Watchlist: Putin Responds to Protests

Week of April 3rd

Paraguayan protesters burn down Congressional building


Suspects in Kim Jong-Nam Case Return to Pyongyang

When Police entered the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur last Sunday, March 26th, to question three North Korean suspects in the Kim Jong-Nam case, little was released about the meeting. However, last Friday, March 31st, all three North Koreans wanted for questioning in relation to the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother to North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, were sent back to North Korea. While much of the situation remains clouded with uncertainty, it is believed that the release of the three suspects was part of a negotiated deal that involved the transfer of Kim Jong-Nam’s body.

The police visit comes only one day after Malaysian authorities announced North Korea’s cooperation in the return of nine Malaysian citizens who’s return home had been initially blocked in response to frayed tensions with Malaysia over the assassination. While the current location of Kim Jong-Nam’s body is classified, a van was seen arriving at the prior location with men described by Malaysian reporters as undercover police in civilian clothes. Stay tuned as the status of the North Korean suspects develops and the investigation continues. WILLIAM FEUER


Paraguay’s Congress Building Ablaze Amid Public Opposition to Re-Election Bill

Protesters set fire to the Congress’ building late Friday evening, March 31st, in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción after a secret vote by the Senate for a bill which would allow current President Horacio Cartes to run for a second term. The vote was being referred to as a coup d’etat by these protesters, who also stormed the building itself and had to be confronted with riot police. The protesters fear that this measure will enable the current ruling party, the right-wing Colorado party, to institute a new dictatorship and continue to ignore the current constitution, which was written after the fall of the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner in 1992. According to one poll, 80% of Paraguayans oppose this amendment for reelection but it seems likely to pass. The Colorado party has argued that it will still be an open election with a challenger and that Cartes should be allowed to run again to continue has pro-business reforms which have allowed many foreign investors into the Paraguayan economy. Stay tuned to see if there is an official amendment passage to seal the possibility of re-election and if protests in Asunción and elsewhere continue. ANDREW MITCHEL


Vladimir Putin Responds to Anti-Corruption Protests

After nearly a week of complete silence, Russian President Vladimir Putin has responded to last week’s anti-corruption protests, which occurred in over fifty cities throughout Russia. The anti-government protests, some of the biggest the country has seen in several years, were largely in response to an investigative YouTube video (with English subtitles available) released by prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny, which accused Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of amassing massive personal wealth through various bribery and corruption schemes. Although the protests were largely peaceful, some 500-700 attendees were arrested in Moscow alone, including Navalny himself.

Speaking in the northern port city of Arkhangelsk, Putin warned that mass anti-government protests often lead to chaos and bloodshed, mentioning both the Arab Spring demonstrations and the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine as examples. The president then went on to defend his own work fighting government corruption and rejected Western condemnation of his government’s harsh treatment of the protesters. As several follow-up rallies are planned for April, watch for escalating tensions between the Russian government and the growing anti-corruption movement. MARK DOVICH

Middle East

Israel approves new settlement in West Bank

On Thursday the Israeli government approved construction of a new settlement on Palestinian territory, drawing immediate condemnation from the UN and multiple human rights organizations. The settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a war crime. In previous years Israeli construction has focused on expanding existing settlements, making this the first entirely new settlement built since 1991. The NGO Peace Now says that the new settlement’s location makes it “strategic for the fragmentation of the West Bank.” The construction was further condemned by Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, who said that they threaten “to further undermine prospects for a two state solution, which remains the only realistic way to fulfill the aspirations on both sides.” Currently, over 600,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and since the inauguration of Donald Trump the Israeli government has approved the construction of over 3,000 more housing units in these areas. The Trump administration avoided criticizing Israel on Friday, claiming that the construction of settlements “is not in itself an impediment to peace,” despite international law that states the contrary. MAYA ZREIK

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