As rescue workers continue to look for survivors amid the rubble of a massive explosion that killed a reported 130 people in Beirut's port on Aug. 4, the humanitarian implications of the blast in Lebanon's capital will likely not be clear for some time. At least 4,000 people are said to have been wounded, and the death toll from the blast could still rise. Hospitals have been struggling to deal with the influx of injured people as buildings collapsed and windows shattered throughout central Beirut. While the exact cause of the explosion is unclear, government officials said it was related to a large amount of ammonium nitrate confiscated years ago and stored at the port. Ammonium nitrate can be used as both a fertiliser and in bombs, but must be mixed with another substance to ignite.
Hong Kong will postpone Legislative Council elections originally scheduled for Sept. 6 by one year, citing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. In making the announcement July 31, Chief Executive Carrie Lam invoked the city's Emergency Regulations Ordinance. (HKFP, RTHK) But Beijing's political imperatives are pretty clearly behind the decision. This was acknowledged by Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macau Studies, Beijing's own leading think-tank on the semi-autonomous territories. Framing the issue in Great Power terms, Lau said that "the serious international situation between the United States and China...prompts Beijing into doing something to prevent the hostile forces from taking over LegCo and to make sure that the national security is safeguarded." (RTHK)
In a tweet on July 30, President Donald Trump suggested that the US postpone the November elections, claiming mail-in voting would cause widespread fraud and inaccuracy. Presidential elections are currently held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This year, that is Nov. 3, 2020. The 20th Amendment of US Constitution demands that the president's term must end on Jan. 20 of the year following the general election. The 20th Amendment also requires a new Congress to be installed by Jan. 3. Article II, Section 1 provides guidance for the electoral process. Initially, each state much appoint a number of electors to the Electoral College. Then, Congress may determine "the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States."
Amid rising tensions and insecurity in the Central African Republic, deposed former president François Bozizé has announced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for December. Bozizé is currently under UN sanctions and subject to an arrest warrant issued by the government for "crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide." Authorities show little sign of moving to execute the warrant; Bozizé announced his candidacy July 25 before a large crowd of supporters at a congress of his party, Kwa na Kwa (Work, Nothing But Work in the Sango language), in the capital Bangui.
A thousands-strong march through the Bolivian highland city of El Alto on July 28 was followed by a cabildo, or mass meeting, in which unions and popular organizations agreed to immediately begin an "indefinite" general strike, demanding that new elections be held on schedule. The country's first elections since the ouster of president Evo Morales last year were slated for Sept. 6, but the government of interim president Jeanine Añez has postponed them to Oct. 18, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. The cabildo was called by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), the country's main trade union bloc, and included representation from campesino organizations such as the Túpac Katari Federation and Ayllus de Norte Potosí, as well as El Alto's powerful alliance of working-class neighborhood organizations, FEJUVE. COB leader Juan Carlos Huarachi affirmed: "If we join together as miners, campesinos, the middle class and El Alto, we can be dynamite." (Latino USA, Guerrerxs del Arcoiris, Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, Opinión, La Paz)
Italian authorities detained another NGO-operated search-and-rescue vessel on July 22—the fourth to have fallen foul of "technical irregularities" since the beginning of the pandemic. The move fits a pattern of authorities using administrative procedures to block the work of search-and-rescue NGOs in the central Mediterranean, according to human rights groups. At the end of June, the Ocean Viking, operated by NGO Onboard SOS Mediterranee, rescued 180 asylum-seekers and migrants who had departed from Libya. Authorities in Italy and Malta refused to assign the ship a safe harbor for eight days, leading to a severe deterioration in the mental health conditions of those on board, manifesting in suicide attempts and fights. After the rescued people finally disembarked in Sicily, the Ocean Viking observed a 14-day quarantine before it was inspected and impounded.
Four months after COVID-19 was first suspected of spreading to indigenous communities in the Amazon Basin, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghereyesus, said at a press conference that the WHO is "deeply concerned" by the pandemic's impact on native populations. He singled out the recently contacted Nahua people in Peru, six of whom have caught the virus. Poverty, malnutrition, and the prevalence of communicable diseases put indigenous people at greater risk from coronavirus.
To nobody's surprise, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's bloc won a majority of seats in the country's parliamentary election, dismissed as a farce by the exiled opposition. Assad's "National Unity" list won 177 seats in the 250-member parliament, the electoral commission announced July 22. As in the presidential elections that just as predictably confirmed Assad's hold on the presidency in 1994, millions of people displaced by the war were not able to vote. "Simply put, these are illegitimate elections. The regime chose the candidates, even the independent ones, and they elected them," said Yahya al-Aridi, a member of the opposition committee at UN peace talks in Geneva. "The people in Syria did not have the freedom to vote... This was a theater play by the regime." (Al Jazeera, DW)