Welcome to Thursday, where chaos rocks Washington, South Africa worries about a new COVID strain, and a Nicaragua zoo celebrates the birth of an exceptionally rare animal. Meanwhile, as many vaccination rollouts are delayed, we look at what's slowing down the jabs around the world.
SPOTLIGHT: AMERICAN DEMOCRACY UNDER ASSAULT, THE WORLD WATCHES
The raid of Congress by a crowd of Donald Trump supporters is the culmination of a tumultuous presidency that has deeply fractured the American political system, says Le Monde in its front-page editorial Thursday.
Elected four years ago with the promise to "Make America Great Again," U.S. President Donald Trump is ending his term of office in shame. History will remember the date of January 6 when America's democracy was threatened — and momentarily suspended — by a mob of extremist supporters whom the president had personally encouraged to march on Capitol Hill to prevent President-elect Joe Biden from being declared the winner of the 2020 election.
In this world of denial, it matters not that some 60 court decisions, including those at the level of the Supreme Court, have rejected appeals for annulment of the election. It matters not that the president himself called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2 and demanded to change the election result, claiming that he could not have been defeated by 11,779 votes, as the records show, because he knows that he won "probably by half a million votes."
The U.S. has reaped what its populist, demagogic and narcissistic president has sown for the last four years, aided and sometimes even encouraged by the Republican Party. The leaders who, at the beginning of his term, had supported him in the White House, the famous "adults in the room" whom we counted on to assuage him, have either thrown in the towel or have been dismissed, one after the other. Trump made no secret of his seditious intentions: He had consistently refused, even before the election took place, to commit to respecting the outcome of the vote if it was not in his favor. He had also voiced support for the extreme right-wing groups such as the Proud Boys, to whom he had asked to "stand back and stand by" during the first presidential debate in September 2020.
These were the partisan groups that stormed Capitol Hill and invaded the Congressional building on Wednesday, effortlessly overtaking an surprisingly light police presence, just as members of Congress started to vote on the certification of the presidential election. The elected officials were promptly evacuated, and only able to resume following several hours of unprecedented chaos, after Trump finally encouraged his supporters to go home.
It will be up to President-elect Joe Biden to rebuild the deeply shaken democracy. He now has the means to do so, thanks to the crucial Senate victory for the two Georgia Democrats on Wednesday and the Congressional confirmation of the presidency. Democrats now hold the Senate, the White House, and the House of Representatives, and Biden has exemplified firm and lucid leadership amid the Trumpist attempt at insurrection.
Still, after Wednesday's trauma, many unknowns remain. What will become of the insurgency's leader, Donald Trump, who still has two more weeks in the White House and has been abandoned by even his own vice president? Must he be removed, even though he has finally agreed to make the transition? What will happen to the 121 Republican Congress members who, on Thursday morning, continued to reject the election result on the pretext of fraud? How will the 74 million people who voted for Trump react? Will the departing Republican majority learn its lessons from this disaster? The entire world waits for answers.
— Le Monde
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Capitol riots: What's being called the worst assault on the seat of Congress since the War of 1812, the toll is four deaths, dozens of arrests and ransacked property. Still, Congress resumed session to formally confirm Joe Biden's victory in the early hours of Thursday.
• Trump Tech Ban: For the first time, Donald Trump's Twitter and Facebook have been temporarily banned for inciting violence. Today the president issued a statement finally agreeing to a peaceful transition although still disputing the election results.
• COVID-19 latest: New South African mutation sounds alarm as the country reports its deadliest day from COVID-19. Meanwhile Japan has announced a state of emergency for the city of Tokyo following a spike in cases, and Lebanon goes into lockdown for the third time.
• Ghana unrest: Armed police and military storm Ghana's parliament during an unruly inauguration processes for the country's new parliament.
• Arctic's frozen revenues: In a big win for nature preservation, the Trump administration's controversial sale of drilling leases in Arctic Wildlife Refuge has had few takers and only generated a tiny fraction of the revenue it was projected to raise as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
• Air Amazon: Amazon has bought its first fleet of planes to expand its growing air freight network and develop its own logistics network to rival the likes of FedEx and UPS.
• Rare white tiger born: The Nicaragua zoo said Nieve ("Snow" in Spanish) was the first-ever white tiger born in the country, with none known to exist in the wild.
SIX FACTORS SLOWING DOWN COVID-19 VACCINE ROLLOUT
It was the Christmas miracle the world was waiting for: Multiple vaccines for a pandemic that had plagued countries across the globe for the better part of 2020. However, the reality of implementing an unprecedented global vaccination campaign has fallen far short of miraculous in many countries.
Inoculating billions of people was always going to present almost insurmountable challenges, particularly so with a vaccine that must be kept at extremely low temperatures and requires a second booster shot within weeks. While many countries simply don't have enough doses on hand, others are facing healthcare staffing shortages; a lack of infrastructure, especially in rural and underserved areas; and growing anti-vaccination movements. Here are some of the biggest hurdles:
Nobody in charge: Sweden was another country without a clearly defined national vaccination strategy. In an opinion article published in Swedish daily Aftonbladet, opposition party Kristdemokraterna lashed out against Sweden's ruling center-left coalition for failing to act preemptively. Kristdemokraterna warned that Sweden might end up last in line for a vaccine.
At the heart of this problem is the fact that Sweden appointed a national vaccine coordinator who doesn't have a mandate to negotiate with medical companies. As Sweden lacks the domestic production capacity to meet the national demand for a vaccine, the country is dependent on international manufacturers.
Rural delivery delays: The world's second largest country in terms of landmass, Canada faces unique logistical hurdles in delivering its vaccine. More than 420,000 doses have been delivered to the provinces, but only around 28 percent have been administered.
"It's an utter failure when you have three-fourths of our vaccines still sitting inside of freezers," biostatistician Ryan Imgrund, who works with Ottawa Public Health, told Global News.
In Ontario, Canada's largest province, only around 5,000 people a day are being vaccinated, meaning it would take eight years to immunize the entire province. Ontario previously had the goal of vaccinating 8.5 million people by June, more than half of its 14.57 million population.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com here.
In 2020, Brazil's federal police authorized an estimated 168,000 people to acquire and own a firearm. That is twice as many as in 2019, and three times more than in 2018 — the year before Jair Bolsonaro came to power.
"Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance, I am in favor of pardoning him."
— Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicates that he would welcome Julian Assange in his country. The WikiLeaks founder received two major UK court decisions this week: first extradition to the U.S. was denied on Monday, but the same London judge refused yesterday to free him on bail.
The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.
This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.
In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.
The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.
A popular uprising may be inevitable
The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?
Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.
But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.
Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.
For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.
Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.
A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.
File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020
Generals in suits
Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.
For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.
This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.
Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.
Demands of the revolution
The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.
First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.
Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.
The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.
Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.
Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.
The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.
Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.
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