The Watchlist: Chemical Weapon Attacks in Syria and a National Strike in Argentina

Week of April 10th

Flag of Argentina flies over empty streets during a workers' coalition strike on April 6th


South Africans March Against Zuma

Over 60,000 people participated in marches across South Africa on Friday, protesting the latest actions of President Jacob Zuma. Zuma has long been criticized for his corruption and mismanagement of South Africa, but protests erupted after a cabinet reshuffle that occurred March 31st, firing several members including finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. Gordhan was working to stop the irresponsible spending of Zuma, and after his firing, two rating agencies downgraded the status of the South African government’s debt to “junk.” The protests were mostly peaceful with the exception of some rubber bullets fired into a crowd in Johannesburg to allegedly stop one set of protesters from throwing rocks at another. Analysts do not believe the marches will greatly affect Zuma, who has faced public outrage before; however, the protests could have strong implications for the upcoming 2019 elections. EMMA STOUT


New Thai Constitution Signed

Thailand, under military rule since deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office, recently signed its new Constitution – the nation’s twentieth within a century. Thailand’s prior Constitution was suspended in 2014 when the military removed Ms. Yingluck from power in light of accusations of using her power to questionably subsidize Thailand’s rural agrarian population. Immediately following the prior Constitution’s suspension, many Western institutions criticized the military for restricting the development of Thailand’s democracy. The military has argued that actions such as the suspension of Thailand’s democracy were necessary to maintain peace and order (riots have previously broken out between Thailand’s lower class and middle/upper class). Thailand’s new Constitution now faces different criticisms as the new Constitution gives an inordinate amount of power to the military. As an example, elected governments under the Constitution are required to follow the military’s 20-year blueprint for the country. CHRIS PANG


Argentine Workers’ Strike Shuts down Central Buenos Aires

Central Buenos Aires was a ghost-town after a general strike enacted by a coalition of workers’ unions in the nation calling for a variety of things, especially pay raises to match inflation rates for both public and private jobs. This is the first such strike during the presidency of Mauricio Macri, who himself is a proponent of free trade and open markets. Various types of jobs were totally unfilled yesterday, including all the customs workers in the port city of Rosario, alongside many truck drivers and teachers in the nation. Protesters in Buenos Aires were thwarted with teargas and water cannons after they blocked the massive Pan-American highway north of the capital. Macri has faced lowering approval ratings as wealth inequality has greatly increased in Argentina since his election in 2015 and as allegations of his political targeting of currently indicted former president Cristina Kirchner have grown widespread. It remains to be seen if Macri will give into the demands of striking workers and protesters and pull back austerity measures he has enacted to balance Argentina’s budget. ANDREW MITCHEL


Terror Attack in Sweden

On Friday, a terror attack in Stockholm left four people dead after an Uzbek asylum-seeker drove a truck into a department store. A bag filled with explosives was found in the truck, but did not detonate properly. The suspected attacker, arrested by Swedish authorities later that day, had been on the police radar previously and was facing deportation having been denied permanent residency in the country in 2016. He had evaded police forces by providing false addresses, and though known to authorities as a potential terrorist owing to his expressed support for terror groups such as ISIS, he was deemed only a “marginal character.” The attack mirrors the style of those seen elsewhere in Europe, most recently in London but also last year in Berlin and Nice. Experts from the Swedish Defence University noted that low-technology attacks of this nature are likely to increase, and the the country is in the process of further tightening laws regarding terrorist activity. Travelling abroad and fighting with a terrorist organization or receiving terrorist training, as is common with ISIS recruits in particular, is already outlawed in the country. Swedish interior minister Anders Ygeman stated that more reforms are on the table, including criminalizing other support activities for terrorist organizations that may not directly result in deaths. As the Swedish police release more information about the attack, keep an eye on how it affects these reforms in the coming weeks. ELISABETH BRENNEN.

Middle East

Chemical Weapons Attack Kills Dozens in Syria

The Syrian government has been accused of using chemical weapons in an airstrike on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, on the suburbs of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold. Video footage and photos emerged of civilians women and children foaming out of their mouths and limbs contorted in shock. According to the Syrian American Medical Society, around 72 people were killed, including 11 children, and more than 550 people were injured. This marks the second deadliest chemical attack in Syria since the Ghouta massacre in 2013, where hundreds of civilians were killed by Sarin gas.This attack is particularly significant as it not only directly negates the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which Syria is a signatory, but it also contradicts Assad’s 2013 agreement to dispose of all chemical weapons. The spread of these photos and videos drew instant condemnation by the international community. The Syrian and Russian governments deny any use of chemical weapons, blaming it instead on rebel groups. Thus far the UN has verified three instances in which the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons. It will definitely be interesting to watch the reactions of such an attack by the international community. AYAH KUTMAH

Trump’s Syria Strategy Takes a Turn

On Friday morning, the United States launched dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian air base from which a chemical weapons attack had been launched earlier in the week. Contrary to campaign rhetoric, President Trump’s decision escalates the US role against the Syrian government, drawing criticism from various Assad allies, including Iran and Russia. These actions are simply paradoxical to Trump’s campaign, where he prioritized the elimination of Islamic State targets, as he highlighted the uncertainty of overthrowing the Assad regime. Mr. Assad’s decision to employ chemical weapons on the northwestern Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun now challenges President Trump’s priorities in Syria. In response to the US decision on Friday, the Kremlin said US actions against Syria’s government were not permissible, according to a phone call between Putin and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. Furthermore, the two countries called for an independent, objective investigation on the incident involving chemical weapons by the Assad government. As the Russians and Iranians firmly support Mr. Assad, the coming weeks serve as a massive challenge for US strategy in Syria. JALAL H TALEB

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