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Subtitle

NEW CZAR?

The year the United States entered a new era electing its first Black president the stage was being set for Vladimir Putin's long reign. Eight years after taking over after the resignation of Boris Yeltsin, the former prime minister and FSB director handed over the presidency to Dmitry Medvedev with the understanding the two would run the country in tandem, Putin still very much holding the reins of power and plotting his return.

After the results came in, liberal candidate and world chess champ Garry Kasparov observed the regime “does not allow opposition groups to create legal political activity.” And this would hardly change in the years following.

Putin and Medvedev would share the stage once more when Putin regained the presidency in 2012, winning the first of two new largely uncontested now six-year terms, as has been the way of a regime nostalgic about its Soviet past. This would extend his rule to 2024, but now 67 and in relatively good health, that is hardly enough.

Running out of excuses to stay in power, Putin held his covid-delayed referendum to extend his rule into the next decade, allowing him to run for - another two terms, a change of the 1993 constitution which left even the most seasoned Russian experts quite stunned. "The scale of the reform was absolutely surprising," told EuroNews Nikolay Petrov of the Chatham House in London, the reforms changing "the political system in a way which will make Putin’s position comfortable enough to not be opposed by any other strong institutions."

Though for some time this would seem a foregone conclusion. Still the days of impressive economic growth and high gas prices are over, despite the recent upturn in oil. Covid-19 has hit even harder this country already facing economic hardship, though to be certain any opposition politicians or press have effectively been neutra-lized by the strongman in power at the Kremlin.

Overall Putin is still seen favourably by over 50% of the population, even if this is lower than previous scores. Worry about this slipping popularity perhaps had something to do with pushing for the vote years bfore the end of his term. According to results the referendum was backed by 77% of voters.

"It’s of course just a symbolic referendum, and since the Russian electoral system is known for widespread falsifications, the result is preordained whatever the public thinks," said Sergey Radchenko of Cardiff University as the opposition complained about irregularities during the plebiscite. "The importance of the referendum is that it provides a veneer of legitimacy for a constitutional change that would ‘reset’ Putin’s presidential terms, allowing him to run again in 2024."

Attempting thus to maintain the illusion of democracy in a potemkin electoral village. Officials sought to ensure a certain level of support for the measures, thus the rescheduling of a previously postponed WWII victory parade to the eve of the referendum to boost morale.  The presidential term extension is hardly the only change in the sweeping measures, which seek to solidify Putin's conservative base.

Changes include measures to respect the country's heritage and the Orthodox church and strengthen central power over local authorities. It also defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the constitution and guarantees that the minimum wage does not fall under the cost of living while protecting pensions, as Putin seeks to ensure the support of the struggling masses.

In fact these measures have been much more widely publicized than the electoral change. Though this should not come as any surprise to Russians who have seen where the wind is blowing under Putin.

Western countries including Canada were accused of interfering with the vote after issuing a joint statement for pride month, calling on the Russian government "to adhere to its stated commitment to protecting the rights of all citizens, including the LGBTI community." Canada's ambas-sador went further suggesting a "yes" on the marriage isssue in the referendum would lead to a "less inclusive" situation for Russia's gays.

This led to a number of personal attacks against the diplomat at a time of heightened tensions. A few days earlier NORAD fighter jets had again intercepted Russian bombers flying near North American air space.

FRONTIERE DE SANG

La plus grande démocratie du monde est loin de vivre en paix ces derniers temps et la multiplication des cas de covid n'en est que partiellement responsable. Certains prétendent que cet état des choses date depuis sa déchirante indépendance. Les tensions sur le Cachemire se poursuivent bien depuis les années 40, mais vient s'ajouter à ce différend frontalier un autre sur les sommets du monde.

C'est en effet au coeur des Himalayas que Delhi a perdu deux douzaine de soldats en juin, lors d'un éclat avec des membres de forces armées d'une autre puissance nucléaire, l'empire du milieu.

Les tensions se faisaient sentir depuis quelque temps dans la région, où les deux pays s'accusent mutuellement de ne pas respecter la frontière nébuleuse plus ou moins tracée entre les sommets, mais lorsque les éclats ont véritablement eu lieu, après une série de pourparlers sans succès, il n'y eut aucun échange de tir, les armes y étant interdites depuis une entente conclue en 1996, mais plutôt une volée de coups de bâton de métal cloutés, comme s'il s'agissait de punir une intrusion frontalière mais en limitant l'étendue du choc pour éviter que la région ne s'enflamme.

Selon certains observateurs les plans de développement de la région frontalière par Delhi semblent avoir déclenché la crise, mais les éclats une fois passés, certains observateurs ne purent s'empêcher de noter les travaux chinois en cours près de la ligne de démarcation, donnant l'impression de vouloir développer des infrastructures en amont de la rivière Galwan.

La Chine accuse l'Inde d'intrusion et de "provocation délibérée" lors des incidents, malgré une baisse récente des tensions après le démantè-lement d'une installation indienne. Les deux pays se sont souvent accrochés au courant des décennies mais la crise actuelle dans une période d'expansion des activités internationales militaires chinoises fait craindre un nouveau seuil de tensions.

"Nous nous retrouvons à un point tournant extrêmement sérieux des relations avec la Chine," estime l'ancien diplomate indien Nirupama Rao. D'où un rapprochement avec les Etats-Unis, plus enclins à accepter la version indienne des incidents. Selon le premier ministre Modi: "Le pays entier est blessé et fâché par les gestes de la Chine. L'Inde veut la paix et la fraternité mais faire respecter la souveraineté est primordial."

Les éclats ont eu lieu quelques semaines après des tensions à la frontière népalaise ainsi qu'au Cachemire. La semaine dernière des dirigeants militaires tentaient de calmer le jeu sur fond d'appels of boycott de produits chinois. Delhi a aussi gelé certains investis-sements chinois. Mais voilà qui illustre notamment à quel point l'Inde, comme le reste du monde, est commercialement liée à la Chine.

Puis la frontière restant floue et contestée dans la région, nous n'en sommes sans doute pas aux derniers éclats entre les deux pays. Ils maintenaient d'ailleurs une présence militaire accrue dans cette région qui fut déjà l'objet d'une guerre en 1962.

Selon les analystes de Stratfor, l'Inde pourrait dorénavant épouser une politique extérieure plus agressive, du moins à court terme, dans la région puisqu'elle n'a pas pu convaincre la Chine d'y accepter l'équilibre des forces actuel.

VILAINE BATAILLE DE PAPIER

Certes les reportages sur l'état de santé du maitre du royaume ermite étaient sans doute exagérés ce printemps mais n'empêche que depuis les gestes et déclarations de sa soeur ont atteint de nouveaux sommets.

On est déjà loin de cette apparition publique de Kim Yo Jong aux jeux d'hiver en Corée du sud, à un moment fort du rappro-chement, éphémère soit-il, entre les deux moitiés de la péninsule encore et toujours en guerre. Un peu plus de deux ans plus tard, sous ses ordres, Pyongyang fait raser l'immeuble de liaison des deux Corées de Kaesong, plongeant l'Asie de l'est à nouveau dans la crise et le désespoir.

Quelques jours plus tard le ministre de la réunification en Corée du sud remettait sa démission. Oubliée depuis l'éclosion du coronavirus, cette Corée du peuple toujours friande de publicité se retrouve à nouveau sur la sellette.

Pourtant on a peu entendu parler de Kim Jong Un depuis sa disparition au début de l'année, alimentant des rumeurs de faiblesse physique. Car l'homme fort de 36 ans manque peu d'occasions de participer à diverses cérémonies devant les caméras. Mais pendant plusieurs semaines il manquait à l'appel, avant de réapparaitre brièvement mais en se faisant plus discret.

Pendant ce temps sa soeur de 32 ans multipliait les apparitions et les déclarations, commençant par le premier communiqué en son nom en mars, alors que les rumeurs battaient leur plein à propos de son frère trapu plutôt bon buveur.

Le bureau de liaison intercoréen aussitôt déclaré «inutile» et bon à être «complètement détruit» les charges explosives transfor-maient le parc immobilier de cette ville de la Corée du nord, mettant fin au symbole de détente qu'il a pu brièvement représenter.

Si l'efficacité pouvait paraitre quelque peu hélvète, c'est que Kim Yo Jong a, comme son frère, a été instruite en Suisse dans sa jeunesse avant de grimper les échelons du parti pour devenir une possible héritière du régime, déclarant récemment détenir un pouvoir «autorisé par le leader suprême, notre parti et l’État».

Presque en parallèle, le ministre de l'unification sud coréen Kim Yeon-chul vivait une chute personnelle après un peu plus d'un an au poste, sur fond d'écroulement des pour- parlers sur le nucléaire avec les Etats-Unis.

La Corée du nord a longtemps préféré la crise comme moyen de faire pencher la balance lors des négociations. Pyongyang reproche notam-ment au sud de rester trop proche de Washington, dont les sanctions ont mis en péril certains projets écono-miques entre les deux Corées. Le vide au poste de ministre de l'unification pourrait en dire long sur l'état des relations entre les deux voisins asiatiques.

Rendant la vie difficile à Séoul, une campagne de propagande de transfuges nord coréens vivant au sud qui lâchent régulièrement des tracts contre le régime de Kim dans la région frontalière, actions qui ont provoqué plusieurs coups d'éclat à Pyongyang, sensible à toute critique de ses dirigeants.

Ces gestes ont fait craindre le pire à Séoul, qui a mobilisé la police pour tenter de calmer les ardeurs des réfugiés et de leurs supporters, mais ces derniers s'engagent à poursuivre leur lutte de papier alors que Pyongyang préparait ses propres tracts de propagande. Suivirent ballons et haut parleurs aux cris provocateurs.

Echange inoffensif presque enfantin ou prélude au drame? Après toute cette tragi-comédie l'heure est au repos après la suspension "des plans d'actions militaires" par Kim. Selon le politologue Leif Eric Easley: "laisser quelqu'un d'autre parler au nom du régime donne à Kim la possibilité d'ajuster la trajectoire" pour peut-être obtenir des concessions extrérieures.

AND NOW?

After much hacking and pulling, the statue weighing quite a few tons gave way to the rage of its attackers, cheering with raised fists when it finally toppled in the middle of the chanting crowd.

The statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader, was rolled unceremoniously on the ground, clanging and losing bits along the way, before it was dumped in the murky waters of Bristol Harbor to the sound of more cheers.

There's no knowing so soon the ramifications of the current global anti-racism and anti-police brutality movement, but it is sweeping, with protests catching on like wildfire globally and stretching over many weeks in the United States where the death of a single black man during his arrest sparked the outrage.

Still there's a nagging sense of familiarity with this outburst, which is unfortunate as it would mean we may only be repeating the injustice-protest cycle without properly attacking its raison d'etre. But then again there are so many concerns. How do we get from Minneapolis to Bristol if not by accumulating grievances to the point they may become too many in the process and leave us again in the end with little concrete change.

But there has been change, quick change, across the board, at least by those pushing for it. Police departments, which had in the past already gone through the motions of trying to develop sensitivity training, were looking to ban choke holds and other doubtful methods, in a country which had at some point made water boarding an acceptable practise on detainees.

Others were staring down the possibility of police budget cuts as municipal funding looked instead to address social and other issues which would reduce the need for policing. As one police chief pointed out, why call the police when the issue they are urged to deal with is more social in nature, or specific, such as individuals in mental distress they lack the training to address?

 In some communities where social workers were sent to answer 911 calls rather than armed police, observers noted an improvement in outcomes. In Minneapolis, ground zero for the movement, the police department was eventually to be disbanded, as aftermath of the death of George Floyd gave way to new reports of similar acts of police brutality, including some which had even taken place at the heart of the protests, involving police forces which have since Sept. 11 2001 become increasingly militari-zed.

A recent police killing in Atlanta has reignitied a new series of protests. But in addition to the issue of policing, the movement encompasses racism writ large, and there too initiatives were taken, from Nascar finally moving to remove Confederate flags to fallen statues from the U.S. to Britain and beyond. And not just racism against Blacks but all minorities, including, as in Canada and Australia, the land's first residents.

Street name changes, mandatory sensitivity college classes and even new legislation were also proposed in the midst if this sweeping movement. Over the Channel into Belgium statues of King Leopold II have not been spared by the outrage over the crown's  actions when it ruled Congo.

Interestingly, in that country, while there has been some grumbling about Leopold's statues as Congo prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its independence, France24 reported greater concerns about present-day deaths than anything belonging to such a distant past, considering the country's struggle with rebel groups, covid-19, and new outbreaks of ebola, sometimes all fighting for supremacy in the same afflicted regions.

Still could this 21st century Saddam moment constitute a call for real, lasting reform? Not all have called for change, the US president for one has firmly resisted, no matter how symbolic, changing the name of a few military bases. Military bases home to the heroes of the great wars abroad, the president argued, but wars raging while so much remained to be addressed at home others noted.

Colston's statue was fished out of the harbour and will be placed in a museum, and French historian Pascal Blanchard says that's important because these vestiges of a controversial past need to be displayed in public if only to explain past mistakes to future generations. "It is not conceivable to eliminate the traces of the past," he says, criticising all the while the fact France has yet to open a museum addressing its own controversial colonial past.


LA METHODE DUTERTE

Brutalités policières, falsi-fication des preuves et impunité des forces de l'ordre, avec les temps qui courent on aurait tendance à penser aux Etats-Unis suite à la crise suscitée par le décès de George Floyd, mais c'est des Philippines dont il s'agit, et du controversé président Rodri-go Duterte.

Ces accusations d'un rapport de l'ONU à peine sorties, le chef de l'état procédait à de nouvelles mesures sûres de susciter la consternation, soit une loi anti-terroriste qui pourrait faire des opposants politiques des ennemis de l'état et mener à l'arrestation des utilisateurs des médias sociaux pour propos controversés.

Selon le rapport onusien la pandémie n'a que donné lieu à de nouvelles mesures douteuses dans l'archipel, notamment le recours à la force pour faire respecter les quarantaines. Le pays s'en porte-t-il mieux? Avec 28000 cas et environ 1100 morts sans doute mieux que d'autres, mais là n'est pas la question.

Ce recours à la force s'inscrit bien dans la logique de la guerre à la drogue qui a inquiété les enquêteurs de l'ONU, qui ont notamment mis en cause les incitations à la violence de Duterte, sous forme d'appel à la liquidation des suspects, ce qui pourrait représenter une violation du droit international.

Le Haut-Commissariat aux droits de l'homme affirme ne pas avoir pu vérifier le nombre total d'exécutions extrajudiciaires lors de son enquête, puisque les chiffres de la police sont contradictoires, mais il semble déjà faire état de milliers de décès.

Des chiffres d'autant plus troublants que dans certains cas la police aurait effectivement falsifié les preuves. Et ces crimes policiers eux sont souvent impunis, une seule condamnation ayant eu lieu suite à l'exécution d'un suspect de drogue.

La Cour pénale internationale s'est même saisie de ces questions, lançant une procédure préliminaire. Mais les derniers gestes du président, démontrant son indifférence au rapport, sont encore sinon plus alarmants.

L'ONU craint que la nouvelle loi soit encore pire que les réglementations actuelles. Alors que la présidence nie toutes les accusations, l'organisme Human Rights Watch avance de son côté une "preuve convaincante" de violations "systématiques" des droits de l'homme au pays.

Mais rien pour inquiéter Duterte, qui menaçait encore et toujours d'exécution les traffiquants de drogue au début du mois, une provocation presque, au vu des instances mondiales. Puis la journaliste Maria Ressa était reconnue coupable cette semaine dans une affaire de diffamation qui selon ses représentants n'est qu'une excuse afin de museler les critiques du président.


LES MERCENAIRES

Certes Bod Dénard et ses légendes de guerres clandestines au coeur des tropiques appartiennent au passé, mais les mercenaires restent encore d'actualité, notamment sur leur chasse gardée, le continent africain. En Libye ils appuie les efforts du général Haftar, qui tente toujours de mettre fin au gouvernement en place à Tripoli appuyé par l'ONU.

Longtemps condamnés par les Nations unies ces hommes armés sans véritable patrie sont néanmoins pas toujours aussi farouchement opposés de nos jours. Plus au sud du continent, au Mozambique, où leurs traces remontent à plusieurs décennies, ils étaient à l'avant plan des efforts gouvernementaux contre les djihadistes du nord du pays.

Pourtant dans les deux cas la compagnie Wagner, basée en Russie avec la bénédiction de Poutine, n'a pas été couverte de succès. En Mozambique elle a d'ailleurs été remplacée par la sud-africaine Dyck Advisory Group dont le fondateur, le colonel Lionel Dyck, a servi sous les drapeaux de l'ancienne Rhodésie, menant alors, ironie de l'histoire, des attaques au Zimbabwe et au Mozambique.

Russes et sud-africains sont des acteurs importants de ce marché de l'ombre, qui doit sa popularité persistente à ses plus bas coûts et au professionnalisme relatif de ses soldats. Depuis Dénard l'industrie s'est spécialisée et professionalisée, développant le maniement des affaires en parallèle avec celui des armes.

Mais si les succès laissent à desirer les violations de droits de l'homme de certaines de ces compagnies privées sont bien documentées, qu'il s'agisse des tumultueuses années de coups d'état à répétition aux Comores si chères à Dénard ou plus récemment en Iraq, où l'exécution de civils par des membres de la firme américaine Blackwater en 2007 avait entrainé la condamnation de quatre personnes.

Pourtant l'ONU travaille plutôt à encadrer ces activités plutôt qu'à les proscrire catégoriquement, un geste d'autant plus nécessaire que l'organisation a elle même fait usage de telles compagnies, parfois pour sécuriser des camps de réfugiés à moindre prix, et là encore ces activités n'ont pas manqué de controverse.

Pour certains, l'utilisation de ces firmes n'est que la suite logique de la privatisation de certaines activités armées depuis quelques décennies. Mais elle entraine un manque de transparence et de responsabilité qui alarme certains observateurs, notant que bien que certaines inculpations aient servi d'exemple, plusieurs violations des droits de l'homme ont été impunies.

Puis malgré les expériences et équipements modernes, ces compagnies ne parviennent pas toujours à remplacer des armées gouvernementales à elles seules. Au Nigéria, où les mercenaires ont joué un rôle non négligeable lors de la guerre du Biafra, leur incarnation moderne était utilisée plus récemment dans la lutte contre Boko Haram, mais là comme ailleurs, le succès n'était pas au rendez-vous, obligeant le pays à intensifier sa présence militaire.

Règle générale, ces compagnies se sont retrouvées dans le camp des perdants plus souvent que l'inverse, mais font encore et toujours partie du théâtre des champs de bataille mondial, soit en soldats, soit en conseillers prisés.

IS THIS NORMAL?

As the country the most afflicted by the pandemic, with over 100,000 deaths and nearly 2 million infected, the United States yearns for a return to "normal". But the pre-covid reality was not pretty on a number of fronts, especially with regards to race relations, one major divide among others.

As U.S. cities awoke after another night of protests following the in custody death of an African American, former president Barack Obama deplored that "we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal' - whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street."

The death of George Floyd during a police arrest caught on camera came soon after that of another African American, killed by local residents while jogging. Of course the former president was more than aware these persistent ten-sions had continued during his own administration, regardless of the current White House's shortcomings.

But in this regard, there was no denying the lack of finesse of a president who would go on to condemn the violence which followed Floyd's death by lashing out against "thugs" and vowing to "assume control", adding that "when the shooting starts, the shooting starts."

This was the latest provocative Tweet to prompt the social media company to mark the president's message as a violation of "rules about glorifying violence", but Twitter decided to leave it online "in the public's interest."

President Trump, who at one point was placed in a secure underground bunker of the White House as protests grew volatile by the gates, later chastised governors for not being forceful enough toward protesters and announced he would send in the US military to quell the violence if the states failed to do so, this as Obama appealed for calm. Was this becoming a land of two presidents like Venezuela?

Sadly there was no lacking of incitement in the aftermath of this latest racial tragedy, from a popular rapper's query of "how long... before we strike back" to Colin Kaepernick's own call for action. "When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction," the former NFL quarterback turned activist tweeted. "We have a right to fight back!"

As the national guard entered Minneapolis and other cities, voices urging any semblance of calm in America's streets seemed lacking. Half a dozen people had been shot in a separate protest in Kentucky following a local police death there, while cities across the US saw repeated nights of clashes during protests causing damage, arrests, injury and even deaths.

Some hoped actions would help when words failed, such as the arrest of the officer who was fired for kneeling on Floyd's neck as the latter pleaded "I can't breathe." This last statement alone harkened back to another police death captured on camera, compounding outrages as they exploded in urban centres which had seen variations of police brutality over the years. Jesse Jackson condemned Floyd's  death as a "lynching".

Sadly the arrest of Derek Chauvin failed to quell the violence. This was a return to normal some feared. Yet the times are anything but normal. The incidents were taking place as the country, remained in the midst of the devastating covid-19 pandemic. Both the United States and world as a whole were registering a record amount of new daily cases of the coronavirus which in time killed over 1,000 people in Minnesota alone, certainly not one of the most affected states in the country.

The virus has been particularly hard on minorities, more likely to have pre-existing conditions, and by the former president's own admission, more likely to receive a differentiated treatment in America's health care system.

"This shouldn't be the 'normal' in 2020 America," Obama, who has amped up his criticism of the current administration said. "It falls on all of us... to work together to create a 'new normal' in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infect our institutions or our hearts."

In this case an institution which had so recently been celebrated among first responders keeping the public safe in the midst of a health emergency. While it was thought the pandemic would stifle protest, these events have shown otherwise, and may in fact be amplified considering the bottled up anger of recently isolating citizens.

Compoun-ding the crisis has been the state of an economy crippled by the pandemic, now riots, and, perhaps most alarming, a lack of leadership on all these issues. As well as a sense we'll be back here again. In the mean time there's concern the protests could lead to new outbreaks of the coronavirus in major cities across the U.S., with their particular impact on minorities.

LE MAUVAIS GARCON

Certes son président a porté le masque à quelques reprises, mais c'est à peu près tout. Au Brésil pas l’ombre d’un regret mais une résistance farouche au bon sens alors que le pays devient le deuxième plus contaminé de la planète après les États Unis.

Le populisme hautain de Bolsonaro comme celui de Trump aura laissé ses traces alors que les urgences de San Paulo croûlent sous les cas de covid-19. Alors que le ministre de la santé remet sa démission l’administration gronde. L’oncologue Nelson Teich a claqué la porte le mois dernier, ne pouvant pas réconcilier les mesures de l’urgence sanitaire et les priorités de l’administration Bolsonaro de relancer l’économie.

Ce dernier cherchait de plus à faire la promotion de la drogue anti-malaria chloroquine, également choyée par le président américain, malgré les avertissements des spécialistes de la santé peu convaincus de son efficacité pour combattre le covid-19. Le prédécesseur de Teich avait exprimé le même scepticisme avant que l'OMS abandonne les essais cliniques de cette drogue.

La démission fait grimper le numéro 2 au poste, le général Eduardo Pazuello, sans expérience dans le domaine de la santé. La promotion de plusieurs militaires dans l’administration de l’ancien capitaine Bolsonaro laisse craindre une emprise des gens en uniforme comme le pays n’en a pas connu depuis les années noires de la dictature.

Comme aux États Unis les gouvernements régionaux ont condamné le manque d’initiative fédérale au Brésil, faisant appel à une concertation au niveau local. “Voilà pourquoi les gouverneurs et maires doivent mener l’attaque contre la pandémie et non vous, Mr le président,” a martelé le gouverneur de l’état de Rio de Janeiro Wilson Witzel, pourtant un ancien allié de Bolsonaro.

Il ne s'agit pas du seul à avoir changé d'opinion à propos du chef de l'état. Le chef de son ancien parti dans le sénat, le sénateur Sergio Olimpio Gomes, dénonce l'attitude de Bolsonaro et son approche controversée vis à vis du coronavirus, laissant entendre qu'il aurait du mal à se rendre à la fin de son mandat s'il ne change pas de cap.

"Je lui donne 50% de chance de ne pas se rendre au bout de son mandat," dit-il à Bloomberg. Pas moins d'une trentaine de demandes de destitution ont été faites à l'endroit de Bolsonaro. "Tous les pays sur terre font face à une crise économique et sanitaire en raison du virus, dit Olimpio, le Brésil est le seul qui ajoute une crise politique au tout et c'est la faute de Bolsonaro."

Le départ de Teich a “renforcé notre point de vue selon lequel la réaction faible du gouvernement envers la pandémie aggrave les risques, qui pourraient affaiblir la présidence et diminuer l’appui populaire en faveur de Bolsonaro dans la phase ultérieure,” estime l’analyste de l’Eurasia Group Filipe Gruppelli Carvalho. Selon Robert Muggah de l'institut Iguarapé, Bolsonario pourrait même devenir le premier dirigeant évincé par la crise.

THE FEUD WITH CHINA

Did China conceal the truth on the coronavirus at the outset, preventing the rest of the planet from getting a head start preparing for the pandemic? Possibly, in fact that is the claim of current lawsuits filed across the world. Did it hoard supplies of protective equipment as signs the outbreak were growing?

It may have, but then again isn't it home to most of the world's manufacturing of all things, health-related or not? And weren't some other countries hijacking shipments of personal protection equip-ment to save their own?

As the outbreak continues across the world, touching over 6 million people, now many countries topping China in  the number of cases, tensions have been boiling over between the West and the Middle Kingdom, itself seeing its once legendary economic growth crippled by the collapse of global demand.

Not that this has made Beijing any less belligerent on the usual regional issues, from Taiwan to the South China Sea. In fact one flash point which had been quieted by the outbreak of the coronavirus, Hong Kong - which closed its borders to the mainland while covid-19 spread beyond Wuhan - was reignited by Beijing as it approved a new security law that to many observers stands to end the former British territory's special status.

It seems we've been here before, but never has the mainland been so direct in its intentions to end early the 50-year transition promised when the city lowered the Union Jack. “This is the most serious threat to the people of Hong Kong that there has been from the Chinese government since 1997,” said former UK foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind.

“The people of Hong Kong need, and deserve, our support.” The move, quickly and predictably followed by new scenes of rioting in Hong Kong, was condemned by some 186 top lawyers and politicians from around the world.

The law would in part allow Chinese security forces to set up outposts in the city, a major strike to its autonomy since the 1997 transition which made it a special administrative region of China. It comes after protests last year succeeded in preventing authorities from sending Hong Kongers to China to face its less than independent justice system.

 Instead the new measures bring to Hong Kong measures that would be decided on in China, altering the region's Basic Law. An indirect result was the banning of this year's Tiananmen massacre anniver-sary marches for the first time. Britain, Canada and Australia, which is seeing key trade ties with China strained, condemned the new law.

They join others, including the United States, already at odds with Beijing over a variety of topics, from its handling of the coronavirus outbreak to trade disputes. The US said it was ending Hong Kong's preferential treat-ment on trade.

According to one study, the Five Eyes, already wary about the security implications of letting Huawei lead G5 network developments in their countries, should reconsider present manufacturing practices which are leaving countries such as Britain, Canada and the U.S. at the mercy of Chinese manufacturing, as it became evident in the mad scramble for protective equipment as the virus spread globally. 

Britain's Henry Jackson Society called for the global alliance to decouple from what it considers strategic dependency on China's tentacular supply chain. The think tank says Western countries can and should break a habit which has in time made them dependent in 831 separate categories of imports – including 260 service elements of critical national infrastructure.

The report is preaching to the converted to a degree, appearing as a group of Conservative MPs in the UK  planned to amend a trade bill to legally require London to reduce strategic dependency on China. Yet Britain was the least dependent of the five countries, with less the half the categories of goods (229) Australia (595) was dependent on according to the report.

Easier said than done changing these dependencies, while China owns a fair chunk of Western debt. But some suspect the slowing economy may have its challenges for the country's one-party rule. 

IS IT SAFE?

Carefully but mostly nervously is how some countries gradually reopened their economies after weeks of covid-19 linked restrictions and lockdown, as others anxiously looked on.

There was good reason for this as the moves were often unsanctioned by the science, one still trying to learn about the pandemic bringing the planet to a halt. Without sufficient testing, proper contact tracing and a proven vaccine, not only alleviating symptoms but preventing infections or offering a cure, it was all a gamble.

One many were willing to do to survive, understandably, as resources dwindled, supply chains suffered and money ran out. This sparked back lash in Europe and North America as protesters, many rendered jobless as unemployment reached peaks not seen since the Great Depression, called for a lifting of some restrictions no matter how premature.

This was indeed a pretty big gamble, a not so well calculated risk, as those who had successfully emerged from a first wave of the virus understood, after seeing cases of infection grow amid the easing restrictions, with new cases appearing in Wuhan, Germany and South    Korea.

“Shut-ting your eyes and driving blind is about as silly an equation as I’ve seen,” stressed Dr. Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization . “And I’m really concerned that some countries are setting themselves up for some seriously blind driving over the next month.”

In fact the WHO, which hasn't been spared by criticism on how it handled the crisis, urged countries to stay at the highest level of alert until there is "very significant control of the virus" since there was no telling if it would in fact ever go away. So countries tentatively reopening their economies considered pull back measures at the same time, ready to restore restrictions, perhaps for longer periods, at the first sign of a relapse.

Night clubs and bars were clearly off limits, as an alarming Seoul experience recently showed, but would social distanced kindergarten be ok? Could meat processing workers effectively be separated enough to be safe and would baseball and soccer players, as some sports restarted, be able to social distance enough even in empty stadiums?

Last week Pakistan registered a record amount of cases after reopening markets and Lebanon reinstated lockdown measures after a spike in new cases, forcing residents to stay indoors from Wednesday to Monday. This came after restrictions in place since mid March had been lifted. Slovenia however went the other way, declaring its war on the pandemic won, while the Baltic countries agreed to reopen their borders to each other.

But concerns were growing in countries late to face clusters of infection, which therefore stood to learn from the mistakes of others, but were less equipped to deal with large outbreaks of cases. And as richer countries faced some food chain disruptions due to struggling supply links on items such as meat, affected by infections at processing plants, globally officials feared coronavirus-linked food shortages could starve millions.

The United Nations warned last month that due to the pandemic the number of people who suffer from acute food shortages, the type which puts their life in imminent danger, could double from the current 130 million. Covid-19 is "making an already really bad situation catastrophically bad," told the New Yorker Arif Husain of the World Food Programme, since wars, climate catastrophes and economic instability have already made the lives of millions worse in the last few years.

To assist the world's poorest at a time of need, last week more than 300 lawmakers wrote to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank asking that they cancel the debt of the world's less fortunate countries. At least thus far the African continent has been spared the worst of the pandemic, despite flare ups in South Africa, where the shut down of businesses has sent thousands lining up for food distribution.

Less direct contacts with the rest of the world, younger populations and early prevention measures all helped limit the spread of the virus there by some accounts. But it may be too early to draw conclusions, especially on a continent sadly too familiar with viral outbreaks.

ISOLES MAIS MEFIANTS

Puisque l’explosion de cas de coronavirus aux États Unis a fait réfléchir Ottawa plus que deux fois avant de songer à rouvrir la frontière, qui reste fermée au trafic non essentiel,  il ne faut pas s’étonner que nos autres voisins soient plutôt alarmés par le nombre de cas plus élevés du Canada, préférant couper les ponts.

Les cousins français de St Pierre et Miquelon sont faciles à oublier au sein de cette pandémie, qui chez eux s’est sondée par un seul cas de contagion, pourtant ils multiplient les précautions tout en s’efforçant de garder de cruciaux contacts avec leurs voisins des maritimes, qui sont essentiels pour assurer la sécurité sanitaire des 6000 citoyens français de l’archipel.

Puis il faut dire que les résidents des ces îles au large de Terre Neuve se méfient encore plus de leurs propres compatriotes européens. Le confinement à St Pierre et Miquelon a eu la sévérité de celui que l'on pouvait trouver ailleurs malgré l'isolement géographique, gardant les citoyens chez eux et coupant les liaisons avec ces Terre Neuviens si proches.

Il faut croire que les mesures d'urgence semblent être parvenues à limiter les dégâts, mais les insulaires redoutent à présent un trop rapide déconfinement qui pourrait entrainer des cas de contagion pendant les vacances d’été.

Le débat est donc lancé non seulement sur les conditions du retour des étudiants présentement au Canada et en France, mais sur le nombre de liens aériens directs entre St Pierre et Paris pendant la saison estivale. Un sénateur et les maires de deux communes demandaient d'ailleurs récemment la suppression des vols directs avec Paris pour l’été 2020, invoquant la nécessité de protéger le territoire et la difficulté de placer les arrivants en quarantaine, vu le nombre limité de lieux d'hébergement.

Evidemment autant dire que les commerces de l'archipel se font du souci étant donné l'effondrement de leurs recettes. "La saison touristique est très importante pour les opérateurs - les hôtels, restaurants, activités - pour les boutiques et tout ce qui gravite autour du tourisme,  résume au Chronicle Herald Malika Halili directrice de tourisme de la collectivité de l'archipel, c'est une industrie importante et (covid-19) nous frappe à un mauvais moment" soit à la veille de la saison estivale des voyages.

Quatre vingt pourcent des visites proviennent du Canada, mais juste au niveau sanitaire les iles dépendent encore plus des provinces avoisinnantes. C'est à Halifax que les tests de dépistage de la collectivité sont effectués, et c'est là où a transité, avec l'assistance des forces armées canadiennes, la livraison d'équipements médicaux, dont des tests et masques, par la suite acheminés par navire militaire français de la Nouvelle Ecosse vers les iles, un partenarait essentiel qui fait parfois dépendre les iles beaucoup plus de l'assistance du Canada que de la métropole à plusieurs milliers de kilomètres.

 Les résidents demeurent néanmoins farouchement Français, même si par les temps qui courent les compatriotes feraient mieux de rester chez eux selon plusieurs commentaires des médias sociaux locaux: "La question sanitaire est essentielle, fait remarquer un résident des iles, elle consiste à empêcher la covid d'entrer ici. Après il sera trop tard: il n'y a pas assez d'équipements."

STANDING ON GUARD

Canadians from coast to coast were treated to a national favourite as they slowly came out of their isolation hibernation, an air show by the Canadian snowbirds which took place over cities from coast to coast as a tribute to front line workers.

Those saluted included members of the Forces themselves as it was, which made the crash of one of the planes, killing a member of the Snowbirds team, all the more tragic.

As one would expect  in times of emergency, the Canadian Forces have been mobilized to play a support role in a number of crises including efforts against the spread of the covid-19, and these roles are not usually splashed in fancy recruitment ads of the Forces.

Hundreds of Forces medical specialists have been called up to support old age homes in Quebec and Ontario, while Rangers have been sent to set up clinics in Canada's North as cases of covid-19 slowly made their way in some of Canada's most vulnerable commu-nities, the spread putting the spotlight on what have been the blemishes of the great white north: the poor sanitation and other services available in native commu-nities.

 The Canadian Forces thus far have not been struck by clusters of cases such as the French and US militaries as the Forces isolated members to avoid exposure as they expected possible deployment. Nor have veterans in their special residences seen the ravages of old age homes across the country or in the US, where in a single veteran facility some 70 residents were killed by the coronavirus.

But at least five soldiers were infected helping old age homes and veterans of the Great Wars have succombed to the infection. This was the case of Ken Summer, a Canadian-born veteran of the legendary Dam Buster squadron who died from covid-19 in Britain in April. In addition to this year's health emergency the Forces have been mobilized, as they are every spring, to assist in flooded communities.

Amid all these emergencies came a deadly accident a world away, showing that while scaled down, overseas operations were still being carried out by Forces personnel answering NATO's call for military support. The death of six members of the Forces after the crash of their relatively new Cormorant helicopter off Greece was the single deadliest incident not involving combat in years in the Forces.

The Snowbird crash taking part in Operation Inspiration, as it reached British Columbia, further saddened the nation, occurring a year after a previous incident in Georgia before an air show. Public Affairs officer Cpt. Jenn Casey became the ninth person to die in the fifty years the acrobatics team has been performing.

This weekend another flyover took place instead as BC pilots took to the skies in a memorial for Casey while the investigation into the crash got underway. While in demand nationwide the Canadian Forces are still having a hard time filling the ranks, and recruitment efforts previously on a mission to ramp up numbers were on stand by as recruitment officers could not conduct interviews.

The military has made it easier for part time members of the reserve to become full-time members as it sought to bolster numbers.

REGRETS RUSSES

L'aveu était quasiment sans précédent: la Russie avait sous-estimé l'ampleur de la contagion et n'avait "pas de quoi être fière." Par la suite le président Poutine déclara avril mois chômé pour inciter les citoyens à rester chez eux. Alors que le premier ministre Mikhaïl Michoustine confir-mait sa propre contagion le pays accusait le plus d'infections du covid-19 après les Etats-Unis.

Mais pas question d'avouer quelque faiblesse qu'il soit. En tant que puissance militaire la Russie devait garder la tête haute et peut-être à l'occasion montrer des dents pour rappeler son statut mondial. D'où le renforcement de certains effectifs en Syrie, qui reste une importante zone d'intervention, et la présence de ses mercenaires en Libye. Puis en avril un Sukhoi de l'aviation rouge ne s'est pas gêné de passer à 25 pieds d'un avion de la US Navy au-dessus de la mer Méditerranée, une pratique "dangereuse" que regrettait le commandement américain, qui reconnait cependant une tendance de plus en plus téméraire.

La Russie "sent qu'il est nécessaire de rappeler qu'elle est un acteur international et qu'elle est toujours dotée d'une armée redoutable," estime le général américain à la retraite Frank Gorenc. Car il ne faut pas se faire d'illusions, Moscou a été frappée de manière importante par la pandémie, avec près de 300000 cas et ce n'est pas tout, il y a eu l'écrasement du prix du pétrole.

"Les puissances en déclin sont forcée d'agir" dans de telles circonstances, dit-il en entrevue à military.com. Ces gestes provocateurs ne datent pas d'hier puisqu'il font occasionellement l'objet de petites brêves  nord-améri-caines. Un mois plus tôt c'était à des chasseurs dépêchés par la défense nord-américaine d'in- tercepter des avions de reconnaissance russes Tupo-lev-142 au-dessus de l'Arctique juste à l'extérieur de l'espace aérien nord-américain.

L'Aggravation de la pandémie en Russie depuis cet incident a poussé les militaires russes à faire d'autres gestes de provocation faut-il le croire. "Nous ne sommes pas entièrement différents, note Doug Barrie de l'International Institute for Strategic Studies, il n'y a rien qu'à voir le message des nations de l'Otan qui dit 'Ok, on reconnait que la pandémie représente un immense problème... mais il faut continuer à se préoccuper des besoins quotidiens en matière de sécurité nationale'."   

Les adversaires, qu'ils soient chinois ou russes, vont d'ailleurs sans doute profiter de la situation afin de mettre à l'épreuve les dispositifs de sécurité nord-américains. Un expert britannique suggérait d'ailleurs qu'une mission russe en Italie afin de porter secours en matière de coronavirus avait comme mission de soutirer du renseignement.

Pendant ce temps le régime reste aussi opaque que dans le passé selon des experts qui craignent que les véritables chiffres de décès de covid-19 soient bien plus élevés que ceux qui sont publiés. Plusieurs cas de coronavirus étaient d'ailleurs enregistrés à titre de pneumonie, qui fait également l'objet d'une éclosion en Russie.

Un nombre d'incidents sérieux frappant le personnel hospitalier en manque d'équipement de protection suggère une crise au sein des effectifs, qui selon le syndicat des travailleurs ambulanciers "sont tellement exténués qu'ils vont jusqu'à se jeter par la fenêtre". Pourtant Poutine, qui a préféré laisser aux régions le soin de mener l'offensive contre le covid-19, parle déjà de repartir l'économie progressivement, malgré la paralysie à Moscou, où on est pourtant mieux doté que dans les régions plus reculées et rurales.


LAYERS OF TRAGEDY

For a brief time they lined up on both sides of a rural Nova Scotia road to clap and wave flags. Perhaps it wasn’t the best example of social distancing in these pandemics times but on top of the global health emergency Canada faced an extra layer of national tragedy.

The crowd thanked first responders for putting an end to nearly a day of terror along Highway 102, scattering over a dozen crime scenes between Portapique and Enfield, in the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, worst than anything seen in the US so far this year.

And this wasn’t in a part of the country where one would expect such carnage to be possible. Over a full day later the full death count was yet to be tallied following the rampage of 51 year old Gabriel Wortman, leaving a trail of blood on the major highway slicing through the province.

At that point the murders dwarfed the number of covid victims in that province since the beginning of the pandemic, and authorities were finally considering lifting some of the restrictions. But the yet to be explained shooting spree which shortened the lives of nearly two dozen people, from children to first responders, deepened the provincial suffering.

Making matters more disturbing were questions about why authorities had not quickly alerted the public the suspect, who was ultimately gunned down, was driving around in an imitation RCMP cruiser, one of many he had in his possession, wearing an RCMP uniform.

Officials had already come under criticism for not sending a message through the emergency alert system, saying they were about to when the suspect was neutralized. The fact the US consulate sent an alert email to contacts did nothing to lessen the criticism, one particularly stinging as an RCMP officer whose heroism had saved many lives had fallen during the 13-hour rampage.

Const. Heidi Stevenson confronted Wortman after he had killed a number of people and burned homes in a number of communities, ramming his vehicle with hers and depriving him of the most visible way of fooling people into thinking he was an officer at a time they were being summoned to end the shooting.

Impersonating police had enabled Norwegian mass killed Anders Breivik to gain access to the island where he slaughtered dozens of victims in 2011. While the latter's motives were later revealed in a manifesto the reasons for Wortman's actions are still not entirely known but began after he attacked his longtime girlfriend, a troublesome event particularly in these times where confinement has resulted in a number of cases of domestic abuse.

Within days the government announced it was banning assault-style weapons. Alberta meanwhile was dealing with its own set of tragedies as residents in Fort McMurray were evacuated due to flooding.


RESTARTING TOURISM

Before there's any going back to "normal", what ever that ends up being, there will be a period of "new normal", and Canada's decision to make wearing masks mandatory on flights can be one or the other.

Travel may look very different when it restarts, but for some the current crisis is an opportunity to change the way the industry functioned for the better.

For years there has been resistance by locals overwhelmed by tourism, from Barcelona, a European hot spot, to Machu Picchu in Peru, where officials were giving thought to restricting future access. Measures were already introduced in areas sensitive to mass tourism, such as Easter Island and Venice.

So as officials in the Italian city considered slowly improving conditions that could eventually lead the city to be reopened for business, they pondered how tourism could one day resume in a more orderly fashion, different from the massive flow which had been choking the famous laguna. "We've gone from one extreme to the other," reflected Matteo Secchi of the Venessia Association. "Here, a few months ago we couldn't even pass each other. Now the streets are empty."

The crowds will eventually return, but officials can see how this is probably the best time to tweak the model of modern day tourism instead of dealing with the head aches of a few months ago, when Venice restricted access to large cruise ships.

"This will be an opportunity to move towards intelligent tourism," agreed deputy mayor Simone Venturini, "With tourists who take the time to understand and get away from the frenetic tours of other times." The Italian super destination isn't the only one considering how it could host visitors when the lockdown eventually ends.

In a Caribbean previously impac-ted by devastating hurricanes, a number of islands suffering through this down period are looking to see in what form their tourism industry can come out of the ashes of the pandemic. "Let us work on the product, let’s take the time now to reflect, retool, retrain and get ready for the next three to six months,” suggested Sunil Chatrani, of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc., who called on businesses to "plan ahead... and take advantage of this rethinking period.”

Some have described March 14 as The Day the World Stopped Travelling, but this will in all  likelihood not be permanent. While the industry would like travel numbers returning to what they were pre-pandemic, eventually, this could be done in a much more sustainable way, argues Freya Higgins-Desbiolles of the University of South Australia.

"Covid-19 challenges us to think about the type of consumption that underpins the unsustainable ways of the travel and tourism industries," she writes. "It is a big economic hit, but crisis invites creativity... After this crisis passes, we might find the old business as usual less compelling. We might learn that not travelling long distances didn’t stop us travelling; it just enlivened us to the richness of local travel."

UNE TREVE?

Depuis son arrivée au pouvoir le président français Emmanuel Macron a de nombreuses fois fait appel à la trêve, notamment face aux grévistes ou aux nombreux mouvements des gilets jaunes, mais alors que la plupart des pays du globe se referment et refusent de voir plus loin que le bout de leur nez, Macron propose à l'instar du secrétaire général de l'ONU une trêve mondiale des conflits, et selon lui ses appels ne sont pas restés lettre morte.

La plupart des membres du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU auraient donné leur aval. Puisqu’il n’y aura pas de Jeux à Tokyo cette année, une période symboli-quement marquée par un appel à la trêve olympique, pourquoi pas une trêve alors que l’humanité livre une lutte commune contre cet "ennemi invisible" que le covid-19?

Évidemment autant dire que cette prétendue trêve olympique n'est pas  toujours respectée. Puis la Russie n’a-t-elle pas saisi la Crimée peu après les  jeux de Sochi? Les rivalités mondiales, non seulement entre nations mais groupes bélligérents, n’ont pas pour autant ralenti depuis l’éclosion de la pandémie, même si les médias sont moins portés à en parler. Car ces derniers sont plutôt débordés par la couverture des diverses facettes du coronavirus. Cet appel à la paix n’est pas déplacé en cette période où l’optique mondiale est celle de la méfiance, de la fermeture des frontières et des entraves aux échanges.

Résistant encore à cette appel, une Russie présente en Syrie mais pourtant de plus en plus débordée par le covid chez elle après l'imposition tardive des mesures préventives. Par ailleurs autant dire que les forces armées du monde sont aussi débordées par le virus, des navires militaires français et américains ayant notam-ment enregistré plusieurs cas du virus qui a infecte 3 millions de personnes à travers le monde.

Les appels du président suivent ceux du secrétaire général des Nations unies Antonio Guterres et plus récemment du pape François lors de son allocution de Pâques. "La furie du virus démontre la folie de la guerre, avait déclaré Guterres en mars.  Il est temps de mettre le conflit en quarantaine et de rassembler les efforts afin de mener la véritable lutte de notre vie."

Guterres tentait alors de mener à bien ses efforts de trêve, notamment en Afghanistan, en Libye, en Syrie et au Yémen, tous doublement frappés par le coronavirus, une première étape vers le développement d'une solution durable. Guterres regrettait aussi que certains groupes violents y voient là une occasion d'augmenter leurs activités au contraire, notamment en raison de certains retraits militaires.

Des groupes islamistes ont fait appel à de nouvelles opérations alors que certains groupes néo-nazis préconisent notamment de faire du coronavirus une arme de leur arsenal de la haine. Des opérations djihadistes visaient notamment les Maldives pour la première fois et tenaient le nord du Mozambique en haleine.

Tandis que les éclats se poursuivent aussi du Nigéria en Lybie, où le gouvernement poursuit ses offensives appuyé par la Turquie, la déclaration de l'autonomie dans le sud du Yémen par les séparatistes semble mettre fin à l'entente de paix de novembre dernier. Le cessez-le-feu venait pourtant d'être prolongé d'un mois pour permettre aux autorités de mener la lutte contre le coronavirus.


RANKING THE LEADERS

In an era when convenience is king, the novel coronavirus has sent the world spinning. There have been disasters, tragic events and pandemics over the years, but nothing quite like this, so sweeping it reaches into every corner of the earth, threatening every region of the planet.

Even the world wars were fairly localized in comparison. Leaders around the world will be judged by how they responded to the crisis that truly tested their mettle. One would hope.

So far there have been both pleasant surprises and disappointments; some leaders feared not up to the task failing to rise to the occasion when they needed to most. Still oblivious to the challenges were populists Trump and Bolsonaro, while Duterte of the Philippines managed a new level of outrageousness altogether inspired by his war on drugs.

While the Filipino leader did not downplay the extent of the crisis as so many others, he suggested killing people carrying the virus who defied quarantine. While autocratic means would seem to facilitate the sort of measures necessary to keep such a pandemic at bay some strongmen have simply used the outbreak as an opportunity to extend  their powers indefinitely, such as Hungary's Viktor Orban, his party mobilizing parliament to not only cancel elections, which would seem a wise decision for now, but give Orban the right to rule by decree indefinitely.

One formely reticent populist leader, Britain's Boris Johnson, later changed his tune and promoted strict covid-19 measures but became the first world leader to be infected, requiring a stay in an intensive care unit.

Of note state governors and provincial premiers have provided examples of leaders truly stepping up to the once unfathomable challenge that is the novel coronavirus. In Canada Quebec leader Francois Legault's tough talk, at a time the federal government seemed to be taking baby steps, was trailblazing in many ways. It wasn't perfect - no one can be when confronted with so many unknowns - but enough to reassure citizens in the most affected province.

The deaths of dozens of residents in a Montreal-area old age home recently has however raised some questions about the management of the crisis, which in the province has turned to focus on the most vulnerable citizens. This has become in fact a national focus as about half of Canada's 800-plus deaths were linked to seniors' homes.

Ontario's Doug Ford, whose policies seemed to back track with every month after his election, found strong footing dealing with the crisis, chiding and reassuring provincial residents when they needed to be, deploring the lack of testing and criticising the US president when he suggested mask maker 3M no longer export to Canada.

In the United States, state governors took the lead as the White House downplayed the crisis and later hesitated to take the drastic measures which had flattened the curve of the pandemic elsewhere. Leading the way was a New York governor whose brother, a CNN anchor, was himself diagnosed with covid-19. But well before then Gov. Cuomo's tough talk and decisive measures seemed to at least leave someone firmly in charge in the state which had become the world's new epicentre of the outbreak.

This week the curve there started to flatten, though the toll remained devastating. Stringent measu-res put in place in South Korea and Singapore, at the time Asia was the epicentre of the crisis, are now well documented, both countries having substantially slowed covid-19's progress, but new cases there showed vigilance was still required. Certainly few can claim to have had the hands on approach to coronavirus as Ireland's Varadkar.

With government forming still in the works after recent close elections, the prime minister, a former doctor, moved to the front lines by returning to medical pratice to help during the crisis. The very definition of all hands on deck. While this list so far seems to speak of men exclusively, there is no doubt women have played a major role leading efforts during the crisis, such as New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern and Taiwan's Tsai Ing Wen, whose countries have avoided the worst outcomes despite the latter's notable proximity to China.

Denmark's Mette Frederiksen and Finland's Sanna Marin have also limited the damage. Canada's chief medical officer Theresa Tam, who often appears with Deputy prime minister Chystia Freeland in daily covid updates, have been leading voices in the Americas. Until the pandemic recedes, no true score can be given to leaders, who stand to remain in place until the emergency is over, and there is no doubt the world was not prepared for this pandemic.

But a few badges of merit can perhaps be passed out for those who were at least able to communicate needed emergen-cy measures effectively, and tongue lashings for those who chose to ignore early and not so early warnings.

DES APPROCHES DIFFERENTES

Alors que les pays européens redoublaient leurs mesures contre le coronavirus au début du mois, deux pays du nord conservaient une approche bien différente, moins sage diront certains. Car pourtant la Suède avait presque deux fois plus de morts que le Canada malgré les chiffres plus faibles d'infection.

La Biélorussie de son côté, malgré la panique soudaine qui s'est emparée de la voisine russe - qui a fait repousser le projet de référendum de Poutine - avait encore un nombre de cas relativement faible, source d'arrogance sans doute, malgré tant de leçons provenant de l'Asie aux Amériques. Evidemment l'exacti-tude de ses chiffres laisse à désirer vue la nature plutôt opaque du régime.

Ces deux pays plutôt différents ont préféré ne pas confiner leurs populations, chose qui selon Stockholm était contraire aux traditions de libertés suédoises; il s'agissait de se comporter de manière responsable et "adulte". Minsk de son côté a opté d'ignorer les risques, et de poursuivre ses activités publiques comme si de rien n'était.

Sa ligue de football est la seule encore en train de disputer des rencontres sur le continent, alors que l'homme fort Lukashenko préconise la vodka et le sauna plusieurs fois par semaines pour écarter le danger de la pandémie... Selon lui le monde est aux prises avec une "psychose" dont les craintes sont plus virulentes que le virus lui-même.

Malgré le manque de directive à la tête du pays, plusieurs citoyens ont pris des initiatives plutôt sages, comme la fermeture des cafés et des restaurants. Des deux pays c'est sans doute cette Suède démocratique qui étonnait le plus, laissant les écoles, cafés et restaurants ouverts alors que les Français de leur côté devaient obtenir une autorisation spéciale pour sortir de chez eux.

La logique européenne a parfois été de laisser le virus se propager pour développer une "immunité de groupe", une approche controversée prônée à l'origine en Grande Bretagne avant un virulent changement de cap.

Certains experts ne sont pas rassurés qu'il puisse ainsi se développer l'immunité nécessaire, notant la nature violente du covid-19. D'autant plus que toute immunité pourrait s'avérer de courte durée.

A quelques jours de Pâques Stockholm a constaté que cette traditionnelle liberté suédoise comportait de plus en plus de risques, enregistrant le pire taux de mortalité des pays scandinaves; quatre fois celui d'une Norvège qui avait notamment fermé ses portes des semaines plus tôt; des mesures que certains avaient pu juger extrêmes à l'époque.

Le premier ministre suédois Stefan Lofven avoua lors d'une entrevue que la Suède allait sans doute perdre des milliers de ses citoyens au coronavirus et que l'urgence allait durer des mois plutôt que des semaines; un signal que la nation était prête à effectuer un virage?

En attendant les mesures en place restent très légères face à celles trouvées ailleurs en Europe pour affronter, selon certains locaux, une crise exagérée par les médias. "Je pense que notre gouvernement fait les choses comme il le faut, déclara au Washington Post Margareta Eriksson. La plupart des gens sont des personnes responsables." Mais ceci ne fait pas l'unanimité.

"La réaction suédoise au covid a été très faible, regrette Mme Ledgrens sur Twitter. Car elle a déjà emporté de nombreuses vies du troisième âge." En début de semaine, alors que la 1000ème mort liée au virus était enregistrée en Suède, 22 scientifiques publiaient une lettre estimant que la stratégie se soldait par un échec.

IS VOTING NOW A GOOD IDEA?

South Korea has been praised as a success story in terms of shutting down the outbreak which at one point made it the second country most threatened by the novel coronavirus, before it migrated to Europe and then North America, but has it been too quick to consider the threat diminished and hold this week's elections?

Much remains to be figured out about the development of covid-19, with health care professionals only now coming to acquire knowledge on cases of pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic transmis-sions, that is infection before the source shows symptoms, or in some cases where it never develops them.

Seoul managed to nip transmissions in the bud earlier this year by quarantining an entire region of the country, a modus operandi inspired by China later duplicated in northern Italy and, in some cases, entire European countries dealing with a severe outbreak. Certainly South Korea is aware of the continuing threat posed by the virus, with reporting to the effect former patients may have been re-exposed to covid-19, and previous pandemics developing second waves.

It isn't alone to struggle with the obligations of democracies in times of emergency. Other countries have held elections as the pandemic loomed, at a time they had few cases to report, such as Guinea, while electoral processes elsewhere were dropped altogether, such as in the epicentre of the outbreak, the US, where many states wisely chose to drop plans to host primaries.

Sadly Wisconsin was not one of them, deciding last week to carry on as Joe Biden's main contender Bernie Sanders bowed out, subjecting voters to long lineups to the few polling stations which decided to open for the exercise. Russia meanwhile recognized it had underestimated the crisis and called off its planned referendum, one dear to the Kremlin's heart as it was setting the stage for Vladimir Putin to extend his stay in power.

Surely that came as a surprise in the land of the Potemkin demo-cracy. Tajikistan went ahead with its parliamentary elections in March, an unexciting affair in which the ruling People’s Democratic Party won 47 seats, but this was right before covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

Choosing to launch its soccer season undeterred, the Central Asian country is one of a handful of countries not to report a single case of coronavirus infection, along with neighbor Turkmenistan, which is hardly a model of transparence. It held mass exercises last week for World Health Day. Poland mean-while, which has registered over 7,000 cases of infection and over 200 deaths, says it is planning to carry on with its planned May election. Who is right? Are some being carelessly optimistic?

Can the page be turned, as Seoul is attempting to show - and room be allowed for some measure of global hope - at a time the source of the outbreak, Wuhan, is slowly reopening for business, although with restrictions still in place? Is that premature also? Perhaps are current figures, as the initial ones were, highly doubtful? After all new cases are emerging in China and other cities there are still under lockdown.

The next weeks will tell, and hopefully it won't be all bad news. Already Guinea, which once had just two, now has over 300 cases of infection. And concerns are being raised about the US elections, not the primaries underway but the actual presidential poll this fall. As Wisconsin was going to the polls Florida election officials said changes are needed to accommodate more absentee ballot voters, as people could shy away from the vote in this pivotal delegate-rich state if the pandemic persists.

The voice of reason seemed to be Portugal's prime minister, who despite flattening the curve maintained tough restrictions. "Prudence above all," he preached. Patience would avoid a feared resurgence of cases, the WHO warned last week.

DES FRONIERES INTERNES

Le contrôle routier sur le pont ejambant la rivière des Outaouais n'était pas tout à fait ordinaire, mais par les temps qui courent, peu de choses le sont vraiment. Précédemment situé à Toronto et Montréal, le site final de la capitale canadienne avait été choisi à mi-chemin par la reine pour unir les deux Canadas, sélectionnant un lieu où les territoires et cultures pouvaient se croiser.

Mais en temps de pandémie ce rapprochement semble de trop, divisant bytown, la ville aux deux rives provinciales, comme peu d’évènements ont pu le faire dans le passé. L’annonce du premier avril n’avait rien pour faire rire Ottawa-Gatineau, installant des points de contrôle policiers temporaires côté québécois sur des ponts reliant Hull à l’Ontario.

Alors que les provinces ne suivent pas toutes le même manuel pour combattre la
pandémie, le Québec a dressé des barrages pour isoler des régions sensibles sur son territoire, commençant par celle de Montréal, où l'on recense le plus de cas et où les menaces de quarantaine planent, puis la Montérégie, avant de se répandre vers l'est et l'ouest pour atteindre l'Outaouais.

Ce n'est pas pour tout le monde mais plusieurs communautés autochtones à travers le pays ont également choisi de s'isoler de la sorte, sans parler des Territoires du nord-ouest, qui ont fermé leurs portes dès l'éclosion du premier cas.

Il n'y en a que cinq en tout. Alors qu'Ottawa hésite encore à imposer des mesures d'urgence à travers le pays, chose qui ne fait pas l'unanimité, le fédéral laisse aux provinces et territoires, qui sont consultés régulièrement, le soin d'utiliser la panoplie de mesures à leur disposition pour mener leur campagne contre le coronavirus à bien.

Ceci laisse en place une mosaique de mesures diffé-rentes à travers cette vaste étendue démilitée par trois océans. C'est bien au Québec où la fermeture de la frontière canado-américaine avait été proposée pour la première fois, la belle province avoisinnant l'état le plus touché par la pandémie, celui de New York.

Récemment Québec rallongeait jusqu'en mai la fermeture des services non essentiels. Il s'agit de la province la plus touchée par le coronavirus, avec plus de 13,000 cas, en partie parce que la pause printanière y a eu lieu avant les autres régions, les vacanciers n'ayant ainsi pas eu le temps d'annuler leurs départs avant que la crise  n'exige la mise en place de mesures strictes.

Mais aussi en raison du nombre élevé de tests complétés. Alors que les chiffres semblent s'y stabiliser, une autre menace se pointe à l'horizon: une saison des fontes qui a fait ses ravages ces dernières années, notam-ment à Gatineau et près de Montréal, et le coronavirus risque d'entraver les efforts de masse et l'ouverture de centres d'accueil pour les sinistrés.


FIGHTING COVID

After dealing with the worst floods, fires and storms in years, the world is now confronted with a genera-tional challenge. With the spread of the novel coronavirus which has sprung some militaries  into action in a number of countries, generations remo-ved from the great wars are facing a military-style campaign against covid-19 as it neared a million infected worldwide and over 40,000 deaths, slamming hard hit countries from Spain to the United States, the new epicentre of the outbreak.

On all continents even initially skeptical governments are reacting to the devastating reality by taking an increasingly martial tone, opening field hospitals and turning various facilities into testing centres while prop-ping up a war-time economy the likes of which hasn't been seen in over half a century, unleashing big government in more ways than one; one ready to lay a heavy hand on the economy, and in some countries, on privacy, launching surveil-lance initiatives which, while perhaps life saving, are certainly intrusive.

Mean-while major economic players were being mobilized to lead the campaign, as vacuum maker Dyson, GM and Ford tweaked their assembly lines to churn out ventilators,  distilleries started  producing sanitizer and sports equipment champions Brian's and Bauer switched to emergency supply production, such as masks, items in short supply as companies responded to govern-ment appeals to help ramp up emergency production.

This went into higher gear as the US invoked the Defense Production Act. But these were the rare businesses going full throttle as the rest of the economy shut down. Of concern was that, besides the large surviving firms, many smaller  businesses that have been impacted may not return when the pandemic ends, leaving the behemoths which had already made mom and pop stores a scarcity more dominant.

Increasingly, to some, including the US president, the damage to the economy, which there had seen millions filing for unemployment, was becoming more concerning than the virus itself, which showed no signs of slowing. Governments across the world poured trillions into emer-gency measures to support companies and individuals, to some reinforcing arguments for a minimum guaranteed income.

Governments were temporarily ready to forget about debt levels and rushed to provide financial support to prevent the contracting economy from collapsing altogether. The US administration had initially downplayed the outbreak but soon discouraged non-essential travel in regions around New York City, at one point considering putting troops alongside the longest undefended border on earth, an idea dropped following strong Canadian opposition.

After all the US has over 20 times the number of cases and over 30 times the number of deaths. Ironically check points were going up within Canada and the US, which sought to limit domestic travel to halt the spread.

America's neighbors were quite concerned - as the US topped China in the number of cases - by the White House's willingness to consider relaxing some social distancing restrictions in some areas, despite challenges in other places such as New York, which registered over 40% of all US cases. Perhaps looking on enviously as the area at the source of the outbreak, Wuhan, softened restrictions. But plans to open the US to business by Easter were thankfully ditched.

CRAINTES AUTOCHTONES

On les croyait disparues mais  voilà que sur la route d'Ucluelet sur l'ile de Vancouver une barricade montée par les autochtones voyait le jour. Mais il ne s'agissait pas d'un nouveau bien que tardif geste de solidarité envers les Wet'suwet'en. Le monde a bien changé depuis.

Il s'agissait bien d'un symbolique contrôle anti-pandémie, par les membres d'une communauté qui a fort à craindre de l'éclosion du coronavirus. Alors que l'Organisation mondiale de la santé craint la propagation dans certaines régions du tiers monde au système de santé faible, celui des commu-nautés autochtones, notam-ment du grand nord canadien, pourrait difficilement composer avec un virus si contagieux dans des communautés avec peu de physiciens et où de nombreuses personnes peu-vent se retrouver sous un même toit dans des conditions souvent insalubres.

Les dirigeants du nord ont ainsi sonné l'urgence sanitaire avant même l'éclosion d'un seul cas dans les trois territoires, tandis qu'Ottawa rendait disponible des fonds publics pour intervenir. Faut-il le rappeler, les manifestations récentes paralisant les transports terrestres et ferroviaires se voulaient aussi un rappel des piètres conditions dans les réserves autochtones du pays.

Déjà les dirigeants polaires regardaient avec crainte l'apparition du premier cas de coronavirus dans le grand nord, au Groenland, alors que l'Alaska comptait de son côté plusieurs personnes touchées dans un pays où les tests de dépistage font sérieusement défaut.

Les Territoires du nord ouest ont éventuellement relevé leur premier cas le 21 mars, fermant du coup leurs portes aux voyages non essentiels. Les autochtones d'Ucluelet n'ont pas tardé à se préoccuper du virus, passant à l'acte, qui se voulait une suggestion de rebrousser chemin plutôt qu'un barrage, avant que ne soient éventuellement fermés les centres de villégiature de cette région touristique.

"Nous stoppons les voitures pour éviter que le covid-19 atteigne la côte, expliqua un membre de la communauté Tla-o-qui-aht. Ca nous peine de devoir le faire mais il faut stopper la pandémie." De quelques centaines de cas, le Canada a vite atteint les 7000, touchant toutes les provinces, et certains en voulaient à la Colombie britannique, lieu du premier décès relié à la pandémie, d'avoir tardé à emboiter le pas de l'isolement social.

Plus tôt c'était à une autre communauté de la province, les Ahousaht, de barrer son entrée aux non résidents. Les communautés autochtones connaissent le ravage des maladies dans leurs réserves. L'espérance de vie y est en moyenne de six à 15 ans plus faible que la moyenne nationale, les communautés souffrant de manière dispro-portionnée de maladies dont le Sida, la tuberculose,  le diabète et de malnutrition.

"Les personnes indigènes sont vraiment les seules au pays à mourir de maladies infectieuses évitables," regrette le Dr. Sean Hillier de l'université York, lui-même membre de la nation Qalipu. Les communautés autochtones semblaient prêtes à prendre des initiatives au lieu d'attendre les provinces ou états de l'ouest du continent.

La tribu Lummi aux Etats-Unis près de la frontière canadienne a même ouvert son propre hôpital de campagne pour contrer le coronavirus après y avoir enregistré ses premiers cas.

IRONICALLY, THE PLANET BREATHES BETTER

After a year of constant street demonstrations and rallies as governments were being pressed to act on climate change the planet is seeing something remarkable. Bluer skies, less pollution and cleaner water. But it has little to do with the green movement. As the novel coronavirus pandemic pursued its march across the globe, infecting people in some 180 countries and sending a third of humanity into isolation, the impact at ground zero was becoming clear. Emissions over some Chinese cities registered a drop of 40% at one point.

Then as Italy became the epicentre of the outbreak, its nothern region also registered a notable drop in nitrogen dioxide levels, as did other parts of Europe. Most telling of all, the usually stagnant and fetid waters of Venice appeared the cleanest they had been in ages, once more welcoming fish and other wildlife.

Maybe this is what the world would look like without man, a tale told in areas abandoned to nature over time, especially urban ones. Reduced activity elsewhere including in the airspace above, with airlines reeling from the impact of the virus on the travel industry, promised more carbon emissions reductions glo-bally in the short run.

"As a measure that took place effecti-vely overnight this is more dramatic than anything else that I've seen in terms of the impact on emissions," noted Lauri Myllyvirta of the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. He wasn't the only one to have that impression. “Suppose you were a policy maker and you were thinking about what you would do to lower emissions,” noted Amy Jaffe of the Council on Foreign Relations. “You just got a pretty good instruction.”

Though that may not be the best way to go about it. Ironically the spread of the infection has not only sidelined the fight against climate change as a global priority, in part by cancelling a conference on global warming, it has made unpopular some environmentally friendly measures.

Reusable is out amid fears of contamination as coffee shops like Tim Hortons and Starbucks halted the use of personal cups. Plastics and single use items were preferred as sanitary measures kicked in and mass transit became shunned by some concerned to be travelling with infected passengers. For the rich, this meant favoring the use of proportionally highly polluting private jets.

To be fair this was limited in the overall scheme of things as traffic overall remarkably thinned. Meanwhile authorities in New York City were not ruling out shutting down the subway altogether if the situation in the city, which registered the most cases in the U.S. and where one suburb was isolated due to a severe outbreak, grew out of control. In addition instructions to isolate and order in promised to run up use of the internet globally, some fear, possibly to the point of straining computer networks.

All that added activity fires up massive computer data centres eating up energy there and at home. But how does this measure up against reduced car and truck traffic and idle factories in quarantined zones such as parts of China and Italy? Such a crisis "is really not the way you want to decrease emissions," said Samantha Gross of the Brookings Institution, noting this could actually discourage green investments for down the road.

In fact there could be lessons about saving the planet amid this crisis, says Jaffe, such as making localizing production and working from home more prevalent. But environmental improvements were short lived the last time around when the 2008 financial crisis hit, temporarily lowering emis-sions before they shot up again. China has gone greener since, and the rest of the planet along with it.

But as China recovered from the pandemic, it was already showing rising levels of pollution. Lessons - like frequent hand washing - can be quickly forgotten, and aviation experts  noting the strains of the industry already putting one airline into bankruptcy and grounding others warn they could actually hamper long term objectives to reduce airlines' carbon footprint. In the midst of the crisis European airlines have pleaded with authorities to postpone carbon-fighting regu-lations.

"We definitely don't need new taxes right now. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever to burden airlines and passengers with higher prices," said the spokesperson of a recent airline conference, Jennifer Janzen. "Environ-mental taxes are just going to make this bad situation even worse." But green groups argue this is a line of reasoning industry would pursue in any case, while climate change  protesters condemning gover-nment inaction say reaction to coronavirus has shown countries could, if pressed with a global emergency, spring to action, demanding the same energy be given to the fight against climate change.

"This is a challenging time for airlines, but that's no reason to weaken  these rules and take airlines off-course on efforts to address climate change," said Annie Petsonk of the Environmental Defense Fund. Another consequence of slower business has been cooling demand for oil, which added to Saudi Arabia's quarrel with Russia over production levels, has sent crude prices plummeting.

While this spells temporary relief for airlines and transport companies that run on fuel it may also work against climate action by reducing incentives for more green investment and fuel efficient planes and vehicles. Current budget cuts mean the oil industry will be spending less on renewable energy. In addition: "If fuel prices keep sliding and stay depressed, taking on newer more efficient cleaner jets will lose some appeal," noted Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group. There is certainly no lack of irony in that, in the end, the industry which unwittingly facilitated the spread of the coronavirus, air travel, is now, like so many others, in dire straits.

UN PLEBISCITE CONTROVERSÉ

Alors que la planête était aux prises avec le coronavirus, la Guinée organisait sont controversé scrutin double, un exercice qui a fait plus de victimes que le covid-19 dans ce pays d'Afrique de l'ouest.

Une douzaine de personnes ont connu la mort lors des violences qui ont accompagné l'élection du 22 mars, à la fois un scrutin législatif et un plebiscite constitutionnel. Le bilan autait pu être pire encore si un véhicule piégé n'avait pas été repéré et immobilisé près d'un poste d'essence. Les violences n'étaient pas surprenantes étant donnée la grogne dans les rues de Conakry depuis l'annonce du référendum il y a plusieurs mois.

A l'époque déjà les éclats avaient fait des morts alors que le président Alpha Condé proposait de réviser la constitution afin de pouvoir prolonger son règne d'une douzaine d'années. Les élections législatives connais-saient également un important retard, elles qui devaient avoir lieu en janvier 2019 dans ce petit pays pauvre de 13 millions d’habitants pourtant riche en ressources minières.

Autant dire que l'opposition a préféré boycotter l'exercice, comptant sur un appui international difficile à obtenir en cette période de crise de santé mondiale. Le ministère de la sécurité considérait malgré tout que "de manière générale le vote s'est déroulé dans des conditions apaisées sur l'ensemble du territoire national."

Des affrontements entre groupes pro et anti-référendum ont cependant donné lieu à des violences qui ont abouti au saccage de bureaux de vote et à plusieurs éclats avec les forces de l'ordre. "Il y a eu de nombreux échanges de tirs entre des policiers et des inconnus. Il était parfois difficile de savoir qui tirait," résumait l'auteur de la page web Guinée Morale.

Alors que le dépouillement prenait place, certains observateurs condamnaient les conditions de l'exercice. "Il y avait des bulletins à terre, des cartes d'électeurs éparpillées partout dans la cour, des urnes empilées les unes sur les autres", notait un reporter du site Océan Guinée. Certains ont tout de même été choqués par la sévérité des violences, même si celles-ci étaient attendues, et du compte des victimes.

Condé est au pouvoir depuis 10 ans et a été ré-élu en 2015, ce qui devait en principe mettre fin à son règne à la tête du pays. Déjà controversé, le scrutin l'était d'autant plus qu'il avait lieu alors que le coronavirus gagne du terrain en Afrique, même s'il connait encore peu de cas en Guinée, où un des 16 cas recensés a été guéri.

Moins touché que les autres continents, l'Afrique n'est pas particulièrement épargnée puisqu'en l'espace de quelques jours le confinement était ordonné en Afrique du sud et au Madagascar alors que le couvre feu était imposé à Dakar et à Alger, aux quatres coins du continent.

Alors que les résultats du scrutin étaient attendus le président prenait la parole à la télévision, mais le discours n'avait rien de politique. Il annonçait des mesures d'urgence pour faire face à la crise sanitaire qui s'empare du pays comme du reste du continent, des mesures prises ailleurs comme la fermeture des commerces et des écoles qu'il aurait peut-être mieux fait de mettre en place plus tôt.

Le lendemain, les résultats confirmaient le "oui" en faveur de la nouvelle constitution par 91,5% des intentions de vote. La nouvelle constitution préserve la limite de mandat à deux mais les rallonge de cinq à six ans. Condé avait laissé entendre que les mandats précédents ne compteraient pas...

EERIE PLANET

You can actually hear the water trickling from the Trevi fountain. That’s astounding considering the hordes of people usually gathered day and night at the famous Rome landmark. But not a soul is to be found. In front of the Milan cathedral bathed in the afternoon sun, silence, police cars and vans keeping watch.

Scenes not only repeated across Italy but a number of countries immobilized by the novel coronavirus. As the pandemic wave swept Europe and started settling in North America, reaching over 150000 cases in over 110 countries, putting lives on hold and emptying usually bustling streets, the first world was coming to a grinding halt.

Initial fears when the outbreak took hold were that poorer third world health systems would prove catastrophic, leaving the virus to spread uncon-trollably.

But the world’s most wealthy and indus-trialized countries were far from having things under control, Italy putting itself under quarantine while neighbor France shut its schools as countries from New Zealand to Israel closed their borders. The wealthy who had the means to travel had spread covid-19 well beyond its original Chinese epicentre, causing the United States to bar European travellers, who were also being shunned from Guatemala to Africa.

But the US itself fared little better under the stewardship of a president who initially considered conoravirus a hoax, becoming a major source of concern as the world’s wealthiest country proved unable to conducts sufficient testing to keep track of the spread of the virus. Trump eventually declared a national state of emergency.

By then much smaller Canada had tested 7,600 people, 1,000 more than the US. And would the closed US borders at such a late stage, with over 2,000 cases and dozens dead, prevent major outbreaks there after they had failed in smaller countries elsewhere?

Looking on nervously was a northern neighbor struck at the highest levels as the prime minister’s wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau became only the third reported case of covid-19 in Ottawa, leaving many to take the reported numbers with a grain of salt, and bringing the machinery of government to a halt as parliament shut down and Trudeau himself went into isolation.

He was the fourth MP to do so after others including NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and two cabinet members went into isolation as precautionary measures. By then North America was feeling the effect of the outbreak as trading was halted repeatedly amid plunging markets, forcing governments across the world to pump billions in special financial measures as the threat of recession loomed, panic buying took hold and public venues and all levels of sports halted their activities.

States and provinces asked students to stay home and banned larger gatherings, stepping up when they thought the federal government was lagging. Provincial officials also discouraged travel outside Canada's borders, a measure only later urged by Ottawa, amid popular spring break trips, and requested isolation for those who came back from abroad.

The electoral process was also grinding to a halt as Tory candidates postponed Leadership rallies and New Brunswick delayed its election while US primaries were pushed back and Democrat contenders limited appearan-ces. Local elections in the UK were also postponed. Could this drag on until the fall’s US presidential election?

At least the modernity which has helped spread the virus could make the social distancing promoted by health experts easier for many, but not all, turning to telework in greater numbers as commuters avoided mass transit in crowded buses and trains, abandoned often ransacked brick and mortar stores for online shopping and decided to forego movie theatres for streaming services.

How internet networks would cope with the extra demand was a cause for concern in some circles. Some government and company workers already doubted the capacity of their more limited networks. Taking the stage worldwide in all this were scientists and experts, previously shunned by some on climate change earlier; wake up calls in countries such as Australia and Brazil, where officials were diagnosed with the virus.

Leaders there had come under attack for downplaying the effects of global warming as large swathes of their lands were decimated by fires. As Chinese medical teams landed in Italy to help in the fight against the virus after registering fewer cases at home, the race for a vaccine, which is not expected for months, is global and unifying. Could the crisis also unify officials as they rarely have been?

In Israel Benjamin Netanyahu reached out to his opponent after yet another inconclusive election seeking to form a unity government as the country shut its doors. On the day parliamentarians in Canada shut down the House of Commons for five weeks, government house leader Pablo Rodriguez declared “we are all united, we will face this together and we will get through this together” a sentiment some hope will extend beyond the country’s borders despite the walls going up.

“This is the time for working together,” European leaders agreed last week while announcing billions of euros to prevent the crisis from creating a recession. This was quite less divisive than during the euro crisis a decade earlier. "While the growing Covid-19 threat could strengthen nationalism and isolationism and accelerate the retreat from globalization, the outbreak also could spur a new wave of international cooperation of the sort that emerged after World War II," wrote  Kemal Derviş and Sebastián Strauss of Brookings.

Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but acts of kindness could be a start, China's richest man Jack Ma donating 500,000 diagnostic kits to the US, badly in need of help. We'll need more of this as the WHO is not convinced the virus will necessarily abate in the summer as the seasonal flu. Or, heaven forbids, the world is confronted with a second wave.

PAS ENCORE LA PAIX

Après une vague de manifestations sans précé-dent, l’homme fort soudanais a perdu son trône, a été mis à nu puis accusé de corruption et enfin condamné à deux ans. Ce n'est pas tout, le gouvernement transitoire a par la suite fait savoir que celui qui a été accusé des pires atrocités au Darfour serait envoyé pour faire face à la justice internationale pour génocide et crimes de guerre. Mais le Soudan ne s’en porte pas mieux pour autant.

À titre de preuve, la tentative d’assassinat du premier ministre intérimaire Abdalla Hamdok lors de l’attaque de son convoi à Khartoum. Ce dernier a été nommé à la tête du gouvernement transition-nel en août après des mois de manifestations importantes menées entre autre par la jeunesse et les femmes.

Abandonné par les militaires Béchir perdit sa présidence de longue date après un coup d’état des militaires en avril. Mais ces derniers conservent presque la moitié des postes au conseil souverain qui a désigné cet ancien économiste de l’ONU au poste de premier ministre pour les trois années de transition.

“Ce qui s’est produit aujourd’hui ne va pas entraver notre transition, déclara-t-il après l'attentat. Nous avons payé un cher prix pour cette révolution pour un meilleur lendemain et pour une paix durable.” L’envoi de Béchir à la cour Criminelle internationale faisait partie des conditions de paix conclues entre les rebelles du Darfour et le gouvernement.

 Le Soudan a également été marqué par la séparation du Sud Soudan pendant les dernières années du règne de Béchir, donnant lieu à des éclats. Les autorités ont depuis la tentative "terroriste" procédé à plusieurs arrestations tandis que que conseil national de défense faisait appel aux "amis du Soudan" afin de trouver les coupables de ce "complot professionnel". 

L'Association des professionnels soudanais, qui avait mobilisé les foules au plus fort de la contestation, a à nouveau fait appel à la manifestation pour renforcer l'unité nationale derrnière le premier ministre sexagénaire et souligner l'importance d'une gouvernance civile dans un pays où les militaires conservent encore des rôles importants.

D'ailleurs selon Jonas Horner de l'International Crisis Group la tentative d'assassinat était un "rappel à l'endroit du Soudan et de ses supporters internationaux du rôle des militaires" durant la transition et des tensions qui persistent après le départ de Béchir.

"Cela annonce sans doute une plus importante sécurisation de la transition mais ceci va également unir le peuple soudanais autour de Hamdok dans l'ère de l'après Béchir" marquée par un besoin de réfome sécuritaire et économique.

Selon le chercheur Jerome Tunbiana, l'attentat constituait sans doute un rappel que Hamdok devrait élargir ses bases de soutien dans les régions périphériques touchées par la guerre afin de démanteler l'ancien régime de tous les maux. Alors que le pays sombre dans la crise économique, marquée par des pénuries alimentaires et des coupure d'électricité, il rapporte son premier cas de coronavirus.


GROWING WORRY


After initial hiccups, China’s response to the novel coronavirus bought the world some time before the full onslaught of the outbreak. But that time may now be running out.

As new cases in China diminish, clusters elsewhere such as in Japan and more recently South Korea, Italy and Iran, have created new sources of the outbreak.

And the affected countries and their neighbors have given a glimpse of what the world could look like under a global pandemic, as Japan cancelled school, France closed the Louvre, Switzerland banned gather-ings of over 1,000, Saudi Arabia refused pilgrim visitors and Quebec instructed citizens to put a hold on had shakes and kiss-filled greetings.

While most of the new cases outside China occurred in countries with modern health care systems, Nigeria and Iran aren’t among them, causing concerns of rapid spread there. It wasn’t just Tehran's health care system causing alarm, but the regime in place, more likely to resist disclosure, like China’s, but without the means available to Beijing. Particularly concerning was the infection of Tehran’s point man on the novel coronavirus, which was diagnosed shortly after he had downplayed the severity of the outbreak in the Islamic republic.

Canadian experts say they have reasons to suspect the Iranian numbers are vastly under reported. It is now exporting cases of the virus causing pulmonary infection after a number of people in Canada were diagnosed with coronavirus after travelling there. Similarly South America's first case involved someone who had travelled to Italy, not China, leading the US to advise against travel to certain areas of the country.

Nearby Croatia, Switzerland and Austria soon after saw their first cases emerge, after the latter had tried to seal its border with Italy. As entire Italian villages and the southern city of Daegu experienced Chinese-like shut downs, countries further away such as Canada, with two dozen cases, were starting to prepare for the eventuality of a global pandemic. Canadian officials were concerned a number of countries among the more than 60 which have seen cases, don’t track the virus sufficiently.

As the US reported its first death and a number of unexplained infections by the virus, some Canadian officials expressed concern neighboring states could not yet conduct local testing for coronavirus. Overall some experts fear the number of people with the virus worldwide may be well over what is now reported, calling current screening limited in its ability to detect the coronavirus.

The rise of cases outside China caused the stock markets to finally digest the eventuality of long term implications on the global economy, recording their worst losses since the 2008 financial crisis. Although some plants in China were restarting their activities concerns remained about a now globalized supply chain of everything from iPhones to cars.

The travel industry was also reeling from the impact of advisories and canceled flights while sport fans from Milan to South Korea were being shut out of league games, played in front of empty stands. In China and Japan, the host of the summer Olympics, all sports competitions have been postponed for now. IOC officials were considering the possibility this year's Olympics could be cancelled. Israel meanwhile advised its citizens against all travel abroad.

L'INFESTATION

Si la propagation d’un virus ne fait pas mijoter des scènes apocalyptiques dans votre cerveau que penser de l’invasion de nuages de criquets, qui terrorisent comme des groupes islamiques l’ont rarement fait des parties entières du continent africain?

Pourtant celui-ci pouvait se sentir heureux d’avoir largement échappé à la contagion du coronavirus jusqu'à présent, mais il faut dire qu’il lutte déjà contre une infestation vorace d’une rare efficacité, menaçant des régions déjà visées par la famine et la sécheresse.

Cette tempête dévorante a quitté son nid de la Corne pour se propager à travers l’Afrique de l’Est, vidant le peu de terrains encore fertiles en temps record malgré les mobili-sations militaires sur son passage. Les hommes pourraient-ils détourner les armes vers cet envahisseur sans merci?

C’était  la question alors que l’essaim gigantesque arrivait au Sud soudan, proie à la guerre depuis des années. “Un essaim de 40 à 80 million peut consommer” un terrain qui nourrirait 35000 hommes qui en ont fortement besoin, faisait remarquer Priya Gujadhur de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture. Au nord de l’Ouganda les troupes ont été mobilisées pour faire face à cette menace armés d’insecticide.

De semblables mesures n’ont pas pu avoir lieu en amont en Somalie en raison de l’insécurité régnante. Mais la bataille semble perdue d’avance dans ces pays ainsi que sept autres voisins de l’Afrique de l’Est. Sur la toile des vidéos montrant les essaims engloutir des véhicules et envahir des terrains se multiplient.

Et la situation pourrait s’empirer avant de s’améliorer. Selon des experts régionaux les œufs laissés au courant de cette invasion vont éclore avec l’approche de la saison des pluies, multipliant l’infesta-tion, juste à temps pour la récolte.... s’il reste quelque-chose à récolter.

La menace d’étendait à la Jordanie récemment mais des pays se préparaient à livrer une chaude lutte aux criquets aussi loin qu’en Inde, qui prépare une armée de drones pour les accueillir, et en Chine, déjà aux prises avec l’éclosion du coronavirus. L’invasion pour-rait atteindre ces contrées pourtant éloignées d’ici juin.

Le Pakistan a déjà déclaré l’état d’urgence, lui qui lutte déjà contre l’infestation. Il s’agit d’ailleurs d’un sujet qui a porté les deux rivaux à se rencontrer, la crise réussissant à faire oublier un moment les interdictions de commerce entre Inde et Pakistan, des pays nucléaires notamment em-bourbés sur le Cachemire.

Les changements climatiques sont portés responsables de cette invasion après une période d’événements météoro-logiques rares en Afrique, qui a vu un nombre de cyclones étonnant balayer la côte. L’invasion est la pire en 25 ans en Éthiopie, 70 ans au Kenya. “Nous savons que l’Afrique de l’Est est une des régions les plus vulnérables aux change-ments climatiques, explique l'expert Guleid Artan, nous savons que cette région va devoir subir de nouveaux climats extrêmes.”


A DEAL?

The acknowledgement is made during a number of official Canadian ceremonies by the government and major organizations, perhaps often without thought. The recognition they are on unceded indigenous land. Recently these little nuggets of Canadiana have taken all their significance.

Wet'su-wet'en territory in British Columbia is where, after three weeks of nationwide barricades and protests, indigenous leaders, provin-cial and federal government officials sat down for the first time to defuse tensions, eventually striking a tentative agreement.

The road here hasn't been easy. As the national movement that grew following the arrest of Native protesters demonstra-ting against a BC pipeline project dragged on, barricades by Natives and sympathizers from coast to coast interrupted passenger and cargo rail traffic, infuriating travellers and straining an economy to the point of losing over $100 million a day. The choke points weren't much to look at, a few cars and tents and a handful of people, some wearing face masks, huddling around a fire under floating Mohawk flags.

Some blockades lasted for a few hours, others days, but the combined effects of the nationwide protests in a vast underpopulated country left it vulnerable, and its recon-ciliation efforts with First Peoples along with it. As soon as local authorities armed with injunctions stepped in to enforce the law at some barricades, others materialized across the country, leaving many to wonder how it would all end.

Rail companies laid off workers while other firms complained their supply chain was suffering and could bring plants to stop production. Some regions reported shortages of propane and jet deicing chemicals as the movement gathered steam amid cries by the opposition for the government to act.

After over two weeks the prime minister said attempts at dialogue with indigenous leaders had failed and called for the barricades to be removed. One went away peacefully, another forcefully, but others soon went up. This isn't where a leader preaching reconciliation and trying to steer Canada away from fossil fuels wanted to be.

Among participants were Mohawk protesters in Quebec who said they were returning the favour after the Oka crisis thirty years ago, one which provided food for thought as the government sought to find a solution. But none would come easily. One person had died during both the 1990 Oka crisis the over development of a golf course in Quebec and the 1995 Ipperwash crisis in Ontario over a land claim issue going back to World War II.

Governments have been much less keen to intervene directly since, leaving matters in the hands of police and not stepping in to stop protesters raising blockades during the Idle no more protests of the previous decade which had, like the Wet'suwet'en crisis, sparked a nationwide solidarity movement resulting in blocked international bridges and rail lines.

Inspiring the actions at the time was the dramatic hunger strike of an indigenous chief deploring conditions on her reserve of Attawapiskat, which faced an acute housing problem. To many, the current crisis was a reminder of past grievances and ongoing crises, not just about a pipeline. A crisis in part due to the deterioration of conditions on reserves. But as the national crisis over the barricades entered a third week, patience was wearing thin.

“Nobody said reconciliation would be easy," said Assembly of First Nations chief Perry Bellegarde. "It’s going to be hard work. It takes nation to nation dialogue.” Only last week did first a meeting between Wet'suwet'en heredi-tary chiefs and government officials show promise of a resolution as the pipeline company agreed to hold off on construction momentarily while the RCMP agreed to halt patrols in sensitive areas of Wet'suwet'en territory.

“This is a critical moment for our country and our future,” the prime minister said as Parliament held an emergency debate, adding force would not resolve the issue. “Patience is in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever.” But it wasn't without its limits. In Belleville one major blockade near key rail lines was moved only after protesters were arrested.

The same day, in a move not lacking in symbolism, a new barricade was erected on Route 344 to Oka, where a crisis had degenerated thirty years earlier. Another one went up in Caledonia, another contentious Ontario area in the past. Was this the new normal in Canada? The opposition pounced on Trudeau for delivering  “the weakest response to a national crisis in our country’s history,” outgoing Tory leader Andrew Scheer accusing protesters of holding the economy hostage and “appropriating an Indigenous agenda which they are willfully misrepresenting.”

Meanwhile some divisions were showing among indigenous communities themselves as Mohawk protesters appeared outside the home of a local chief who had called for the end of the blockades. The next day he was forced the retract the statement. Even within the Wet'suwet'en community, cracks formed as some subchiefs claimed the five main chiefs were not respecting established rules and acting for their own self interest.

Other Native leaders such as Crystal Smith of the Haisla First Nation say they see the BC natural gas pipeline as a way out of poverty for struggling communities. A poll meanwhile showed Canadians were also divided on the issue, as their politicians and Native communities them-selves, a poll showing most opposed the blockades but agreed Natives needed support.

Relations aren’t entirely bad between the governments and Native communities, Cree Indians announcing a long term economic development agree-ment with Quebec recently while another indigenous community forged an agreement over mountain caribou. As the Wet'suwet'en deal was taking shape some wondered whether this hasn't been just a small taste of things to come, as debate on the contentious TMX pipeline eventually comes down the pikes.

L'EMPOISONNEMENT

On l’avait échappé belle faut-il le croire. À la Mi février les autorités allemandes posaient le grappin sur les membres d’une cellule d’extrême droite qui planifiait des attaques sanglantes. Dans l’environnement politique actuel c’était plutôt frôler la catastrophe.

Le CDU d’Angela Merkel était encore sous le choc de l’alliance du chapitre régional de Thuringe avec l’extrême droite pour faire élire un dirigeant de l’état. C’était désobéir aux ordres directs du CDU, lui-même divisé sur la question du rapprochement avec l’extrême droite ou la gauche radicale.

La crise mit fin au règne de la dirigeante du parti de Merkel qui devait lui servir de successeur, Annegret Kramp-karrenbauer. Le parti d’extrême droite Alterna-tiv fur Deutschland a fait plusieurs gains depuis 2017, remportant 94 sièges, une période marquée par une montée de gestes extrémistes et d’attaques contre les communautés musulmans et juives. En octobre un extrémiste de droite a tenté de s’en prendre à une synagogue.

N’ayant pas pu pénétrer dans l’enceinte il s‘en est pris à des passants,
faisant deux morts avant d’être arrêté. Plus tôt un politicien pro-immigrant avait été retrouvé mort. Un extrémiste aurait été arrêté par la suite.

Ça commençait à faire beaucoup dans ce pays au lourd passé. Mais les arrestation de la cellule n’ont peut être que donné une fausse sensation de sécurité avant que Tobias Rathjen , 43 ans, passe à l’acte, faisant neuf morts dans deux bars à chicha avant de tuer sa mère et de retourner l’arme contre lui.

Quelques recherches sur internet et une lettre d’adieu plus tard et ses intentions ne laissaient plus aucun doute, il préconisait un nettoyage ethnique pas seulement en Allemagne mais ailleurs au Moyen-orient en Asie.

L’heure est grave, Les crimes haineux ayant encore grimpé, de 7913 à 8113 en 2018, un chiffre déjà dépassé... à la mi-2019, la majorité des incidents reliés à l’extrême droite. Après l’attaque de la synagogue on avait pourtant augmenté les fonds pour lutter contre ce fléau.

 “Il est clair que l’agitation contre les migrants, l’usage de langage anti-sémite et le mépris pour l’état et les médias, tel que démontré par l’AfD depuis des années, a des conséquences fatales, déclara le politicien Konstantin von Notz. Ce climat social empoisonné est un incubateur de structures terroristes d’extrême droite responsables d'assassinats.” Pour Merkel “le racisme est un poison, la haine est un poison,” mais y existe-t-il une antidote?

Quelques jours plus tard des manifestants se rassemblaient pour condamner le fascisme en circulant avec le portrait des victimes de la fusillade. Par la suite les électeurs de l'état d'Hambourg évincèrent l'AfD de la législature régionale lors d'élections où ils remportèrent moins que le 5% nécessaire. Mais la menace persiste.

SANDERS FOR NOW

As expected the impeachment of US president Donald Trump ended with a whimper, an acquittal in the Republican held Senate, the following state of the union speech launching yet another divisive, and initially quite chaotic, electoral year.

Despite the sound of the House speaker tearing a copy of his speech at the end of the national address the triumph appeared complete for the incumbent at the starting gun, mocking the impeachment proceedings which with time had become a side show, boasting his management of the economy while mocking the circus the Iowa caucuses had become for the opposition.

Not that the US president was all cheers, slamming witnesses who had dared testify against him, and were gradually losing their posts, and  unloading hard against Mitt Romney, the sole Republican senator to ever vote to impeach a president of his own party, at a national prayer meeting.

A technical nightmare had prevented the unveiling of electoral results in Iowa before the show moved to New Hampshire, results quickly throwing the campaign of then front runner Joe Biden into doubt. The former vice president had been left behind by rivals Senator Bernie Sanders and mayor Pete Buttigieg in Des Moines, in a field of Democratic candidates then still nearly a dozen strong.

While small the vote was symbolic, boosting the fortunes of Sanders and the 38 year old Indiana mayor, who also finished first and second in the New Hampshire primary in the battle for the nomination. The latter is years younger than the youngest US president to take office, Theodore Roosevelt, who entered the Oval Office at age 42.
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The much older senator, from Vermont, who at 78 would be the oldest president to take office, however took the Granite State after a strong financial start out of the gates in 2020, racking up $25 million in January alone. But are we making too much of the early results as Nevada and South Carolina become the focus of attention?

Hadn't Sanders, a politician from the neighboring state, also won the New Hampshire primary in 2016 before falling short of the nomination? "Pro tip: the primary picture really starts to emerge after four or five states," notes political scientist Pierre Martin. "Before that it's a lot of hot air. So Iowa doesn't mean as much as what the commentary industry claims. Relax and let the campaign take its course."

As the circus left the Northeast the field of candidates had shrunk down to nine, from more than two dozen a year ago. But financial observers remained unsettled by the strength of the Sanders campaign, fearing the nomination could this time land on the feet of the left wing senator who advocates for free tuition, a green new deal and medicare for all.

Not only was Sanders doing well in the Nevada polls but he took over the national ones and remained, ironically, the most popular candidate among Democrats under 50, the elders shunning his radical ideas. Less progressive candidates were however still in the race, billionaire Michael Bloom-berg keeping his focus on larger states while Biden remained strong but now trailed Sanders in national polls. It still may be early.


SINN FEIN ÉLU

Les terroristes des uns sont parfois les libérateurs des autres, et des fois lorsqu’ils prennent la lutte politique plutôt que la lutte armée ils peuvent devenir les gouverneurs. Voilà un peu ce qui s’est passé en Irlande après l’élection de Sinn Fein, lié à l’armée republicaine irlandaise, qui devra néan-moins tenter de gouverner avec l’aide d’autres partis après avoir terminé en tête du scrutin au début du mois.

C’était mettre fin au bipartisme qui est né après la sanglante guerre civile, jadis couronnant soit le Fianna Fáil soit le Fine Gael, et possiblement au règne du premier ministre Leo Varadkar, premier dirigeant ouvertement gay, en poste depuis 2017.

Mais former une coalition ne sera pas de tout repos puisque Sinn Fein n’a pas obtenu les sièges (37) nécessaires à la formation d’un gouvernement (80) et les partis traditionnels refusaient à l'origine d’aider le parti de gauche à former un gouvernement en raison de son passé sanglant.

Du moins le Fine Gael de Varadkar, qui a reçu 35 sièges, alors que le dirigeant de Fianna Fáil, Michael Martin, fort de ses 38 sièges, ouvrait la voie au  dialogue en déclarant: “Je suis un démocrate. J’écoute les gens. Je respecte leur décision.” Son parti tente par tous les moyens de reprendre des plumes après une glissade entamée depuis la crise financière de 2008, qui a plutôt affaibli les partis traditionnels.

De plus "le vieux système qui a suivi la guerre civile fondé sur le camp choisi par père et grand père ne fonctionne plus trop bien quand il s'agit de l'arrière grand père, vous ne l'avez jamais ren-contré," estime Richard Katz de Johns Hopkins. La dirigeante du Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald quant à elle s’affirme prête à discuter avec “toute personne intéressée à livrer un programme au gouvernement pour s’attaquer à la crise du logement et de la santé et donner un coup de main aux travailleurs.”

La crise des sans abri a également marqué la campagne alors que le Brexit a plutôt préoccupé la partie britannique au nord de l’ile. Bien que le gouvernement sortant peut se féliciter d’avoir plutôt bien géré la question de cette frontière séparant dorénavant membre et non membre de l’Union euro-péenne, permettant suppo-sément toujours la libre circulation des biens et des personnes, la division n’est pas prête de disparaître si le Sinn Fein tient à son engagement d'organiser un référendum sur l’unification de l’île, qui aurait la faveur de la moitié des gens dans le nord.

Les conditions après-Brexit forment après tout une plus grande division à certains niveaux entre l'Irlande du nord et le reste de la Grande Bretagne, puisque les biens importés pourraient être soumis à de nouvelles conditions de passage. Cette division reste donc très marquée au niveau britannique.

D’autant plus que certains éclats ont repris en Irlande du nord en janvier alors que le gouvernement régional reprenait ses activités après des années de blocage politique. Alors que Londres suit de près l’élection et ses conséquences elle voit le projet de lien physique entre l’Irlande du nord et l’Écosse, autre région qui prévoit un référendum, comme projet unificateur.

Pendant ce temps, alors que les partis irlandais ne s'entendent pas toujours sur les violences du passé, ils ont plutôt raccordé leurs violons sur le Brexit, l'UE et la taxe aux entreprises, selon Foreign Policy. Sinn Fein s'oppose cependant à la coopération militaire commu-nautaire et retirerait le pays du partenariat pour la paix conclu avec l'Otan, soulignant son tournant plutôt anti-militariste depuis les "troubles".

A REVOIR?

Suivant son élection en 2015 le premier ministre canadien avait déclaré haut et fort que le Canada était de retour sur la scène internationale, où il s'engageait à multiplier les rôles multilatéraux. Mais les multiples crises internationa-les qui touchent cette puissance moyenne rien qu'en ce début d'année semblent démontrer un manque de ressources nécessaires à tout épanouis-sement international alors que Justin Trudeau revient d'une tournée en Afrique pour tenter de faire pencher les états hôtes en sa faveur au moment d'élire l'occupant d'un précieux siège au Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies.

Rien que depuis janvier, après l’écrasement d’un avion en Iran et l’éclosion du coronavirus, le nombre de Canadiens à l’étranger exigeant de l'assistance en demande beaucoup en matière de services  consulaires au département des Affaires mondiales, parfois critiqué de ne pas fonctionner avec l’efficacité d’autres pays, même plus pauvres.

Avant de devenir acteur sur la scène internationale ne faut-il pas déjà pouvoir voler au secours de ses propres concitoyens en détresse? Selon certains observateurs l'absence d'un consulat au coeur de la crise du virus, à Wuhan, semblait laisser le Canada réagir quelque peu au ralenti quand est venu le moment d'évacuer ses ressortissants.

Evidemment on ne peut pas être partout en tout temps. Au manque de ressources il fallait ajouter le froid des relations avec Pékin depuis l'arrestation de la directrice financière du géant Huawei, qui fera possiblement l'objet d'une extradition aux Etats-Unis, entre autre pour fraude. L'arrestation de deux Canadiens faussement accusés d'espionnage par la suite a jeté un froid sur cette relation, même si Pékin s'est depuis dite rassurée par la réaction d'Ottawa au coronavirus, qui n'est pas allé jusqu'à imposer des interdictions draconiennes aux ressortissants chinois à la manière des Etats-Unis.

Cette retenue a d'ailleurs donné lieu à un allègement de ton entre les deux capitales. Le manque d'une ambassade à Téhéran, alors qu'Ottawa prône le dialogue plutôt que l’isolement, a également nui au gouverne-ment, qui a récemment avoué que l'enquête sur l'écrasement de l'aéronef urkainien, abattu par erreur par les gardes révolutionnaires et transportant de nombreux Canadiens, était au ralenti.

Selon le Canada Téhéran est incapable d'effectuer la lecture des boites noires. Les familles des victimes ont été horrifiées par la poignée de main entre Trudeau et le ministre des affaires extérieures iranien à Munich, mais le premier ministre s'est défendu insistant qu'il fallait que les deux pays "travaillent ensemble" près l'incident.

Depuis deux ans les discussions afin de réouvrir une ambassade à Téhéran piétinent. Celle-ci a été fermée en 2012 après une rupture des relations et devait être réouverte selon un engagement du gouvernmentt Trudeau. L'incarcération d'un Canadien a cependant repoussé les pourparlers. Le service extérieur a retranché de nombreuses missions à travers les années, parfois par besoin de sécurité parfois par souci budgétaire, encourageant le partage des missions avec d’autres pays comme l’Australie et la Nouvelle Zélande.

Voilà qui ne date pas d'hier. Selon une analyse de Jean-François Rioux et de Robin Hay vieille de plus de 20 ans déjà la politique extérieure canadienne a connu un point tournant avec l'écroulement du mur de Berlin, qui l'a rendue plus "sélective" et plus axée sur le commerce que la diplomatie.

Ceci dit le nouvel impératif budgétaire de l'époque a sabré le département des affaires extérieures comme plusieurs autres, mais on semblait éviter de couper dans les sections économique et commerciale. Alors que les conservateurs ont lors de la campagne créé tout un tollé en déclarant qu'ils couperaient l'aide internationale de 25% s'ils étaient élus, le Canada a bien progressivement coupé dans ce sens depuis les années 90.

A présent les experts estiment qu'il est impératif de passer en revue la politique extérieure du Canada, un exercice qui n'a pas eu lieu depuis 2005, et avait été suivi par un changement de gouver-nement qui a plutôt  ignoré plusieurs des recommandations. Dans ce document on critique notamment le nombre dispro-portionné de personnel du service extérieur au pays, plutôt qu'à l'étranger, où il pourrait rendre plus de services aux Canadiens en détresse tout en sonnant l'alarme lorsque nécessaire.

"Nos ressources outre-mer  sont étirées dans des régions où nous avons davantage d'intérêts sécuri-taires, économiques et politiques," lit-on. Deux ans après la crise du SRAS, une section du texte propose d'ailleurs des initiatives "spécifiques" en matière de détection des éclosions, permettant de sonner l'alarme  en cas de propagation de "maladies (dont la grippe aviaire) tout en développant une capacité analytique sur les maladies infectieuses".

On ajoute que "le renforcement prévu de notre présence en Asie va contribuer à atteindre ce but" tout en poussant la coopération internationale au niveau de la santé. Si ce renforcement a eu lieu il a plutôt ignoré l'implan-tation d'une présence à Wuhan, épicentre de la crise du coronavirus, un noeud de transport important d'une taille presque comparable à New York.

Le continent africain, que parcourait  Trudeau récemment, était un autre oublié de la politique canadienne, puisque celle qui jusque tout récemment était la ministre des affaires mondiales n'y avait posé le pied en trois ans. "Ca ça voulait tout dire," estime David Black de l'Université Dalhousie.

La visite est d'ailleurs plutôt "tardive pour un premier ministre qui, une fois au pouvoir, avait dit que le Canada était de retour sur la scène mondiale, rajoute Alice Musabende, une experte sur l'Afrique qui complète des études à Cambridge. De quelle scène mondiale parlait-il si elle ne comptait pas l'Afrique?"

La modeste mission militaire canadienne au Mali ayant touché sa fin en août le Canada maintient cependant encore des troupes de maintien de la paix au Sud Soudan, au Congo et en  Ouganda. En quittant l'Afrique le premier ministre était persuadé d'avoir du moins gagné le vote sénégalais. Mais tout cela est peut-être encore une fois bien mince. Les budgets sabrés tant au niveau militaire que diplomatique et consulaire à travers les ans laissent de plus en plus leur trace, un fait qui ressurgit au moment des grandes crises.


GLOBAL FEARS

This year's outbreak of the contagious novel corona-virus could not come at a worst time for China, as the country's billion plus citizens were starting the annual mass migration for Lunar New Year, and as authorities bent on controlling information sought to contain the spread by locking down cities totalling tens of millions of people, the infection had spread far and wide, across the country and on to over 20 other nations.

These are humbling times for the middle kingdom, a major economy usually firing on all cylinders which seeks to project power globally but finds itself grinding to a halt and fairly isolated. After some initial hesitation the WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency last week.

By then over 170 people had been felled and over 7000 others sickened by the respiratory virus which spread fears of a global pandemic. Those numbers have tripled since. As more countries reported human to human transmission of the virus believed to have spread after contact with animals, there were concerns of infection involving people who didn't even show the usual symptoms.

Symptoms harder to distinguish during the flu season. At the epicentre of the outbreak was the major transport hub of Wuhan, where officials took the extraordinary measures of shutting down public transit and contact with the outside world such as highways and airports, leaving drones to patrol the skies and urge venturing citizens back inside. Some measures were soon extended elsewhere, shutting down Chinese New Year celebrations and popular venues such as DisneyLand during the year's major holiday.

The outbreak is said of having begun at an animal market, a familiar scenario after SARS and MERS were also said of having begun after contact with animals. These more extreme measures were imposed as the regime sought to avoid a repeat of the SARS epidemic which killed hundreds and spread widely two decades ago, largely because it had failed to take immediate action.

But as WHO praised China's leap to action some feared officials had, despite improvements, again failed to act quickly and transparent enough by initially downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak. Assisiting them was the state media, which for days continued to undermine the significance of the outbreak. Chinese leader Xi Jinping notably failed to say anything about the crisis in his new year message. For some this only stressed the urgency of the situation, as the Communist Party tends not to report on incidents unless there are positive developments.

TV programs showing officials toasting the new year in Beijing as people in the affected cities were gripped by panic and packed hospitals unable to cope with the influx of patients stirred anger on social media despite the regime's usual tight grip on the internet. Anger was also spreading as those seeking medical testing were told there were not enough kits or facilities available.

Beijing admitted this week there had been "shortcomings" and deficie-ncies" in how it handled the crisis. It was however also resorting to extraordinary measures, building two new hospitals in a matter of days to house patients. At a time China is seeking to project power internationally the crisis turned Beijing’s attention back on the home front, where it was being confronted with the dangers of strict government censorship.

By some accounts reporters were being told to hand in their photos and not spread rumours as they sought details on the crisis, details the rest of the world anxiously await to stop the spread and eventually develop a vaccine.

As the virus reached other countries authorities there began testing people coming in from the afflicted region and discouraged travel to China, but "the horse is already out of the barn," feared Columbia University epidemi-ologist Ian Lipkin as more cases were reported abroad in countries such as Japan, and Canada.

Some questioned the effectiveness of such screening. A study of Canada's $7.5 million SARS screening program reported that not a single case was found, despite the number of cases in Toronto at the time. It doesn't help that Canada's first reported coronavirus case came from a passenger who had returned from China passing through Pearson Airport.

"The question becomes: is it worth the time, effort and money, especially if the resources being put to border screening are being taken away from somewhere else" to essentially look "for a needle in a haystack," said Josh Michaud of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "And sometimes that needle is even camouflaged."

 The US went a step further imposing new measures that would force into quarantine any US citizen who had visited the affected area recently and blocking entry of foreigners who been to China, a move imitated by Australia. This despite the fact WHO stressed there should be no impediment to travel, some-thing it said could actually make matters worse.

A number of countries were starting to get their citizens stuck in the epicentre out of China while Hong Kong announced it was shutting its border with mainland China. Others cautioned against hysteria, considering the racism suffered by the Asian diaspora during the 2003 epidemic. In its current rate the coronavirus represents a risk in the immediate region which is only half of that of the flu virus everywhere, health officials said.

In 2018 alone the flu killed 80000 people. But as the number of cases exceeded the number of cases of SARS there was a concern the situation would get worse before getting any better despite the lower death toll.

And there was growing concern about the economic impact of the outbreak, as factories in China ground to a halt - affecting supply everywhere -, Chinese visitors become scarce abroad and foreign airlines cancelled flights to mainland China after some countries discouraged travel there.


IT'S GOODBYE

In the tense post war European environment the common market project was premised on the philosophy that trading nations didn’t wage wars. Soon would come greater integration, gradually even involving nations of the former Soviet bloc seeking EU membership if only for the sole purpose of never again falling behind such a dark curtain.

Britain always stood as a European Union laggard however, sitting between the continents, joining the six original countries years later and maintaining its pound and border distinctions. The debate on membership was longstanding, divisive and only intensified since the Brexit vote.

And it continues even now that Brexit has finally taken place, as negotiations for a new relationship with Europe begin, ahead of yet another deadline at the end of the year. While Brexiters celebrated as the clock struck 11 pm on January 31, this year's period of transition represents their worst case scenario.

For Britain will still be playing by the EU's rules until the end of the year with no longer any say on the matter. Beginning the transition is a political declaration which sets  the broad principles of the new relationship that the two sides will have 11 months to define. While this period could be extended beyond 2020, this would go against the wishes of the British prime minister.

There would also have to be an agreement on any extension by June, a condition of the Brexit agreement. This leaves, again, the very real possibility the EU and Britain could be left without a deal at the end of the year. Only this time we've passed the point of no return. 

Reaching a trade deal, like the one Canada reached with the EU, "might be left to the very last minute," opined EU parliament vice-president Malread McGuinness. "Nor-mally in trade negotiations we're trying to come together. For the first time we're going to try and negotiate a trade agreement where somebody wants to pull away from us. I can't get my head around that."

Making it harder is the fact the UK will be negotiating new deals with EU members and the US at the same time, which can have differing policies. And having policies too similar to the EU's would defeat the purpose of Brexit, officials said.  Trade is a major issue but security, the fisheries and other subjects will also have to be worked out during this time, and border matters will remain particularly tricky.

Agreements could unravel over the status of Northern Ireland, some fear, a clear divide once more, but perhaps not between the two halves of Ireland but between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. And Scotland, which symbolically raised the European flag at the legislature, greeted the January 31 deadline with renewed calls to hold a second referendum, something firmly rejected in London.

 If anything, Scotland's devolution played some role bringing the UK to think it could do the same at a continental level. Now "there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss," PM Boris Johnson conceded.

AFTER THE STRIKE

Weighing its options to retaliate following the US air strike which had felled its top general Tehran was careful to send a strong military message but avoid casualties, especially US and Iraqi casualties. It warned Baghdad of the incoming strike against one of its bases, which also houses US and Canadian soldiers, and later explained it had sought to send a message, not kill, ultimately seeking to lower tensions.

And yet there would turn out to be collateral damage, and there would be outrage. Iran's own citizens, dozens of them, would perish in the crash of a Ukrainian airliner mistakenly taken down by air defenses, an admission made only after earlier denials by the Islamic regime cracked under the weight of global scrutiny.

Tehran later apologized for the tragedy, citing human error, but also blamed the United States for the state of emergency placed over the country following the general’s death. It wouldn't be alone. Observers mean-while could not understand, a few years after the Malaysian Airlines crash over Ukraine, how commercial traffic had still been allowed to operate considering the dangers. Among the victims were 57 Canadians and dozens more on their way to Canada, in the deadliest Canadian disaster since the 1985 Air India bombing.

Then also Canadians had been caught in the crossfire of other people’s conflicts when the 747 was blown up by Sikh terrorists fighting to separate from India in the tense environment that followed the killing of Indian leader Indira Gandhi by a Sikh bodyguard. That decade, still in the midst of the Cold War but more recently thrust into the iranian revolution, saw a number of incidents which involved civilian aircrafts downed by military fire.

In 1983 Korean Air Lines flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter jet after it had slipped into Soviet air space. A few years later Iran Air Flight 655 was destroyed by a U.S. missile when it was misidentified as an Iranian F-14 by USS Vincennes. Mistakes happen, but following the Ukrainian Airlines crash Tehran initially denied it was responsible.

"What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane," Iran's head of aviation told a press conference. But it was already obvious from intelligence gathered by the U.S., Canada and others that the flight had been shot down, possibly by accident. Tehran later apologized and promised to review its processes, claiming calls for a no-fly zone in the area had been denied.

"Iran's admission that it unintentionally shot down Flight 752 is an important step torwards providing answers for families," Justin Trudeau said after a phone call with president Rouhani. "But a full and complete investigation must be conducted." This was echoed by Ukrainian officials who regretted that Tehran's about face only occurred after investigators found evidence of missile shrapnel in the wreckage.

The Ukrainians complained the crash site had been hastily swept and bulldozed, which shouldn't have been the case on the scene of such a complex investigation. Canada was also upset by the difficulty of obtaining visas for crash investigators and officials, who were eventually let into the country.

As countries gathered in London to consider next steps, some wondered whether the country leading the investigation could be trusted considering it had already tried to bury the truth. In addition more questions arose as evidence grew of a second missile striking the aircraft.

The Iranian admission of guilt was enough to return to the streets protests which days earlier had been rallying behind the regime after the general's death but were now condemning "the liars" in the Iranian leadership. Over 80 passengers on the airliner were Iranian and dozens more shared dual Canadian citizenship.

Iranian politicians also voiced their criticism of the leadership, showing fractures at a time Tehran was hoping to foster unity following last fall's protests against the regime. As Iran announced initial arrests, observers feared Tehran would resort to producing a show trial leaving untroubled senior officials.

Among those who personally claimed respon-sibility was Revolutionary Guard aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh who told a media outlet: "I wish I was dead. I accept all responsibility for this incident." Yet he soon later was seen on television blaming the US for upping tensions and congratulating victims' families for their "martyrs".

 While the incident stirred internal as well as international critism of Iran, it also strained US-Iraq, and potentially Canada-US rela-tions. Baghdad requested talks begin on a US troop withdrawal, one rejected by Washington. Meanwhile Trudeau suggested "If there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families" though he later made clear Iran bore "full responsibility" for the tragedy. But anger, the next stage of grief, has been on the rise.

 Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain didn't hide his after the death of a colleague travelling on the plane, publicly blaming "US government leaders unconstrained by checks/balances (who) concoc-ted an ill-conceived plan to divert focus from political woes" as the impeachment trial began. Could the incident further fray US-Canada relations? “Many Canadians are suspicious of President Trump and this is not going to help,” said UBC Professor Richard Johnston. “And it could help fan an already simmering backlash against the president.”

 Americans hardly closed ranks behind their president, 60% of them saying his military strike had made the US less safe. And US lawmakers say they have yet to see the evidence of imminent threat the president referred to in his justification to strike in Baghdad. Trump's own Defence secretary said even he had not been shown such evidence. Clearly Iranian processes weren't the only ones needing fine tuning.

PAS POUR DEMAIN

Avec le sang neuf de nouvelles visions du monde de l’avenir et du travail, et les idées nordiques font du chemin depuis un certain temps. Certaines réussissent, d’autres pas, mais la plus jeune dirigeante de la planète a créé tout un émoi en se demandant si la Finlande devrait se mettre à l’heure de la semaine de 24 heures.

L'idée de la trentenaire Sanna Marin s’inspire des expéri-ences suédoises qui ont rapporté une plus grande satisfaction et une meilleure santé. Alors que la France, où l’expérience des 35 heures n’a pas eu une incidence importante sur le chômage et a été remise en cause par la présidence actuelle, reste coincée sur le projet des réformes sur la retraite, Marin estimait que les citoyens de ce petit pays de 5,5 millions d’habitants “méritent de passer plus de temps avec leurs familles, ceux qu’ils aiment, leurs passe temps et autres aspects de la vie comme la culture.”

Non seulement pourrait-on réduire la journée de travail à six heures, mais la semaine pourrait ne compter que quatre jours. Il faut penser que ce genre de vision du travail fait l’objet d’une réflexion à l’échelle planétaire puisque même le Japon, champion du travail acharné, a tenté l’expérience lorsque Microsoft a institué une semaine de travail de quatre jours, faisant grimper la productivité des employés de 40%.

Un des hommes les plus riches de la planète, le Mexicain Carlos Slim Helu, avait déjà remis en cause la semaine de 40 heures avec retraite à 60 ans il y a quelques années, proposant une retraite plus tardive avec une semaine de 3 jours de travail, des journées parfois plus longues cependant.

La Finlande tente déjà une autre expérience qui se répand, celle du revenu de base garanti, un 600$ par mois qui a selon les premiers estimés augmente l’état de santé et diminue le stress des participants, quelques 2000 volontaires, sans cependant améliorer leur sort professionnel ou les motiver.

Ce genre d'initiative a d’ailleurs également été proposé par certaines carrures du monde des affaires comme Mark Zuckerberg de Facebook et Elon Musk de Tesla. Un projet semblable à Hamilton et Thunder Bay en Ontario a été sabré dès l’élection du populiste Doug Ford.

La Finlande doit rendre un rapport final sur l’initiative du salaire garanti avant de décider de son sort. Puis pour Martin l’idée des 24 heures reste à discuter, car alors que la presse mondiale s'est emballée à propos de cette réflexion la dirigeante a dû vite corriger les reportages qui parlaient de la semaine de quatre jours à titre d'engagement du gouverne-ment.

Marin, qui est à la tête d’un pays dont les quatre autres chefs de parti sont des femmes dont trois dans la trentaine, est intervenue sur Twitter pour faire taire la rumeur, précisant qu'il ne s'agissait que d'une pensée exprimée l'été dernier dans le cadre d'une table ronde des mois avant qu'elle n'accède au poste de premier ministre.

Par conséquent pas à exclure mais pas pour demain, même dans une Finlande si progressiste. Sur son site la mère célibataire de gauche énumère “égalité, liberté, et solidarité mondiale” parmi ses valeurs fondamentales, mettant l’accent également sur l’environnement.

BELARUS' WORRY

There is no greater threat you can make in the middle of winter than that of turning off the gas in Central Europe, but such was the signal from Moscow to Belarus during the holidays unless Minsk closed ranks with Vladimir Putin.

In recent years the nation home to the leader referred to as Europe’s last dictator has tried to assert a certain degree of indepen-dence from the giant to the east, trying to play a diplomatic role on Ukraine and looking at Western Europe longingly, but Russia gave Belarus a stern warning over the holidays it could turn off the energy taps if it didn’t play along.

The immediate issue involved premiums applied to oil imported from Russia, which supplies 80% of Belarus’ energy, a constant stranglehold. The country is a transit nation for Russian energy to Europe but Belarus alone stood to suffer if it didn’t abandon its premium on oil imports, which it ultimately did, ending the impasse, but not the tensions.

The larger issue is the ties that bind Belarus to Russia, once united under the common-wealth of independent states but still closely related. Alexander Lukashenko has been pressured by recent  street protests to resist greater integration with Moscow. While there were multiple arrests there was no crackdown in the fashion which once defined the strongman.

The demon-strations marked the anniversary of a 1999 treaty that was supposed to create a unified state but Lukashenko made it plain he as seeking “equal terms” between the two countries despite efforts by Moscow to increase military and economic integration. The latter are nervously viewed by Minsk in light of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“First Crimea then Belarus” and “Stop annexation” were some signs seen at the protests. Oil and gas had been key issues separating the two sides during meetings between the leaders in December. Russia, which has been propping up its neighbors' Soviet style economy and giving Belarus preferential energy prices, says Minsk can’t expect to pay domestic Russian prices without closer economic integration.

The protests have been a rare form of opposition to the regime as Lukashenko seeks to extend his decades long rule on power in this year's elections. Two years ago not a single opposition member was elected in parliamentary elections, which were branded as undemocratic by observers.

But Belarus is growing wary of Russia’s power and has not been hiding its intent to try to counter weight this relation-ship by opening doors to China and even the United States, something certain to rile up Moscow. “We’re not going to cut off our ties with Russia, they are our neighbor and greatest economic partner,” told Foreign Policy foreign minister Vladimir Makei. “But surrendering our sovereignty and independence is out of the question.”

Belarus was one of the Eastern countries US Sec. of State Mike Pompeo was to visit in January before the Iranian crisis. “Belarus is looking for an exit from its geopolitical deadlock,” said Arsen Sivitski of the Centre for strategic and foreign policy studies. “Crimea and the war in Ukraine was a rubicon moment that set up much of what is happening today."

A SHOT IN BAGHDAD

With a US embassy under attack in Baghdad and angry crowds in Tehran burning the Stars and Stripes and chanting Death to America, the Middle East seemed to have returned forty years into the past in the midst of the Iranian revolution and US hostage crisis.

Furious American forces had targeted Iranian allies in Iraq, Iran-backed militias targeted the US embassy in Baghdad as Washington sent troops to the region, the same adminis-tration which had hoped if anything to reduce American presence overseas.

But fury rocked the Islamic republic when top general Qassem Soleimani was killed by a devastating US attack against the airport in Baghdad, shocking an ally already rethinking its ties to Washington and infuriating Tehran and much of the region. Up until now the US and Iran has been fighting each other by proxy in the region.

The new year promised little else than further escalation in an already tense Middle East after a year of growing US spats with Tehran. The region has already been dealing with a new crisis as Syrian attacks in the remaining rebel held area of Idlib sent refugees streaming into Turkey, a country that was getting ready to send troops into unstable Libya.

ISIS meanwhile has been regrouping and according to one Kurdish official in Iraq “is now back on the operational stage.” Tehran vowed it would avenge the death of its commander, Supreme leader Khamenei warning “harsh retaliation is waiting.”

But US officials said they had acted proactively targeting the general, who had been leading proxy wars in the region, because he was “actively developing plans to attack diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

The attack came as the US president faces an impeachment trial in the Senate. Facing such a trial himself in 1998, the president at the time, Bill Clinton, had similarly ordered an attack against Iraq, in what was then seen by critics as an attempt to deflect attention from his domestic woes.

During the Obama administration Trump had criticized the president of planning a war against Iran to secure his re-election. Trump, who said the general should have been killed years ago, is now up for re-election this fall and Democratic opponents challenged him to justify his direct order to strike.

Tensions with Tehran had been building for months after Iran shot down a US drone, sparking fears of US retaliation, and after Iran seized oil tankers as the Islamic republic faced increased sanctions. But the attack in Baghdad “tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox” warned front running Democratic presidential candi-date Joe Binden, adding the president “owes the American people an explanation of the strategy.”

While US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested the attack could in fact help de-escalate the situation in the region, short term US actions suggested otherwise as officials urged their citizens to leave Iraq after suspending consular services in Baghdad. 3,000 more US troops were being sent to the region.

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile said the strike was within the US’ right to defend itself but the Jewish state braced for possible retaliation. Intent to play a diplomatic role France urged restraint as well as Russia and China. But some Iraqis wary of Iranian influence in the region celebrated in the streets. Other countries such as Canada, which has troops in Iraq, also urged calm as oil prices soared over fears of instability and attacks on energy infrastructures.

Among other leaders UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said “the world cannot afford” yet another Gulf war. Trump remains adamant “we took action to stop a war not start a war.” The Iranian regime may not be entirely upset about the outcome however, as street protests in Tehran now targeted that old unifying foe, America, rather than the regime itself, so recently criticized in rare national demonstrations.

TROUBLES SUR LA FRIENDLY ISLAND

L’aéronef en direction de Toronto enclenche son décollage à Sint Maarten et son souffle puissant envoie d'un coup se promener plusieurs baigneurs sur la plage en bout de piste, qui émettent des cris de fausse surprise plutôt joyeux. Ils viennent des quatre coins du monde pour faire l’expé-rience du frisson qui colle à la peau quand un engin propulsé de cette taille frôle notre fragile humanité.

Sur l’île bicéphale, la friendly island, c’est bien connu, notamment ici dans la partie hollandaise, plusieurs infrastructures se retrouvent à proximité de l’eau. Cette proximité a eu ses conséquences pénibles ici comme dans la partie française juste au nord de l'ïle, lors du passage de l’ouragan Irma en 2017, un évènement qui touche encore ces territoires d’outre mer.

Car si ailleurs en France le vent de contestation s’en prend aux réformes sur la retraite, c’est le projet d'un nouveau plan de prévention des risques naturels qui soulève la collectivité française de quelques 30000 habitants. L’impact d’Irma a été dévastateur à St. Martin comme ailleurs aux Caraïbes, touchant une importante partie des habitations et des commerces.

À l’aube de cette nouvelle décennie l’entrée en vigueur anticipée d’une mise à jour du plan de prévention prévoyait une nouvelle carte des terrains non constructibles, ou inondables, interdisant de nouvelles constructions sur plusieurs rivages de la partie française. La réaction n'a pas tardé.

À quelques semaines de Noël des éclats avec les forces de l’ordre avaient lieu autour des barrages érigés par les protestataires, causant la fermeture de nombreux commerces et surtout une peur bleue à la veille de la plus importante saison touristique de l’année. Cette crise allait-elle davantage ralentir l’économie d’une région pas encore tout à fait remise du passage d’Irma, nouveau désastre naturel après le passage d’ouragans en 1995, 1999 et 2008?

Sur un pied d’alerte, le gouvernement de la partie hollandaise proposait d’accueillir en catastrophe les visiteurs coincés entre les mouvements de manifestants. Or lors de son passage sur le territoire par la suite, la ministre française de l'outre mer se voulut rassurante, annonçant la suspension de la procédure de révision du plan controversé pendant trois mois, le temps de cueillir plus de réactions du public et de sauver les fêtes d’une saison de misère.

Mais la question n’est pas plus réglée pour autant, le plan ayant déjà fait l’objet de 233 avis défavorables durant une enquête publique. C’est surtout l’impression de ne pas avoir été écouté qui a poussé les manifestants dans la rue pendant quelques jours, paralysant le territoire français, une population qui ne s’estime pas respectée par une métropole agissant à coup de “diktats du pouvoir central” selon un article de la presse locale.

L’île, et notamment ses plages si convoitées, sont déjà prises d’assaut par l’activité humaine, “la dégradation de l’environ-nement et les changements climatiques” selon le document de la collectivité. Pointée du doigt notamment, une politique de 1980 permettant aux entreprises de réduire de leurs impôts la totalité des investissements, ce qui a fait d’une petite communauté française de 8000 habitants un pôle touristique étourdissant, plus que triplant la population de la partie française en moins d’une décennie et permettant un développement et une urbani-sation “intense et parfois incontrôlée.”

Résultat, com-merces et habitations dans des zones à risque que l'on voudrait redéfinir depuis Irma. "Ceux qui le peuvent reconstruisent, dit un ancien machiniste devenu chauffeur de taxi en plein embouteillage au centre de Marigot. J'ai un appartement que je loue mais la toiture a entièrement été arrachée, depuis j'ai dû la faire refaire."

Mais d'autres souffrent beaucoup plus. "J'ai des amis qui avaient une maison, elle a été entièrement détruite, mainte-nant ils sont à la rue et il n'y a pas de travail," ajoute-t-il. Dans les marinas de l’île des épaves de l’ouragan n’ont toujours pas été retirées et plusieurs anciens commerces attendent toujours leur démolition à Marigot.

Notre interlocuteur sent que l'aide de l'état français, pourtant si interventioniste ces derniers temps, ne s'est pas faite aussi bien sentir que dans la partie hollandaise, que l'on rejoint sans s'en rendre compte en roulant sur rue de Hollande vers le sud. Une affiche d'accueil résume alors le mot d'ordre à Sint Maarten "building back better", alors que les carcasses de bateaux abimés et abandonnés font leur apparition.

Mais pour notre chauffeur les temps sont durs entre temps, dénonçant le chômage alors que les touristes commencent enfin à refaire leur apparition. La directrice de publication du Soualiga Post, qui couvre l'actualité locale, Estelle Gasnet, affirme pour sa part que la construction a été plus rapide du côté hollandais, notant que les conditions de cette reconstruction y ont été totalement différentes.

"Si à Sint Maarten on accepte que des fonds étrangers soient investis dans des structures locales, que des entreprises étrangères viennent travailler; côté français, on est beaucoup moins tolérants, écrit-elle un an après le passage d'Irma. On se mobilise lorsque des entrepreneurs étrangers vien-nent et menacent l’emploi local. Beaucoup moins côté hollandais. Et c’est sans compter le coût du travail qui est le double à Saint-Martin qu’à Sint Maarten." Si le calme est revenu pour le temps des fêtes, il n'est pas sûr de se poursuivre au printemps, nouvelle période butoir.


INDIA'S DISRUPTIVE LAW

After last year’s landslide re-election, which reaffirmed the supremacy of the Bharatiya Janata Party and rattled  Gandhi's Congress party, little seemed to stand in the way of India’s Narendra Modi, who went on to further push Hindu nationalist policies.

But there has been a blow back from secular Indians and minorities across the country after a controversial new citizenship law some have said discriminates against Muslims. After weeks of sometimes violent protests the BJP lost a key state election when an alliance forged with Congress took Jharkhand, near Bangladesh.

The state in the east of the country made dreadful deadlines in recent years after a series of mob lynchings, with some 20 cases tied to BJP vigilantes targeting Muslims. Most of the attacks, over 100 in the last few years, involve cows, considered sacred by Hindus. Held by the ruling party since 2014 this was the second state lost by the BJP since May’s election.

“People here are angry with the BJP, the results show this,” said Hermant Soren, who stands to become the state's chief minister after his party took the most seats. But the citizenship protests have spread, sometimes becoming violent, across the country, causing a number of deaths.

The government denies the laws are discriminatory and says they are needed to help minorities in Muslim domi-nated countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh by offering amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants, but critics say this discriminates against the 200 million Muslims in officially secular India.

Not yielding to the protests the government approved a population register critics say will draw a list of people who will have to prove their citizenship. Congress party leaders Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi have joined a number of demonstrations, which have erupted across the country, some in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh turning deadly.

About two dozen people have been killed since the introduction of the laws critics say mesh with a government increasingly willing to push a Hindu nationalist agenda. The push back, largely led by youths, has sparked what has been called the most significant nationwide protests since partition.

“There have been very few times when social and political movements are led by youths and political parties in which men and women both participate almost in every state of the country,” noted author John Dayal. “The agitation we see now are one of these national movements.”

The unrest, which continued into the new year drawing thousands more to the streets, grew after some 2 million people were stripped of their citizenship in the state of Assam last year as part of the BJP's national register, which makes it mandatory for all Indians to provide documents proving their citizenship. Documents many of them lack.


BRING ON BREXIT

For some it was a referendum on Brexit, and for others, one on the state of the union, no less. While Britain’s embrace of the Conservative party in the December election seems to have charted a slightly clearer path to break away from the European Union this January, it has only created a new rift with Scotland, which elected 48 of its 59 MPs from the ranks of the Scottish National Party.

No sooner was the latest UK election decided that new calls rose for the planning of a new Scottish referendum, one the incoming government in Whitehall firmly rejected.

Despite nine years in power and two previous prime ministers, the Conservatives swept the British parliament with a majority of 365 seats , handing Labour its worst defeat since the 1930s.

But this embrace stopped at the northern border where Scottish nationalists took a majority of votes, which according to first minister Nicola Sturgeon gives a clear mandate to hold a new referendum on indepen-dence, something repeatedly rejected by Boris Johnson.

 “If he thinks saying no is the end if the matter then he is going to find himself completely and utterly wrong,” she warned. “You cannot hold Scotland in the union against its will.” 55% of voters in Scotland rejected dependence in 2014 at a time six MPs were from the SNP.

These would grow to 56 after the 2015 election but shrink to 35 in the following one. While the number of nationalists elected has grown considerably Sturgeon however stresses she would not hold a referendum that has not been sanctioned by the House of Commons.

After months of delays the British parliament voted in favor of a Brexit deal days before Christmas and six weeks before the planned withdrawal from the EU at the end of January. Sturgeon said she would request the right to hold a new Scottish vote. Columnist Neil MacKay argued that now that Britain has made its voice heard, it's time for Scotland as well.

"The triumph of English nationalism at the general election is a great threat to Scotland and will cost us dear if we do not resist it with every democratic means at our disposal," he wrote in Scotland's Herald. "Brexit alone is grounds enough for a second independence referendum.

The SNP’s electoral mandate makes the argument unassailable." SNP member Ian Blackford warned soon after the Brexit vote that "Brexit plans will leave us poorer, leave us worse off."

THE SILENCE

With its internet censorship, often with the help of large foreign tech giants, social credit score and CCTV networks, China is certainly determined to do what would seem daunting for any country with a large population, let alone the largest: monitor its citizens’ every move.

And no region of the country is more heavily scrutinized than Xinjiang, home to a Turkic minority slowly being overrun by Han Chinese migration. The now well documented but extremely secretive network of re-education camps in the Western region of the country seems to borrow from neighbor North Korea’s book of brain washing to achieve another level of surveillance altogether: that of the mind.

The program, involving hardships which have possibly not yet all been reported, seeks to break the spirit of a Uyghur community seemingly maintained for the sole purpose of demons-trating some level of cultural diversification in China; in other words is just for show. And this seems to be causing division within a Muslim community already mined by differences between Sunni, Shia and other subgroups. Uyghurs are if anything shocked their plight has not received much support or sympathy from other Muslim branches, despite the fact they are fighting, and paying a heavy price, to try to maintain their religion despite terrifying odds.

As Ramadan neared earlier this year the head of the Uyghur institute of Europe in Paris wrote “sorry but I do not wish you a good Ramadan” in a French magazine piece decrying the apparent indifference of other Muslim countries to their plight. Last month he wrote to the French president ahead of his trip to Beijing that “great crimes feed on silence... the Uyghurs have fallen into a black hole - a legal black hole in China.”

This lack of support and even occasional embrace of Beijing’s handling of the Western region was made plain at the United Nations where 37 countries, including 14 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation such as Saudi Arabia and Algeria, supported Beijing following a call by others, notably in the West, to end these detentions. Muslim minorities have been victimized in various locales of the globe from Sri Lanka to West Papua and Burma, and many observed the reaction was markedly different over the treatment of Rohingyas, which had been so vocally condemned by Muslim countries two years ago. It seems that China is a country many would rather not upset.

“There is less solidarity than there is for the Palestinian or Rohingya causes,” told France24 Sophie Richardson of Human Right Watch. “China has managed to win these countries’ support because they need Chinese investment.” Chinese persecution of the Uyghur minority is however not limited to the country itself, expats and the governments hosting them having come under pressure by Beijing as the policy intensified.

Egypt, itself directed by a strongman, even reportedly allowed Chinese police to come interrogate Uyghur expats on its soil. Cairo is among a number of African countries lined up to welcome Chinese investment, notably to develop its frail infrastructure. Remarkably the country with the closest ties to this minority, Turkey, has changed a once critical tune on the subject of their treatment.

“There is a lot of sympathy for the Uyghurs in Turkey,” notes political scientist Remi Castets. “But the reality is that (president) Erdogan needs China as an ally for economic reasons and to counteract the West’s diplo-matic pressure on issues like Syria.” Similarly China is trying to deflect Western criticism on another front, Hong Kong, which recently elected a number of pro-democracy candidates to council in the midst of mass protests that have paralyzed the special adminis-trative region.

Not that this will necessarily change that region’s real leadership. Inte-restingly the Uyghur issue has made its way to the troubled streets of Hong Kong in the form of an illustrated book telling the terrible tale of an Uyghur woman who was tortured after returning to China from Egypt where she had given birth to triplets.

Following the many reports based on leaks detailing the development of internment camps for Uyghurs, the European Union called for “immediate unimpeded access to the Chinese province of Xinjiang” to assess the situation there. Many critics have not shied from referring to the installations as modern day concentration camps. Never mind that China is the EU's second largest trade partner.

It is also a major US trade partner, hence its dismay to see it wasn't spared by last week's legislation supporting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Then the U.S. Congress approved a bill demanding sanctions on senior Chinese officials in response to the Uyghur crackdown. This was the latest time Washington condemned a Chinese policy, after the US joined 22 others including Canada slamming Beijng for the treatment of its Uyghur minority, a move China considered "unhelpful" for ongoing trade talks that have been rattling markets.

This week Beijing had new warnings for Ottawa and Washington, capitals it is also at odds with over Huawei, a company suspected of being too close for comfort to China's security apparatus. China later imposed its own sanctions on US-based NGOs for supporting Hong Kong. This week the US sent markets tumbling when it suggested a trade deal with China would have to wait until the new year.

But commerce has too often been given primacy over human rights, and perhaps this ought to change, argued  Michael Dougherty in the conservative National Review. "Our desire to keep trading with China obliges the president of the United States to remain silent about this barbarity," he wrote. "The West desperately needs to recover its ability to privilege political and moral aims over the immediate exigencies of the market, which can tolerate even this kind of repression and in fact may operate more smoothly alongside it."

UN NOUVEAU PAYS?

A l’origine de la crise qui inspira les élans indépendantistes de cette petite île du Pacifique, une question plus d’actualité que jamais: des dégâts environ-nementaux. La mine de cuivre de Panguna, la plus importante à ciel ouvert au monde à l’époque, fut le lieu de départ d’une sanglante révolte sécessionniste à Bougainville dans les années 1980 et 1990, malgré la fermeture de la mine en 1989.

Trente ans plus tard les 300000 habitants de cette partie de la Papouasie ont été appelés à voter soit pour l’indépen-dance soit pour une plus grande autonomie au sein du pays actuel. La population de l’île anciennement allemande et austra-lienne est largement favorable à l’indépendance, mais le sort de cette région devra être approuvé par le parlement papou, qui préfère garder le territoire autonome au sein de son giron.

L’île reste riche en cuivre, une ressource à la source de ses richesses comme de ses malheurs, le produit intérieur brut par habitant ne dépassant pas 1400$. L’emplacement stratégique de l’île, près du territoire américain de Guam, lui garantit de ne pas passer inaperçue dans le jeu des alliances régional, notamment entre la Chine et l’occident.

L’empire du milieu, dans sa course à construire son réseau de route et de ceinture, est particulièrement intéressé à développer cette région qui pourrait vite se rendre compte des coûts élevés associés à l’indépendance.

“Devenir une nation indépendante est très dispendieux, note Annmaree O’Keefe de l’institut australien Lowry. Créer une force de défense, un service d’immigration, négocier des ententes commerciales ça prend beaucoup l’argent qu’ils n’ont pas en ce moment.” Ces investissements chinois sont évidemment dans la mire de certains indépendantistes.

“Nous n’aurons d’autre choix que de nous tourner vers d’autres pays y compris peut être la Chine pour obtenir finalement notre liberté,”  déclarait Martin Miriori. Evidemment on pourrait toujours relancer l’activité de la mine controversée.

Cette richesse en cuivre et en or pourrait se chiffrer à plusieurs dizaines de milliards de dollars selon certains estimés, mais répètera-t-on les erreurs du passé, notamment de ne pas répartir ces revenus? “Avoir accès à cette richesse sans nouveau conflit est un important défi,” ajoute O’Keefe.

La Papouasie Nouvelle Guinée de son côté, dont la population est très variée, redoute un effet de contagion après un éventuel déchirement. La PNG d’ailleurs n’est pas seule à avoir ce souci puique la partie indonésienne de l’île principale redoute également les éléments nationalistes si récemment associés à des éclats avec les forces de l’ordre.

Entre temps “le vote ne doit pas donner lieu à des violences” indique avec optimisme Mauricio Claudio, chargé de l’organisation du scrutin. Il doit être un événement joyeux.”

La tenue de cérémonies récentes rassemblant d’anciens ennemis avait peut-être quelquechose d’encourageant en veille de référendum sur cette île qui doit son nom à celui de l’explorateur français du 18ème siècle Louis Antoine de Bougainville.

ALERT ON CLIMATE

In a year of so-called environmental awakening marked by mass climate protests, the latest just this week drawing thousands across the world, the UN warned governments  had to do much more than what they have been doing so far to try to limit global warming.

Days before the opening of the COP environmental conference in Spain, the report pointed the finger at major powers such as the US, France and Canada for not respecting their 2015 Paris accord commitments.

Now scientists say even more difficult targets are necessary to prevent temperatures from rising, echoing the growing chorus of climate activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who once more took to the seas to reach the conference after it was moved from troubled Chile.

The UN environment program report stressed now was the time for “rapid and transformational” change to limit a rise of temperatures now looking to top 3.2% by 2100. With no easy ways to limit the damage, global greenhouse emissions would need to fall by at least 7.6% every year, not a small feat as the world's top emitter, the United States, is set to be the only country not to have signed onto the Paris climate accords when it is done withdrawing from it.

The report draws attention to one sector which has been targeted by climate activists: transport, stressing the industry needs to decarbonize sectors such as air travel, something airlines are slowly considering.

Carbon pricing, caps and getting off coal are other preferred methods encouraged, and despite a US administration promoting clean coal, there are encouraging signs American renewable energy growth is slowly gaining ground to the point of reducing coal's share of the power pie. Proposed policies are not cheap, tagged at over $3 trillion globally, but observers say that is still a bargain considering the price of inaction.

As the Madrid environmental conference got underway this week, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned not for the first time that the world was coming to "a point of no return" to avoid a climate calamity, calling the effort of major nations "utterly inadequate."

The world has the means to tackle the issue but the "political will" was however lacking. The conference was attended by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who came to reassure world leaders that despite the US administration's stance: "By coming here we want to say to everyone, we’re still in."

But this is still a long way from actual progress on climate change. Around the world citizens are increasingly expressing their frustration things aren't moving fast enough. This week an Australian woman dumped the ashes of her home, destroyed in recent brush fires, in front of the parliament in Canberra, one of a number of symbolic gestures on the climate emergency.

AU TOUR DE LA COLOMBIE

Après des manifestations monstre dans plusieurs pays d’Amérique latine, du Chili à l’Equateur, où la plebe a  souvent obtenu des concessions du pouvoir, et en Bolivie, où elles se sont soldées par le départ d’Evo Morales, la Colombie prenait également la rue, sur fond de tensions sociales mais aussi sécuritaires et frontalières.

Après à peine un peu plus d’un an au pouvoir, le président Ivan Duque fait face à sa plus importante crise et connaît déjà un taux d’impopularité important, environ 68%. Au cœur des revendications, qui ont rassemblé des milliers de manifestants causant des éclats soldés par plusieurs blessés et des morts, une liste de politiques sociales, notamment sur l’enseigne-ment public et la protection des indigènes et des victimes.

Mais le pays est également confronté à d’autres problè-mes d’envergure, certains de longue date et d’autres plus récents. La pacification de la guérilla n’est d’une part pas entièrement complète, les accords de paix de la guerre contre la drogue ne s’étendant toujours pas à tous les participants.

Puis les manifestants réclament par ailleurs le respect de l’accord en vigueur avec le FARC - qui a abandonné la lutte pour se lancer en politique -, jugé trop laxiste par la présidence de droite. Le pays est également aux prises avec les conséquences de la crise vénézuélienne, envoyant des milliers de réfugiés à l’extérieur des frontières, notamment en Colombie.

Après des mois d’ouverture envers les arrivants, Bogota resserre graduellement ses frontières, bien que leur fermeture au moment des manifestations avait officiel-lement lieu pour limiter la contagion de révolte dans la région.

En effet l’Equateur voisin vit également des jours de tourmente après l’annonce de hausses de prix du carburant, une initiative qui a plus tard été abandonnée par le pouvoir. Mais la paix sociale n’y est pas entièrement rétablie pour autant.

Le Chili a également dû rebrousser chemin après des éclats qui ont ébranlé le mince pays en bordure du Pacifique au point d’y annuler deux importantes conférences internationales. Un référendum doit avoir lieu afin de modifier une constitution datant des sombres jours de la dictature.

La Bolivie entre temps a décidé d’effectuer un appel aux urnes après le départ du dirigeant indigène Evo Morales, une sortie notamment faite avec l’encou-ragement troublant des militaires. La Colombie est depuis quelques années presque un modèle de stabilité dans la région, qui connaît très peu d’oasis de tranquillité à l’heure actuelle.

Mais certains parlent déjà de "bombe à retardement" sur la seule question des flux migratoires à la frontière. Les manifes-tations ajoutent un autre défi au gouvernement. “Ne laissons pas un appel détruire ce que nous avons construit”, supplia Duque. Peut-il éviter ce phénomène de contagion régional?

La réplique des forces de l’ordre a cependant eu de quoi alarmer des observateurs internationaux, Amnistie indiquant avoir reçu des “témoignages, photos et vidéos extrêmement préoc-cupantes” impliquant les forces de l’ordre lors de pillages, accusant les troupes anti-émeute d’usage excessif de la force.

La semaine dernière on comptait une jeune victime des violences. Voilà qui ne risque pas de calmer les organisateurs. “La Colombie a gagné en cette journée historique de mobilisation citoyenne,” estimait le Conseil national de grève après une première manifestation mons-tre. Cette semaine une troisième grève générale avait lieu car le pouvoir “persiste dans son indifférence face aux revendications.”


HAY PROBLEMA

Mexico was already under pressure both internally and from its northern neighbor to clamp down on violence before a gang in one town overwhelmed soldiers and a US Mormon family was massacred near the border, in an area infested by drug cartels.

The bloody incidents have pressured the administration of president Andres Obrador to abandon his “hugs not bullets” approach to gang and cartel violence and take a harder line.

Certainly the visuals of security officials backing down when confronted in Culiacan with an outbreak of gang violence after the arrest of the son of incarcerated drug lord El Chapo, freeing him days later, did not go down well.

The signal this was sending, in a country where violence is so rampant in some regions it is ignored by authorities altogether, is alarming according to investigative reporter Ismael Bojorquez, whose profession has been targeted violently in broad daylight.

“We don’t know if this will now be the reaction every time criminal groups feel threatened,” he told the Guardian. Homicides are up again this year, reaching nearly 30,000 in the first ten months, nearly double, unbelievably,  the number of US homicides all of last year. Still “this is no longer a war," maintains Obrador.

“This is about thinking how to save lives and achieve peace and tranquility in the country by using other methods.” These, under his presidency, have turned more to social policies and poverty reduction measures than the force of arms, but critics say this approach will not succeed alone considering the level of violence, and tremendous resources at the disposal of gangs.

“You need a military strategy to contain these groups,” says security expert Raul Benitez. “And the president is moving further and further away from one.” And now pressure is coming from the US to tackle this violence after the murder of nine members of a Mormon family near the US border.

The US president called for a war on drug cartel “monsters” after the attack, in the country which has felled the most US expats anywhere in the world. “The United States stands ready, willing and able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively,” Trump tweeted. “The cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat and army.”

But the military was sent to Culiacan where a drug cartel targeted the buildings where military families lived, and Obrador maintained his stance: “the worst thing you can have is war.” One however already seems to be sweeping a number of cartel-run regions of the country, and some fear the state has given cartels a blueprint for future intimidation.

At one point soldiers holding Ovidio Guzman implored him to calm his brother to “stop everything” as they were coming under fire. He placed the call but his brother refused, humiliating the military and central government. “This was an unmitigated debacle,” expert Bruce Bagley told the Wall Street journal.

 “If it can happen in Sinaloa it can happen in half a dozen other places and now the cartels have a formula.” Mexico denies US criticism it has no national strategy to fight organized crime, citing efforts to end corruption, alleviate poverty at the root cause of the violence and deploying a new national guard.

These troops have however often been diverted to address another source of tensions with the American neighbor, the stream of refugee seekers heading for the border on the Rio Grande. But more troops aren't always the answer, Mexican officials stress. “It’s obvious we need to leave behind the fantasy that it is possible to overcome insecurity and violence through a repressive police and military strategy,” said security minister Alfredo Durazo, citing the tens of thousands dead in internecine cartel deaths over the last dozen years.

Among the victims were 43 students gunned down by gunmen as they were heading to Mexico City for a demonstration five years ago. “Five years later we still don’t know exactly what happened to the victims nor what prompted that night of horror,” notes Mexican author Jorge Volpi.

“Since then the faces of those 43 students have become the most troubling symbol of the violence that has scourged my country since the launch of the war against drug trafficking. We Mexicans live in a cemetery full of bodies with no story and stories with no body.” But ending the war on drugs won't solve the type of problems Mexico is confronted with argues Aileen Teague of the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

"The long and violent history of “fighting” drugs and crime in Mexico runs too deep. Hurried demilita-rization risks worsening an already-precarious public security situation and ceding additional control to powerful criminal organizations," she writes in the Washington Post.

"The president’s development policies, while admirable, would also take years to produce results and allow violence to undermine public safety in the meantime, as recent events demonstrate."

As if this weren't enough, Mexico also needs to defend its economic installations against a new alarming phenomenon, the growth of pirate attacks against oil infrustractures in the Gulf of Mexico. This was underlined by a recent attack. In fact criminal enterprises across the country have branched out into other domains well beyond drugs, observers note, a move ironically resulting from the 2006 war on drugs.

These domains include everything from the mining industry and various services to the so-called "green gold", the lucrative avocado market. "For many of those smaller (criminal) groups it's far easier to just prey on local populations," such as avocado farmers, tells the Post Falko Ernst of the International Crisis Group. "It's a myth that it's only about drugs."  


AVIATIONS VS THE CLIMATE

It’s been a difficult year for the aviation industry, which has seen the fastest growth in airline failure in history with a number of major plane groundings as the result of technical issues, but civil aviation may be about to face its toughest challenge yet, and transporters are girding for a fight.

The skies over Europe were notably clouded after the disappearance of a number of non flag carriers, from Iceland’s WOW and Britain’s prestigious Thomas Cook to France’s XL and Aigle Azur.

Carriers worldwide from India’s Jet airways to South America's Avianca faced the turbulence of bankruptcy.

While this is sometimes good news for surviving airlines eager to collect the scraps, what rattled companies the world over was notably the grounding of an entire type of plane, the 737 Max, while issues with Bombardier’s Airbus 220 caused Switzerland to take pause.

But the growing climate strike movement’s shaming of airline-related pollution has caused such concern the industry plans to fight back.  Environmental activists say aviation is becoming a mass polluter, green candidates in the recent Canadian election choosing to bypass flying altogether during the campaign. 

So-called flight shaming has developed to the point of making people rethink air travel, often switching to train travel whenever possible,  weakening overall demand for flights. This has prompted the International Air Transport Association, representing some 300 airlines, to prepare “a very big campaign... to explain what we have done , what we are doing and what we intend to do in the future” according to the organization's head Alexandre de Juniac, notably by combating misperceptions and stressing what measures the industry is taking to reduce its carbon footprint.

Commercial flying accounts for 2.5% of global emissions but the industry has drastically improved efficiency since the 1990s and plans to have carbon neutral growth starting next year. This week EasyJet, which has made travel cheap in Europe, announced it was going carbon neutral.

Demand for air travel has notably dropped in Scandinavia and Western Europe since the flight shaming movement has gathered steam, notably countries which have seen airlines collapse this year. Websites such as Offsetters enable travellers to check their carbon footprint by entering their travel data.

Besides the shaming, the idea of taxing frequent travellers has been gaining ground in the UK, where other disincentives, such as a tax for sugary drinks, have been on restaurant menus for some time.

The country's flag carrier has also launched a review of a money saving practice which critics say has increased its already high carbon footprint, after a BBC investigation found British Airways and other airlines practiced "fuel tankering", filling planes with extra fuel to avoid paying higher prices at some destinations.

Airlines are aware climate change is transforming their business. For instance we may be a few years away from the end of commercial service to Greenland, where the runway of the massive island's major airport is deteriorating due to the thawing permafrost it is lying on.

CES GUINÉES

Fin octobre, à un mois des élections présidentielles, le chef de l’état José Mario Vaz sévit en Guinée Bissau, renvoyant son premier ministre, le septième sous sa présidence, et forme un nouveau gouvernement. Or l’homme limogé, Atistides Gomes refuse de quitter.

Si vous pensez que les violentes manifestations à Conakry y sont pour quelquechose vous vous trompez d’élection, et de pays. En effet, ces voisins d’Afrique de l’ouest sont souvent confondus, mais alors que la continuité est critiquée dans l'un de ces pays c’est l’instabilité qui dérange dans l’autre.

À Conakry la grogne s’empare de la rue alors que le président Alpha Condé tente de réviser la constitution pour pouvoir ignorer la limite de mandat et en briguer un troisième, ce qui a provoqué des éclats responsables de plusieurs morts. Une marche funèbre pour honorer les défunts  a elle même été ciblée par les forces de l’ordre par la suite, faisant plusieurs blessés.

Voilà plusieurs semaines que des manifes-tations faisaient crouler ce petit pays pauvre de 13 millions d’habitants pourtant riche en ressources minières. L’élection n’est prévue qu’en 2020 mais la mobilisation a été provoquée par le début de consultations sur la constitution qui selon plusieurs ont déjà tiré leurs conclusions.

La semaine dernière la date du 16 février a été désignée jour d'élections législatives; des élections tardives puisque l'actuel parlement est en place depuis janvier 2014, lui qui doit être renouvelé tous les cinq ans. Problèmes techniques et violences auraient été responsables du report de cet appel aux urnes, précédemment prévu pour décembre.

Les voisins vont aux urnes cette semaine mais entre temps c’est toute une crise politique qui paralyse l’économie de ce petit pays de 1,8 million pourtant riche en ressources naturelles. Et alors que la continuité est à la source des éclats à Conakry, Vaz n’est que le premier président à avoir complété un quinquennat depuis l’indépen-dance en 1974 à Bissau.

Le concours de chaise musicale au poste de premier ministre en dit également long sur l’instabilité qui rend l’investissement difficile. “Nous disposons de terres arables, nous avons de l’eau, une des côtes les plus poissonneuses de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, note Idrica Djalo, candidat à la présidentielle, ce pays n’attend que les investissements... pour ça il faut stabiliser.”

Heureusement on est loin des années de coup d’état à répétition et de l’assassinat du président Viera en 2009. Le pays a été officiellement désigné narco-état par les Nations unies, son circuit de drogue, opérant parfois avec l’aval de membres du gouvernement, allant alimenter des conflits ailleurs dans la région, notamment en Casamance.

Ce n'est d'ailleurs que cette semaine que le pays a procédé à ses premières condamnation de trafiquants de drogue. Un sommet extraordinaire de la Communauté Economique des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest était organisé à Niamey pour tenter de résoudre la crise avant l’élection. Mais pour Vaz il s’agit d'un cas d’ingérence extérieure dans les affaires du pays.

Il n'a d'ailleurs pas été le seul à critiquer la décision des chefs d'état de la Cédéao lors du sommet d'envoyer chez lui des troupes supplémentaires en pleine crise politique. « La Cédéao ne peut tolérer pour quelque raison que ce soit la déstabilisation d’un État membre » déclarèrent les dirigeants, mais le geste a créé une telle gnogne qu'il alimente un mouvement patriotique anti-Cédéao.

« À bas la décision de la Cédéao, déclara l'ancien premier ministre Antonio Sanha. Il s’agit de se lever pour protester fermement contre l’invasion de notre pays par une force étrangère. »


L'IRAN DANS LES RUES

Quarante ans après la grande révolution les chiffres ne sont peut-être pas exactement les mêmes mais les Iraniens ont osé prendre la rue pour manifester contre leur gouvernement après l'annonce de hausses du prix du carburant, le genre d'initiative qui a ces derniers temps été bien mal accueilli ailleurs, d'Haiti en Equateur.

Les autorités religieuses de la république islamique ont fait appel au calme mais en appuyant les mesures d'austérité, ce qui n'est pas passé près de convaincre les manifestants à rester chez eux dans une bonne centaine de villes à travers le pays.

Face à cet acte de résistance, les autorités ont inité une campagne de violence, faisant plus de 100 victimes selon Amnistie, et plongeant l'internet du peuple dans le noir comme jamais auparavant. Il faut dire que les dirigeants ont constaté les conséquences des médias sociaux ailleurs, causant la chute de gouvernements dans la région immédiate.

Alors que le pays est bien loin d'en être à ses premières mani-festations, celles-ci ont pris une rare envergure, devenant les plus importantes depuis des années et depuis le resserrement des sanctions américaines si pénibles à la fois au régime et à la population. Ce reserrement suit la reprise de certaines activités nucléaires, elles-mêmes provoquées par l'abandon de l'entente nucléaire de 2015 par Washington.

Cette semaine une agence de l'ONU rapportait que le stock d'eau lourde du pays avait d'ailleurs dépassé la limite autorisée. Cette dernière ronde de sanctions frappe dur les coffres publics, causant une chute de la devise nationale et du pouvoir d'achat.

Mais certains pointent également du doigt la corruption du pouvoir, un thème répandu en ce moment à travers le monde, et regrettent que les autorités dépensent autant de peine, d'énergie et surtout de moyens afin d'aider les alliés iraniens à travers la région,  du Yémen au Liban en passant par l'Irak. Selon un rapport du renseignement américain, Téhéran serait même en veille d'augmenter son armement militaire, sans doute chez les ravitailleurs russes et chinois.

Les autorités dénoncent cependant un "complot de l'étranger" suite aux manifestations. "La contre révolution et les ennemis de l'Iran ont toujours soutenu les sabotages," déclarait le chef spirituel Khamenei. Ce dernier est même la cible de certaines des manifestations les plus osées au pays.

Téhéran pointe notamment du doigt les Etats Unis, trouvant "bizarre qu'ils sympathisent avec une nation qui souffre en raison du terrorisme économique améri-cain." Cette semaine le président Rohani estimait que somme toute son pays sortait "victorieux" des émeutes, même si certaines zones d'instabilité persistaient au sein de son territoire.

THE GLOBAL RUCKUS

It’s power to the people, and not just in Hong Kong, where months after sparking mass demonstrations, authorities have withdrawn a controversial extradition bill. Protests have rocked the season on a number of continents and hemispheres often leading to concessions made to the screaming and at times unruly masses, but this hasn’t always settled matters, far from it.

Mass protests brought barricades and clashes with authorities to the streets of Chile, usually an oasis of stability in a hectic region, over the cost of living and inequality, issues that have resonated across the continent from Haiti to Ecuador, after the government increased transit prices.

This prompted a violent backlash which led to some Santiago subway cars being torched by protesters, in violence unseen in the country since the end of the Pinochet regime. Most protests in the South American country have however been peaceful, involving banging on pots and chanting for the resignation of president Pinera.

A state of emergency was later declared before the government backed down and announced welfare packages, but this  didn't immediately calm things down. Last week the government announced it was no longer able to host APEC and climate change summits due to the disturbances, which continued after a number of ministers were ousted.

Quito’s protests also called for the president's resignation after fuel prices were hiked, until a deal was reached with protesters and officials agreed to withdraw subsidy cuts. The cuts were part of austerity measures to obtain loans from the International Monetary Fund.

This being the new millenium it was perhaps less surprising a plan to tax calls on popular phone app WhatsApp sent protesters to the streets in Lebanon, where they also condemned corruption and the lack of public services, calling for leaders to resign. The government there as well backed down but the protests had, as elsewhere, morphed into other things as demonstrators complained about the lack of public services and high everyday prices in times of economic stagnation.

Prime minister Hariri lost ministers and promised reforms but an entire political class is under fire for its tradition of patronage, leading some to call for nothing short than the end of the regime, in a country which has largely been spared the violence and unrest of its many neighbors.

If anything, the hot button issue may be uniting a Lebanon deeply divided over sectarian lines. “Sunni, Shia, Christian or Druze it doesn’t matter our pain is one and the same,” a protester told CNN. In the end the demonstrators obtained the removal of Hariri, soon after Hezbollah and Amal factions violently attacked anti-government protesters in a move some say was meant to pre-empt the prime minister's departure and vie for position.

"I can't hide this from you. I have reached a dead-end," Hariri said in his resignation speech. "To all my political peers, our responsibility today is how to protect Lebanon and to uplift the economy. Today, there is a serious opportunity and we should not waste it." This does not necessarily mean the end for the two-time prime minister, in a country where his post and that of president and speaker of the legislature are meant to represent Sunnis, Christians and Shia Muslims respectively.

Similar protests against economic stagnation and the perpetual role of ruling elites sparked clashes with authorities in Irak which caused dozens of deaths. Protesters called for better services such as access to water and action against corruption in various parts of the country in the largest mass demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Authorities there too have tried to woo protesters with reform, but to no avail, demonstrators only seeing an attempt by the eternally ruling factions to maintain their grip on power, often with the help of their own armed militias. Had the Arab Spring come to the remotest parts of the region finally at the twilight of the decade? And if so would there be lessons from the previous, not always successful,  incarnations to consider?

Months after obtaining the departure of longtime president Bouteflika Algeria was still seeing mass protests to obtain the removal of the order in place since independence from France. The global movement against rising inequality and living costs this fall oddly recalled protests which had started sweeping France a year earlier, there also bringing concession after concession to halt the spread of the yellow vest movement, without immediate success.

 Protests sometimes condemned actual price rises, sometimes perceived inequa-lities, noted Mohamed El-Erian of Allianz, adding there were tools to help alleviate some of the concerns, but putting them in place was a matter of "political will" sometimes lacking. Haiti represented perhaps one of the most serious crises, the hemisphere's poorest country having been rattled by mismanagement after a devas-tating 2010 earthquake followed by hurricanes.

Last week the country asked the U.S. for food aid as crowds continued to mass asking for the removal of president Moise, bringing the struggling economy to a standstill. "Government corruption and inaction on the problems caused by liberalism and austerity, all these things are connected I think and grounded in this real problem that we're seeing emerge from a capitalist moment that's really created  global inequality and inequality within nations and communities," opined Roberta Lexer of Mount Royal University. The rise of the internet has increased the number of protests over the years, adds Michael Heaney of the Univeristy of Glasgow, but as the latest ones drag on governments are "less likely to feel threatened and take action."

CIBLER L'AFRIQUE

Exerçant une nouvelle influence au Moyen orient avec la crise syrienne, la Russie mise à présent sur le continent africain pour développer sa portée inter-nationale, un continent où jadis rivalisaient les grandes puissances coloniales, éven-tuellement remplacées par des intérêts plus récemment chinois en cette période de repli américain. Et certains pays émettent déjà des réserves à propos de Pékin.

Le coup d’envoi russe a eu lieu à Moscou lors du premier sommet russo-africain rassemblant une quarantaine de dirigeants de la Namibie à la République centrafricaine, avec la participation du président égyptien el-Sisi. Le président Poutine a l’objectif de doubler des échanges jugés "insuffisants" de 20 milliards lors des quatre prochaines années, notant que ce chiffre était cependant déjà le double de celui de 2014.

“Le moment est opportun en ce moment,” dit-il, invitant les compagnies russes à y investir et s’engageant à aider le continent à tirer profit de ses ressources naturelles tout en y exportant ses technologies. Les intérêts sont également militaires, Moscou ayant envoyé deux de ses avions militaires en Afrique du sud en vue de se rapprocher du régime de Ramaphosa.

Le terrain est évidemment dans la mire de Pékin depuis un certain temps, et alors que l’empire du milieu signe de nouvelles ententes avec l’Ouganda, certains se font du souci à propos des conditions rattachées à ces ententes à l’apparence très généreuses.

Pékin investit sur le continent, comme elle le fait ailleurs dans le monde et notamment en Asie, à coup de milliards, et plusieurs craignent l’effet de cette influence, entre autre à Kampala où le président Yoweri Museveni a mis fin à l’appel d’offre d’un projet important en choisissant une firme chinoise de son choix. Ceci a eu lieu alors que le pays est africain a fait une rare déclaration contre les manifestations à Hong Kong.

Alors que l’opposition reste faible dans ce pays sous la gouverne du même président depuis 1986, c’est le ministre des finances qui a émis certaines réserves à propos des ententes sino-ougandaises, se disant craindre leur effet sur une dette nationale déjà importante et allant jusqu’à menacer la souveraineté du pays. 

“Voyant ce qui se passe dans d’autres pays au niveau de la dette chinoise, nous croyons fortement  qu’il faut protéger nos avoirs d’une possible acquisition chinoise” déclara Matia Kasaija dans une lettre au président coulée à la presse. Dans cette missive il se disait également regretter le manque d’emploi de compagnies locales pour remplir ces contrats. Comme ailleurs dans le monde certains pays africains ont commencé à limiter  les projets d’envergure chinois à la fois pour cette raison en par souci de sombrer dans la dette et de perdre contrôle d'infra-structures en conséquent.

Un tiers de la dette ougandaise de 10 milliards est déjà chinoise. “Nos dirigeants sont très naïfs, explique l’avocat Dickens Kamugisha à l’AP. Ils pensent que la Chine ne fait que nous donner de l’argent sans condition.” Ces projets font partie de l’initiative  mondiale de la Ceinture et route qui vise à gonfler l’influence de Pékin sur la scène internationale.

Un rapport du labo de recherche AidData a notamment soulevé plusieurs cas de corruption attachés a certaines de ces initiatives. Ce même labo-ratoire, comparant les approches au développement chinoise et de la Banque mondiale associaient la première “avec plus de répression du gouvernement et l’acceptation de normes autoritaires” alors que la seconde “renforçait les valeurs démocratiques.”

Les normes démocratiques russes laissent elles aussi un peu à désirer. Entre temps certains ougandais comme l’opposant Ssemujju Nganda craignent que le pays ne revienne en arrière et devienne “une colonie chinoise”. Mais malgré tous ses efforts, Poutine sait qu'il a du terrain à rattraper et reste un partenaire marginal en Afrique, où le Kremlin a suscité la méfiance en appuyant des dirigeants en chute libre dont Omar Bashir et Jacob Zuma.

Poutine ne vise pas seulement l'Afrique, mais le pré-carré américain également, espérant rebâtir avec Cuba des relations plutôt affaiblies depuis l'écroulement de l'URSS, ce tournant historique qu'il aimerait à tout prix corriger.