. Similarly in Croatia pro-choice supporters have rallied behind a woman who was denied the right to get an abortion despite the fact her unborn child had a life altering brain tumour. She was at fist told to go to nearby Slovenia instead, before the decision was reversed and permission granted for the procedure. This in turn provoked massive anti-abortion rallies in the Catholic country.


L'ANNÉE SUIVANTE


Moins d'un an après la chute de Kaboul, la réalité reflète bien les craintes d'un recul du droit des femmes, dont l'effacement se poursuit à une vitesse virtigineuse. Evincées du monde du travail pour la plupart, elles perdent leur avenir en étant exclues des écoles après un certain niveau, et sont finalement rendues invisibles par l'imposition du voile intégral. 


C'est une transformation qui a eu lieu en plein jour et dont le monde a été le témoin, impuissant, comme il l'était pendant la chute de ce pays aux mains des Talibans. Ces derniers doivent cependant encore livrer certains combats, non seulement face à des extrémistes encore plus radicaux sur une terre que le bon sens semble avoir abandonné, mais entre eux-mêmes. 


Alors que le monde est captivé par la toute dernière urgence interna-tionale, celle de l'Ukraine, la catastrophe de ce pays trop souvent conquis mais jamais maîtrisé prend de l'ampleur  en voguant tout droit vers la crise humanitaire. 


Les nouveaux maîtres de Kaboul pourraient venir en aide aux plus souffrants en prenant une position moins radicale et gagner un peu de la faveur des agences d'aide occidentales, mais certains ont chosi de pousser la souffrance à l'extrême en réduisant les libertés individuelles, surtout celles des femmes, au strict minimum. Et encore. 


Mais ces dernières  n'ont pas pour autant été réduites au silence, osant manifester contre les nouvelles mesures des Talibans, malgré les violences que ces actes peuvent déclencher. "Les Talibans ne peuvent pas nous effacer, déclare Zarifa Ghafari, une militante, ils doivent accepter (les femmes). Ils n'en ont pas le choix." 


Alors que certaines ont pu conserver leur emploi dans le secteur public, elles risquent le renvoi si elles ne se plient pas aux exigences sur le port du voile, une exigence aux antipodes de celles que l'on peut retrouver dans plusieurs pays de l'Ouest. "Nous voulons vivre en tant que créatures nobles, déclare Saira Sama Alimyar pendant une manifestation contre le voile intégral. Ne pas être retenues dans la cage de la maison, pendant que nos maris vont mendier pour de la nourriture." 


Il y a quelques mois les femmes se voyaient interdire le droit de voyager, surtout sans la supervision d'un "gardien" mâle s'il s'agit d'un trajet dépassant les 60 kilomètres. Depuis les Talibans ont ignoré leurs promesses d'assurer  l'éducation des filles en interdisant l'accès à l'école des moins jeunes. 


Mais certaines ont décidé de risquer gros en participant à des cours clandestins, un risque là encore non négligeable qui selon elles reste tout de même moins important que la condamnation d'une vie sans instruction. 


Les dirigeants talibans ne sont d'ailleurs pas unanimes sur l'interdiction de l'instruction des filles après la sixième année,  les hauts dirigeants y voyant une polémique qui encourage plusieurs familles à contester le pouvoir et chercher à quitter le pays, tout en soulevant la consternation en Occident, mettant en péril toute aide internationale.




BEYOND UKRAINE

The ripple effects of the war against Ukraine have been felt around the world for weeks, but Russia's decision to cut gas flows to Poland and Bulgaria, which heavily depend on it, and suspicious blasts in Moldova, have practically brought the war beyond Ukraine's borders at a time Russia is warning the West over arming Kyiv.

Warsaw and Sofia's refusal to pay for gas shipments in Ruble, which Moscow required to prop up its currency, prompted Russia to make good on its threat to cut gas flows, sounding alarms in countries depending on Russian energy exports.

The European Union slammed Moscow's move as "blackmail" against the former East bloc nations and stressed it will find energy alternatives in the short and long term, declaring the age of fossil fuels is coming to an end.

The EU has proposed to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year and reduce gas imports by two thirds, but in the mean time skyrocketing oil prices have boosted Russian revenues. Among the countries dependent on Russia energy is small Moldova, a country bordering Ukraine which has received large flows of refugees and has recently been rattled by explosions in its breakaway region of Transnistria.

The separatist region of half a million, which is home to a large Russophile population and some 1,500 Russian troops, was targeted by blasts of unknown origin, sparking concerns of new schemes to bring Russia's war efforts further West, the sort of false flag operation seen in Eastern Ukraine. Moldova's Europe-friendly prime minister accused the perpetrators of wanting to destabilize Moldova and possibly draw it into the conflict.

Maia Sandu's decision to seek EU membership has not been to Moscow's liking, just as Ukraine's past European overtunes have infuriated the Kremlin. Bringing Moldova into the mix could however prove problematic. While its capture could seem like an extension of cutting Ukraine's access to the Black Sea, Russian forces have yet to take the major bastion on these waters, nearby Odessa.

Despite focusing its latest military efforts in Eastern Ukraine, Russia has in fact seen its efforts there stall in the face of stiff resistance. But Ukraine has been doing more than simply defending itself; it has also been striking targets in Russia, infuriating the Kremlin. Taking place with the permission of a West arming Kyiv as best it can to defend itself, the strikes have not only claimed more Russian casualties among soldiers, but civilians as well, and this is making it harder for Moscow to sustain its domestic propaganda claim that what is going on in little more than a special operation in Ukraine. In fact there are rumors it may be about to declare war.

Russia has been trying to strike the infrastructure used to arm Ukraine, and has warned the West it should stop doing that. Tensions were also emerging on Russia's own eastern front as Moscow warned Tokyo of "retaliatory measures" if it expanded joint naval exercises with the United States. But all this could be a little bit of an over-reach for Russia, which is struggling to hold to parts of Ukraine it has captured.

OUF, MACRON

Il y eut un éclat de joie au rassemblement organisé aux pieds de la tour Eiffel à l'annonce des résultats du second tour de l'élection présidentielle, mais beaucoup de soulagement également, là comme ailleurs. Car le travail ne fait que commencer.  Mais encore, et pour combien de temps encore, plusieurs électeurs s'étaient rassemblés aux urnes peu charmés par le choix de candidats et se sentant obligés d'effectuer un vote d'opposition plutôt qu'un vote d'adhésion.

Vingt huit pourcent des 49 millions d'électeurs avaient choisi de ne pas se présenter aux urnes lors d'un exercice qui a enregistré le meilleur résultat de l'extrême droite de l'histoire française. Alors qu'Emmanuel Macron, avec 58% des voix, devenait le premier chef d'état ré-élu en vingt ans, il savait qu'il aurait la lourde tâche de rassurer des millions de ses concitoyens peu emballés par les projets de son nouveau quinquennat.

Nombre d'entre eux, qui l'avaient élu à contre-coeur au second tour, étaient par ailleurs sûrs de voter autrement dans quelques semaines lors du soi-disant troisième tour de l'élection: la législative de juin.

A ceux qui avaient voté pour lui afin de faire barrage à l'extrême droite plutôt que pour soutenir ses idées il déclarait: "Je suis dépositaire de leur sens du devoir, de leur attachement à la république et du respect des différences qui se sont exprimées ces dernières semaines", tout en tenant compte de ceux qui qui se sont abstenus ou voté pour son opposant. "Le vote de ce jour nous impose de considérer toutes les difficultés et de répondre avec efficacité aux colères qui se sont exprimées."

Des colères non seulement exprimées en faveur de la droite dure mais contre sa candidature. Car le chiffre record du Rassemblement national n'épousait lui aussi pas totalement les politiques de Marianne LePen, pour qui le chiffre de 42% constituait "une victoire", lui permettant de remettre à plus tard l'idée de se retirer de la vie politique. "Déterminés nous le sommes plus que jamais," dit-elle, soulignant la "grande défiance" du gouvernement exprimée par les urnes.

Du coup elle réitérait son "engagement pour la France et les Français" au fil de départ des législatives des prochaines semaines. On est bien loin des promesses de Macron affirmant il y a cinq ans que les Français n'auraient "plus aucune raison de voter pour les extrêmes", ceux-ci restant bien d'actualité à gauche comme à droite.

Difficile dans un tel environnement de voir comment Macron pourrait ré-éditer son exploit d'éviter la cohabitation. Alors que la fracture nationale rendait fort probables des gestes d'ouverture de la part du chef de l'état il faut noter que celui-ci n'a plus à se présenter aux urnes, lui permettant de se concentrer sur son héritage.

Ailleurs, au sein d'un continent qui vit l'angoisse de la guerre en Ukraine, le résultat était accueilli avec soulagement par les dirigeants régionaux, qui craignaient un virage géopolitique dramatique en  cas de victoire d'une extrême droite proche de Poutine.

Le chancellier allemand Olaf Scholtz, y voyait "un signal fort en faveur de l'Europe" après  les discours alarmants de la candidate. Même réaction rassurée à Washington ou Ottawa tout comme en Ukraine, qui remerciait la France se son appui, tout en l'encourageant de la soutenir davantage.    

KIM'S FUNNY IDEAS

Around the same time Russia's foreign minister warned in a television interview that the West shouldn't underestimate the possibility of nuclear war, North Korea held a military parade showcasing banned inter-continental ballistic missiles  and vowing to boost its capabilities. Russia has dared to raise the issue of weapons of mass destructions on a number of occasions as its war against Ukraine suffered setbacks, and who's to say Pyongyang hasn't been paying attention? 

In fact recently the two isolated countries have reinforced relations and sent warm wishes to each other. “The friendly relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Russia, which have been continuously strengthened and developed by its predecessors, are entering a new heyday," penned an state newspaper in North Korea, which had previously published support for Russia's war in Ukraine.

“The DPRK-Russia friendship was forged in blood on the battlefield against the imperialists’ act of invading and maneuvering a war, and it has been reinforced and developed in the struggle to protect peace and security.”

Both countries have backed each other when isolated by other nations at the United Nations, North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently stressing relations between the two were deepening in view of “challenges and pressure by the US and its followers”, in other words, in opposition to the established world order.

The hermit kingdom certainly hates to be ignored on the world stage, especially during major crises, and has as of late been firing a number of projectiles, including an ICBM, into nearby waters and uttering threats to use nuclear weapons if provoked. "We will continue to take steps to strengthen and develop our nation's nuclear capabilities at the fastest pace," Kim Jong Un vowed as his army displayed ICBMs during a parade to mark its 90th anniversary. Kim later hinted he may even use nuclear weapons pre-emptively.

ICBMs could leave much of North American territory within reach. Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told CNN Kim was working his way down a laundry list of weapons of mass destruction. "(Kim) said these are all the things that North Korea is going to do and that included a multiple warhead ICBM, a solid-propellant ICBM, launching a military satellite, and even putting a nuclear-powered submarine to sea," he said. "I don't think he's going to stop until that list is completed."

Could Russia's repeated mention of nuclear weapons during the Ukrainian conflict be making North Korea more bellicose? As far as the recent swaggering goes, it's actually quite tame compared to previous outings, noted Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies.

"There was no direct reference to South Korea or the United States, and even though there is a mention of nuclear force, there is no extreme expression, so it seems North Korea tried to manage the level of intensity this time," he said. Like Russia, North Korea is crippled by sanctions, and Kim wants them to end but the US administration, much less receptive than the previous one, says this cannot happen unless he ends his nuclear weapons programme.

Pyong-yang is counting on help from Russia to mitigate the strict sanctions it faces. But observers note such defiance, and acts such as firing projectiles into the waters off the peninsula, as he did again this week, tend to be a domestic rather than international show of force, his economy having suffered even more under the pandemic.

Last year, amid reports of starvation, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimated North Korea would be short by about 860,000 tons of food, or about two months of normal demand. Pyongyang's messages may also be targeting its neighbor South Korea after the election of Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed to use a tougher line on the North. His defence minister hinted in April South Korea could strike the North's missile launch sites, sparking immediate outrage in Pyongyang.

Not helping in the least was the deployment by anti-Kim activists of propaganda banners carried by balloons near the tense border between the two countries. One of them carried a photo of Yeol with the inscription: A great nation where a prosecutor has become a national leader. Another carried a South Korean flag and called for a unified Korea of 80 million souls.

This sort of action is illegal in South Korea since a 2020 agreement, with sentences reaching up to three years in jail.The leader of the group, the Fighters for Free North Korea, a former North Korean citizen himself, has already been charged for deploying propaganda banners previously as well as dropping $1 notes across the border. This was a method previously used by the army to send messages across the border and sometimes medical supplies and radios as well, until the recent ban. The government says the tactic increases tensions and puts residents at risk.

While such acts by themselves won't send  Kim firing nuclear weapons there are fears a cumulation of provocations and irrespon-sible statements by a nuclear power such as Russia, could heighten tensions. Last week US president Joe Biden said Moscow shouldn't be making idle comments about using nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

"It shows the desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure in being able to do what they set out to do in the first instance," he said. "I think it's more of a reflection not of the truth, but of their failure." Trying to lower tensions is another nuclear power keeping a close eye on North Korea, China, which called for "calm and restraint." Sadly this seemed in short supply.


HOLDING ON

Sure they have been resisting, heroically, against all odds even, and maybe with the help of a little luck considering the lack of preparation of their opponents, but the losses have been devastating. And now they say Ukraine must expect worse still as Russia focuses its military might on the East where it has massed another endless convoy of deadly war machines.

In an address to the South Korean legislature last week president Volodymyr Zelensky said nearly 1,000 educational facilities and 300 hospitals were "wiped off the face of the earth" by Putin's forces, and countless cities razed to the ground. As he spoke Russia had closed in on the port of Mariupol, the long besieged city now close to falling to the invaders and enabling them to control a band of territory from the Donbas to Odessa running along the sea and leaving that part of Ukraine land locked, increasingly cut from the world.

Tens of thousands had been killed in Mariupol already as Russia began a new and more devastating wave of attacks on Ukraine's eastern region, Zelensky said, decrying the fact the Russians wanted to make an example out of the city to shock the rest of the country into submission.

And sadly the ongoing shipments to Ukraine from the West involved not reconstruction materials, but, understandably, weapons, hundreds of military vehicles, even helicopters, which some said was upping the ante, threatening all out war with the West.

Some of the weapons have had such success defending Ukraine they have become symbols of the resistance, such as the anti-tank javelin, or subject of songs, such as Turkish-made drones. Arming Ukraine has been swift to the point of depleting some NATO countries' defence stocks, such as Germany, which has begun tapping directly into manufacturers.

Missile defences showed their worth as Russia's flagship missile cruiser in the Black Sea sank following a Ukrainian strike. Calls by Ukraine to provide fighter jets and tanks have however led to fears about sparking a wider war, a deal for Poland to provide its Sukhois in exchange for US fighter jets having been scrapped because Warsaw wanted them to be sent from a US base in Germany.

The opponent they faced, General Alexander Dvornikov, made a terrible name for himself leading Russia's troops in Syria to commit what some have called war crimes. Adding to such existing accusations were charges of chemical weapons use in the attack on Mariupol.

This has led US president Joe Biden to describe Russia's actions against its neighbor a genocide, a term not embraced by all, but Canada's Justin Trudeau said the use of the word was increasingly justified. In the mean time Russia vowed to strike Kyiv anew, enraged by the loss of its ship, a vengeful act in a war campaign which has lost all focus, after losing so many soldiers on both sides.

WAR'S IMPACT

With a crisis triggering political resignations in Sri Lanka, a gas shortage causing economic paralysis in Kenya and deadly clashes in Peru requiring a curfew, the shockwaves of Russia's war on Ukraine have been felt far and wide, sending energy and food staple prices skyrocketing. As if a world economy dealing with the aftermath of a pandemic which triggered supply shortages needed any more excitement.

“Russia’s actions represent an unacceptable affront to the rules-based, global order, and will have enormous economic repercussions in Ukraine and beyond,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, stressing low-income countries needed help dealing with their debt burdens. But often the crises were already underway and only made worse by the war in Eastern Europe, and the ripple effects were felt quite far away from the trenches.

Power cuts due to fuel shortages in Sri Lanka for instance have triggered protests amid inflation topping 18% as the island struggled with its worst economic crisis since independence. Cabinet mini-sters were turfed in the country which suffered from setbacks before the invasion of Ukraine, which made things more difficult.

The government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa had cut taxes just before the pandemic hit, slashing tourism arrivals as the world went into lockdown. It also banned fertilizer imports right before the Russian attack against its neighbor made the commodity crucial for food production even harder to get. Poor decision making and external factors sweeping the globe have sent the rupee plunging 30%.

Rajapaksa imposed a state of emergency to deal with discontent, and later a curfew, and when this failed to end protests sacked his cabinet. Soon after Rajapaksa's coalition partners withdrew their support, adding political uncertainty to the crisis.  The country is so short of hard currency it has asked expats to send money back, meanwhile the list of items facing shortages is growing.

Sri Lanka's medical association warned the lack of medication and medical equipment was starting to leave hospitals unable to provide emergency services.

Fuel and other shortages were also testing the relatively fresh presidency of Pedro Castillo in Peru, where a temporary curfew sought to calm tensions which spilled into the streets. Similar movements evicted the previous head of state. But tensions erupted anew, clashes with police over high fuel and food prices resulting in the death of at least one demonstrator.

Castillo cut some fuel taxes and raised the minimum wage but this failed to calm tensions. Despite having been recently elected the president has faced calls to resign amid two recent impeachment procedures. Here again the Ukrainian crisis has only exposed the mismana-gement of government affairs, Castillo having already shuffled four cabinets in his short time in office and standing accused of corruption.

"In a country with a weak state, in a country with lack of reforms, in a country which has a lot of social demands, he has been able to make things much worse in a very brief time," told the Guardian political science professor Eduardo Dargent. Unlike Volodymyr Zelensky, who played a school teacher who became president, Castillo is a former school teacher himself.

In Greece, on a continent still trying to figure out how to keep the lights on without Russian energy, a national day of strike took place to protest inflation as unions sought salary hikes for workers seeing their buying power plummet.

But the price pressures and shortages have particularly hit poorer economies. Already threatened by famine due to its ongoing war, Yemen fears the worst as it gets a third of its wheat from the region. Europe's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, suggested Russia's actions have been provoking hunger across the world.

The World Food Program appealed for $777 million to help feed some 22 million people in the Sahel region and Nigeria, regions that rely on affordable supplies of grains from the Back Sea region. In the East of the continent the situation was hardly more encouraging. Fuel shortages made local economies in Kenya ground to a halt.

Long lines formed at the rare gas stations of the capital lucky enough to receive new fuel shipments. The situation was made worse by the government's failure to make payments to gas companies, in a country where fuel is highly subsidised, leading them to delay oil imports. It's hardly the only part of Africa suffering. Inflation is at 6.29 percent in Kenya, but double that (13.3%) in Burundi and double that (25%) in struggling South Sudan.

In parts of Uganda gas prices reached $3 a litre, leading to accusations some were taking advantage of the crisis to hoard fuel and exploit consumers. “Some companies have increased the price by a small margin, but others have hiked it to exploit Ugandans,” said Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja.

Added pressures due to dependence on grains from the war-torn region have also impacted the region.  “We have been exposed to global events — whether it is the Ukraine crisis that has disrupted the supply chain. For far too long, we have neglected domestic production, which tends to be more resilient,” Ken Gichinga of Mentoria Economics told the East African.

Inflation has also been threatening the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who has been the target of massive protests notably concerning the rise of fuel prices. But the controversial president, who stayed neutral on the war, has been gaining in polls against his opponent Lula da Silva as the two gear up for October elections.

And increasingly suffering from the fallout of the war is the instigator itself, Russia, which according to credit agencies is close to defaulting in its debt. "Steeper prices for fuel and food may spur a greater risk of unrest in some regions," warned the IMF.

"Longer term, the war may fundamentally alter the global economic and geopolitical order should energy trade shift, supply chains reconfigure, payment networks fragment, and countries rethink reserve currency holdings." Oxfam had a more stern warning: a quarter of a billion more people could face extreme poverty by the end of the year as a result of the combination of covid measures, inflation and fallout of the war.


DRÔLE DE VAGUE

Plus de deux ans après la confirmation de la pandémie les règles semblent s'être assouplies dans plusieurs coins du monde alors que l'on entre dans une nouvelle vague d'infections, mais pour certains pays l'heure n'a jamais été aussi grâve, un rappel que l'état de la pandémie n'a jamais été uniforme à travers le globe.

Dans le pays à l'origine de la crise sanitaire les éclosions n'ont jamais été aussi importantes, enfermant des millions de citoyens de Shanghai chez eux alors que Hong Kong et d'autres localités prennent des aspects de ville fantôme, applicant une politique zéro covid abandonnée ailleurs.

Ce sont des scènes presque oubliées en occident, où on accuellait les hausses de cas avec fatalisme mais aussi avec la notion que les efforts de vaccination ont porté fruit. Il n'est plus question de refermer les frontières, et certains pays ont même supprimé les exigences de tests à l'entrée, même si on encourage à nouveau le port du masque... de manière volontaire.

Il faut dire que le virus a évolué sous une forme moins virulente mais plus contagieuse à la fois, poussant plusieurs états à proposer une quatrièmedose pour les plus faibles. Alors qu'on ne connait pas toute l'ampleur de la vague qui se profile en raison du manque de données régulières et du manque de tests dans plusieurs régions, l'analyse des égoûts permet de constater que celle-ci est importante, l'Ontario estimant à plus de 120,000 les nouveaux cas quotidiens, du jamais vu.

Pourtant aucun retour en arrière à propos des mesures sanitaires n'est prévu dans de nombreux cas, les amphithéâtres étant remplis à temps pour les séries éliminatoires et les concerts affichant complet pour la saison estivale. Le Québec a cependant décidé de prolonger l'obligation du port du masque pour quelques semaines. Mais certains paradoxes de cette nouvelle vague sont frappants.

La Corée du sud accuse le nombre le plus élevé de cas lors des 28 derniers jours et a en mars enregistré des pointes de 600,000 nouveaux cas par jour. Or le taux de mortalité était parmi les plus faibles au monde grâce au taux élevé de vaccinations. Résultat ses citoyens on repris le chemin du voyage en chiffres records et le pays a même éliminé ses exigences de quarantaine à l'entrée.

En fait si le chiffre est si astronomique c'est parce qu'il reflète plus la réalité qu'ailleurs en raison du nombre élevé de tests, qui sont plus difficiles à obtenir dans d'autres pays. Coûteuse peut-être, mais la politique a permis au pays de poursuivre ses activités sans trop de soucis et surtout de limiter les débordements dans les hôpitaux en pratiquant des approches plus ciblées.

Pas encore de craintes mais une augmentation de cas en Amérique du nord où  le nombre d'infections, notamment dans la classe politique, augmente. De Québec à Washington, le nombre de politiciens infectés secoue les chambres législatives. Mais les infections y ont rarement été sévères, à l'opposé de l'aggravation des cas à Hong Kong, qui accuse un des taux de mortalité les plus élevés.

A blâmer dans la région, les manquements des campagnes de vaccination des plus âgés, dont la plupart étaient peu vaccinés. Le président Xi Jinping a pourtant fait les éloges de la gestion de la crise, alors que celle-ci enregistrait des chiffres d'infection record à Shanghai, où  de nombreux citoyens barricadés chez eux remettaient en cause l'approche prônée et se plaignaient des conditions de leur confinement, notamment le manque de nourriture. Les confinements dans plusieurs villes ont touché les systèmes de distribution, entrainant des délais à travers le monde.

Selon le réseau d'analyse des risques RANE la pandémie représente toujours le risque le plus important auquel fait face le monde des affaires "particulièrement si un nouveau variant  s'avère plus dangereux aux vaccinés et se répand plus facilement". D'une manière ou d'une autre "il y aura sans doute un écart plus important d'activité économique entre pays" selon la proportion des vaccinés.


DEFIANCE AND HORRORS

When the initial strikes failed to decimate Ukrainian defenses, Russia resorted to targeting civilian areas with dumb bombs to sap morale. When this failed Russia deployed hypersonic weapons for the first time, with devastating effect, but well short of undermining the resolve of the resistance. Would chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction be next?

Because the Russian advance didn't only stall four weeks into the campaign, it lost ground, Ukrainian fighters managing to regain some territory in the outskirts of Kiev, the country's most important battlefield. But the levelling of Mariupol in the south and steady stream of refugees fleeing to Western neighbors left behind a gutted country and a president increasingly desperate to end the carnage.

Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated calls for a ceasefire amid suggestions he would embrace neutrality and abandon hopes to one day seek NATO membership, and used increasingly critical language against NATO leaders who refused to impose a no-fly zone. He warned NATO members, including the Baltic states and Poland, would be next in line for Russian aggression if the current attacks in Ukraine were allowed to continue. He caused some shock  comparing the targeting of civilians with the holocaust, in a speech to Jewish lawmakers.

With every country he was appealing to for help the president didn't hesitate to bring up terrifying chapters of their past. Addressing lawmakers in Japan he invoked memories of Fukushima and a chemical attack in Tokyo. Desperate? Sure, but then again so was the situation of a country he was dedicated to defend. He appealed to a sense of horror, and delivered a dose of harsh reality.

For the Russians he upped the defiance, saying Ukraine would be their graveyard, and asking the leadership to avoid decimating a generation of Russians in a lost cause. Exaggerations in a propaganda campaign waged on both sides? Well that depends considering NATO was at the same time shoring up capabilities in areas that would have been considered absurd just recently: chemical, biological and nuclear defenses. What if the alliance was facing a certifiably mad man with a finger on the button after all?

Could Zelensky be criticized for lashing out when faced with such a formidable and disturbing opponent? Short of using weapons of mass destruction Russia did send mercenaries of its Wagner group to the Eastern part of the country as it slowly reduced its grip on Kyiv and focused on the more winnable parts of Ukraine.

But even there, including in the levelled town of Mariupol, the remaining Ukrainian fighters refused to lower their weapons and kept up their resistance. Russia has tried to throw everything it could into the conflict, including neighboring Belarus troops and war savvy Chechens and Syrians, with little success against soldiers battle hardened by conflict in Eastern Ukraine for years who knew the terrain and cities well.

By Ukrainian accounts increasingly confirmed by the West, the Russian losses are massive, perhaps including up to 15,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks, planes and helicopters. In a few weeks they had lost what a decade in Afghanistan had caused. It wasn't another Afghanistan after all, it was worse. US officials in fact suggested it was so bad Putin himself wasn't being properly briefed on the state of the war by his military officials, who feared his reaction.

At the negotiating table this lack of truth made reaching any deals difficult, as Russia kept shelling cities where it said it would reduce operations. Of course Moscow has not been forthright from the beginning, vowing it wasn't going to invade right before it did, and even telling its soldiers they were conducting military exercises before moving them in for an attack they were not prepared for.

Just over a month into the conflict however it was Ukraine's turn to strike back, pushing back Russian positions around Kyiv and even daring an attack on an oil depot into Russia near the border. Neither denied nor confirmed by Kyiv, the strike was certainly sure to make the sides less likely to reschedule new peace talks.

Meanwhile the areas Russian troops were leaving to refocus on the East of the country were scenes of utter devastation that left little for residents to come back to. In addition to being bombed many communities were looted by invading troops, an indication the Russians were ill equipped to dig in for a long fight, and sometimes digging in itself had tragic consequences. Troops occupying the Chenobyl nuclear site were contaminated when they started digging trenches and had to be evacuated due to exposure.

But the withdrawal of Russian troops in some areas wasn't always greeted with relief, leaving behind much despair, and in abandoned areas around Kyiv, landmines sure to haunt returning locals. But few were ready to return as the flood of refugees continued into neighboring nations, reaching over 4 million, with the smaller states appealing for help to deal with the continuing flow.

And some scenes left behind what some called evidence of war crimes. This was the accusation of Ukrainian officials echoed by German minister Robert Habeck after Ukrainian troops entered the town of Bucha near Irpin West of Kyiv. There dozens of bodies were found lying in the streets, some with their hands tied behind their backs in what local officials decried as deliberate massacre.

"All these people were shot," said the mayor of the bodies in civilian clothing including a photographer who had been missing. "These are the consequences of Russian occupation." The UK says it is working to collect evidence for the International Criminal Court, as some of its leaders called for a new round of sanctions against Russia. 

LA BOITE DE PANDORE

Déjà préoccupée par la crise ukrainienne, la France vient-elle d'ouvrir une boite de pandore, en pleine période électorale, à propos de la question Corse?

Car le mot tabou d'autonomie - et déjà faut-il confirmer ce que les partis entendent par là - une fois prononcé pour tenter de mettre fin aux éclats de l'ile de beauté, pourra-t-on s'arrêter là alors que Basques, Bretons et autres suivent ces développements avec beaucoup d'intérêt, alors qu'on venait semble-t-il de clore le sujet calédonien.

Car la France redoute ce mot que bien des efforts et peut-être un certain geste du désespoir ont mis sur la table. «Nous sommes prêts à aller jusqu’à l’autonomie. Voilà, le mot est dit, déclarait le ministre de l'intérieur Gérald Darmanin après des jours d'éclats violents dans les rues de cette collectivité pas comme les autres.
Après la question est de savoir ce qu'est - cette autonomie. Il faut qu’on en discute.»

C'est la flambée de violence qui a suivi l’agression mortelle du nationaliste Yvan Colonna, incarcéré pour meurtre, qui a mis ce mot aux lèvres pour une première fois et précipité la visite sur l'ile du ministre. Celui-ci condamna «un acte manifestement terroriste» qui emporta Colonna, condamné à perpétuité pour meurtre. 

Toute "discussion sans précédent autour de la question institutionnelle" serait cependant sous condition de mettre fin aux violences qui se sont emparées de la Corse depuis le geste posé par un codétenu jihadiste le 2 mars.

"Il ne peut pas y avoir de dialogue sincère en démocratie sous la pression des bombes agricoles et la présence, ou l'omniprésence, des forces de l'ordre", dit-il. Huit ans après avoir déposé les armes cependant le groupe menace de reprendre la lutte armée.

"Si l'Etat français demeurait encore sourd, il ne pourra y avoir de sacrifice de la jeunesse qui n'entraine une réaction proportionnée de notre part, et rapidement les combats de la rue d'aujourd'hui seront ceux du maquis de la nuit de demain," avertissait un communiqué.

Mais il faut dire que les dernières années ont été marquées par certains incidents, dont une tentative d'attentat près d'Ajaccio en septembre dernier.

A l'autre bout du pays, comme on peut s'y attendre, le geste du gouvernement a eu comme effet de réveiller les nationalistes. Parmi eux le Front de libération de la Bretagne demandait à son tour l'autonomie et un référendum s'il vous plait, faute de quoi on menace d'avoir recours à des actions violentes.

Ce n'était pas sans donner des idées au pays basque non plus, un dirigeant ayant annoncé,  dès la création de l’Agglomération Pays basque, en janvier 2017, son souhait d’aller au-delà du statut communautaire, à terme. Suite à l'enterrement de Colonna, les violences reprenaient alors que les tensions persistent en Corse.

AN OPPORTUNITY?

Perhaps there hasn't been a better time to be a dictator, if you're not that dictator. With Vladimir Putin in isolation as war rages in Ukraine, other formerly shunned tyrants have been slowly coming out of the wood works, some even looking to play a useful role to alleviate some of the sanctions that are coming back to bite the West.

A decade after war erupted in his own country, Syria's Bashar Assad has been making a return of sorts on the world stage, making a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, a country itself divided on the Ukrainian crisis, a first visit in an Arab state in years.

Victims of sanctions themselves, Syria, Iran and Venezuela have seen their leaders try to reclaim a bit of a comparably acceptable status in a world filled with Cold war-like tensions where heads of state have been asked to decide what side of the fence they stand on. This is an opportunity for suffering Venezuela, which remains racked by sanctions and divided by two leaders but stands to play a key role in the energy crisis caused by the war.

The oil-rich nation has faced stiff sanctions since the contested 2018 elections, but Nicolas Maduro, in a move not without controversy consi-dering the brutality of his regime, has been approached by the United States to help alleviate some of the oil shortages triggered by sanctions against Russia.

Also resources-rich and eager to alleviate some of its own sanctions, Tehran has also been approached as the country is negotiating a new nuclear deal, one Russia has been working to obstruct. Only a few weeks ago these leaders represented an undeniable axis of evil, but the realities, like much of the world, have changed with the ruthless attack on Ukraine which even caused Afghanistan's Taleban regime to condemn Vladimir Putin's actions against his neighbor.

As that regime as well seeks to alleviate some of the sanctions it has faced since last fall's Taleban takeover, perhaps a door of opportunity seemed to open even for those who have clamped down on rights and put in place the machinery of oppression. But the Taleban have little more to offer than good wishes for a peaceful resolution of the a crisis, and their recent decision to shut down girls' schools have infuriated human rights groups.

Other countries facing sanctions without oil, such as Cuba, are also on the outside looking in a possible opportunity to lessen the bite of economic restrictions. “A pity that Cuba doesn’t have oil to attract their attention," observed John McCauliff, director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. It does have location, but forestalling the strategic risk of a greater Russian presence would take a big lift, probably ending the embargo.”

But countries with the resources to offer are given unique opportunities to improve their image somewhat, even if they aren't at the stage of letting bygones be bygones. Iran sits on a ready reserve of 80 million barrels of oil that it could  quickly market. Iranian officials say that their country could sell another 1.2 million barrels a day in little time, helping lower oil prices worldwide.

But some observers say any deals with these rogue nations would have to keep the pressure on the regimes. Some say Iraq's oil-for-food programme of the 1990s, which helped avert starvation there, could be a solution for struggling Venezuela without rewarding Maduro's regime.

It may even take Russia, which has been supporting Caracas,  out of the picture and pressure Maduro to restore democracy with oil as leverage, says Jason Marczak of the Atlantic Council. "That's why this moment should be seized."

L'ELDORADO

En pleine guerre, depuis le fond de son bunker le président ukrainien Volody-myr Zelensky signa sa demande d'adhésion à l'Union européenne et la leva devant les écrans. Faites de nous un état membre immédiatement puisque vous voyez que nous livrons à nous seuls le combat pour l'Europe toute entière et ses valeurs que nous partageons.

Incapable de lutter directe-ment aux côtés du pays assiégé par l'armée russe de peur d'élargir le conflit, l'Union acceptait cependant de livrer des millions d'euros d'armes à l'Ukraine, une première. Mais pendant ce temps d'autres pays dans la mire de Moscou hébergeant également des minorités russophiles annonçaient leurs propres candidatures.

D'abord la Géorgie, ciblée en 2008, qui dut abandonner deux de ses régions après l'intervention de l'armée rouge. Puis, la Moldavie, un petit pays de 2,5 millions d'habitants à l'ouest de l'Ukraine qui compte, à la frontière, une république autoproclamée dont le drapeau est toujours orné de la faucille du marteau si chers à Vladimir Poutine. Si celui-ci finit son emprise sur l'Ukraine, étendra-t-il ses projets dans cet autre ancienne république soviéti-que?

Une carte utilisée par le président biélorusse semblait le suggérer alors que les premiers éclats avaient lieu. Un accord d'association existe d'ailleurs entre la Moldavie et l'UE depuis 2014, l'année de l'annexion de la Crimée, à quelques centaines de kilomètres de sa frontière. Un semblable accord existe avec la Géorgie et l'Ukraine.

Mais dès le début des éclats en Ukraine, il s'agissait de franchir la prochaine étape là comme ailleurs. « Nous signons aujourd’hui la demande d’adhésion à l’UE, déclarait Maia Sandu, une chef d'état pro-occidentale élue il y a deux ans. Certaines décisions doivent être prises de manière prompte et déterminée ». 

C'était quelques heures après la demande d'adhésion de la Géorgie, mais ces candidats savent que tout processus d'adhésion sera long et compliqué car exigeant des négociations complexes afin de rapprocher leurs lois à celles du droit européen, respectant des critères stricts et nécessitant l'accord des 27 pays membres. Mais cela reste plus accessible que l'adhésion de l'Otan.

La tâche est d'autant plus difficile que la Moldavie est un des pays les plus pauvres de l'Europe, victime d'un exode du tiers de sa population depuis l'indépendan-ce et minée surtout par l'existence d'une région autonome comme l'est de l'Ukraine pouvait l'être avant l'invasion. Autrement dit ces trois candidats de l'est représentent des nations disloquées peu idéales pour se joindre à l'UE.

Evidemment les immenses efforts d'accueil de réfugiés en Moldavie ont été notés. En plus de sa situation territoriale l'Ukraine est critiquée par certains organis-mes des droits de l'homme en raison du traitement des immigrés non-européens lors de la crise, qui se voyaient parfois interdire l'accès à certains modes de transport ou abris, et étaient retardés aux passages frontaliers, la priorité ayant été laissée aux Ukrainiens.

De l'aveu du premier ministre géorgien, cette demande d'adhésion constitue un «objectif stratégique» en temps de crise dans la région. «La Géorgie est un État européen et continue d'apporter une contribution précieuse à sa protection et à son développement», dit-il, alors que l'UE débute l'étude de ces candidatures.

DON'T FORGET THE ENVIRONMENT

At the tail end, one would hope, of an exhausting fight against covid-19 and with an ongoing war in Europe, who needs another global effort to stave off disaster? Yet that is precisely what the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is recommending to fight global warming after a report U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres calls "an atlas of human suffering."

This suffering will increasingly be felt by all but is especially the people least responsible for global warming, in the third world, and especially African residents, who stand to lose significant chunks of their agricultural production, raising the risk of further food insecurities. The degrading quality of soil will impact food production, rising prices more than they already are, affecting all but especially the world's poorest.

According to Guterres half of the world’s population is threatened by water shortages and more than 14 percent of the world’s species are at high risk of extinction as weather events become increasingly severe. Urgent action taken to limit warming around 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels would "substantially" reduce climate hazards and risks to ecosystems and humans, but even such concerted action “cannot eliminate them all.”

Scientists have been warning for years of the closing small window left to avoid a catastrophe, but are no longer talking about decades left to correct the path, but a handful of years. What urgent action is required? As the world struggles with concerns the impact the war in Ukraine will have on global output of Russian oil, the report stresses the need to transition to clean energy, retrofitting buildings and major conservation efforts in up to half of the world's land, freshwater and oceans.

"Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future," it states. Alarmingly however a number of countries rushing for alternatives to Russian oil are considering firing back up coal plants. For some specialists this is missing an opportunity to finally bolster efforts in favor of clean energy.

Protecting nature is one way to fight climate change, but global policies on everything from clean energy generation to careful urban planning and transport will need mobilize governments. Some already have. In the torrid city of Ahmedabad, India construction regulations have helped reduce the heat trapped by buildings. But time is running out not only to avoid irreversible changes but to adapt to global warming after years of "failed climate leadership."

And the world can't entirely depend on technology to battle global warming. In fact some technologies, such as the ones which developed devices to vacuum CO2 from the air, may ultimately cause the release of more carbon dioxide down the road. The required global mobilization of will and means can perhaps consider the response to wars and pandemics as templates.

The slow boil of global warming however is unlike the screaming emergency of a bloody conflict or a raging pandemic, making it harder to prompt some actors into action, especially after decades of warning. As urgent and dramatic as it is however, the refugee emergency prompted by the war in Ukraine may pale in comparison with the global displacements of populations due to climate change down the road.

These, more permanent in nature, in fact have already begun, and are at this stage just a trickle of what they could ultimately become. Some even see a connection between three seemingly separate crises: the frequent root causes of war and climate change, which will make pandemics more likely, is dependence on fossil fuels. But as Ukraine is reminding us, weaning off oil is easier said that done, and it certainly can't be cut off in a hurry.

LES LIBERTÉS

La tendance est dure à renverser: depuis 2005 le nombre de pays améliorant leurs libertés est moins important que celui des pays en déclin, et en ce début 2022 cette image de la planête semble plus sombre que jamais.

La démocratie avait déjà été prise d'assaut dans le pays le plus étendu de la planête, après des années d'incarcérations et même d'assassinats d'opposants et de journalistes, mais la nouvelle règlementation interdisant tout reportage négatif sur la guerre en Ukraine, et même de la seule mention du mot "guerre", a causé un exode sans précédent de la presse étrangère et la fermeture de ce qui pouvait rester de presse libre en Russie. Et le régime que réserve le Kremlin pour une Ukraine envahie sera sans surprise.

Jusque tout récemment c'était l'écroule-ment des libertés dans le pays le plus peuplé de la planête qui hantait les observateurs, notamment après le traite-ment réservé aux médecins qui osaient parler de l'état de la pandémie en Chine avec des termes absents du langage officiel. Les deux pays accordent d'ailleurs dangereusement des violons qui sonnent faux sur l'Ukraine.

Rien qu'à eux ces deux pays couvrent un territoire et une population immense, mais en plus ils inspirent des gestes semblables ailleurs, des limites sur internet ou alors au droit de manifester, laissant une face de plus en plus importante de la terre plongée dans la noirceur de la désinformation et la propagation de fausses nouvelles.

Une propagation qui existe, on ne le cache plus surtout avec le débat sur les mesures sanitaires, au sein des démocraties occidentales. L'an dernier l'organisme Freedom House n'enregistrait que 25 pays où une amélioration des conditions démocratiques avait été démontrée, le chiffre le plus faible des dernières décennies, contre 60 allant dans le sens inverse.

L'année d'avant c'était 73 pays aggravant leur sort avec cette flambée de coups d'états en Afrique. Au Pakistan, on observe un renforcement des lois mettant en péril la liberté de la presse qui s'étend aux médias sociaux.

Selon les observa-teurs ceci punit davantage les journalistes tout en multipliant les cas de censure et d'auto censure. Reporters sans frontières condamnait récem-ment des cas d'empri-sonnement et de violences contre des journalistes au Ghana, un pays qui jusqu'alors faisait figure d'exception, selon l'organisme."

Les autorités doivent cesser ce recours aux peines de prison et doivent punir ceux qui s'attaquent aux médias," déclarait Sabidou Marong de RSF. Pas besoin d'aller si loin pour entendre de tels appels après les nombreux cas de menaces et attaques envers les journalistes couvrant les manifestations anti vaccin au Canada du mois dernier.

"La liberté mondiale est en péril," résume l'organisme des droits de l'homme, et qu'en est-il alors que la guerre éclate aux portes de l'Europe? Fort heureusement les manifes-tations monstre à travers la planête contre le conflit en Ukraine laissent espérer que la majorité sort de son silence. Car il faut bien s'accrocher à l'espoir.


RUSSIA ATTACKS

By some fearful accounts it should have been over by now, at least the initial invasion of Ukraine resulting from a surge on three fronts of 150,000 swarming Russian soldiers and countless pieces of military equipment supported by aerial cover, ruling the skies after an initial barrage of missiles. The occupation would be another thing altogether. But on paper at least, the outcome of the long-awaited offensive, delayed by ruse and outright lies, seemed like a fait accompli. It would be shock and awe with a dash of Stolichnaya.

After all hadn't residents who had never had proper military training only received a crash course in urban warfare with wooden guns just days before while the real fire arms were somewhere in transit? Hadn't Crimea and then the recent takeover of the Donbas  been a cakewalk? How could taking over the rest be any different? Wasn't the country run by a five-foot-five comedian with little political experience much less knowledge of modern warfare? To be certain there are no clear winners in many wars, even in uneven contests against much smaller neighbors. But the losses the bear itself has faced days into the conflict wasn't limited to its surprise battlefield setbacks.

A rare global unity has condemned Vladimir Putin's actions, unifying NATO and much of the world in ways few thought possible, and even Ukraine itself. While the besieged country of 44 million faced bloody attacks Russia may have been surprised by the challenges it faced not only in its advance, but by the push back from the international community, and segments of its own population. The sudden decision to hold talks as fighting was raging, in addition to hints Belarus troops may join the fight, were itself perhaps signs that, barely a week in, Moscow was growing more concerned about its losses than an increasingly bold Ukraine.

This was first and foremost owed to the fierce resistance encountered, one led by an inspiring president Volodymyr Zelensky, who refused offers to be evacuated and quipped: "I need ammunition, not a ride." Equally defiant in the capital and speaking while wearing a bullet proof vest, his predecessor Petro Poroshenko talked with pride of the successes of a military he had started rebuilding over the years. The inspiring resistance brought out volunteers taking on the invaders with everything from molotov cocktails to their fists or insults, stopping some advances and cutting off Russian supply lines. Citizens hunkering in subway stations acting as bomb shelters or sweeping their apartment blocks targeted by missile fire weren't alone, and neither was Ukraine.

Despite stating clearly they weren't sending troops, regardless of the insistence of a growing number of protesters across the world, Western countries upped their military shipments to Ukraine including, for the first time, Germany, putting an end to restrictions going back to the Second World War. Usually neutral countries were also picking sides. Sweden and Finland sent large shipments of arms and even Switzerland was willing to join much of the Western world freezing Russian assets.

And while the sanctions first imposed by Western countries were criticized as being too little in the face of a raging conflict, new restrictions clearly started taking a bite, as Putin and his direct entourage were directly targeted and Russian banks cut off from the world's Swift transaction system, while the pariahed country was being isolated as a number of air spaces were being shut to Russian commercial airliners and private companies closed up shop in Russia. Ships carrying goods to Russia were also being intercepted as a blockade of goods and transactions was growing in scope.

Even Turkey, which had moved closer to Putin, called the war unacceptable, warned against the passage of warships in its straits and planned to send arms to Ukraine. Western capitals acknowledged the sanctions would also impact their own citizens. The hurt was also starting to register in Russia, where thousands where arrested for protesting the war and many lined up for hours at ATMs as the sanctions hit, the Ruble crumbled and the economy reeled. Would the backlash rattle Putin, whose state of mind has been called into question after two years of pandemic-related isolation?

Oligarchs close to him were also starting to talk against the war. After all what was supposed to be a quick invasion some feared would capture Kyiv in days was turning into a nightmare that this early rattled the struggling Russian economy further and for some  harkened memories of Afghanistan's failed campaign. "We were really scared, in the morning, many, many people from all over the world ... were ready to wake up to the news that we have had fallen," said Ukrainian parliamentarian Kira Rudik. "Not only we haven't fallen, we don't plan to fall."

It was quite a turn around for a population who for the most part had been reluctant to believe warnings of an imminent attack, despite weeks of US alarmist reminders. The attacks however triggered a rush to the Polish border, where over a million fleeing women and children sought safety, while the men were being turned back to fight. But many did so enthusiastically and others from around the world planned to answer calls for the creation of a Ukrainian foreign legion to defend the homeland.

Ukraine would have to do this alone, as the consequences of deeper NATO involvement were chillingly reminded when  Russia moved its nuclear force into alert, a decision condemned as dangerous and unwarranted. This alarmed China as well, a country Russia was counting on to help mitigate some of the sanctions but now increasingly careful about its ties to Moscow, amid calls to investigate Russian war crimes as its military hit civilian targets, sometimes with banned cluster or vacuum bombs.

Amid this gloom and destruction "light will win over death, will win over darkness," Zelensky said from his underground bunker. Still the prospects looked grim for Ukraine, but local optimism failed to be rattled. The Ukraine Library Association said it was going to reschedule a conference "as soon as we have finished vanquishing our invaders.

MACRON FAVORI

Cinq ans plus tard et à la veille du premier tour, Emmanuel Macron affiche un appui un peu meilleur que le soutien d'environ un quart des électeurs qu'il avait au coup d'envoi des élections de 2017.

La division de la droite, dans laquelle s'est glissé le chroniqueur extrémiste Eric Zemmour, laisse une plus comfortable marge de manoeuvre dans les sondages au chef de l'état, qui multipliait les grandes sorties en raison de la crise entre l'Ukraine et la Russie. Si celles-ci ont connu un certain échec il n'empêche qu'elles lui ont permis d'afficher l'image d'un dirigeant engagé dans les grands sujets de l'heure, donc plus "présidentiable".

La guerre a visiblement touché la campagne d'ordre général et plutôt mis à mal certains opposants du président, qui annonçait sa candidature cette semaine. La diplomatie française a bien fait ses preuves à travers les âges, et revêtait ces derniers temps sans doute un caractère plutôt politique.

«Macron essaie de maximiser son statut de président, car c’est ce qui le différencie des autres candidats, estime le politologue Gaspard Estrada. Il a tout intérêt à maintenir cette image, parce que c’est essentiellement ce qui met ses adversaires à distance».

En veille du premier tour la partie est loin d'être gagnée, surtout si on prend en considération les difficultés associées à l'infla-tion, agravée par la crise, et les manifestations contre les mesures sanitaires, mais Macron reste favori pour remporter un nouveau mandat, le magazine Economist estimant ses chances à 79%.

Car si la marge de manoeuvre s'était élargie au second tour en 2017, elle ne sera pas moins importante cette année contre une droite dont le vote a été divisé depuis l'entrée en scène du controversé Zemmour, dont l'appui chute cependant. Macron de son côté a été plutôt rassembleur, regroupant sous ses fanions des éléments de centre-droite ainsi que de  centre-gauche.

La républicaine Valérie Pécresse, quant à elle, ne faisait guère mieux que Zemmour, soutenu par des partisans dévoués mais qui fait peur à la plupart de l'électorat francais, qui voit dorénavant le camp Le Pen comme une version plus modérée de la droite. «A ce stade, le vote pour Emmanuel Macron prend les allures d’un choix par défaut, notait de son côté Le Monde. Un choix par dépit même, si l’on observe le peu d’enthousiasme pour cette présidentielle».

En attendant l'opposition accusait Macron de faire campagne avec des fonds publics en retardant le lancement officiel de sa candidature, Le Pen y voyant une politisation de la crise sanitaire. Celle-ci dut cependant suspendre sa campagne pour recueillir les parrainages  manquants afin d'être officiellement inscrite.

Son accusation guette tout chef d'état en temps de pandémie. Mais Macron affiche tout de même une popularité qui dépasse celle de ses prédécesseurs à ce stade-ci de leur quinquennat, et a par rapport à Zemmour et Le Pen plutôt visé juste sur la Russie. Ces derniers doivent en effet faire marche arrière après avoir affiché un penchant avec Moscou, laissant dans l'embar-ras les rivaux de Macron.

APRÈS LE GRAND MANÈGE

Après les klaxons, discours, soirées disco et bains en plein air dans les rues de la capitale, le silence, un retour au calme bienvenu par les résidents ottaviens. Mais un silence qui rappelle le vide de la pandémie, avec ses rues dégagées de camions encombrants mais abandon-nées de ses habitants et de sa vie.

Car l'opération policière a perduré plusieurs jours, remplaçant les barricades des manifestants par des clôtures et une interdiction de circuler à qui n'a pas besoin de s'y rendre dans un important quadrilatère du centre.

En fait jamais quelquechose de semblable n'avait été en place ni durant la pandémie ou durant les semaines de manifestations, faisant craindre une nouvelle période de malheur pour des commerçants éprouvés qui ne s'étaient pas remis de la pandémie et de la fuite de leurs clients, malgré les millions promis par le gouvernement pour alléger leurs pertes.

Plusieurs rues, notamment l'artère de Bank, comptaient de nombreux commerces disparus même avant la pandémie, le reste souffrant après le départ des fonctionnaires, travaillant de chez eux depuis, deux mondes jadis si rapprochés qui vivaient une toute autre réalité pandémique.

Chez les premiers, le désastre, chez les autres, des ajustements, mais une adaptation rapide et une hésitation à revenir dans les tours du centre. Puis alors que les mesures et barricades policières perduraient, la police craignant un retour de manifestants campés aux portes de la ville, le manque d'accès aux places publiques de cette capitale laissait presque craindre un changement permanent au droit de circuler.

Les mesures d'urgence à présent levées et la plupart des barricades démantelées, ce sentiment d'avoir perdu quelquechose persiste avec la décision garder inaccessible aux véhicules la rue longeant la colline parlementaire. Après tout la fusillade de 2014 n'avait-elle pas déjà transformé la zone de manière permanente, tout comme un autre incident 17 ans plus tôt?

Ses cinq voies restent vides en attendant l'élection d'un nouveau conseil de ville et des décisions sur la sécurité de la zone. Tout manifestant n'aurait certes plus le droit de rester sur place après un certain temps, sûrement, mais quels autres changements pourraient être annoncés après ces trois semaines de chaos ambiant?

Il fallait certes protéger les monuments et lieux sacrés, comme la tombe du soldat inconnu, si lâchement piétinée, mais des vétérans avaient eux-mêmes exprimé leur réserve lorsqu'une clôture a été érigée pour entourer le site, la première d'une légion de clôtures qui ont peu après fait leur apparition dans le centre de la ville, rappelant la tristesse des murs il y a plus de 20 ans lors du sommet des Amériques à Québec.

Là n'est pas le seul endroit où des murs ont été érigés. Un convoi se dirigeant vers Ottawa aurait été refoulé à la frontière ontarienne en vertu des mesures d'urgence, des mesures en place pour cette raison entre autre, selon le premier ministre. Rares dans le passé, ou ridicules lorsqu'il s'agissait du transport de l'alcool, ces murs inter-provinciaux ont fait leur apparition lors de la pandémie. Il faut croire qu'ils ont disparu avec la fin des mesures d'urgence, éphémènes mais marquantes. Celles-ci faisaient d'ailleurs l'objet de poursuites de la part de groupes de libertés civiles.

Mais quel avenir pour ce que le maire d'Ottawa appelle la rue la plus importante au pays? Le débat est lancé, et pour certains représente une occasion de créer un tout nouvel espace, possiblement sans l'encrom-brement de véhicules, mais une place publique néanmoins, dans une zone qui resterait ouverte aux manifestations... tempo-raires. Certains n'ont pas tardé samedi à mettre les rues du centre à l'épreuve en manifestant symboliquement à pied, drapeau canadien à la main, contre les mesures sanitaires. Puis ils sont repartis, un soulagement pour tous.


MAD(E) IN CANADA

As cars and pick ups paraded up and down the street, carrying flags and honking their horns, police warned residents they should expect disturbances tied to the protest against pandemic restrictions for days, especially around the legislature. Ottawa? Toron-to? Quebec City? Actually Helsinki, but it could have been Paris or other cities.

The protest movement which had begun with a trucker's movement against border vaccine mandates and morphed into an occupation of Canada's capital to end all health measures, had made it overseas. "Convoy Finland" threatened the same shut down of the Nordic capital, promising a gridlock of trucks after an online campaign by the country's right wing, sensing an opportunity to make political gains in a country usually respective of health measures but where a growing segment of the population was losing patience.

"The Finnish far-right takes their cues immediately from what happens in the US and North America, and they have key points here and they sort of do similar activities" told Euronews Oula Silvennoinen who specializes in fascist movements. The Finns needn't have looked that far. Protests against health measures in nearer European countries such as the Netherlands and Germany had been taking place for months, sometimes even turning violent.

In the great white north, where this particular blockade movement had spawned, one inspired and supported by protesters in the US, authorities were cracking down after incidents both in the nation's capital and on the US-Canada border, the prime minister invoking the Emergencies Measures Act for the first time. This act had replaced the War Mesures Act his father had famously invoked during the October crisis. How had weeks of protest and a lockdown of the national capital come to reach the threshold of endangering the safety of Canadians? By then protests had grown more and more organized, causing long-term disruptions, to the dismay of city residents wary of weeks of protest.

By the time police stepped in protesters had built shacks, installed saunas and stored 3200 litres of fuel to keep their trucks humming. Some more radical protesters were calling for a government  over-throw, making any sit down meetings unlikely, especially after Alberta protesters were arrested with weapons. Four were charged with plotting to kill officers. Meanwhile the patience of Ottawa residents was running thin after days of honking, loud music and fireworks. Counter protesters soon organized, bolstered by an injunction - which quieted the honking - and a class action lawsuit against convoy organizers, blocking convoys from going downtown and staging demonstrations in front of the headquarters of a police service criticized for having let so many trucks block roads in central Ottawa and initially failing to enforce laws by fear of enflaming the situation.

Did residents have to take the law into their own hands? Key to stopping the movement was targeting funding police said was backed nationally and internationally. Eventually an online campaign to support the convoys which had raised $10 million was found in violation of GoFundMe's terms of service and shut down, but another soon popped up on another platform, also raising millions. Demon-strations had taken little time to go from peaceful to controversial after early images emerged of participants carrying racist signs and flags, desecrating national monu-ments and harassing residents.

Police in Ottawa issued hundreds of tickets, made dozens of arrests and launched more than 100 criminal investigations into the incidents but didn't have the resources to handle so many protesters. Making things more difficult was the presence of children in the convoy. Shortly before quitting, Ottawa's  police chief asked for an additional 1,800 officers for support as the screws were being tightened on the truckers. The city eventually declared a state of emergency in a downtown "out of control."

Residents complained of incessant noise, rude behavior ignoring mask mandates and psycholo-gical strain. Businesses and government offices remained closed as a result. For some city dwellers, this so-called "freedom" convoy was leaving them trapped and under siege. Similarly border blockades appearing West to East were affecting businesses and plants relying on just-in-time deliveries, grinding activity to a halt on both sides of the border. Other cities were taking notes as the protest spread from the nation's capital to the Alberta-Montana border, the Ambassador bridge, Toronto and Quebec City, where officials were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the nation's capital.

Ottawa police were criticized for claiming there was no policing solution to the occupation, suggesting the intervention of the armed forces may be necessary, a solution the federal government said it was not ready to consider. It at times seemed authorities were at a loss to end the blockades, the removal of one at the Canada-US border in Alberta at first only resulting in displacing the problem further away. Police have generally been accused of being much more tolerant of convoy protesters than Native and other protesters who set up blockades in the past.

 Oddly, while the protesters were hoping to target the federal government, despite the fact the provinces are responsible for many of the restrictions and mandates, the impact of the demonstrations was felt in the ranks of the Tories, a party divided on the convoys, which ditched its leader after he showed weakness on the issue. The Liberals were also divided on the need to maintain mandates some said were no longer needed. Both sides stand accused of politicizing the mandates.

Ironically governments from Canada to New Zealand, which faced its own legislature-blocking "convoy" protest, were determined to hold the line against the convoys even as they recognized the time to start living with the virus is coming, which, like the invocation of the Emergencies Act, made it seem actors were one step behind. Alberta and others are ending many health restrictions, and Canada's own chief health officer indicated a "need to get back to some normalcy."

But perhaps not at the speed convoy supporters intended. Still even after Alberta said it was lifting all its health restrictions, protesters remained at the Montana border, adding to supply chain woes. Nowhere was this more of a concern than at the largest border crossing, between Windsor and Detroit, where traffic was shut down for a week before arrests were made. By then convoys were taking to the road on both sides of the border and beyond.

EUROPE ON GUARD

In the walled city of Visby, the soldiers march on, men in uniform once more returning to guard this outpost on a strategic waterway as Europe hears the sabre rattling of war. While Sweden sent troops to the Baltic island of Gotland, Estonia warned of a possible flood of refugees and cyberattacks.

The Russian buildup around Ukraine was being felt far and wide in Europe, where countries hoped the Ukrainian president was right to appeal for calm, but were planning for the worse. The standoff left few neighbors untouched. As NATO troops got an injection of soldiers from the US and moved into Ukraine's immediate neigh-borhood, Hungary on the other hand said it had enough of them on its soil, being part of the Atlantic alliance.

Perhaps because, as a former member of the Eastern bloc, its membership and that of others such as the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, is rubbing Moscow the wrong way, the Kremlin seeing itself surrounded by rivals. Among them Estonia shares a border with Russia, and feared a flood of refugees if invasion comes after months of Russian military build up near the Ukraine border, in Belarus and Crimea.

“As a society, we must be prepared for a surge of war refugees, a deepening energy crisis, cyberattacks, as well as a wider economic and social impact,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said recently. The conflict could create up to 5 million refugees according to a US estimate, making the recent migrant crisis with Belarus a cakewalk in comparison.

But some Baltic countries fear more than a flood of refugees, but one of soldiers as well. “If Ukraine falls to Russia … then we are next in line. That is very clear,” told the Globe & Mail Latvia’s Deputy Prime Minister Artis Pabriks. Countries around the Baltics are used to both Russian incursions and migratory issues.

Sweden was haunted by Russian submarines during the Cold War, and is bolstering its military presence in Gotland, which stares at the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad across the waters, home to Russia's Baltic fleet. There were no soldiers on Gotland until the Crimean invasion, an event which changed everything according to Niklas Granholm of the Swedish Defense Research Agency.

"That Russia is prepared to use military force against its smaller neighbors — that changed the assessment here," he told Deutsche Welle. "What we want to do now is to be very clear that we are ready to defend Sweden and because of that, we are also doing what we're doing on the island of Gotland."

Sweden however isn't a member of NATO, but some want to change that as the growing threats over the years change Swedish sentiment on the alliance. Finland has also tightened its special relation-ship with NATO, but a Russian official warned last year either countries joining NATO “would have serious military and political consequences which would require an adequate response on Russia’s part.”

One current member of NATO however has decided it had enough troops on its soil at a time of military positioning across the continent. More US soldiers have been sent to Poland and Romania and Germany increased its troops presence in  Lithuania. Hungary's foreign minister says his country is already home to NATO troops, its own, and hopes talks will de-escalate the crisis, as war would leave  central Europe among its biggest losers, harkening memories of the suffering of the Cold War.

On the other hand one country ready to welcome troops is Denmark, which has received offers of bilateral defence cooperation with the US that may end decades of a policy preventing foreign troops in the small Scandinavian country. While the Ukrainian crisis did not precipitate this, the move does come at a rather critical moment when many countries are on edge.

IL EST PARMI NOUS

Une collègue l'a attrapé pendant les fêtes. Ce n'était pas de sa faute. Elle avait pris toutes les précautions, avait passé un test PCR, un vrai, pas celui que l'on fait en 15 minutes qui est moins dispendieux et mois précis, mais celui que l'on ne peut plus se procurer et qui est dorénavant réservé au personnel essentiel. Ses parents cependant avaient participé à quelque soirée et lui avaient transmis le virus.

Environ en même temps une voisine pensait qu'elle avait un simple rhume, mais les symptômes sont parfois semblables à ceux du variant omicron. Un test PCR s'était bien révélé négatif, mais quand son garçon est tombé malade et a eu un test positif, elle a repris un test, antigène cette fois, qui a révélé une résultat positif. Ils ont été trois membres de la famille à attraper le virus, mais sans résultat trop fâcheux.

Puis c'était au tour d'un autre voisin, qui ne fréquentait pas le premier, puis d'une autre collègue, qui ne fréquentait pas la première. Chez un ami Québécois deux filles l'on aussi attrapé, puis finalement des membres de la famille sans contact récent... on ne les compte plus. Tous vaccinés, la plupart même boostés. Tout le monde connait quelqu'un, plusieurs person-nes sans doute, qui ont attrapé le virus depuis l'éclosion du variant omicron, et les symptômes ont rarement été grâves, du moins chez les vaccinés - parmi eux le premier ministre Justin Trudeau.

Un petit mal de tête parfois, ou sinon une affaire plus pénible mais ne durant que quelques jours. Cette nouvelle vague est celle de la cohabitation avec un virus qui dorénavant frôle la banalité presque. Mais qu'on se garde bien de le penser. Les chiffres de nouvelles hospita-lisations et fatalités ont rappellé la gravité de la pandémie qui a fait de l'isolement une affaire courante, et récurrente. C'est presque entré dans les moeurs.

On n'en est plus à se demander des victimes: mais qu'est-ce qu'elles ont-elles bien pu faire pour mériter ça? On n'en est plus au stade de la terreur, car il faut bien vivre notre vie. Car on a parfois goûté à l'après pandémie, entre les vagues, les mesures moins restreintes, les rencontres au bar, les voyages et même les concerts de masse. Certains gouvernements tiennent d'ailleurs moins compte des cas d'infection, il y en a trop et pas assez de tests, mais se contentent de rapporter les hospitalisations et les décès.

On en est presque habitué, mais notre corps lui, le sera-t-il jamais? Ces multiplications d'infections et de vaccinations nous emmèneront-elles vers notre délivrance? Alors que certains seraient portés à penser que laisser l'infection s'étendre pourrait entrainer une certaine immunité généralisée des experts en santé y voient une logique irresponsable qui n'épargnerait pas les membres plus faibles de la société, dont certains qui ne peuvent être vaccinés pour des raisons médicales valables.

Un rappel des risques, la mort d'une chanteuse tchèque opposée au vaccin qui avait délibérément contracté le virus pour obtenir son pass sanitaire. Il faut dire qu'envers les non vaccinés la patience semble atteindre ses limites, surtout du côté des politiciens. Alors qu'en France le président a promis d'"emmerder" ceux qui refusent de se faire vacciner sans raison valable et que des obligations de vaccinations sont à l'étude dans d'autres pays, au Québec, le premier ministre a fermé la porte de la Société des alcools et des dispensaires de cannabis aux non-vaccinés tout en leur promettant une facture à titre de "contribution au système de santé" qui croûle sous les cas positifs; une idée ensuite abandonnée pour préserver "la paix sociale" mais pas avant d'avoir fait son effet.

Autrement dit, Macron aurait dit tout haut ce que de plusieurs n'osent pas encore dire en public sur les non-vaccinés, même si cela lui a valu d'être conspué lors de multe manifestations. Le Québec n'était pas le seul à penser faire payer les non-vaccinés. En Grèce les citoyens de plus de 60 ans qui ne le sont pas devront débourser 100 euros chaque mois sans vaccin.

Singapour, championne des PVs, exige que les non-vaccinés règlent leurs propres factures en matière de santé. Le résultat a été presque immédiat, le nombre de personnes au Québec cherchant un premier vaccin a visiblement augmenté les heures suivant ces annonces. Fort bien, mais n'y va-t-on pas un peu trop fort parfois? En Italie Amnistie internationale reproche au gouvernement la sévérité de ses mesures contre les non-vaccinés, estimant qu'il s'agit de la discrimination et rappelant son obligation de respecter tous les citoyens.

Pendant ce temps dans plusieurs pays les manifestations contre les mesures sanitaires s'intensifient, notamment au Canada, où des milliers de camionneurs ont manifesté à Ottawa et ailleurs au pays contre l'obligation vaccinale pour passer la frontière, même si celle-ci est également de rigueur du côté américain. Mais les mesures les plus draconiennes nous viennent sans doute du pays à l'origine de la pandémie, la Chine, qui a bouclé des villes entières après avoir enregistré de rares cas du variant omicron. L'arrivée de celui-ci à Pékin à quelques semaines des Jeux olympiques a suffi à renforcer davantage les mesures en vue de ce spectacle qui aura dorénavant lieu devant des estrades largement vides.

C'est une approche de confinement total différente de celle que prévoient plusieurs pays européens qui commencent à entrevoir une coexistence plus routinière avec le virus. Le premier ministre espagnol parlait notamment d'une gestion de la pandémie avec des "paramètres différents", une fois la vague omicron passée cependant. Entre temps certains se demandent si il n'est pas encore trop tôt pour lever les restrictions dans certains pays comme le Royaume uni, qui dit avoir passé le pire de la vague omicron.

Dans un certain sens la notion de vivre avec omicron est déjà présente. Le variant pourrait contaminer 60% des Européens d'ici le printemps selon l'OMS, possible solution de dénouement. Mais l'organisation note qu'il est risqué de penser qu'il s'agit du dernier variant de covid-19, rappelant la nécessité de vacciner 70% de la population mondiale. Mais chez certains la patience a ses limites. Au Danemark c'est bas les masques et un retour à la normale en ce mois de février, alors qu'un nouveau variant omicron fait surface.

WHAT KIND OF INVASION

As the closing ceremonies were being held Russia planned its invasion of Crimea. It was 2014. Could something similar take place after the Beijing Games? As tensions continue to rise over Ukraine with constant military buildup in that region of Eastern Europe, are we on the verge of the largest invasion in Europe since the Second World War, something more limited, or is it all just for show?

The huffing and puffing of the last weeks, despite a number of high level discussions, has built up forces on both sides of the sensitive zone after an early, since corrected, statement suggesting a small land grab by Russia would not be as serious.

This hardly seems surprising after a Crimean invasion which has gone largely unpunished if you consider the weakness of the sanctions imposed. Could a small incursion still be in the cards? If so it could take the form of a takeover or recognition of Eastern Ukraine's rebel-held region of Donbas, though one rejected by most countries, as was the case of Crimea.

Russia has recognized other entities with large supportive minorities in areas formerly under the cloak of the URSS, sometimes even with the support of a few international allies. South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared independence after the breakup of the USSR and the emergence of Georgia, which does not recognize either of the pro-Russian enclaves as being separate states.

The scenario is not unfamiliar, as Georgia, which was flirting with the West and plans to join NATO, came to blows with Russia in a brief 2008 clash. Russia was able to summon the outside recognition of Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria and Nauru, an odd coalition of the willing all on its own, of these two contested states.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights found Russia had "direct control" of these separatist regions and was accountable for human rights abuses there. It is hardly the only contested vision of a world map rife with different interpre-tations of territorial identities.

Among the most famous is Taiwan, a state not recognized by China and an increasing amount of nations seeking to curry favours with Beijing. It is hardly alone, Israel, a UN member, is not recognized by dozens of UN members, and reciprocitally Palestine, a UN observer member, is itself not recognized by dozens of countries.

In the same way Cyprus is not recognized by Turkey, which is the only country to recognize Northern Cyprus. As these things go in pairs, South Korea is not recognized by North Korea, but the latter is not recognized by a dozen UN members including France and Japan, no less. Another UN member, Armenia, is not recognized by Pakistan, due to its ties with rival Azerbaijan.

A formal Donbas takeover, a region already under Russia's control, is a likely scenario, says Peter Jennings of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, starting a year he predicts could see China act on another contested land, Taiwan.

LES MERCENAIRES

Ca n'a pas pris très longtemps, le drapeau français à peine baissé sur une base militaire dans le nord troublé du Mali, les soldats russes étaient à pied d'oeuvre pour combler les lacunes militaires de ce pays proie aux attaques jihadistes.

Alors que l'intervention au Kazakhstan et la lourde présence de troupes près de la frontière ukrainienne font la manchette, l'envoi des militaires russes, sans fanfare et sans déclaration officielle mais avec l'appui de Moscou, se multiplient sur ce plus grand continent . Parfois sous la bannière privée de la firme Wagner, ils font la manchette de Tripoli au Mali.

Condamné par 14 pays de l'UE, le Royaume Uni et le Canada comme geste qui « ne peut qu’accentuer la dégradation de la situation sécuritaire en Afrique», l'envoi de Wagner au Mali est suivi de près avec intérêt chez les autres voisins qui  font face à la menace extrémiste également.

La firme fait l'objet de sanctions de la part de l'UE, la France et ses alliés, estimant ce déploiement "incompatible" avec leur mission d'aider à sécuriser la région, à un moment où Paris revoit son engagement militaire. Wagner s'est par ailleurs notamment implantée en Libye, où selon la presse locale non moins de 7,000 de ses mercenaires étaient encore actifs à la fin de 2021.

Le groupe a également déployé des forces au Soudan, en Centrafrique et au Mozambique avec des bureaux dans une vingtaine de pays africains en tout. Les crises extrémistes se sont répandues du nord du Nigéria au nord du Mali, entrainant les voisins dans la tourmente. Parmi eux le Burkina Faso, qui a vécu un coup d'état sur fond de critique de la gestion des opérations antijihadistes (voir article).

Malgré la multiplication de ces agressions terroristes, faisant plus récemment de nouvelles victimes au Mali, plusieurs observateurs ne sont pas sûrs qu'une approche militaire soit la meilleure à prendre. Voilà là plutôt les symptômes de questions plus profondes qui sont à la traine depuis des lunes, disent-ils, notamment l'ineffica-cité du gouvernment ou l'impunité de ses représentants, le manque d'occasion d'emploi et même les changements climatiques.

Le malheur de populations notamment assez jeunes déborde alors et va alimenter les filières jihadistes qui sont en pleine campagne de recrutement sur le continent. L'injustice et le problème d'accès aux services publics a notamment attiré les jeunes vers ces groupes, selon Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim de l'International Crisis Group.

Et ce recrutement chez certains groupes ethniques a eu l'effet de provoquer une levée de boucliers dans des groupes rivaux qui développent à leur tour leurs propres milices, causant un cycle de violences.

Ajoutez Wagner ou d'autres groupes militaires privés à la recette et le plat prend une dimension plutôt explosive. D'autant plus que ce genre de militaire à contrat ne risque pas de "comprendre le contexte de cette violence, de souche très locale, avec une certaine complexité entre les communautés, poursuit Ibrahim. Au moins les Français parlaient la langue comprise par les locaux."

Ce qui n'est pas le cas avec l'arrivée de Wagner. L'ONU enquête d'ailleurs sur un massacre en Centrafrique qui aurait fait des douzaines de victimes à la mi-janvier, une opération conjointe des forces centrafricaines assistées de mercenaires de Wagner. Et on est loin des premiers rapports troublants de ce genre.

Le changement de donne au Mali se fait sur fond de questionnement du rôle français sur un continent où il fait face à un certain rejet - notamment pour avoir soutenu des régimes autoritaires dans le passé -  un sentiment que Paris accuse la Russie entre autre d'alimenter davantage. Les relations avec Paris se sont certainement envenimées, la junte expulsant l'ambassadeur alors qu'on évoque des ruptures diplomatiques et militaires avec le Mali, un pays dont la situation est désormais un thème de la campagne présidentielle française.

BURKINA FASO'S TURN

Islamic militancy has been on the offensive everywhere from Afghanistan to northern Iraq and Mali, but it has notably rattled the African continent, fraying the nerves of underequipped soldiers who seized power last month in Burkina Faso, citing president Roch Kaboré's inability to unite the nation and meet the challenge head on.

This seemed to herald more of the same on the continent after a year marked by coups, making this four in the last 17 months in West Africa alone. Days later yet another coup attempt, unsuccessful this time, took place in Guinea Bissau. Two of these recent coups were in neighboring Mali, also targeted by Islamic insurgents, the latest just last May.

The deaths of dozens of security forces in a clash with jihadists in Burkina Faso in November had rattled the population and members of the military in particular. Some 2,000 people have been killed since the start of militant attacks in 2015 in the country, over 1.5 million displaced; 2.5 million if you count other parts of the Sahel.

The killing of 100 people in the village of Solhan alone last June was enough to embitter critics of government inaction further. The recent sacking of the government was not enough to lower tensions. A dozen soldiers were arrested for plotting a coup days ahead of the military's arrest of Kaboré, who himself came to power shortly after a coup attempt divided the military in 2015.

The brass said last week they had acted without violence to take over the West African nation of 20 million, putting an end to Kaboré's presidency but vowing to return Burkina Faso to "a constitutional order" as soon as possible as international organizations and various capitals condemned the putsch.

Among them United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the soldiers to drop their weapons and ensure Kaboré's safety. He was the first democratically elected civilian in decades in the country which saw eight coups since independence in 1960. In the mean time the coup is rattling Ouagadougou's other neighbors dealing with insurgency, the Ivory Coast and Niger, whose president also faced a coup attempt last year.

But in Ouaga as in Mali months ago protesters descended in the streets to welcome the coup, citing their exasperation after months of insurgency. But not all shared the same opinion. "I welcomed the news with bitterness because it's not only a step back for democracy but for the rights of free expression," told local media student Tinouboi Ouoba.

Meantime a citizens' group has proposed a civilian vice-president be selected for the transition period, which they hoped would eventually lead to free and fair elections. As the experience showed in Mali, where polls anticipated for February were pushed back three years, the waiting could be long.

Another country ruled by a junta awaiting elections is Chad, which pushed back voting day by three months. Meantime the Burkina Faso coup caused the 15-member West African economic bloc to suspend the country during an emergency meeting. While people have been taking to the streets to celebrate coups in subsaharan Africa, they are still protesting in Sudan following last October's putsch, bringing an end to months of shared civilian and military rule.

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.