Ecuadorian Parliament Dissolved by President Prior to Impeachment Vote

Guillermo Lasso, the President of Ecuador, is currently being investigated for alleged embezzlement. To prevent himself from being ousted in an impeachment vote by the National Assembly, which is currently under the control of opposition politicians, he triggered a ‘mutual death clause’ introduced into the constitution in 2008. The clause immediately dissolves the Assembly and calls snap elections, which Lasso claims will “pave the way for hope”.

However, the clause has never been used before because it is considered to be an extreme measure. Lasso has argued that the country is facing a “grave political crisis” due to the opposition blocking reform, but protests are expected from the opposition. Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has already spoken out against it as an “illegal” move. 

The clause gives Lasso up to six months to continue ruling until a new administration is formed following the elections. This will extend his tenure for far longer than if he had been successfully impeached. Despite the controversy, he maintains that it is “a democratic decision” that gives the Ecuadorian people the power to decide.

Flash Flooding Hits Somalia After Severe Drought

Around a quarter of a million people have been forced to flee their homes as a town has been completely submerged. Beledweyne, the capital of the Hiran region in central Somalia, has had to temporarily close schools and hospitals. Homes, crops, and livestock have all been damaged since the Shabelle River burst its banks. The defensive wall, which locals constructed in 2019, could not withstand the impact of the torrential rain.

Somalia has experienced six consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, according to the United Nations Humanitarian Office (OCHA). The country has faced its most severe drought in four decades. The drought killed as many as 43,000 people last year combined with the effects of a food price spike. 

In the Horn of Africa, 20 million people are at risk of acute food insecurity and potentially famine. According to recent scientific studies, the drought would not be occurring without anthropogenic-induced climate change. Many livelihoods in the region depend on rainfall but these extreme weather conditions are drastically affecting people’s capacity to cope.

Syria’s President Joins Arab League Summit

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has arrived in Saudi Arabia to attend the Arab League summit, Saudi-owned media reported on Friday. After 12 years of suspension from the Arab League, foreign ministers from the member states voted in favour of Syria’s return ahead of the summit in Jeddah.

Syria’s membership was revoked in March 2011 as a result of Assad’s handling of national protests. The ensuing civil war killed nearly half a million people and displaced another 23 million, according to Qatar’s state-owned news network Al Jazeera

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called for cooperation between the Arab countries to achieve security, stability, and economic prosperity. In a statement, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said that talks between the two ministers would try to “reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis that preserves the unity, security and stability of Syria”. The statement also indicates that they will discuss “facilitating the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland, and securing humanitarian access to the affected areas in Syria”. These increased diplomatic efforts come after Saudi Arabia agreed to a rapprochement with Iran, one of Syria’s key allies, last month. 

Syria, and the Assad regime, remain under US and European sanctions. Amnesty International have said that the UK government should “strenuously oppose any attempt to bolster Assad’s international standing”.

India Withdraws Highest Denomination Bank Notes, Sparks Fears of 2016 Demonetization Crisis

In a surprise move on Friday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said that the country will start withdrawing its highest-value currency note from circulation. The Rs. 2,000 (£19.4) banknote had been introduced in lieu of the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes that had been withdrawn in an abrupt demonetization exercise by the Modi government in 2016 to tackle forgeries and terrorism funding, with limited success. 

According to the RBI press release announcing the withdrawal, the notes had been introduced “primarily to meet the currency requirement of the economy in an expeditious manner,” and it also notes that their purpose had been met once banknotes of lower denominations became available in sufficient quantities. Printing of Rs. 2,000 banknotes was also stopped in 2018-19.

The suddenness of the move led to fears of a renewed demonetization exercise, which had crippled the Indian economy in 2016 and had reportedly led to the deaths of more than a 100 people who had been standing in queues for days to withdraw money from their bank accounts. It was a move that was heavily criticised by the opposition as well, but the government and the RBI assured citizens that this was not demonetization but a gradual withdrawal of currency notes. The notes are still to be accepted as legal tender and the public have until September of this year to exchange their Rs. 2,000 notes, in contrast to the seemingly overnight discontinuation of notes which caused public upheaval in 2016. 

Several economists have in fact lauded the move to withdraw these notes, with former finance secretary Subhash Chandra Garg saying that this will have no impact on the Indian economy, and that the higher denomination notes had just been brought in for damage control. 

G7 Summit in Hiroshima Discusses Russia, China; Targets Stronger Ties with Global South 

The annual G7 summit took place in Hiroshima, Japan this weekend, from 19-21 May. Along with the G7 itself – Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and the European Union (EU) as a “non-enumerated member” of the group – invitations were also extended to leaders from the Global South, namely India (G20 president), Indonesia (Association of Southeast Asian Nations chair), Comoros (African Union chair), Cook Islands (Pacific Islands Forum chair), Australia, Brazil, South Korea and Vietnam. These invitations were meant to extend cooperation to a broader range of countries, and to respond to the increased relevance and growth of developing economies. 

Various economic and political topics came under discussion. Front and centre was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with all G7 members expressing continued support for Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself made a surprise arrival on Saturday and held private meetings with a number of leaders, after which India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to do “whatever we can” to resolve the crisis, and France’s President Emmanuel Macron pledged to “be here to the very end.” 

Another key issue was China. G7 leaders released a joint statement saying they hope to “build constructive and stable relations” with China, while raising concerns about China’s human rights record and “militarisation” in the South China Sea. The statement also called for a peaceful resolution to tensions over Taiwan, which has been the focus of recent Chinese military drills. More concerns were expressed regarding the issue of economic coercion broadly, and in particular China’s use of it in response to political disputes in the Asia-Pacific and Europe.

China has since conveyed its strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the joint statement. The country’s foreign ministry complained to summit host Japan that the G7 had attacked it and interfered in its internal affairs, particularly regarding Taiwan.

Besides the main summit, a number of bilateral and trilateral meetings were also held on the sidelines, in particular between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to discuss North Korea, China’s assertiveness and Russia’s war on Ukraine. President Biden later invited the two leaders to the US to continue with formal talks.

The G7 were also eager to build stronger ties with the Global South. President Biden noted that the Indo-Pacific would be key for the world’s future, and that the US would continue to “advance our vision of a free, open, secure, prosperous Indo-Pacific.” While some analysts think this new outreach is genuine, others are sceptical that it will actually give the Global South a greater say in the world. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has also claimed that the summit was no more than an “loud and open” attempt at the “double containment” of Russia and China. Uniting global support for Ukraine, and reducing economic dependence on China and Russia, were indeed driving factors for the new focus on the Global South.

Despite these concerns, on Saturday G7 leaders pledged US$21billion to address global humanitarian crises, and are expected to continue offering support in health, food security and infrastructure to help underpin closer ties with developing nations. Nonetheless this was not enough for some, with British charity Oxfam releasing a statement after the summit accusing G7 leaders of failing the developing world through their ineffectiveness regarding debt cancellation and global hunger. 

A final issue at the top of the agenda was arms control and nuclear non-proliferation, reflected by Prime Minister Kishida’s choice of venue – his hometown Hiroshima, devastated in 1945 by the first atom bomb. “We are all citizens of Hiroshima,” he said today in the closing ceremony for the summit, urging the world to never again resort to the use of nuclear weapons. 

A sense of crisis lingered throughout the summit, as Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni headed off a day early to respond to an ongoing flood crisis, President Biden left to attend to a standoff in Washington over the US debt ceiling, and President Zelenskyy said today that Bakhmut had been “completely destroyed” by Russian forces. 

Serbia Cracks Down on Gun Ownership Following Two Consecutive Mass Shootings

13,500 civilian firearms have so far been handed in to Serbian authorities following two mass shootings at the beginning of May, which killed eighteen people, nine of whom were children. In the wake of the shootings, Belgrade and other Serbian cities have been hit by a wave of protests against the government and media’s supposed promotion of violence over recent years, with protestors also calling for tighter gun controls.

Though the government has derided the notion that they have endorsed violence in any way, they quickly announced measures to cut illegal gun ownership in the country, instituting an amnesty on unregistered gun ownership until 8th June, so that anyone who surrenders an unlicensed weapon to authorities will face no legal consequences. After this date, anyone found to be in possession of an unregistered firearm will face “repressive” and “very strict” punishments. 

Estimates drawn from a 2018 Swiss survey suggest that Serbia has the third highest gun ownership rate in the world, after only the US and Yemen, with many thousands of firearms held illegally. Unlike the US, however, Serbia has no prominent pro-gun lobby, and this amnesty has been welcomed by the public to a far greater extent than previous government attempts to curb gun ownership. By the second day of the amnesty, more weapons had been surrendered than the three previous amnesties combined, including thousands of weapons that had been owned legally. The government has also promised a crackdown on the licensing of legal firearms, imposing a moratorium on the issuing of new licences as well as a full, systematic review of all existing permits.However, opposition and protest still remains over the culture of violence that exists within the country, and the government’s role within that. While the government has taken practical action, many believe that there is far more to be done to extricate Serbia from the threat of gun violence. Though it has been generally supported, the idea of ‘practical disarmament’ has not been universally accepted; in the days following the shootings, Serbian schools received over one hundred bomb threats.