Security Exchange News

Security Exchange Newsletter | February

28 February 2020
 


AFRICA

CORONAVIRUS | The only recorded cases of coronavirus in Africa before today were in Algeria and Egypt. Then Nigerian officials confirmed the first case in sub-Saharan Africa on Friday morning. The Ministry of Health in Lagos state said the patient, an Italian national, had recently entered the country from Milan in northern Italy, which has been hit badly by the outbreak. The ministry said the patient has been placed in isolation at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, but there are fears that other cases could follow as he entered the country via Murtala Muhammad International Airport. On Thursday the Senate criticised the federal government for not doing enough to screen passengers entering the country, although N386 million has been released to help the country deal with any outbreaks.

EAST AFRICA | Several countries across East Africa have been hit by swarms of desert locusts. Last week locusts were reported in Magwi county in South Sudan after swarms hit Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. The locusts are thought to have hatched in Yemen before travelling across the Red Sea into Africa, where they were laying eggs and multiplying. Although locusts are common in the region, this year is threatening to be one of the worst outbreaks in almost three decades. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which is tracking the outbreak here, warned that crops could be decimated, leading to widespread starvation. There are more than 19 million people who are already facing food insecurity across the region.

The response to the swarms has so far failed to stop the locusts from spreading. Kenya has faced shortages of pesticides and Ethiopia does not have enough planes to cover the affected areas. In Somalia, the ongoing insecurity has made it impossible for exterminators to reach remote areas and at the start of February, the Somali government declared a national emergency due to the locusts. Heavy rainfall throughout the end of 2019 has helped create the perfect environment for the insects to flourish, and there are fears that the numbers could increase by 500 percent by the summer when farmers will start harvesting.

SOUTH SUDAN | President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, finally signed an agreement to form a unity government earlier this week. The deal, which was reached after months of delays and setbacks, raises hopes that there will be lasting peace in the country. Both men have made concessions and spoken publicly of their determination to work together following more than six years of intermittent conflict, which was interrupted by previous attempts at peace. Around 400,000 people have been killed since 2013, with millions more displaced. Kiir has also agreed to reduce the number of states in the country from 35 to 10.

One of the biggest hurdles is going to be merging former rebel fighters loyal to Machar and other opposition forces into the national army. Training exercises have been held at camps across the country, although some troops have already complained about poor facilities and a lack of basic amenities. Another key challenge facing the new government will be addressing the damage caused by both the conflict and the widespread corruption which has left much of the population on the brink of starvation. The UN Human Rights Council said that South Sudan had the worst human rights violations in the world, while both Kiir and Machar were accused of starving the population as a tactic of war. Thousands of children were forced to take up arms, although on Thursday UNICEF said that 15 child soldiers were released after they were taken as prisoners of war during fighting in the north of the country in 2019.


AMERICAS

CORONAVIRUS | As the coronavirus (Covid-19) spreads across Europe, US authorities have stepped up efforts to curb the spread of the disease in the country. Latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 14 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the US so far. Including those who were repatriated from the Chinese city of Wuhan and the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship in Japan, the total number of people infected in the US has increased to 59. At a federal level, the CDC has already announced that it is closely monitoring developments of the disease. The organisation already claimed that the spread of the Covid-19 across the US is imminent and they have warned companies, schools and the general public to start preparing for potential disruption. Major international airports have already launched contingency measures of their own, while foreign nationals who have recently been to mainland China may be denied entry to the US and be subject to a 14-day quarantine. Locally, some cities have already started to prepare. Public health officials in San Francisco have declared a state of emergency due to the city’s vulnerability to the virus. It said in a statement that "given the high volume of international travel from San Francisco, there is a growing likelihood” that cases could emerge.

Elsewhere in the Americas and the Caribbean, Brazil, Canada (and potentially Mexico) are the only countries to have confirmed cases of Covid-19. Brazil’s health ministry has confirmed that a man who had returned from Italy is currently in isolation in Sao Paulo. Public Health Agency of Canada also confirmed 12 cases. Several countries in Central America and the Caribbean have already implemented contingency measures to avoid the spread of the disease. These include the denial of entry to foreign nationals that have recently been to virus-hit countries, including South Korea, China and Italy.

CHILE | Months after Santiago and major other cities were brought to a standstill, Chile has experienced a fresh outbreak of violence. Demonstrations escalated when thousands gathered across the coastal city of Vina del Mar ahead of the start of a music festival. The latest wave of unrest comes as the opposition and critics of President Sebastian Pinera prepare to launch fresh demonstrations in March. Protesters are pressuring the current Pinera administration ahead of an important vote to reform the constitution. If passed, the constitutional reforms would change the country’s pension regime, salaries and health services. President Pinera has already urged calm in order to avoid the same issues that were reported last October, where at least 30 people were killed, and hundreds injured. Those protests started due to an increase in public transport fares in Santiago, but public anger quickly expanded to include other long-standing political grievances.

Chile is on track to rewrite the constitution, which dates back to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and pensions and salaries are among the most fiercely debated topics. Currently, the pensions system is run by a private management fund known as the Administradora de Fondos de Pensiones (AFP), which has been active since the 1980s when Pinochet was still in power. In recent years demonstrations under the movement 'NO+AFP' have taken to the streets of Santiago to demand an end to the scheme. Last month Congress approved tax reforms, which will be implemented in March. The legislation was approved under pressure from the demonstrators, who demanded further social spending in Chile. With the new system, high earners will be targeted while retirees will enjoy tax relief. However, contrary to previous agreements, some amendments to the bill were introduced, such as the exclusion of a clause that would end tax reduction for large companies. In the next few weeks, Chile starts preparations for the referendum. As people return from their summer break, mass protests are already scheduled on key dates, including the International Women’s Day and the anniversary of the Chilean transition to democracy.

CANADA | Major rail networks in eastern Canada have been affected as railway blockades are still being reported across the country. Despite a court order demanding an end to the protests, tensions escalated after police officers were deployed to clear the barricades. Some commuter services, including Via Rail and Go Transit, are still facing disruption, affecting millions in Ottawa, Ontario, Quebec and Toronto. Indigenous groups and sympathisers are also demonstrating against the infamous Coastal GasLink project, which is currently under construction. Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation are among the main critics of the project. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs met with government officials earlier this week to negotiate the end the blockades. However, they have demanded that construction be halted during the negotiations. In an attempt to de-escalate the situation the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will reduce its presence in some areas and construction activities on the pipeline will be halted while negotiations are held.

The 670km Coastal GasLink will be a major pipeline that will transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) across central British Columbia. After its completion, it will transport natural gas from Dawson Creek to the town of Kitimat, where LNG is also expected to be exported worldwide. According to the government, the project would initially be able to transport up to 1.7bn cubic feet of LNG daily and could deliver nearly five billion after expansion projects. Initial predictions show that the pipeline could boost the Canadian economy by up to two billion dollars annually. The $6bn project is being backed by LNG Canada, a multi-billion-dollar joint-venture involving major players of the global energy sector, including Shell, PetroChina and Petronas.

Apart from the disruption to rail services across eastern Canada, the government has claimed that the protests could significantly impact the Canadian economy. Hundreds of workers were temporarily laid off after the Canadian National Railway (CN) announced the suspension of its eastern operations. The latest protests further damage the already strained relationship between the Canadian government and indigenous tribes. Although resistance to the project has been evident for many years, tensions have escalated just months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won the federal elections. During Trudeau’s previous administration the relationship was damaged by the resignation of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was a regional First Nations chief in western Canada. Her resignation came just as the SNC-Lavalin affair unfolded and implicated senior cabinet members. In a bid to ease tensions, the government has already pledged to allocate additional funds to be spent on indigenous services and other initiatives.

BRAZIL | A surge in the number of murders has been reported in major cities across the north-eastern state of Ceara. Nearly 200 people have been killed statewide since police officers went on strike against government proposals on salary reforms. Violence has spread in the state capital Fortaleza and other major cities, which are now being patrolled by the military and members of the National Force. Protests started in mid-February when hooded officers raided several police stations. Firefighters and some other branches of the emergency services have also joined the protests and clashes have broken out between the security forces and the striking officers. In a notorious incident in the town of Sobral, a former senator of the state was shot after he used a digger to break through a blockade. It is still unclear when the strike will end as police officers are set to put a list of demands to the state government.

Protests involving the military police and fire departments are common in Brazil despite being forbidden under the constitution. Hundreds of police officers have already been suspended for involvement in the recent protests. Some of them have been charged for crimes of desertion and for instigating violence. The current strike in Ceara has raised concerns across other states, where police officers and firefighters could also rebel against the government, although officers in Rio and the neighbouring state of Espirito Santo have already said that they will not join the protests. However, police forces across several other states are currently negotiating with their respective state governments for improved salaries. Most of them are based in north-eastern Brazil, a region known for endemic levels of violence.


ASIA

CORONAVIRUS | The outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus has so far killed almost 3,000 people and infected more than 83,000 - the majority of which have been reported in mainland China. The latest death toll from China stands at 2,788 confirmed fatalities. The outbreak started in Wuhan city, a major domestic and international transport hub, and quickly spread to the surround Hubei province and neighbouring areas before eventually spreading abroad. As of 28 February, the virus has spread to at least 52 other countries (Afghanistan, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, UAE, UK, USA, and Vietnam).

Major outbreaks have now been reported in several hotspots outside of China, including Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Italy. Dozens of countries have now introduced travel bans and restrictions for these countries, as well as mainland China, while some land borders have also been closed.

In South Korea, at least 2,337 confirmed cases and 13 deaths have been reported - largely in the two southern cities of Cheongdo and Daegu, where the outbreaks have mostly affected members of a secretive religious sect known as the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. The South Korean health authorities have now been given the details of some 250,000 members so that they can check for symptoms. The worst-hit city is Daegu, where President Moon Jae-in recently visited and announced further resources for the region. Globally, more than 80,000 cases have emerged and almost 3,000 people have died - mostly in mainland China. Other hotspots outside of China include Japan, Italy, and Iran.

Meanwhile, in Japan, more than 900 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus have been reported in Japan - most of which are passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise liner. Officially, Japan does not include the 705 confirmed cases on board the Diamond Princess as part of its national tally, in accordance with guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), meaning the official tally as of 28 February is around 200, including four deaths. Another four deaths have also been confirmed on board the Diamond Princess. The outbreak in Japan has prompted a number of other countries to impose travel bans, while Tokyo Disneyland - a major international holiday resort - will be closed from 29 February - 15 March. All schools have been closed and companies have also been encouraged to stagger working hours and introduce teleconferencing to prevent the further spread of the disease.  The northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency on 28 February as the number of confirmed cases rose again. Residents have been asked to stay inside over the weekend as a preventative measure. The state of emergency will remain in place until 19 March.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global health emergency and recently advised governments to prepare for a possible pandemic – when the virus spreads easily between countries. Symptoms include fever, dry cough, headache, shortness of breath, and muscle pain. For more information, read our latest dedicated article on the coronavirus here.

INDIA | The Indian capital has been hit by violent unrest throughout the last week. The violence first broke out on Sunday, when Muslim opponents of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) gathered for an anti-CAA protest but clashed with Hindu supporters of the CAA. Fighting continued over the following four days, leaving at least 37 people dead, and more than 200 others injured. The unrest has taken on communal overtones, with people accusing the police of looking the other way as mobs went on rampages, setting fire to mosques and Muslim-owned vehicles, homes, and businesses. Most of the violence has been centred around Muslim-majority neighbourhoods - such as Maujpur, Mustafabad, Jaffrabad and Shiv Vihar - in north-east Delhi, where access to certain areas has been restricted. Barricades have also reportedly been set up between Hindu and Muslim communities in a bid to keep each other out. Both Muslims and Hindus are thought to be among those killed.

The ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been widely criticised for inaction over the riots, with some describing the government as a “mute spectator”. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has condemned the violence and called on the Indian authorities to bring the instigators and perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence to justice. On Wednesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed concern over reports of the police deliberately not intervening in attacks against Muslims and said the Indian government was failing in its duty to protect its citizens. While no fresh clashes have been reported since Wednesday, tensions remain high in the affected areas.


EUROPE

CORONAVIRUS | Italy has been identified as one of four coronavirus hotspots outside China. More than 400 confirmed cases have been reported, including 14 deaths - mostly from the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions, where strict lockdown measures have been enforced in several small towns for 50,000 residents. Travel restrictions have also been imposed internationally for Italy, with Austria implementing health checks at the border.

The surge in Italy has led to several other European countries confirming their first cases over the last few days, including Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Denmark, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland. Schools throughout Europe have either closed or have been encouraging students who have recently returned from ski trips in northern Italy to self-isolate. On Friday, it was announced that two Italian cyclists participating in the UAE Tour in Abu Dhabi had tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting organisers to cancel the race while other cyclists undergo testing. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Wednesday that, for the first time, the virus was spreading faster outside China.

GREECE | Hundreds of people have staged a violent demonstration as preparations for the construction of new migration camps get underway. Protests have taken place on the islands of Lesbos and Chios, which have been two of the most affected areas in Greece due to the arrival of migrants crossing from Turkey. Tensions between locals and migrants have been high since the migration crisis in Europe back in 2016. Despite the significant decrease in the number of arrivals, Lesbos, Samos and Chios are still facing a surge in the number of migrants. Greece’s conservative government has been under pressure over the current influx of migrants since a UN commission raised concerns over the infamous Moira camp. Largely overcrowded, the camp located in the eastern areas of Lesbos has been the target of criticism for unsanitary conditions, violence and other issues. Concerns were also raised earlier this year after a 20-year-old refugee was killed. The incident happened months after protests broke out in the camp.

Since taking office, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has taken a strong stance on migration. He has already vowed to shutdown several camps and relocate migrants to other cities in Greece. His new administration has already vowed to build new camps on those islands and in Leros and Kos, which have also received a large number of migrants. He plans to order the relocation of migrants from overcrowded facilities. Tensions with the local population across islands off the Turkish coast remain high, leading to protests and strikes. Ferry workers are among those that often engage in industrial action. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), more than 70,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2019, a significant increase compared with the previous year. Reports from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), show that more than 4,700 migrants have arrived by sea in 2020. Most have arrived on the island of Lesbos, while a significant number reached Chios and Samos.

IRELAND | Negotiations to form a new government are still ongoing following the general elections which were held in early-February. The left-wing nationalist Sinn Fein achieved strong results and one of the best in the party’s history, winning 24 percent of the vote and finishing ahead of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael and the centre-right Fianna Fail of Micheal Martin. 

The result has left Ireland in a political stalemate. Varadkar has already said that he is willing to compromise and become the leader of the opposition, while Martin has refused to form a government with Mary Lou McDonald’s Sinn Fein. Before the elections, Martin had also ruled out forming a coalition with Fine Gael, which had been sharing government with the Fianna Fail for years. However, as no progress has been made, Martin and Varadkar are expected to meet again to hold preliminary talks. Furthermore, two minor parties could play a significant role, the Social Democrats and the Green Party. Their seats could be significant in the formation of a government; the Social Democrats and the Greens got six and 12 seats respectively. The Labour Party, which is currently undergoing a leadership contest, could also be included in the talks.

Ireland’s political deadlock comes as the country prepares for the post-Brexit era. The country has played a major role in the negotiations between Brussels and London, mainly regarding the Irish backstop. In addition, the new government has been pressured to address domestic issues, such as housing, healthcare and childcare. During the Brexit negotiations, the opposition claimed that domestic politics have been long overshadowed by the centre-right government. 


MENA

CORONAVIRUS | An outbreak of Covid-19 in the Iranian city of Qom has now spread across the region and resulted in confirmed cases in multiple other countries (Oman, UAE, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon). Iran has the highest number of deaths outside of China, where the virus originated, although there have been conflicting reports over the actual number of victims. Earlier this week Iran’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi tested positive for the virus, just days after he appeared on state TV to deny allegations that there had been a cover-up. A lawmaker from Qom, Ahmad Amirabadi-Farahani, had claimed that there had been at least 50 deaths in his city alone whereas official figures put the national death toll at 34. Despite the severity of the outbreak, President Hassan Rouhani said there are no plans to enforce quarantines in any town or cities, with the authorities only placing individuals into quarantine. However, some internal travel restrictions are in place ahead of the Persian New Year, which starts on 20 March.

Most of the other cases in MENA have been linked to people travelling from Qom, prompting several countries to ban travel to and from Iran. Saudi Arabia, which does not yet have any confirmed cases, also took the decision to ban all pilgrims and travellers from entering the kingdom from coronavirus-hit countries ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Meanwhile, officials in Iraq and Kuwait have announced plans to shut schools and colleges to curb the spread of the virus. Kuwait is also sending a plane to Milan in Italy to evacuate its citizens. The single confirmed case in Algeria was also linked to travel from Italy.

LIBYA | The latest round of peace talks between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) have, so far, failed to deliver any agreement. The warring sides have been meeting in Geneva, following earlier failed summits in Berlin and Moscow. Earlier this week representatives from both sides said they were pulling out of the talks following a failure to make progress on military negotiations, with officials from both sides downplaying claims from the UN that a draft ceasefire had been agreed.

This month has also seen the LNA target Turkish forces in Tripoli. A Turkish ship loaded with weapons was reportedly targeted at the port, although local officials said only a warehouse was damaged. On Sunday a spokesman for the LNA claimed that 16 Turkish fighters have been killed in recent weeks during fighting in Tripoli, Misrata and al-Falah. Turkey officially acknowledged that it had “several martyrs” in Libya, before confirming two more deaths this week. This came as Turkey also suffered significant losses in northern Syria.

SYRIA | On Thursday Syrian regime airstrikes killed at least 33 Turkish soldiers and wounded dozens more in Idlib province. It was the largest loss of life suffered by the Turkish forces in a single day since troops were first deployed across the border in 2016. In response, Turkey killed 16 Syrian troops in southern and eastern parts of the province on Friday morning. The defence ministry also warned that all positions of the Syrian government will now be targeted. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired an emergency meeting on Thursday night following the airstrikes, after which communications director Fahrettin Altun said Ankara holds the “Assad regime” responsible for the killing of both the Turkish soldiers and the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have died since 2011.

The Russian defence ministry said that the Turkish troops had been operating alongside jihadist fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the al-Nusra Front) when they were targeted in the Behun area. Officials said they were in contact with their Turkish counterparts to ensure that Turkish troops were not hit by airstrikes, but that they had not been informed about this deployment. There have also been reports on Friday morning that Russia, which is fighting alongside the Syrian government, has sent two warships towards the Syrian coast as tensions in the region mount. The latest incident comes amid a major offensive by Syria and Russia to recapture Idlib from rebels and jihadist groups. Earlier this week more than 20 people were killed when schools and hospitals were hit in airstrikes in Idlib city and Maarat Misrin. Amnesty International condemned the attacks and said the targeting of civilian buildings was a war crime.