June 22, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 2,280,969 (+1.15%)
  2. Brazil: 1,083,341 (+4.88%)
  3. Russia: 591,465 (+1.30%)
  4. India: 425,282 (+3.61%)
  5. UK: 305,803 (+0.40%)
  6. Peru: 251,338 (0.00%)**
  7. Spain: 246,272 (+0.14%)
  8. Chile: 242,355 (+2.37%)
  9. Italy: 238,499 (+0.09%)
  10. Iran: 204,952 (0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

NEED TO KNOW

MALAWI

Having Their Say

Lawyers, civil-rights activists and others took to the courts in the tiny African country of Malawi recently after the government attempted to remove the country’s chief justice.

“We don’t want a lawless country where the executive thinks that they are the law (unto) themselves,” Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Gift Trapence told the Guardian. “We want to safeguard the rule of law in this country. We want to safeguard the independence of the judiciary.”

Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda was one of the judges who annulled Malawi’s 2019 presidential election. Incumbent Peter Mutharika won that election by a thin margin. Now, per court order, voters are heading back to the polls to decide – again – on June 23.

The protesters won their legal battle. High court judges issued an injunction preventing the removal of Nyirenda.

“Once a judge is appointed, all other matters relating to welfare and discipline fall within the exclusive province of the judiciary,” the court said in a statement to Bloomberg. “After the appointment thereof, the executive is not involved in the internal affairs of the judiciary.”

Recalling a May 4 attack involving a Molotov cocktail thrown into the office of a political party, Human Rights Watch urged the government and international groups to work hard to make sure the elections are free and fair.

Meanwhile, critics of President Mutharika scored a victory against his regime a month ago when his elections commissioner resigned. This commissioner certified the president’s 2019 victory that the high court annulled, Al Jazeera reported.

The new commissioner is a London-educated attorney who was, surprisingly, supported by pro-regime and opposition figures, wrote Radio France Internationale. The appointment shows consensus is possible.

On the campaign trail, Mutharika and his proxies in the Democratic Progressive Party tout their economic aid during the coronavirus pandemic, an influx of foreign help and other measures to keep the impoverished country’s economy growing, as the local English-language newspaper, the Nyasa Times, explained. The president has been traveling around the country, visiting rallies, in a helicopter.

However, he faces a coalition of opposition groups that are likely to give him a run for his money, Voice of America wrote. Many Malawians are fed up with corruption and political high jinks. They want someone who can grow jobs, improve quality of life and keep society relatively stable.

The courts made sure that voters get their chance for that.

WANT TO KNOW

LIBYA

Geo-Chess

Egypt said it will intervene in Libya if the internationally recognized government attacks the city of Sirte held by forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, Reuters reported over the weekend.

The threat follows Turkey’s recent intervention in Libya which helped the Government of National Accord put an end to Haftar’s year-long offensive to take Tripoli: His eastern-based Libyan National Army is supported by Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

Egypt says it wants to secure its 746-mile border with Libya, as well as help bring stability and also a ceasefire to the war-torn country. But Libyan officials countered that Egypt was “beating the drums of war,” Al Jazeera reported.

Libya has been divided into rival administrations since the ouster of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Earlier this month, Egypt called for a ceasefire among the rival factions, which was supported by the United States, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

Turkey, however, rejected the ceasefire as an attempt to save Haftar following his battlefield losses.

HONG KONG

Like It Or Not…

China’s central government released details of its new national security bill for Hong Kong over the weekend, sparking concern and condemnation from pro-democracy activists and the international community, the Washington Post reported.

The bill stipulates that Beijing bears the “ultimate responsibility” to protect Hong Kong from secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Among the 66 articles, the draft law will allow China to establish a special commission to prosecute political crimes and override the territory’s judicial system.

China is planning to pass the legislation this month.

Critics said that the bill will create “a whole new government body and departments.” They argue that it violates the “one country, two systems” framework that was agreed to when Britain handed over the territory to China in 1997.

The national security law was proposed following last year’s months-long anti-government protests, and has become a point of contention between China and Western powers.

The United States has threatened sanctions and to strip Hong Kong of its special trading status, while Britain said it will provide a pathway to citizenship for the three million residents of Hong Kong.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Frenemies

A court sentenced Vital Kamerhe, chief of staff to President Felix Tshisekedi, to 20 years of hard labor on charges of corruption and embezzlement in a case that was a test of Congo’s resolve to tackle high-level corruption, Bloomberg reported Saturday.

Kamerhe was found guilty of embezzling more than $50 million from infrastructure projects linked to the first 100 days of Tshisekedi’s term. He has denied the charges and said the accusations were politically motivated.

Meanwhile, Tshisekedi has not commented on the case.

Kamerhe has been a powerbroker in the country for 15 years, leading former President Joseph Kabila’s first election campaign in 2006, after which he became head of the National Assembly.

Kamerhe broke with Kabila in 2009, then ran for president against his former boss in 2011, finishing third. He became chief of staff in 2018 in a deal with the current president which would have allowed him to run for the top job in 2023.

He is no longer eligible due to the conviction.

The case has captivated the nation, especially after Congo’s justice minister announced last week that the judge who had initially presided over Kamerhe’s trial, and who died last month, was murdered: The judge’s autopsy revealed that he died from a brain hemorrhage caused by head trauma, prompting the police to begin a murder investigation.

His arrest marks a win for Tshisekedi’s government in the fight against endemic corruption, but also removes a key ally in the president’s power struggle with Kabila’s supporters who still dominate the country’s institutions.

Even so, analysts say the verdict doesn’t mean Congo has turned a page in its fight to clamp down on corruption.

“It’s not lost on anyone who knows the DRC that this will make both Kabila and the Tshisekedi camp very happy…because both Kabila and Tshisekedi always saw Vital Kamerhe as an important political rival,” Stephanie Wolters of the South African Institute of International Affairs, told Bloomberg. “So, there are a number of reasons to be skeptical about the motivation of this and also to be skeptical about the longevity of any kind of sustained effort to go after anybody in the DRC who’s involved in corruption.”

DISCOVERIES

Too Many Footprints

Throughout history, man has encroached on, altered and exploited the natural world if given the chance.

The question many conservationists now ask, how much is left untouched?

A new study found that about 48 to 56 percent of the planet’s surface shows “low” human influence, Science Alert reported.

“Though human land uses are increasingly threatening Earth’s remaining natural habitats, especially in warmer and more hospitable areas, nearly half of Earth still remains in areas without large-scale intensive use,” said co-author Erle Ellis.

The results might sound hopeful but there is a catch: Only about a quarter of Earth’s ice-free surface show ‘very low’ signs of humanity’s footprint.

Most of what is left untouched is inhospitable, such as the deserts and frozen wastelands.

But there is hope: Researchers say the findings can help improve existing conservation efforts and create better ones for the future ones to prevent further human encroachment, as well as recover areas that have already been too exploited.

“The encouraging takeaway from this study is that if we act quickly and decisively, there is a slim window in which we can still conserve roughly half of Earth’s land in a relatively intact state,” said lead author Jason Riggio.