The World in August 3-9

Explosion in Beirut

A large sized explosion took place in the Lebanese capital on August 4, originating in a warehouse in the city’s main port. The warehouse contained almost three thousand tons of Ammonium Nitrate, originating from a cargo ship which was deemed unseaworthy and abandoned due to mooring costs. However, the cargo was confiscated in February 2014, which has been the cause of controversy and a need to assess responsibilities, under pressure from the population. Ammonium Nitrate is a highly volatile material, with a large variety of uses, such as soil fertilizer and mining explosives.

Serious corruption issues and a deep economic crisis have been affecting the country’s stability, with large scale protests being recorded in the year of 2019. From the collapse of the banking system, to high inflation, a reduction in tourism (which represents a fifth of Lebanese GDP), to regional tensions with its southern neighbor Israel and the large number of refugees currently in the country, as a result of the Syrian conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic added fuel to the fire, as well as the devastating explosion that affected the main Lebanese port, where 60% of national imports pass through.

At present, there are violent protests taking place in the streets of Beirut, with government buildings being occupied, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Protestors are calling for the government to step down and for those responsible to be brought to justice. After the incident, French president Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut, also taking into account that Lebanon is a former French colonial posiession and France has a marked legacy in the region. To date, 55,000 signatures were collected, asking France to assume control of Lebanon, given the population’s general discontent with their respective political class.

Elections in Belarus

With elections taking place on August 9, protests in Belarus also took place, with incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko as the target. Lukashenko has been president for five terms, since 1994, and is named by some as “The last european dictator”. His authoritarian governance is also criticized by its performance in the face of an economic and pandemic crisis in the country.

In the current elections, both candidates with the possibility of posing a significant opposition to Lukashenok were arrested, however, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of one of the candidates, emerged as the main opponent after having presented her candidacy so as to attract attention to her husband’s situation. Without any political experience, if elected, she promises to release all political prisoners and call for free elections within six months. Lukashenko promised serious consequences in case there were protests ahead of the elections.

After thirty three Russian nationals were captured in Belarus, with Lukashenko stating they were mercenaries seeking to instigate anti-government protests, relations between Russia and Belarus were called into question. Both countries are military allies and share a common economic zone, with Belarus being dependent on Russian energy exports, which makes its political ties significant. Lukashenko has already promoted the union between both countries, but with recent events, the dominant discourse shifted towards approaching the west and distancing the country from Russian influence. Conversation between Minsk and Moscow were announced this week, so as to find a friendly resolution to the situation of the thirty three operatives which were arrested.

Tik-Tok in the US crosshairs

The popular short video social media network as well as WeChat are under fire by US legislators, after an order from president Trump to shut down its activities within 45 days in August 7, unless their North-american divisions are sold by their parent companies. Recently both Tik-Tok and WeChat have also been banned in India, following the tensions emerging out of the Himalayas between China and India.

Microsoft is seen as the main contender for the purchase of Tik-Tok, an operation that would be completed in coordination with the US government.

Also of note is the fact that the Chinese government already has bans in place for some of the most widely used websites worldwide, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, among others.

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