The Catchup: July 28, 2017
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Violence has racked Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as deeply unpopular President Joseph Kabila jockeys to extend his 16-year rule by refusing to hold elections. Kabila has been accused of using his position as a means of accumulating wealth for himself and those around him at the expense of the Congolese people. The political instability coupled with a faltering economy and a civil war in the heart of the country has left many people hoping that change, in any form, will arrive soon.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s reintroduction and expansion of the "global gag rule," which cuts American funding to organizations abroad that perform work in any way related to abortion, is threatening to sever outreach healthcare programs in Uganda. In its analysis, The Guardian writes that hundreds of thousands of women across the East African country will face decreased access to critical contraception, abortion, and family planning measures. Moreover, due to already weak public health measures, experts predict that Trump’s funding cut will significantly increase the number of maternal deaths.
The Chinese Communist Party announced that Sun Zhengcai, a member of the 25-member Politburo and former "political star" touted as a potential future premier, was under investigation over "grave violations of discipline." The move comes only a couple of months before the Communist Party congress is set to appoint President Xi Jinping’s new five-year leadership team. Analysts believe that the removal of Sun will allow Xi to further consolidate his power and root out potential dissenting voices in the government.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was removed from office after the nation’s top court ruled that there was a "significant disparity" between the Sharif family’s income and the lifestyle that they lived. Sharif dismissed the allegations and called them politically motivated.. His party is set to appoint a new prime minister to serve out the remainder of his term until scheduled elections next year. No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.
In a surprise move, Polish President Andrzej Duda went against his political party’s position by vetoing two bills that sought to remove the independence of the judiciary by placing it under political control. The bills were heavily condemned by large swathes of the Polish public and by the European community at-large; many people expressed worries that Poland was once again elevating authoritarianism and nationalism over the integrity of democratic institutions. However, in a move that will likely only further anger the government opposition, Duda did sign a third bill that allows the justice minister to select heads of local courts.
Kurt Volker, the United States special representative for Ukraine, hinted that the U.S. government is currently reviewing whether to send defensive weapons to help those fighting against Russian-backed rebels in the Donbass. Volker contended that the move is unlikely to provoke a negative reaction from the Russian side, and might be one of the few ways through which the "hot war" could be addressed quickly. In response, a Kremlin spokesman stated that the Americans should be wary of enacting any military policies that risk sparking further tension on the line of separation.
Following a two-week standoff at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Israeli officials agreed to remove metal detectors in response to heavy protests from the Palestinian community. The security measures were put in place after an incident at Al-Aqsa left two Israeli police officers dead. Palestinians, however, saw the imposed metal detectors to be an affront on their dignity and independence from Israeli sovereignty.
Following an earlier decision to end the Central Intelligence Agency’s program to provide weapons to Syrian rebel groups, the U.S. government warned its coalition partners in Syria that they should exclusively focus on anti-Islamic State operations and not on pursuing regime change in the country. The new military focus is likely to further embolden the efforts of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as his Iranian and Russian allies to end the six-year-old conflict on their terms.
After broader legislation aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act was defeated earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate, in a dramatic 51-49 vote on early Friday morning, turned down a Republican-led so-called skinny bill that would have repealed only key parts of Obama’s healthcare legislation. The defeat for the Republicans means that Obamacare will remain in place. Although Democrats and some Republicans have voiced their willingness to work together to fix problematic areas of the Act without repealing it, President Donald Trump’s administration is openly hostile to the idea.
The U.S. Senate approved a bill to increase sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea. The move, and the rare bipartisan support for it, all but forces President Donald Trump, who advocates finding common ground with Russia, to sign the bill into law. Russia’s reaction to the sanctions was described as "highly negative," on Friday, Moscow seized two American diplomatic properties and ordered the U.S. embassy to reduce staff within the month.
Brazilian swing voters, long-swayed by leftist political parties, have moved increasingly to the right as the country plunges further into political and economic uncertainty. On the national stage, conservative firebrand Jair Bolsonaro, who campaigns on a populist anti-crime platform, is currently second in the polls for next year’s presidential election. Critics of Bolsonaro are worried by his disregard for minority groups and praise for the military dictatorships of Brazil’s past.
Protests in Venezuela are set to escalate further in the lead-up to Sunday’s vote to elect a new constituent assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution, which is seen by many as a means for President Nicolás Maduro to consolidate his power. Over 100 people have been killed and many more have been arrested, as the government steps up oppression measures in an effort to stop the protests.
News That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity
The New York Times published a piece on the zany world of Finnish sports that describes how the country has shifted its athletic focus from the global stage in favor of homegrown activities like swamp soccer, mobile phone throwing, berry picking, and air guitar.
Fed up with waiting in traffic every morning? One German man commutes to work by plunging into Munich’s Isar River. Although some bystanders might find it quite silly, he contends that it is quick and relaxing.