Tracking Conflict Worldwide
The latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in July in 11 countries and conflict situations, the overwhelming majority of them in Africa.
In Ethiopia, the killing of popular Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa sparked a wave of protests, which left over 200 dead. In Sudan, the government struggled to advance the transitional agenda amid continuing delays in finalising a peace accord with rebel groups and escalating deadly violence in Darfur. In South Sudan, intercommunal violence surged in the east, while the partnership between President Salva Kiir and VP Riek Machar suffered setbacks. In Mali, clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in the capital Bamako killed at least 14 people.
Looking ahead to August, CrisisWatch warns of three conflict risks. In Libya, Egypt took preparatory steps toward a direct military intervention, which could escalate the war dramatically, while heavy clashes in Yemen’s north between the government and the Huthis could intensify. In Nagorno-Karabakh, deadly border clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in July – the severest escalation since 2016 – could spark another flare-up absent strong communication between Yerevan and Baku.
We also flag a resolution opportunity in the coming month in Afghanistan. After the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire and the government made progress toward releasing the final batch of prisoners, prospects rose again of long-awaited intra-Afghan talks starting in August.
New round of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Blue Nile River floundered, and Ethiopia lauded completion of first round of filling. Following resumption of tripartite negotiations under African Union (AU) auspices 3 July, talks faltered 13 July as Ethiopia refused to agree to legally-binding dispute-resolution mechanism; Ethiopian govt next day pledged to pursue negotiations but said demands from downstream nations were thwarting chances of reaching agreement. Following AU Bureau-led extraordinary meeting on GERD negotiations 21 July, Ethiopian PM Abiy same day said Addis Ababa had reached “major common understanding with Sudan and Egypt”; Cairo said all three had agreed to prioritise development of binding legal agreement for filling and operating GERD. Abiy same day said Ethiopia had achieved its first-year target for filling reservoir thanks to heavy rainy season, prompting Egypt and Sudan to immediately condemn “unilateral” move. After AU 24 July called on parties to finalise binding agreement on filling and operation of dam, new round of negotiations started 27 July. Sudan next day requested talks to be postponed until 3 Aug to conduct internal consultations.
Amid slight decrease in jihadist violence in east and north, govt faced increasing international and domestic pressure to hold security forces accountable for alleged extrajudicial killings. In East region, Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) militants 4 July ambushed army convoy in Haaba area, Komondjari province, killing soldier and wounding five others; sophisticated IED attack 12 July targeted senior state official on Boudiéri-Kantchari axis in Tapoa province, with no casualties reported; suspected jihadists 20 July killed two soldiers in Tankoualou area, Komondjari province. In north, suspected JNIM combatants 6 July ambushed convoy escorting mayor of Pensa, Bam province in Centre-North region, killing him and wounding two volunteers fighting alongside security forces; later same day ambushed joint security forces convoy deployed to site, leaving six soldiers and three volunteers dead. Infighting between jihadist groups continued notably in northern Sahel region. Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) early July reportedly killed several civilians accused of being close to JNIM in Oudalan province. Three deadly ISWAP-JNIM clashes reported in same area during first three weeks of July. Meanwhile, security forces faced new allegations of extrajudicial killings. In East region, army 2 July reportedly killed six civilians at Tatiangou market, Tapoa province, and soldier was arrested next day after security forces late June reportedly extrajudicially killed seven members of Fulani community on outskirts of Tanwalbougou commune, Gourma province. In report published 8 July, NGO Human Rights Watch accused security forces of involvement in extrajudicial killings Nov 2019 to June 2020 of 180 “mostly ethnic Fulani” civilians, whose bodies were found in mass graves around Djibo town, Soum province in Sahel region; govt 10 July questioned findings, suggesting jihadists wearing stolen army uniforms may have staged attacks to incriminate armed forces. Ruling party Movement for People and Progress 11 July endorsed President Kaboré as candidate for presidential election scheduled for Nov. Other parties followed suit: head of Union for Progress and Change Zéphirin Diabré nominated 25 July, and head of former ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress Eddie Komboïgo next day.
Political crisis turned deadly despite regional mediation efforts, while violence continued at lower intensity in centre and north. Tens of thousands 10 July protested against President Keïta in capital Bamako for third time since early June; protesters clashed with security forces, set up roadblocks and ransacked administrative buildings; unrest continued in following days, reportedly leaving at least 14 dead and dozens injured 10-12 July; protest followed calls by coalition of opposition and civil society groups M5-RFP, led by prominent Imam Mahmoud Dicko, demanding Keïta’s resignation, formation of M5-RFP-led govt, dissolution of National Assembly and Constitutional Court. In address to nation 11 July, Keïta announced de facto dissolution of Constitutional Court. President’s son Karim Keïta, under growing scrutiny for his lavish lifestyle, 14 July resigned as chair of National Assembly’s National Defence, Security and Civil Protection Commission. Regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 14 July appointed former Nigerian President Jonathan special envoy for Mali; mediation mission 15-19 July failed to reach deal to end deadlock; ECOWAS 23 July sent African heads of state delegation to Mali to pursue mediation efforts; 27 July held virtual extraordinary summit, proposed four-point plan to solve crisis including creation of national unity govt and resignation of MPs whose elections are contested, but called Keïta’s resignation “red line”. Keïta same day reshuffled cabinet, asked new ministers to negotiate with opposition to form unity govt. M5-RFP next day rejected plan and reiterated demand for president’s resignation. Meanwhile, violence persisted in Mopti region in centre, albeit at lower intensity. Suspected Fulani armed groups 1 July attacked several Dogon villages in Bankass circle, killing at least 33. Rising tensions between Dogon militia Dan Na Ambassagou and Dogon villagers who refuse to adhere to its rule led to clashes in Koro Cercle. Notably, Dan Na Ambassagou 4 July killed three Dogon civilians in Berda village. In Timbuktu region in north, suicide attack 23 July killed French soldier near Gossi city; al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims 30 July claimed responsibility.
Jihadist violence continued in south east and south west, while opposition voiced concern over electoral framework ahead of Dec elections. In south-eastern Diffa region along border with Nigeria, Boko Haram factions continued campaign of abductions and attacks against civilians. Suspected Boko Haram militants, or members of splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), 1 July reportedly killed five people in N’Garoua Gana village and 9 July abducted up to nine women and children in Njibouloua village in N’Guigmi area; suspected Boko Haram militants same day abducted 15 people in Kindjandi town. Jihadists and bandits’ attacks on villages and livestock raids continued in south-western Tillabery region near Burkina Faso. Nine humanitarian workers taken hostage by suspected jihadists in Bossey Bangou village late June were released 1 July. Suspected Islamic State militants 3 July killed village chief and two other civilians in Filingue area and 9 July killed two Fulani community leaders in Ayorou area. In white paper published 23 July, main opposition parties called for inclusive political dialogue to discuss revision of electoral framework ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 27 Dec. Electoral commission same day postponed municipal and regional elections planned for Nov until 13 Dec citing COVID-19-related delays. NGO Amnesty International 13 July called for release of journalist Samira Sabou, arrested in June on defamation charges, saying case was “politically motivated”; Sabou released 29 July. Govt 17 July announced plans to reopen air borders 1 Aug following their closure in March amid COVID-19 pandemic.
New President Ndayishimiye continued to establish his power, while relations with international community and neighbouring Rwanda showed potential for improvement. Senate 11 July approved 18 provincial governors appointed by Ndayishimiye, including five senior army and police officers; appointment of defence and security officials as governors a first in 20 years. Coalition of opposition-in-exile 6 July condemned lack of representation of ethnic Tutsi minority in govt formed in June and among governors, with only one Tutsi minister and three Tutsi governors. Municipal councillors 20 July elected 36 senators, including 34 from ruling party CNDD-FDD. Meanwhile, opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL) and civil society members continued to face repression and acts of vandalism. Security forces 9 July briefly detained three independent media IWACU journalists after they published interview with civil society leader Terence Mushano; same day arrested Mushano on charges of “threatening public safety”; Mushano released 15 July. Intelligence services 6 and 16 July arrested three CNL municipal councillors in Muhuta municipality, Rumonge province, reportedly to prevent their participation in 20 July senatorial elections. Suspected CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 15-16 July destroyed CNL office in Gihanga township, Bubanza province. Unidentified assailants 16 July kidnapped local CNL politician’s daughter in Ntahangwa commune, Bujumbura Mairie province, released her next day. Despite Ndayishimiye’s critical stance on cooperation with international community in June inauguration speech, govt relations with international organisations showed potential for improvement. Ndayishimiye 1 July met with former U.S. special envoy to Great Lakes region. Infrastructure minister 14 July met with EU ambassador to discuss resumption of EU support for infrastructure projects. Rwandan President Kagame 10 July said he was “ready to work with President Ndayishimiye”. In major shift in national response to COVID-19, Ndayishimiye 1 July declared pandemic to be Burundi’s “biggest enemy” at present; authorities 6 July launched countrywide testing campaign; land borders to reopen 1 Aug.
Violence persisted in Anglophone North West and South West regions despite talks between govt and separatists, while security forces continued to confront jihadists in Far North. Incarcerated Anglophone separatist leader Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe and nine other separatists 2 July met with govt officials in capital Yaoundé to discuss conditions for cessation of hostilities; in statement 6 July, however, govt said reports of talks “were not consistent with reality”, exposing rifts within govt over strategy in Anglophone conflict. Meanwhile, violence continued unabated in Anglophone regions, particularly North West. Separatists and security forces 4-5 July clashed in Bui department reportedly leaving 17 separatists and one soldier dead. Separatists 10 July killed two police officers near regional capital Bamenda, Mezam department. Security forces 12 July reportedly killed two civilians during military operation against separatists in Esu village, Menchum department; 18-19 July reportedly killed at least sixteen separatists including prominent leader General Okoro and six civilians during operation in Awing and Pinyin localities, Mezam department. Separatists 24-25 July killed six civilians during attack on Balikumbat town, Ngo-Ketunjia department. In South West, separatists continued to target humanitarian workers and other civilians: Doctors without Borders staff member killed near city of Kumba, Meme department 10 July; up to 60 civilians kidnapped 13 July in Mmouck Leteh village, Lebialem department, and reportedly released few days later. NGO Human Rights Watch 27 July said at least 285 civilians killed in North West and South West regions since Jan 2020. In Yaoundé, unidentified individuals 2 July detonated handmade bomb leaving at least 20 wounded; security officials accused Anglophone separatists, while govt increased security presence in capital, in particular in Anglophone neighbourhoods. In Far North, clashes between locals and jihadists overnight 8-9 July left one militant dead and three civilians injured in Doulo village, Mayo-Sava department. Security forces 15 and 25 July reportedly killed at least eight suspected jihadists in encounters in Tchebe-Tchebe and Gouzda-Vreket villages, Mayo-Tsanaga department. Following border tensions in recent months, Cameroonian defence minister and Equatorial Guinean counterpart 21 July met in Equatorial Guinea’s capital Malabo to sign agreement on cross-border security cooperation.
Central African Republic
Violence mounted in west and centre, while security situation continued to improve in north east. In west, armed group Return, Reclamation et Rehabilitation (3R) continued to step up attacks against UN mission (MINUSCA) in Nana-Mambéré prefecture. 3R 5 July threatened to render region ‘‘ungovernable’’ if MINUSCA does not withdraw, prompting thousands to flee and several NGOs to put their operations on hold in following days. 3R anti-tank mine 8 July damaged MINUSCA vehicle near Baboua, also Niem-Besson axis, in first explosive device incident in country since 2014; in following days, MINUSCA discovered several IEDs in area. 3R elements 13 July clashed with MINUSCA troops in Gedze village, killing blue helmet and injuring two others. In centre, armed group violence continued; notably, clash between Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) and anti-Balaka elements 12 July left three civilians and one UPC member dead in Zangba village, Basse-Koto prefecture. Ethnic Goula armed group Party for the Reunification of the Central African Nation (PRNC) 22 July killed at least two ethnic Sara civilians in Bougnoul Niakania village, Haute-Kotto prefecture; in alleged reprisal, Sara assailants next day killed ethnic Goula in Bornou village; PRNC next day attacked Bornou, leaving at least ten Sara dead and 20 wounded. In north east, first phase of Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration program ended 9 July, with 348 demobilised Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance (FPRC) combatants. Suspected PRNC 19 July killed three civilians in Krakoma village, Bamingui-Bangoran prefecture. National Council of Fulani Chiefs 14 July announced its support for President Touadéra’s candidacy in presidential election scheduled for Dec. In following days, opposition accused Touadéra of secretly holding talks with Fulani-dominated armed groups 3R and UPC to secure Fulani votes. Former President Bozizé 25 July said he would run for top office again in Dec. UN Security Council 28 July extended sanctions against CAR, including arms embargo, until 31 July 2021.
Jihadist violence flared up in Lake Chad region and electoral commission published long-awaited election timeline amid tense political environment. In Lake Chad region in west, explosive device reportedly set by Boko Haram 8 July killed eight soldiers and injured 21 in Kalam village. Boko Haram 31 July killed at least ten civilians and kidnapped seven others in attack on Tenana village. Amid persistent insecurity along border with Libya, attorney general 24 July said ten individuals, including high-ranking members of army and security services, sentenced to prison for drug trafficking across Libyan border. In capital N’Djamena, angry mob 14 July attacked and seriously injured army officer after he reportedly killed civilian during scuffle same day; amid rising tensions throughout country in following days, authorities 22 July restricted access to internet and social media in N’Djamena and other cities. Election preparations continued to spark controversy among opposition and civil society. Electoral commission and National Framework for Political Dialogue (CNDP) early July published election calendar, scheduling presidential election for 11 April 2021 and postponing legislative elections set for 23 Dec 2020 to 24 Oct 2021. Opposition immediately rejected reversal of order between presidential and legislative elections and questioned electoral bodies’ independence. Electoral timeline also sparked division within opposition coalition G24; coalition members 6 July said they would no longer recognise Félix Romadoumngar as leader, citing his involvement in drafting timeline as head of CNDP. President Déby 14 July carried out govt reshuffle appointing 14 new ministers and six secretaries of state in alleged attempt to secure wider voter support ahead of 2021 elections. After First Lady Hinda Déby brought defamation charges against former minister and rebel leader Yaya Dillo in May, Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) 6 July dismissed Dillo from his post as CEMAC country representative, in effect depriving him of diplomatic immunity; Dillo in May accused Déby of nepotism after his spouse’s foundation signed contract with national COVID-19 task force.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Deadly violence intensified in eastern provinces with high toll on civilians, while tensions ran high within ruling coalition. In North Kivu province, armed group Allied Democratic Forces 1 and 28 July clashed with army in Beni territory, reportedly killing nine soldiers; two factions of militia Nduma Defence of Congo clashed 11-20 July in Walikale territory leaving at least 37 dead; armed group March 23 Movement 21 July attacked armed forces in Rutshuru territory, leaving at least three soldiers dead. In South Kivu province, coalition of militiamen 16 July attacked Kipupu village, Mwenga territory, reportedly leaving 18 civilians dead and over 200 missing. In Ituri province, armed group Cooperative for Development of Congo (CODECO) killed at least 31 civilians and seven members of security forces in Djugu territory 4-8 July. After President Tshisekedi early July sent delegation of former Lendu warlords to negotiate demobilisation with CODECO factions in Djugu, CODECO faction in Kambutso village 13 July stated willingness to disarm and start peace process with govt under conditions; other factions reportedly followed suit late July. Political tensions increased within ruling coalition between Tshisekedi and his predecessor Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC). National Assembly, dominated by FFC, 2 July voted for FCC ally Ronsard Malonda as electoral commission president ahead of 2023 presidential election. After Catholic and Protestant churches 3 July urged Tshisekedi to reverse decision, and Tshisekedi supporters 9 July and opposition members 13 July protested in capital Kinshasa and other cities, Tshisekedi 17 July rejected Malonda’s appointment, citing lack of consensus. Deputy PM and Justice Minister Célestin Tunda ya Katende, at centre of tension between FCC and Tshisekedi since June, resigned 11 July. Head of Constitutional Court, under U.S. sanctions for alleged corruption and obstruction of democracy during 2018 elections, resigned 6 July. Tshisekedi 17 July appointed three new Constitutional Court judges. After 10 July meeting with top army command, Tshisekedi 17 July carried out major army reshuffle, sidelining some pro-Kabila generals, notably Army Inspector General John Numbi.
President Kagame signalled willingness to improve relations with Burundi. President Kagame 10 July said Rwandan govt is “ready to work” with new Burundi President Ndayishimiye to address issues that have strained bilateral relations over past five years. In France, Paris appeals court 3 July rejected request to reopen investigation into 1994 attack against Rwandan presidential plane, which sparked genocide of ethnic Tutsi minority; case which involved seven suspects close to President Kagame had sparked tensions between French and Rwandan govt, with Kagame 2006-2009 cutting diplomatic relations. French investigative online media Mediapart 24 July located Rwandan genocide suspect Aloys Ntiwiragabo, under International Criminal Court arrest warrant for alleged role in 1994 genocide, in French city of Orléans; French anti-terrorism prosecutors next day opened preliminary investigation against him on charges of “crimes against humanity”.
President Afwerki and Ethiopian PM Abiy reflected on progress made since 2018 peace deal, while govt’s harsh COVID-19 measures continued to raise concerns over food security. Eritrean information minister 11 July said that “progress achieved” since Eritrea and Ethiopia signed Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship in July 2018 had not been “fully congruent with expectations and aspirations” and regretted that Ethiopian troops remain present in Eritrea; President Afwerki 18 July received PM Abiy in capital Asmara where they took stock of progress and obstacles in implementing peace declaration; both sides agreed to bolster bilateral cooperation. During UN Human Rights Council session 30 June-17 July, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea Daniela Kravetz said there had been no significant progress this past year in Eritrea’s human rights situation; she also expressed concern that “COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the situation of famine” in parts of Eritrea, and urged authorities to ensure that “emergency food supplies reach all segments of the population”; UK-based Eritrean human rights group 15 July said ethnic Afar people faced “mass starvation” in Red Sea region in south east, where govt has imposed drastic coronavirus restrictions since April, and called on international community to put pressure on Eritrea to supply Afar community with food “as soon as possible”.
Street violence early July left over 200 dead in capital Addis Ababa and Oromia region, while relations between federal govt and Tigray region reached critical point. Late June killing of popular Oromo singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa sparked wave of deadly protests in Addis Ababa and Oromia: heavy-handed suppression by security forces and Oromo youth targeting of non-Oromo ethnic minorities 30 June-2 July left at least 239 dead; amid protests, govt shut down internet, deployed military in Addis Ababa and arrested at least 5,000 including prominent opposition leaders Jawar Mohammed and Eskinder Nega. PM Abiy 3 July described Hundessa’s killing and subsequent violence as “coordinated attempts” to destabilise Ethiopia. Attorney general 10 July announced arrest of two suspects who reportedly confessed to killing Hundessa on orders of armed group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) with goal of inciting ethnic tensions and overthrowing govt; OLA 15 July denied allegation. Relations between federal govt and Tigray region reached critical point after Tigray region in June vowed to organise regional elections in 2020 despite federal govt decision to postpone them due to COVID-19: in Addis Ababa, authorities 9 July arrested two senior officials of Tigray’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front on allegations of involvement in late June-early July unrest, released them on bail late July; amid reports of large-scale recruitment of security forces by Tigray authorities, Tigray President 20 July reportedly said “Tigray region will be a burial ground” for those attempting to obstruct election. Abiy 29 July said elections in Tigray were unconstitutional but ruled out military intervention. Amhara region’s president 23 July announced Amhara’s intention to regain lands “illegally taken” by neighbouring Tigray and said 85 insurgents entered Amhara from Tigray. In Southern Nations region in south, late July clashes between ethnic Konso and Ale reportedly killed at least thirteen and forced thousands to flee. In Benishangul-Gumuz region in north west, gunmen 27 July killed at least fourteen ethnic Amhara. Abiy 21 July said Ethiopia had achieved its first-year target for filling reservoir of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile River thanks to heavy rainy season (see Nile Waters).
Al-Shabaab continued to launch attacks in east and north east, while intercommunal violence broke out and tensions ran high between police and civilians in several areas. In Garissa county in east, Al-Shabaab militants launched several attacks on police camps, notably in Yumbis village 22 July, where clashes reportedly left one police officer and five insurgents dead. In Wajir county near Somalia border in north east, Al-Shabaab 7 July abducted eight civilians; security forces quickly freed all eight. In Mandera county in north east, Al-Shabaab 10 July attacked police post, with no casualties. In Uasin Gishu county in west, security forces next day arrested two suspected Al-Shabaab militants in Chepkatet area. Intercommunal violence killed at least a dozen. Clashes between ethnic Maasai and Kamba 3-5 July left four dead in border area between Makueni and Kajiado counties in south. Angry mob 6 July reportedly hacked to death four suspected cattle rustlers in Mithuthini village, Kirinyaga county in centre. Late July clashes between ethnic Kipsigis and Maasai killed at least five in border area between Narok and Nakuru counties in west. Tensions between police and civilians remained high amid COVID-19 pandemic. In Kisii county in south west, police 5 July shot and killed trader suspected of selling fake hand sanitiser; in response, angry mob set fire to police station and threw rocks at police injuring fourteen officers. In capital Nairobi, hundreds 7 July demonstrated against police brutal enforcement of coronavirus measures; police used teargas to disperse protesters and arrested over 50. In Garissa city, after police 25 July shot and killed two civilians while chasing murder suspect, demonstrators marched on police station and clashed with police leaving several civilians injured. Following moves by President Kenyatta in recent months to seize control of ruling Jubilee Party by removing allies of deputy party leader William Ruto from key parliamentary positions, Ruto early July said purges intended to scuttle his 2022 presidential bid.
Al-Shabaab kept up insurgency; federal govt and member states agreed to hold elections as previously scheduled; and parliament ousted PM Khayre. In south, Al-Shabaab 4 July detonated bomb killing at least five civilians and security personnel in Bay region; next day kidnapped and killed regional lawmaker in Middle Shabelle region; 6-13 July launched attacks on security forces reportedly leaving at least seventeen dead in Lower Shabelle and Lower Juba regions. Counter-insurgency operations 6-19 July reportedly killed at least 29 Al-Shabaab militants in Lower Shabelle, Lower Juba and Bay regions. U.S. airstrikes 9 and 29 July reportedly killed two Al-Shabaab insurgents in Lower Shabelle and Middle Juba region; reports of civilian casualties also emerged. In Puntland in north, security operation with U.S. air support 21 July reportedly left 27 Islamic State (ISIS)-Somalia militants dead in Bari region. In capital Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab 8 July detonated bomb killing two police officers; 13 July launched unsuccessful suicide attack on army chief, General Odowa Rage; 18 July detonated bomb failing to kill deputy security minister; 27 July shot policeman dead. After electoral commission late June said it could not organise “one person, one vote” 2020 parliamentary and 2021 presidential elections on time, presidents of all federal member states 11-12 July met in Galmudug state capital Dhusamareb, agreed that polls should be held on time and invited federal govt to discuss alternative, indirect electoral model; in ensuing conference in Dhusamareb 19-22 July, President Farmajo and federal state leaders agreed to conduct timely elections and create technical committee tasked with formulating recommendations for electoral process; during conference, Farmajo and Jubaland state President Madobe reportedly held informal talks after more than a year of fraught relations; Madobe said they had “agreed to reach truce”. Parliament’s lower house 25 July voted no confidence in PM Khayre notably for failing to deliver direct elections, prompting him to resign; Farmajo same day named Deputy PM Mahdi Mohamed Guleid as caretaker PM. After resuming in June, talks with Somaliland suffered delays (see Somaliland).
Ruling and opposition parties agreed to hold long-delayed elections this year, and talks with Somalia suffered delays amid renewed efforts toward Somaliland’s international recognition. Ruling Kulmiye party and opposition parties Justice and Welfare Party and Waddani 12 July signed agreement to hold long-delayed parliamentary and local elections in 2020 and tasked electoral commission with drafting roadmap. Following June resumption of talks with Somalia over Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty, committees tasked with hashing out technical issues failed to meet in Djibouti after Somalia postponed meetings, citing need to focus on internal politics. Taiwan’s FM 1 July announced that Taiwan and Somaliland – both of which seek international recognition – had signed agreement in Feb to establish diplomatic offices in each other’s capitals. Somalia President Farmajo 4 July met China’s ambassador to Somalia who expressed Beijing’s respect for Somalia’s unity while Farmajo in turn affirmed his support for China’s “One-China policy”. President Bihi 3-22 July received high-level Kenyan, Egyptian and Ethiopian delegations to discuss bilateral relations. FM late July travelled to Turkey to meet with senior Turkish officials. In centre, inter-clan fighting early July left at least three dead in Togdheer and Saahil regions.
Intercommunal violence escalated in east leaving dozens dead, implementation of local power-sharing agreement stalled, and ceasefire between President Kiir and VP Riek Machar’s forces broke down in west. In east, intercommunal clashes intensified in Jonglei state. Notably, unidentified gunmen 2 July killed four in Poktap village; suspected ethnic Murle youth next day attacked Duk Padiet town, leaving at least 39 dead; at least seven were also killed 13 July in cattle raid in Pajut town; gunmen reportedly crossing over from Pibor Administrative Area 27 July killed about 17 people in Makol-cuei village. In Lakes state in centre, intercommunal violence 4 July left four dead in Cueibet County. In Warrap state, also in centre, 15 were killed in cattle raid in Tonj North county 24 July. President Kiir 8 July said govt would launch nationwide disarmament program and intercommunal dialogue initiatives to address mounting intercommunal violence. Following June agreement between Kiir and former rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar which granted Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) governorship of contested Upper Nile state, Kiir’s spokesperson 2 July said he would not appoint Machar’s pick General Johnson Olony over accusations he violated peace agreement by not sending SPLA-IO forces to cantonment sites for unification with govt troops into national army; Kiir 20 July urged Machar to nominate other candidate. Machar’s SPLA-IO and Kiir-aligned South Sudan People’s Defense Forces 18-19 July exchanged fire in Wau, Western Bar El Gazal state, after latter 18 July arrested SPLA-IO fighters in Nyabor area. UN Security Council 13 July and regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) next day urged govt to form legislative assembly and implement security arrangements; IGAD 14 July said in absence of progress in implementation of transitional measures by 14 Aug its chairperson would intervene to mediate between parties and attempt to break deadlock. In south, rebel group National Salvation Front, which refused to be part of Sept 2018 peace agreement, 19 July said it had repelled attacks by govt forces on its positions in Liria county 16 July and Lobonok county 18 July, killing five soldiers.
Govt faced increasing pressure to advance transitional agenda amid continuing delays in finalising peace accord with rebel groups and escalating deadly violence in Darfur. Following 30 June protests demanding greater civilian rule in transition, PM Hamdok 5 July dismissed police chief and his deputy; 9 July accepted resignation of six ministers and dismissed one. Security forces 14 July detained hard-line Islamist preacher and Law and Development Party leader Mohamed Ali al-Gizouli who called on military to remove transitional govt. Thousands of former President Bashir supporters and Islamist group members 17 July protested against govt in capital Khartoum. Khartoum court 21 July opened trial of Bashir over his role in 1989 coup but adjourned it until 11 Aug amid protests and COVID-19 concerns. Govt and rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front as well as Sudan Liberation Movement/Army faction led by Minni Minnawi mid-July reached tentative agreement on power-sharing; signature of comprehensive peace deal remains elusive with security arrangements an ongoing sticking point; govt 27 July swore in 18 civilian state governors. Holdout armed opposition Sudan Liberation Movement/Army faction led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) early July reportedly clashed with security forces in Kamaraya area, West Darfur state, three SLM-AW combatants killed. In Darfur, intercommunal violence flared up and militias killed dozens in a series of violent attacks as they seek to halt returns of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees to land taken forcibly under Bashir. In North Darfur state, unidentified gunmen 13 July attacked Fata Borno IDP camp, killing at least nine civilians. In West Darfur state, intercommunal clashes 19 July left at least three dead in state capital el-Geneina; some 500 unidentified gunmen 25 July raided Masteri village, killing over 60, mostly ethnic Masalit. In South Darfur state, unidentified gunmen 23 July raided Abdos village, killing at least 15. In neighbouring South Kordofan state, intercommunal clashes 21-22 July left dozens dead in state capital Kadugli. Ethiopia reportedly achieved its first-year target for filling reservoir of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on Blue Nile River as tripartite talks remained stalled (see Nile Waters).
Authorities continued crackdown on civil society ahead of general elections scheduled for Oct. Amid absence since late April of govt-issued figures on spread of COVID-19, authorities 6 July suspended media Kwanza Online TV for eleven months for allegedly publishing misleading content, after it relayed health alert from U.S. embassy warning of coronavirus epidemic’s “exponential growth” across Tanzania 1 July. Three UN experts 22 July urged govt to end “crackdown” on civic space. Former opposition MP Tundu Lissu, living in Belgium since he was shot in capital Dodoma in 2017, 27 July returned to Tanzania to run for president in upcoming poll. Ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi next day endorsed incumbent President Magufuli as presidential candidate. Electoral commission 21 July said presidential and parliamentary elections would be held 28 Oct. African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights 15 July directed Tanzania to allow courts to hear challenges to presidential election results.
Authorities stepped up harassment of civil society and opposition amid mounting discontent over COVID-19 lockdown and ahead of general elections scheduled for early 2021. Police 8 July arrested several traders and prominent academic Stella Nyanzi who were protesting in capital Kampala against COVID-19 lockdown and closure of shopping arcades; court 10 July released Nyanzi and two traders on bail. Police 14 July arrested hundreds of traders who tried to reopen their shops in Kampala; govt next day said it would allow some arcades to reopen. Opposition MPs mid-July called for health minister Jane Aceng to resign, after she was photographed flouting govt-issued coronavirus preventive measures in Lira city 10 July; parliamentary speaker 14 July summoned Aceng and two other ministers over similar allegations. Police same day detained opposition figure Ssemujju Nganda for allegedly holding consultations in his constituency near Kampala despite coronavirus lockdown. Security forces continued to harass supporters of musician-turned-opposition leader Bobi Wine, who plans to run for president in 2021; police reportedly fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse Wine’s supporters 11 and 18 July in Jinja city in east, and 21 July in Kampala. Ruling party National Resistance Movement 28 July nominated President Museveni as party’s presidential candidate. Following agreement with Rwanda to normalise relations in Aug 2019, govt 7 July released 12 Rwandans from prison. Clashes between South Sudanese tribes in Palorinya refugee camp in north west left three people dead 16-17 July.
Newly elected President Chakwera set new govt in motion and took steps to remove from power remnants of former President Mutharika’s rule. At inauguration ceremony in capital Lilongwe, Chakwera 6 July pledged to introduce legislation to curb presidential powers and strengthen parliament and national anti-corruption body. Govt 7 July rescinded Mutharika’s 12 June order putting Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda on leave pending retirement in retaliation for his role in enabling rerun of disputed 2019 election. After Chakwera 8 July appointed 31-member cabinet, accusations of nepotism emerged on social media; critics said Chakwera appointed relatives as ministers, noting that 70% of cabinet hails from his political stronghold. Authorities mid-July arrested several prominent figures linked to Mutharika on corruption charges. Notably, police detained former Malawi Revenue Authority Deputy Commissioner Roza Mbilizi 10 July and former presidential aide Norman Chisale 14 July for allegedly helping Mutharika avoid nearly $7mn in duties while importing cement. After court 17 July released Chisale on bail, police same day rearrested him on unrelated charges of attempted murder. Police 29 July questioned Mutharika about corruption allegations. Chakwera 25 July said $1bn of public money was stolen under his predecessor and vowed to crack down on corruption. Amid surge in COVID-19 cases, govt 6 July indefinitely postponed reopening of schools initially scheduled for 13 July; 10 July said it had suspended mass testing campaign due to test kit shortage.
Amid counter-insurgency operations and allegations of extrajudicial killings, Islamist militants launched deadly attacks and stepped up kidnappings in far north. In Cabo Delgado province in far north, Islamist militants killed scores of civilians throughout month, including at least twenty in raid on Mungue village on border between Mocimboa da Praia and Muidumbe districts 15 July, and nine in attacks in Macomia and Mocimboa da Praia district 28-30 July. Numerous kidnappings were reported in July, including several truckloads of women taken by insurgents during occupation of Mocimboa da Praia town 27 June-3 July. Islamic State (ISIS) 3 July threatened to attack natural gas projects, same day warned it would target South Africa should it intervene to support Mozambican army in Cabo Delgado. Meanwhile, security forces 1 July launched raid on insurgent base near Ntessa village, Macomia district, allegedly killing over 100 militants. Reports of extrajudicial killings persisted. Security forces 7 July reportedly killed four civilians suspected of supporting insurgents in Mocimboa da Praia town. Demobilisation and disarmament of Renamo forces continued; ten former Renamo fighters 6 July enrolled with police in Pemba, capital of Cabo Delgado province; UN Special Envoy for Mozambique Mirko Manzoni 16 July said Renamo base in Muxungue, Sofala province in centre, had been dismantled previous day and over 500 former Renamo fighters demobilised since June, reportedly including eleven members of Renamo dissident faction which calls itself Renamo Military Junta. Trial of six individuals accused of supporting Renamo Military Junta, including former Renamo MP Sandura Ambrosio, started 10 July in Dondo district, Sofala province. Police 23 July killed five Renamo Military Junta fighters in Sussundenga district, Manica province in west.
Amid COVID-19 concerns and deepening economic crisis, authorities stepped up crackdown on opposition and civil society, arresting dozens ahead of planned anti-govt protest. Following calls spearheaded by opposition party Transform Zimbabwe to protest corruption and worsening economic crisis in capital Harare 31 July, Deputy Defence Minister Victor Matemadanda 8 July alleged foreign actors were funding unrest and planning to spread COVID-19 through tear gas. Police 20 July arrested Transform Zimbabwe leader Ngarivhume and prominent investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who in June reported alleged corruption in govt procurement of COVID-19 medical equipment worth $60mn, on charges of inciting public violence; court denied bail to Ngarivhume 23 July and Chin’ono 24 July. After govt 22 July tightened COVID-19 lockdown and imposed night-time curfew, UN Human Rights Office 24 July said govt should not use coronavirus “to clamp down on fundamental freedoms”. Ruling party 27 July called on supporters to “face down” protesters and accused U.S. ambassador of “funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training fighters” in Zimbabwe. Security forces 31 July locked down Harare, thwarting planned protest, and arrested at least 60 people late July, including opposition and civil society leaders, while a dozen others reportedly went into hiding. Meanwhile, authorities 4 July requested Kenya to extradite govt critic and former Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo over corruption allegations and accusations of plotting “mass uprising” against govt. Main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders Nelson Chamisa and Thokozani Khupe continued to vie for control of party; de facto interim leader Khupe 1 July sidelined eight Chamisa-aligned MPs from parliament. Parliament 27 July said it would suspend its activities after two MPs tested positive for coronavirus. Perrance Shiri, agriculture minister and former commander of notorious army brigade suspected of massacres in 1980s, died 29 July reportedly of COVID-19; family and others claimed he was poisoned.
Authorities arrested several suspects after alleged coup attempt against President Talon. Following allegations of attempted coup night of 25-26 June, communications minister and govt spokesperson 1 July said suspects were detained on terrorism charges and case had been brought to recently created Anti-Terrorism and Economic Crimes Court; security forces reportedly detained at least nine individuals, including senior military officers and bodyguard of former President Kérékou’s son, Colonel Montan Kérékou.
Sudden death of ruling party candidate for Oct presidential election created uncertainty. PM and ruling party Rally of Houphouëtists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) presidential candidate Amadou Gon Coulibaly 8 July died after returning from medical treatment in France. RHDP Executive Director Adama Bictogo 9 July said “every option is on the table” as party has until 1 Sept to appoint new nominee for presidential election scheduled for Oct. VP Daniel Kablan Duncan, reportedly frustrated by RHDP nomination process, resigned 13 July citing personal reasons. RHDP parliamentary group 22 July and RHDP political council 29 July called on President Ouattara to run for re-election; Ouattara 29 July deferred his decision until Aug. Meanwhile, Ouattara 30 July appointed Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko as new PM. Other politicians jockeyed for position ahead of election. Former FM Marcel Amon Tanoh 22 July said he will run for president as independent candidate; Tanoh resigned from govt in March after failure to secure RHDP nomination. Opposition Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire 26 July chose party leader and former President Bédié as presidential candidate. Former President Gbagbo, in Belgium following his 2019 acquittal of crimes against humanity by International Criminal Court, continued to take steps to return to Côte d’Ivoire ahead of election; his lawyer late July said he was waiting for Ivorian authorities to issue him passport. Following jihadist attack on security forces in north in June, govt 13 July adopted decree bolstering military patrols near border with Mali and Burkina Faso. National Security Council 15 July lifted COVID-19 lockdown in economic capital Abidjan despite warnings from Health Ministry; 30 July eased restrictions throughout country and maintained state of emergency until 31 Aug.
Amid political tensions over President Condé’s potential bid for re-election, demonstration turned violent and series of protests over living conditions broke out in several cities. Regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union and UN representatives 3 July met with govt delegation in capital Conakry in attempt to break persistent deadlock between ruling party and opposition on framework of presidential election planned for Oct. Condé 8 July stated willingness to hold inclusive political dialogue with opposition. Meanwhile, coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) resumed anti-Condé protests despite govt’s ban in context of COVID-19. Violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators 20 July left at least 20 injured in Conakry; FNDC accused authorities of using “weapons of war” against protesters, while govt blamed violence on “groups of hooligans”. FNDC 29 July called for new protest 6 Aug. NGOs Amnesty International and Tournons la Page (TLP) 17 July jointly called for immediate release of FNDC activists Oumar Sylla and Saikou Yaya Diallo, arrested respectively in April on charges of “diffusion of false information” and May on charges of “assault, violence, threats and public insults”, and accused authorities of trying “to strangle dissident voices” through “arbitrary detention and judicial persecution”; security forces 19 July reportedly summoned TLP coordinator to Conakry central police station. Protests over electricity cuts and lack of access to water turned violent: clashes between protesters and ruling party supporters left several injured in Siguiri city (north east) 14 July; security forces 21 July arrested 22 protesters in Kankan city (east) after govt reportedly deployed army there; following outcry from civil society, all 22 were released 29 July. Authorities mid-July eased COVID-19 curfew in Conakry and reopened air borders, also extended state of emergency into Aug.
President Embaló tightened his grip on power despite mounting international pressure to reach compromise with opposition. UN Security Council 1 July expressed concern over “ongoing political and institutional crisis” and called on Embaló to compromise with African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cap Verde (PAIGC), winner of 2019 legislative elections, to form govt “in full compliance with the provisions of the Constitution”. PAIGC contested legality of parliament’s late June approval of Nuno Gomes Nabiam as PM. PAIGC parliamentary group leader Califa Seidi 1 July said vote was “null and void”, citing procedural flaws; PAIGC leader Domingos Simões Pereira 5 July accused security forces of coercing five PAIGC MPs into voting for Nabiam. Meanwhile, Embaló 3 July reinstated five ministers he had dismissed in June to secure parliamentary majority. Embaló 7 July announced forthcoming referendum to change constitution, and said authorities would start tracking citizens’ communications within next ten days, citing need to “provide security and tranquillity to the citizens” by monitoring “insults under the guise of anonymity in the media or social networks”; several jurists immediately criticised “violation of constitution”. Group of “armed men in uniform” 26 July reportedly vandalised broadcasting equipment of independent Rádio Capital FM in capital Bissau; PAIGC same day accused authorities of staging attack; govt denied accusations. High Commissioner in charge of COVID-19 response 6 July said official figures on cases and deaths were “not even close to reality”, citing country’s low screening capacities. Embaló 25 July extended coronavirus state of emergency until 24 Aug but announced lifting of international travel restrictions.
Jihadists resumed attacks on Borno state capital in north east, armed groups inflicted heavy toll on army in north west, and attacks on farming communities spiked in Middle Belt. In Borno state in north east, insurgents 2 July shot UN helicopter near Damasak town, prompting UN to pause humanitarian flights to review risk assessments. Suspected Boko Haram faction Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 7-16 July killed about 50 soldiers, including 37 in ambush along Maiduguri-Damboa highway 7 July. Troops 13 July repelled first insurgents’ attack in state capital Maiduguri in several months, and 19 July repelled ISWAP attack on army’s super camp in Damasak town, killing eight ISWAP commanders. ISWAP same day killed five humanitarian workers abducted in June. Insurgents 30 July fired four rocket-propelled explosives into Maiduguri killing seven, in second major security breach of city long considered beyond insurgent’s reach. In north west, military reported 80 armed men killed in operations 1-31 July, while armed groups continued attacks mainly in Katsina and Zamfara states. In Katsina, unidentified gunmen 6 July killed at least 25 in Yar Gamji village in Batsari area; first explosive device attack in Katsina 18 July killed seven children in Yammama village, Malumfashi area; armed group same day ambushed army unit in Jibia area, inflicting heavy toll on military by killing at least 23 soldiers; 20 July abducted seventeen women in Zakka town, Safana area. In Zamfara, armed group 6 July stormed Danfana village, Maru area, killing seven and abducting 20. Air force 9, 20 and 23 July bombed armed groups’ hideouts in Zamfara state forest, killing unspecified numbers. With armed groups deploying increasingly sophisticated weapons, army 10 July reported growing indications of connections between them and jihadist groups. Intercommunal violence and attacks on farming communities flared in Middle Belt, killing dozens. In southern part of Kaduna state, armed attacks on farming communities 9-24 July killed over 70 residents in Kaura, Kajuru, Kauru and Zangon Kataf areas. In Benue state’s Logo area, unidentified assailants 10 July killed seven in Chembe village. In other communal violence, unidentified gunmen 29 July killed fourteen at Agbudu village, Kogi state.
Deadly clashes erupted between protesters and security forces in north, while doctors went on strike amid COVID-19 pandemic. Security forces 18 July opened fire on protesters who attacked local offices of President Bio’s political party in northern Makeni city, Bombali district, leaving at least four killed and ten wounded; hundreds had gathered to block relocation of power generator to another city, fearing loss of electricity supply. Govt immediately imposed curfew in Makeni. In statement published 21 July, MPs from Bombali district condemned violence and demanded investigation into “use of excessive and disproportionate lethal force by police and military personnel”. Bishop of Makeni diocese 26 July called for calm and “immediate, independent and transparent investigation” into recent violence. Amid escalating tensions between health workers and govt over alleged misuse of COVID-19 funds, doctors 2 July went on strike to protest unpaid hazard allowance and lack of protective equipment, suspending care of coronavirus patients; 7 July threatened to suspend care for all patients if govt failed to meet their demands. Govt 22 July reopened air borders for commercial flights, closed since March amid COVID-19 pandemic.
Tensions continued between China and Japan over disputed island chain in East China Sea while Japan concluded annual defence review. Chinese coastguard vessels 2-5 July twice entered Japanese territorial waters around disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, staying for periods over 30 hours; Tokyo 6 July said it lodged diplomatic protests with Beijing. China early July conducted military exercises, including live fire, in East China and Yellow Seas. Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party 3 July drafted resolution calling on PM Shinzo Abe to cancel planned state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Tokyo. Japanese govt 14 July published annual white paper on defence policy, accusing China of “relentlessly continued unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion” around Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Japanese media 19 July reported Tokyo’s Air Self-Defence Force has adopted policy of scrambling fighter jets against all military aircraft taking off from Chinese base in Fujian province near contested islands. Chief cabinet secretary 22 July said Chinese ships were spotted near Senkaku/Diaoyu islands for 100th straight day. In joint statement following 9 July virtual meeting, Abe and Australian PM Scott Morrison reiterated “strong opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions that could alter the status quo or increase tensions in the East and South China Seas”. U.S. envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun 9-10 July met Japanese officials in Tokyo to “reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance” and promote “free and open Indo-Pacific”; U.S. 9 July approved sale of 105 F-35 fighter jets to Tokyo; Chinese state media Global Times 12 July called purchases “worrying” and raised concerns “Japan will break its peaceful constitution”. Commander of U.S. forces in Japan 29 July said Washington “steadfast” in support for “situation in Senkaku”, offering reconnaissance support of Chinese coastguard vessels around islands; in response, Beijing same day reiterated claim to islands and said it was its right “to patrol these waters and conduct law enforcement”. China 1 July released Japanese man detained in 2015 and sentenced to prison in 2018 on spying charges.
Tensions continued amid Seoul’s reshuffle of security team, while North Korea cast doubt on potential third U.S.-DPRK summit. South Korean President Moon Jae-in 3 July reorganised his national security team, including appointing Suh Hoon as national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong as special advisor, former lawmaker Park Jie-won – imprisoned from 2006-2007 for secretly sending money to Pyongyang to hold inter-Korean summit in 2000 – as intelligence chief and nominating ruling Democratic Party lawmaker Lee In-Young as unification minister. U.S. President Donald Trump 7 July said he believes Pyongyang wants meeting between DPRK and U.S. and he would join if “helpful”; top official and sister of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un Kim Yo-jong 10 July released statement reiterating Pyongyang’s lack of interest in another Trump-Kim summit, saying preconditions for talks had changed from previous demands of sanctions relief and end to joint U.S.-South Korea military drills to expanded position that Washington must end all “hostilities”, including rhetoric and criticism; statement came days after U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper 7 July listed North Korea among “rogue states”. Former South Korean FM and UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-moon 8 July urged govt not to “beg” North Korea during speech to National Assembly, describing Moon administration’s policies toward North as “astounding and deplorable”. North Korean state media 11 July announced reinstatement of Kim Yo-jong to political bureau of central committee in Pyongyang; Kim Yo-jong was removed from position in 2019. South Korea’s military 30 July reported Pyongyang 6 July fired missile as part of naval exercises. Amid ongoing dispute between U.S. and South Korea over sharing cost of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on Korean peninsula, Wall Street Journal newspaper 17 July reported U.S. Defence Department had presented Trump administration with options to reduce number of troops, raising concerns in South Korea and Japan over potential impact on security. UK 6 July announced sanctions against two North Korean ministries for reportedly running prison camps. Analysts at Middlebury Institute of International Studies 8 July reported suspected undeclared nuclear facility in Wollo-ri village near Pyongyang.
Cross-strait tensions persisted amid Taiwan’s annual military exercises, while Taipei announced diplomatic ties with Somaliland. Taiwan 13-17 July held annual live fire war games simulating defence against invasion of island involving all branches of armed forces, including navy 15 July firing first live torpedo since 2007; two Chinese reconnaissance vessels same day sailed near eastern coast of Taiwan. Earlier, Chinese military aircraft 4 July entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, which prompted Taiwanese fighter jets to scramble in response. U.S. State Department 9 July approved sale of upgrades to PAC-3 air defence missiles system to Taiwan; in response, China 14 July announced it will impose sanctions on U.S. arms company Lockheed Martin, which produces the weapons system. U.S. Congress member 29 July introduced bill to authorise U.S. to use military force if China attacks Taiwan. Taiwanese govt 1 July announced establishment of diplomatic ties with and representative offices in Somaliland, a self-declared independent region of Somalia, following Feb 2020 meeting in Taipei between two entities; Chinese foreign ministry 6 July said Beijing “firmly opposes the establishment or any form of official exchange between” Taiwan and Somaliland. FM 22 July said China is sending military planes close to Taiwan with increasing frequency, accusing Beijing of “unceasingly preparing to use force to resolve the Taiwan problem”.
Month saw deadly attacks on both sides; Taliban’s ceasefire and govt’s release of prisoners in later part of month raised prospects intra-Afghan peace process could start in Aug. Despite international expectations intra-Afghan dialogue could begin in July, peace process remained on hold for most of month with attacks on both sides and delays in further govt release of prisoners. Taliban intensified attacks on major highways in north, including assault along Kabul to Mazar-e Sharif highway in Sar-e Pul province 7-14 July and clashes on Shibergan-to Mazar highway in Jawzjan province and Kabul-Kunduz highway in Baghlan province (north). While Taliban continued to refrain from attacks on large cities, some major attacks took place. Notably, Taliban 13 July bombed govt intelligence agency in Aybak, capital of Samangan province (north), killing ten and injuring over 50, in first high-profile Taliban-claimed attack on provincial capital since Feb U.S.-Taliban agreement; also launched 13-17 July series of suicide vehicles bombings in Kandahar (south) and Wardak (centre) provinces, with group justifying attacks as “retaliations” for violations of agreement by govt forces, blaming U.S. for not preventing govt attacks. Meanwhile, govt increased airstrikes against suspected Taliban targets with reported high civilian toll; govt air raids 22 July reportedly killed some 45 people, including civilians, in Kham Zaiarat area, Herat province (west); U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalizad next day condemned airstrikes as well as “recent Taliban attacks”, urging “all sides to contain the violence”. Taliban 18 July reshuffled negotiating team and restructured political office in Doha ahead of future talks, incorporating figures from differing wings of movement. Domestic political stasis continued despite President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah’s May agreement to form inclusive govt; Ghani 18 July reappointed hardline interior and defence ministers who hold tough stance toward Taliban; many provincial governors and ministerial positions remained unfilled. In major step forward and following U.S. pressure, Taliban 28 July announced second three-day ceasefire for Eid holiday and govt responded, declaring final hundreds prisoners of total 5,000 to be released, raising prospect intra-Afghan dialogue could begin in August.
Amid ongoing govt crackdown on critics, security operations continued against alleged members of banned militant groups. Police continued to detain people under controversial Digital Security Act in cases mainly filed by ruling Awami League (AL) supporters: police 3 July arrested member of AL student wing for criticising AL lawmaker in Facebook post in Manikganj district; 19 July arrested three, including two teachers, at Farakkabad college in Chandpur district for defaming govt ministers through fake social media account. In continued anti-militancy efforts, security forces 9 July arrested suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir member in Khulna district and next day arrested alleged Ansarullah Bangla Team militant in capital Dhaka; police 17 July arrested woman in Dhaka for alleged involvement in women’s wing of Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), including fundraising and recruitment; paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion 19 July arrested six suspected members of JMB in Savar district near Dhaka; 24 July three alleged Allahr Dal members in Dinajpur district; and 27 July, five suspected Ansarul Islam militants in Dhaka’s Dhamrai region. Explosion at Pallabi police station in Dhaka injured at least four police officers and one civilian 29 July, with police claiming they later defused two further explosives; Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility but police 30 July declared claim “false”. Govt faced rising COVID-19 cases bringing total to 237,000 on 31 July, making Bangladesh 17th worst coronavirus-hit country globally. In north, mass flooding, which began late June in Jamalpur, Kurigram, Gaibandha and other districts, affected 1.5mn people, killing dozens and submerging thousands of villages. NGO Human Rights Watch 9 July urged govt to move 300 Rohingya refugees from Bhashan Char island in Bay of Bengal amid longstanding concerns that island is prone to flooding and lacks services.
Indian and Chinese officials made progress toward disengagement at disputed border while clashes increased between security forces and Maoist militants across country. Following deadly clash in June along Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, India’s national security adviser and China’s FM 5 July agreed that both sides should “expeditiously” complete disengagement of troops along LAC, adding that “maintenance of peace and tranquillity” in border areas was “essential for the further development of (…) bilateral relations”; satellite imagery and officials indicated that Indian and Chinese forces disengaged in several areas. Military officials from both sides met 14 July and, according to Beijing, made progress in “further disengagement” and easing of border tensions. Indian defense minister 17 July said that “given the progress of the negotiations so far”, border standoff with China “should be resolved”, though India would not cede “an inch” of territory”. Meanwhile, Maoist violence and anti-Maoist security operations increased across country. In Arunachal Pradesh (north east), security operation 11 July killed six Maoists in Longding district. In Bihar (east), Maoists 9 July killed two civilians in Munger district, and security operation 10 July killed four Maoists in West Champaran district. In Odisha (east), fighting between security forces and Maoists 5-23 July left seven Maoists dead in Kandhamal district. In Chhattisgarh (centre), Maoists 1-27 July killed two civilians and two security force members in Dantewada, Bijapur, Sukma and Narayanpur. In Maharashtra (west), security operation 3 July left Maoist dead in Gadchiroli district, and Maoists 10 July killed civilian in Gadchiroli. In Andhra Pradesh (south east), police 26 July shot and killed Maoist in Visakhapatnam district. In Manipur (north east), armed group People’s Liberation Army of Manipur 29 July ambushed security forces killing three in Chandel district. In West Bengal, Indian border security forces 4 July shot and killed Bangladeshi civilian who had crossed border into India; Bangladesh-based human rights group Odhikar 6 July said security forces had killed at least 25 Bangladeshi civilians in first six months of 2020. Govt-appointed Delhi Minority Commission 16 July said police had failed to protect Muslims during Feb Hindu-Muslim violence that killed 53.
Militant attacks and counter-insurgency operations inside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) continued at high intensity, while clashes persisted across Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir). In J&K, militants 1 July killed one paramilitary soldier in Baramullah district, and incident also left one man dead; controversy emerged over cause of additional casualty as Indian officials claimed militant gunfire killed man, while his family said security forces shot him. Militant and paramilitary member killed in clash in regional capital Srinagar 2 July; next day two militants killed in Kulgam district. In Pulwama district, bomb blast injured soldier 5 July and clash 7 July killed soldier and two militants. Next day, amid widespread strikes in Kashmir Valley to honour Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, whom security forces killed in 2016, militants killed local leader of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Bandipora district and two members of his family. Security forces killed three militants in Baramullah district 12 July, two in Anantnag district next day and three militants, including commander, in Kulgam district 17 July. Police reported killing two militants in gunfight in Ranbirgarh area of Srinagar 25 July. Tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad continued after reciprocal allegations of espionage saw half of diplomats in both capitals return home 30 June; India’s external ministry 2 July criticised announcement by Pakistan’s election commission on same day to hold local elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly part of J&K; Pakistan’s foreign ministry next day responded India “remains in illegal occupation of parts of” J&K. Pakistani PM Imran Khan 14 July inaugurated building of dam in Gilgit-Baltistan, undertaken with Chinese assistance; New Delhi 16 July protested construction on “Indian union territories” J&K and Ladakh. Meanwhile, cross-LoC clashes between India and Pakistan continued; Islamabad claimed firing by Indian forces killed child 1 July; injured five civilians 5 July; injured six civilians 12 July and injured two civilians 17 July; New Delhi accused Pakistani forces of killing soldier 10 July and killing three civilians 17 July.
Pressure on PM KP Oli grew within Nepal Communist Party (NCP) while bilateral tensions with India continued. Faction of senior NCP leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal reiterated calls for Oli’s resignation. President Bidya Bhandari 2 July prorogued parliament on Oli’s recommendation, preventing potential no-confidence motion. After several rounds of unsuccessful talks with Dahal, Oli 18 July proposed holding NCP’s first general convention in Nov/Dec where Dahal would be appointed sole party chair in exchange for Oli retaining prime ministership; talks drew criticism from other senior NCP leaders who alleged move neglected their grievances. Dahal, Nepal and other senior leaders 28 July held long-awaited NCP standing committee meeting despite Oli’s absence; leaders criticised Oli’s flouting party rules but stopped short of demanding his resignation from office. NCP vice chair Bamdev Gautam 28 July floated proposal similar to Oli’s – allowing him to finish his five-year PM term while Dahal would assume NCP leadership. Meanwhile, bilateral tensions with India continued. Govt 9 July banned Indian news television broadcasts, purportedly in response to insults and allegations against Oli; govt 12 July partially repealed measure after civil society criticised ban for undermining press freedom; head of govt’s press oversight body 13 July stated that “press freedom has its limitations”. Oli 13 July accused India of “cultural aggression” and claimed that notable Hindu deity was born in Nepal instead of India; Oli’s statement next day drew rebuke from NCP leaders, former ministers and diplomats for further straining relations with Delhi.
Amid sustained militant violence, political tensions continued over govt’s use of anti-corruption National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against opposition. Sindh chapter of ruling-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) 12 July announced it would report opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)’s Sindh provincial govt to NAB, alleging corruption in form of kickbacks from development schemes. NAB 14 July approved fresh inquiries into former Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) PM Nawaz Sharif and PML-N chair Shahbaz Sharif in undisclosed cases. Supreme Court justice 20 July accused NAB of “trampling of fundamental rights” and being “reluctant in proceeding against people on one side of the political divide” in response to June 2019 denial of bail in case brought against former PML-N minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother; PML-N and PPP 21-22 July called for dissolution of NAB and development of new anti-corruption body. Unidentified armed men 21 July abducted journalist Matiullah Jan in capital Islamabad with some kidnappers reportedly in uniform; reporter released hours later; Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari same day described incident as “very disturbing”. Following deadly attack in June on Karachi stock exchange claimed by Baloch separatist group, police 18 July announced they prevented another attack in Karachi after arresting six militants from Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar, another separatist group; police claimed group operated from Afghanistan with Indian backing. Militant attacks continued, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province: militants 8 July killed senior police officer in Swabi district; 11 July killed two civilians and next day killed four soldiers while security forces killed four attackers in North Waziristan district; 23 July 16 persons injured in a bomb blast at a market in the predominantly Shia Kurram district’s capital, Parachinar. In Balochistan province, firefight 11 July injured two police officers in Mastung district; militant attack 14 July killed three soldiers in Panjgur district; 19 July Hindu local leader shot dead in Khuzdar district; 21 July one person killed in bomb blast at a local market in Turbat district; 25 July one soldier killed in clash with Baloch militants in Kech district; same day military killed an alleged Balochistan Liberation Army militant in another security operation in Kech.
Ahead of August parliamentary elections, ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led Sinhala nationalist campaign in attempt to obtain two-thirds majority and strengthen executive power. Amid ongoing campaigning ahead of 5 Aug legislative polls, SLPP leader and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa 2 July said two-thirds majority was required to repeal 19th amendment to constitution, which limits presidential powers; PM 5 July described Samagi Jana Balawegaya opposition coalition, which includes Tamil and Muslim parties, as instrument for “communal parties” and their allegedly “extremist” ambitions, said 2019 Easter bombings had revealed dangerous consequences of “communal politics”; election campaign also featured anti-Muslim hate speech on social media. Main Tamil grouping Tamil National Alliance (TNA) 18 July released election manifesto underscoring its long-held demand for devolution of power to traditionally Tamil-majority regions; prominent hardline Buddhist monks 20 July warned that if Tamils “demand a separate state again, a river of blood will flow in the North and East”; PM 27 July claimed TNA continuing separatist project of defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In Northern province, amid reports of security forces targeting Tamils, former LTTE member 4 July fatally injured himself allegedly while building bomb; defence ministry claimed he was financed by Tamil diaspora to “revamp LTTE”. Attorney general 17 July approved draft regulations under controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act allowing suspects detained for holding violent extremist views to undergo “de-radicalisation” program. Prominent Muslim leader of opposition party All Ceylon Makkal Congress Rishad Bathiudeen 17 July filed petition with Supreme Court to prevent his arrest for alleged links to Easter bombings; 27 July summoned for further questioning by police in the midst of election campaigning. Police 27 July questioned former United National Party (UNP) minister Ravi Kurunanayake with regard to alleged 2015 Central Bank “bond scam”. Following rise in COVID-19 cases, leader of opposition UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa respectively 12 and 13 July called for postponement of polls; PM 15 July dismissed fears of second wave of infections, claiming they were based on opposition rumours.
Amid small-scale violence in Papua, tensions over political status of region continued, while protests erupted against govt’s controversial job creation bill. In Papua province, soldiers 18 July shot and killed two men in Nduga regency; military claimed victims were armed separatists of West Papua Liberation Army (WPLA), which WPLA denied; hundreds 19 and 27 July gathered in Nduga’s capital Keneyam calling for military to hand over bodies to family of those killed and demanding justice for past human rights abuses, including reported killing of over 200 civilians, amid military operations against armed separatists Dec 2018-July 2020. In late month, military accused of beating to death 18-year old Indigenous Papuan man arrested for theft in Boven Digoel regency, Papua province, near border with Papua New Guinea 24 July; military denied “beating”, said investigation under way. Earlier in month, Papuan civil society groups under banner Petisi Rakyat Papua (Petition by Papuans) 5 July voiced opposition to continuation of Papua special autonomy status, due to be debated this year by parliament, asked for referendum to allow Papuans to decide their own fate; series of small-scale protests opposing govt’s plan to continue special autonomy status took place, including 8, 11 and 14 July in Papua, Bali and Java. Demonstrators 1 July commemorated proclamation of West Papuan independence in South Sulawesi and East Java provinces, and Papuan students 6 July commemorated in Bali province 1998 “Biak massacre” during which security forces fired at peaceful protesters on Biak island, Papua. Thousands 16 July demonstrated against bill on job creation under parliament’s consideration in capital Jakarta; protesters reportedly began throwing rocks at police who responded with tear gas and arrested 20 (all eventually released next day). President Joko Widodo 3 July signed presidential regulation placing State Intelligence Agency directly under his control.
Amid clashes between Arakan Army (AA) and military in Rakhine state, govt and armed groups agreed to hold fifth Union Peace Conference in Aug while election commission scheduled general elections for Nov. In Rakhine state, two police officers 8 July went missing in state capital Sittwe. Army 11 July arrested six men suspected of links to AA in Ramree township, army claimed one committed suicide in custody, but body showed signs of torture. Clashes between military and AA 11-14 July killed at least four civilians and displaced more than 3,000 in Ponnagyun, Rathedaung and Maungdaw townships. NGO Amnesty International 8 July said military’s killing of civilians in indiscriminate airstrikes on villages in Rakhine and Chin states “amount to war crimes” and urged UN Security Council to refer situation to International Criminal Court. In Shan state, after military late June allegedly shot and killed civilian and injured two others in Kyaukme township amid clashes with armed group Restoration Council of Shan State, more than 10,000 10 July protested in Kyaukme demanding justice for victims; military indicated same day that it would seek charges against organisers for illegal protest. In Kayin state, army 16 July killed civilian; in response, over 1,500 22 July and around 5,000 28 July demonstrated in Papun district calling for military’s withdrawal. Negotiators of govt and other signatories of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement 7 July agreed to hold fourth “Panglong-21” Union Peace Conference 12-14 August; Brotherhood Alliance – coalition of non-signatory armed groups AA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – 21 July said it was “fully willing” to attend conference if invited and that it wanted to resume “stalled negotiations” with govt. Election Commission 1 July announced general elections scheduled for 8 Nov. UK 6 July imposed sanctions on military chief and his deputy for their involvement in “systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.”
In south, violence continued unabated, while concerns over spread of COVID-19 delayed implementation of peace agreement. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), clan feuds continued, including: in Palimbang on Mindanao island before temporary ceasefire agreement reached on 11 July; in Tipo-Tipo municipality on Basilan island, where firefight involving members of local army and paramilitary 3 July broke out, killing four and injuring four; in Pigcawayan municipality in North Cotabato, Mindanao, where an ambush 10 July left four men dead; in Datu municipality, Minguadanao, Mindanao island, where members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and local politician’s supporters 14 July engaged in tit-for-tat gunfights in Montawal municipality, wounding two combatants; and in South Upi municipality, Minguadanao, where tensions between members of MILF and indigenous Teduray natives over land persisted. In Maguindanao province, violence involving Islamist militants continued with slight escalation between govt and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters: notably, insurgents of Ansara Khilafa Philippines 1 July clashed with police operatives in Polomolok town in South Cotabato province, killing one militant; bomb explosion targeting police car 10 July killed two policemen and injured four in Shariff Aguak municipality; army infantry force 30 July exchanged fire with militants near Datu Salibo town, leaving two soldiers and about ten militants dead. Clashes between govt forces and elements of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group continued in Sulu province, including killing of five Abu Sayyaf members in Patikul municipality on 6 July. In south, concerns over spike in COVID-19 cases delayed implementation of peace agreement between govt and MILF as interim govt focused on responding to coronavirus. Efforts to rehabilitate Marawi city also stagnated once again due to govt’s focus on contagion; task force Bangon Marawi on 15 July announced govt however remained on track to complete city’s rehabilitation by Dec 2021. Govt 1 July signed agreement with EU for €25mn in Support to Bangsamoro Transition program to help Bangsamoro executive and parliament’s capacity during transition. Meanwhile, clashes between communist New People’s Army and armed forces in Visayas in centre, Mindanao in south, and Luzon in north continued at comparable levels as in June, killing at least 13 combatants and civilians in total throughout month.
South China Sea
Tensions heightened between China and U.S, while SCS claimant parties stressed need to resolve dispute based on international law. Following June announcement of Chinese military exercises around Paracel Islands 1-5 July, U.S. 3 July expressed concern and noted exercises in Philippines’ waters would be met with “severest response”. Chinese survey ship Hai Yang Di Zhi 4 departed region of Vietnam’s EZZ 4 July; Vietnamese coast guard ship and U.S. Navy ship USS Gabrielle Giffords 2 July sailed nearby. Chinese coast guard ship 5402 2 July sailed north of Vanguard Bank, within 200 nautical miles of Vietnam’s coast. U.S. military continued series of exercises in SCS: Nimitz and Ronald Reagan carrier strike groups 4 July began four days of exercises; at least one U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber 5 July participated in operation; guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson 14 July conducted freedom of navigation operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of Spratly Islands; Nimitz and Reagan strike groups 17 July linked up in SCS; Chinese defence ministry 9 July called exercises “provocative acts” in pursuit of “navigational hegemony”. Two U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers 21 July conducted maritime integration operation with Reagan carrier group in SCS. China’s military 27 July commenced week-long live fire drills in SCS off Leizhou peninsula; 30 July completed bomber drill over SCS. In shift in U.S. stance, U.S. Sec of State Mike Pompeo 13 July said China’s claims to offshore resources “completely unlawful”; move puts U.S. in line with position of South East Asian claimants and UN Convention of Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In response to U.S. statement, Malaysian FM 16 July said disputes must be resolved based on international law. Vietnamese MFA 15 July affirmed support for UNCLOS; 16 July dismissed China’s claims of historical activities in SCS. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte 27 July said China is “in possession” of SCS. Australia 23 July submitted Note Verbale to Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf, aligning with U.S. position on UNCLOS and 28 July agreed to “increased and regularised maritime cooperation” with U.S. in SCS and Indian Ocean; Canberra 25 July rejected Beijing’s claims in SCS.
Protesters staged one of largest pro-democracy demonstrations since 2014 military coup while insurgents continued attacks against security forces in deep south. In capital Bangkok, activist group Free Youth and Thai Student Union 18 July organised demonstration at Democracy Monument with estimated 2,500 people demanding dissolution of parliament, new constitution and end to harassment of govt critics; organisers said they would intensify rallies if govt failed to respond by 1 Aug. Students in Chiang Mai and in Ubon Ratchathani 19 July gathered, echoing Bangkok demonstration’s demands; about 200 protesters 20 July also demonstrated outside army headquarters in Bangkok accusing military of inappropriate spending and political interference, reportedly in response to army’s former spokeswoman criticism of anti-govt protesters. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 21 July said parliament could address protesters’ demands. Smaller pro-democracy protests 25 July took place in several provincial capitals; hundreds of protesters next day returned to Democracy Monument and continued demonstrations 26-30 July. In deep south, security forces 3 July raided house in Panare, Pattani, killing defence volunteer and suspected insurgent; that night, insurgents attacked ranger base in Sungai Padi, Narathiwat, with no casualties; next morning, bomb exploded near scene of previous night’s attack, with no casualties. Insurgents 8 July reportedly shot and killed ranger volunteer in Raman, Yala; 14-15 July reportedly detonated two bombs targeting security forces which killed one ranger and injured six rangers and four civilians in Mae Lan and Panare, Pattani. Four senior cabinet members including finance minister 9 July quit ruling Palang Pracharat Party and 16 July resigned from cabinet along with deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak; PM same day said he would reshuffle cabinet by end of Aug. PM and Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong 10 July met U.S. army chief James McConville in Bangkok, where Apirat and McConville signed “Strategic Vision” pact; U.S. embassy same day said meeting focused on “modernisation, interoperability, joint training and doctrine”.
Europe & Central Asia
Bosnia And Herzegovina
July saw progress towards organising local election in Mostar and meeting priorities for EU membership application. Following June signing of landmark deal on new statute to govern Mostar city, House of Representatives 7 July adopted amendments to Election Law agreement allowing local elections to proceed in Nov; EU delegation 8 July welcomed move. COVID-19 cases significantly increased in Republika Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entities throughout July with over 300 new cases per day and total of 10,766 cases as of 29 July; 3,000 frontline medical workers 8 July went on strike in Sarajevo demanding pay supplement for overtime; govt 16 July decided to open borders unilaterally to EU citizens. Parliament 22 July agreed on rules of procedure for EU-Bosnia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee, ending five-year standstill and fulfilling one of 14 priorities for EU membership application.
EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed after two-year hiatus, and legal proceedings against President Thaçi over allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity continued. Following June cancellation of U.S.-sponsored talks in Washington, EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue 10 July resumed at Franco-German-hosted virtual summit, in first official round of dialogue between two entities since Nov 2018; Serbian President Vucic and PM Hoti held video meetings with French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel and EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell with Hoti saying dialogue should lead to “mutual recognition” with Serbia as “only way to normalize relations and open the way for both countries in the EU integration process” and talks should be guided by principle of “non-negotiable” nature of Kosovo’s territorial integrity. EU-facilitated dialogue between both sides on normalisation of relations 12 July took place with Borrell and EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčak; parties agreed on main elements of dialogue process, while Borrell welcomed both parties’ commitment to talks. Hoti and Vucic 16 July met face-to-face in Brussels with Borrell and Lajčak to discuss economic issues and missing and displaced persons, reaching agreement on next steps in subsequent round of EU-led dialogue held 23 July. Following end June indictment of Thaçi by Special Prosecutor of The Hague Special Chambers on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, Special Prosecutor 13 July questioned President for four days in The Hague; Thaçi 16 July stated to press that if prosecutor and judge evaluate testimonies professionally “they can easily conclude that I have not committed any war crimes.” Throughout July govt saw spike in new COVID-19 cases, causing PM Hoti 12 July to tighten measures such as ban on religious events and public gatherings, as well as making mask wearing mandatory. Govt 30 July signed agreement with EU Commission for €100mn in macro-financial assistance.
Country held parliamentary elections in mid-July. Following 15 July parliamentary elections, ruling party Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) led by former PM Zoran Zaev emerged as strongest party with 46 seats but failed to win majority; opposition VMRO-DPMNE followed closely with 44 seats, while Albanian Democratic Union for Integration won 15 seats; opposition parties collectively submitted over 177 individual complaints to Administrative Court on alleged electoral violations. Following 2019 decision to reject opening of accession talks, EU Commission 1 July presented to EU Council draft negotiating framework for North Macedonia, laying out guidelines and principles for accession talks. Democratic Union for Integration leader Ali Ahmeti 22 July confirmed he had accepted request for questioning from Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office on wartime and post-war crimes by Kosovo Liberation Army, of which he was a member.
Dispute between govt and Serbian Orthodox Church continued while voter registration irregularities surfaced ahead of 30 Aug parliamentary elections. Govt and Church leaders 21 July failed to agree on changes to controversial Dec 2019 Freedom of Confession Act; Church accused govt of engaging in dialogue for “political marketing” purposes; critics of the law have argued that it facilitates govt register of all religious sites in attempt to reduce role of Serbian Orthodox Church and allow govt to claim religious sites as state property. Crime and Corruption Reporting Network and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network mid-July reported more than 50,000 “phantom voters” will be eligible to vote in 30 Aug parliamentary elections; in some municipalities, number of registered voters reportedly exceeds actual population. Meanwhile, National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases 5 July blamed rise in COVID-19 cases (2,065 active cases as of 29 July) on members of pro-Serb opposition Democratic Front (DF) party, alleging that members imported cases from Serbia; DF accused coordination body of supporting ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.
Deadly violence erupted along north-eastern part of border with Azerbaijan, fuelling tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis living abroad. Following relative calm at frontline since Sept 2018 agreement that launched direct communication channel between Armenia and Azerbaijan, violence 12-16 July flared up at densely populated frontline between Movses in Armenia and Agdam in Azerbaijan during which both sides used heavy weaponry in severest escalation since April 2016; as of 21 July, Armenia reported four military casualties and one civilian wounded; cause of escalation remained unclear and both sides traded accusations of initiating first attack. After border escalation, tensions rose between Armenian and Azerbaijani migrants and members of diaspora living abroad: in Russia, home to one of largest Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora populations, Moscow authorities 18 July arrested more than 25 individuals suspected of attacking several pedestrians and drivers; clashes 21 July also broke out between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Los Angeles, U.S. (see Nagorno-Karabakh conflict).
Death of popular general during clashes at border with Armenia stirred one of largest demonstrations in years. Following relative calm at frontline since Sept 2018 agreement that launched direct communication channel between Armenia and Azerbaijan, violence 12-16 July flared up at densely populated frontline between Movses in Armenia and Agdam in Azerbaijan during which both sides used heavy weaponry in severest escalation since April 2016; as of 21 July, Azerbaijan reported twelve military fatalities, including well-regarded senior military official Major General Polad Hashimov, and one civilian killed; cause of escalation remained unclear and both sides traded accusations of initiating first attack (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Following death of Hashimov, highest-ranking official killed on battlefield since 1994 ceasefire that ended war over Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway region, tens of thousands of protesters 15 July took to streets in capital Baku, demanding that authorities go to war to return Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; police arrested dozens after small number of protestors stormed parliament. President Aliyev next day dismissed FM Elmar Mammadyarov, key emissary in peace talks with Armenia for sixteen years, replacing him with former Minister of Education Jeyhun Bayramov; dismissal followed recent corruption investigations into foreign ministry and perception of Mammadyarov’s “passive” approach to address recent border clashes. Azerbaijan’s military same day said that its new missile system has range to reach Soviet-era nuclear power plant near Yerevan, prompting outrage in Armenia; high-ranking Azerbaijani official then clarified “Azerbaijan has no policy of targeting critical strategic facilities”. After border escalation, tensions rose between Armenian and Azerbaijani migrants and members of diasporas abroad: in Russia, home to one of largest Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora populations, Moscow authorities 18 July arrested more than 30 individuals suspected of attacking several pedestrians and drivers; clashes 21 July broke out between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Los Angeles, U.S.. Amid COVID-19 concerns, govt 18 July extended nationwide quarantine until 31 Aug, with stricter measures in place in Baku and other cities until 5 Aug.
Talks between Georgia, Russia and de facto South Ossetian officials resumed following incident at line of separation in South Ossetian conflict zone, while de facto authorities in Abkhazia initiated steps to address COVID-19 fallout. In Abkhazia, after de facto govt 14 July declared region free of COVID-19, de facto officials early July travelled to Russia to discuss reopening of border to Russian tourists in attempt to address increasing financial pressure and budget shortfall; however, 25 new coronavirus cases confirmed during month. For second time since border closure in Feb due to coronavirus outbreak, de facto Abkhaz govt 13-17 July allowed over 2,000 residents to return to Abkhazia from Georgia-controlled territory, including ethnic Abkhaz and Georgians. Govt 11 July reported Russian border guards inflicted bullet-injury on Georgian citizen at line of separation in South Ossetian conflict zone; U.S. 17 July condemned incident during Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Permanent Council session. Representatives from Georgia and Russia and de facto officials from South Ossetia 30 July held first meeting of Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (forum to discuss situation on line of separation) since Aug 2019 to discuss “issues pertaining to stabilisation and normalisation on the ground” and impact of closed boundary crossings; parties agreed to plan subsequent meeting scheduled for Sept. U.S. House Appropriations Committee 9 July approved bill to provide $132mn aid to Georgia, but for first time made aid conditional on govt implementation of new electoral reform, support for independence of judiciary, free media access to information and govt measures to limit “informal rule of oligarchs”.
In major escalation, deadly clashes erupted along state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, killing at least 18, raising risk of further hostilities in August. Following relative calm at frontline since Sept 2018 agreement that launched direct communication channel between Armenia and Azerbaijan, violence 12-16 July flared up at densely populated frontline between Movses in Armenia and Agdam in Azerbaijan during which both sides used heavy weaponry in severest escalation since April 2016; as of 21 July, Azerbaijan reported twelve military fatalities, including a well-regarded general, and one civilian killed, while Armenia reported four military casualties and one civilian wounded; cause of escalation remained unclear and both sides traded accusations of initiating first attack. Azerbaijan authorities 15 July reported detention of Armenian citizen after crossing into Azerbaijan’s southern exclave of Nakhchivan. Armenia 27 July also reported sniper fire killed one Armenian soldier along border. In absence of international mediation and with both sides on high alert, risk of further clashes in Aug remains high. Following mid-July deadly escalation, external actors called for deescalation: Kremlin 15 July called on both sides “to exercise restraint and honour their obligations as part of a ceasefire”; UN Sec-Gen Antonio Guterres 14 and 22 July urged both countries to exercise maximum restraint in clashes at frontline; EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 14 and 22 July called for both sides to defuse tensions. After escalation, tensions also rose between Armenian and Azerbaijani migrants and members of diaspora abroad: in Russia, home to one of largest Armenian and Azerbaijani diaspora populations, Moscow authorities 18 July arrested more than 25 individuals suspected of attacking several pedestrians and drivers; clashes 21 July broke out between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Los Angeles, U.S..
Constitutional referendum paved way for President Putin to run for additional terms, arrest of local governor in Far East sparked mass protests, and U.S. imposed sanctions on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Central Election Commission 1 July confirmed 77.9% of voters supported constitutional changes to reset presidential two-term limit, allowing President Putin to run for two or more six-year terms after current one ends in 2024; Putin 3 July said vote results showed “high level of unity in society on key questions that are of national significance”; opposition member Alexei Navalny same day said his supporters would “never recognise this result”. Hundreds of protestors 16 July gathered in capital Moscow to collect signatures to contest constitutional changes in court; police arrested and detained over 140 demonstrators. In Far East, authorities 9 July arrested Sergei Furgal, local governor of Khabarovsk region and member of nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, for alleged involvement in murders of several businessmen in 2005-06; Moscow court 10 July ruled in favour of his detention for two months pending trial. Governor’s detention 11 July sparked mass protests throughout month including rallies in Khabarovsk of at least 10,000 people who believed arrest was politically motivated. In North Caucasus, Kadyrov 1 July expressed support for Putin to seek additional presidential terms. U.S. State Department 20 July imposed sanctions on Kadyrov, prohibiting him from travel to U.S. for “numerous gross violations of human rights dating back more than a decade, including torture and extrajudicial killings.”; Kadyrov 24 July responded by announcing sanctions against Pompeo.
Mass demonstrations continued in lead-up to Aug presidential elections, leading to sporadic clashes with police and large-scale arrests. Amid President Lukashenko’s bid for sixth term in office, which triggered major demonstrations in June, Central Election Commission (CEC) 14 July confirmed registration of five presidential candidates for 9 Aug elections, including Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya - wife of video blogger and former presidential candidate Syarhey Tsikhanouski who was incarcerated in May for taking part in unsanctioned rally; CEC also barred nine other candidates from running, including main opposition candidates Viktor Babariko and former Ambassador to U.S. Valery Tsepkalo; Tsepkalo’s campaign said Tsepkalo would challenge ruling in court. Several hundred protesters 14 July gathered in capital Minsk to protest CEC’s barring of Babariko and Tsepkalo, while social media reported protests in Brest and Gomel cities; in Minsk, violent clashes same day erupted between police and demonstrators, with police reporting arrest and detention of over 250 protestors; NGO Amnesty International 15 July condemned police’s “excessive and unnecessary use of force.” Around 2,500 Babariko supporters next day protested against decision to reject candidacy outside CEC building in Minsk. Representatives of Babariko and Tsepkalo 17 July united behind registered candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya to “defeat” the “long-time dictatorial regime”; united opposition parties 19 and 24 July held three mass rallies of about 5,000 people in Minsk, Dzyarzhynsk and Vitebsk, urging voters to cast ballots for Tsikhanouskaya. Tens of thousands 30 July rallied in Minsk in support of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in reportedly largest campaign rally to date. Tsepkalo campaign officials 24 July confirmed Tsepkalo had fled to Russia. Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe 15 July said it had not received invitation to monitor Aug election while Commonwealth of Independent States 20 July confirmed it would deploy monitoring mission. Security Council Secretary Andrey Ravkov 29 July confirmed arrest of 33 suspected Russian mercenaries on allegations that they entered country to “destabilise the situation during the election campaign”.
Amid ongoing deadly clashes at frontline in East, parties to Minsk accords late July agreed to re-commit to ceasefire. Parties 23 July reached ceasefire agreement on situation in Eastern Ukraine, which President Zelenskyy described as “breakthrough”; agreement establishes mechanism to address reported violations, bans heavy weaponry in civilian areas, and contains unusually explicit prohibitions on offensive and reconnaissance activity; sides pledged also to open civilian crossings at Zolote and Shchastya by 1 Nov. Amid Zelenskyy’s support for agreement, pro-military activists called provisions unconstitutional; Russian envoy to Minsk negotiations Boris Gryzlov voiced “satisfaction” that Kyiv had agreed to measures “after nearly five months of resistance”. Accord follows 3 July meeting between political advisors to Normandy Four leaders in Berlin, and comment by deputy head of Russian presidential administration Dmitriy Kozak 4 July who said sides were close to adopting new ceasefire measures. Zelenskyy 30 July appointed Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s first president, chief envoy to Minsk negotiations, replacing second president Leonid Kuchma; Kravchuk called for “compromise” on implementing accord’s political provisions and suggested сreating special economic zone in Donbas. Meanwhile, fighting at contact line continued throughout month, killing at least seven govt servicemen; Russia-backed forces also lost 10-14 personnel, according to Ukrainian casualty tracker; one civilian was killed in government-controlled section of Zaitseve, two injured on both sides of the contact line. Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission Chief Monitor Yaşar Halit Çevik 11 July said that mission observed five-fold increase of military hardware near contact line between 4 April and 20 June. Over 3,000 people 6 July had water cut off after shelling destroyed pipelines on outskirts of Horlivka city in Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). DPR de facto authorities reported total of 1,751 COVID-19 cases as of 31 July, and Luhansk People’s Republic registered 612 cases same day. DPR 6 July announced re-opening of quasi-border crossing at Olenivka. Kyiv 30 July asked Belarusian govt to extradite members of private Wagner military battalion arrested 29 July in Minsk, citing group’s suspected involvement in war crimes in Donbas.
Tensions continued in Eastern Mediterranean. Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 7 July accused Turkey of being “an agitator that’s seeking to dominate the entire eastern Mediterranean”. Turkey 15 July issued advisory for drilling activities until 20 Aug in maritime areas claimed by Republic of Cyprus and Greece; Greek FM same day called on EU to impose “crippling sanctions” in response to Turkish efforts to drill in Greek-claimed waters; Athens 21 July lodged diplomatic protest with Ankara. Prospect of Turkish naval escort for Turkish drilling ship Oruç Reis 22 July prompted Greece to prepare naval operations in same area and 26 July issue its own advisory for military operations; Turkish presidential office 28 July said President Erdogan requested pause in drilling operations pending talks with Greece. U.S. 8 July announced inclusion of Republic of Cyprus in its International Military Education and Training program for 2020-2021; Cypriot defence minister welcomed move while Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı 9 July said these sorts of initiatives “negatively affect the continuing efforts between the two sides of the island to achieve stability in the region”. On 20 July, 46th anniversary of Turkish military intervention in Cyprus, President Erdoğan said “a fair, permanent solution on Cyprus is only possible with the acceptance of equal status for Turkish Cypriots.” UN Security Council 28 July unanimously voted to extend UN peacekeeping force until Jan 2021.
Military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continued in northern Iraq and south-eastern Turkey, while govt intensified efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish political opposition; tensions with Greece persisted. In northern Iraq, Turkey expanded military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) while Iraqi President Salih 16 July called for international stance against Turkey’s violations of Iraqi territorial sovereignty (see Iraq). In Turkey’s south east, security forces continued operations against PKK; PKK reportedly launched attacks 17 July in Hakkari-Şemdinli, 20 July in Hakkari-Çukurca and 26 July in Nusaybin city,Mardin province. 20 July marked 5th anniversary of ceasefire breakdown between PKK and Turkey; since then conflict has claimed at least 5,000 fatalities in Turkey and northern Iraq. In northern Syria, low-intensity clashes continued between Turkish security forces and People’s Protection Units (YPG) (see Syria). Govt intensified steps toward criminalising members of Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP): over 100 pro-Kurdish HDP members were detained during month; out of 65 municipalities HDP won in March 2019 elections, 51 now run by state-appointed “trustees”. Govt continued crackdown on Islamic State (ISIS) in Turkey: security personnel reportedly detained over 90 individuals with suspected ISIS links throughout month. Tensions persisted with Greece over maritime boundaries: following late June phone call between Turkish and Greek leaders, Turkish FM 14 July said “we can solve these issues through dialogue”. However, Turkish drilling activity continued, prompting Athens 21 July to lodge diplomatic protest with Ankara (see Cyprus); Greek military recorded near-daily airspace violations by Turkish aircrafts during first three weeks of July. In meeting with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Ankara, Turkish FM 6 July said Turkey will not hesitate to reciprocate new European measures against it for Eastern Mediterranean drilling; Borrell said EU-Turkey relations are not “passing through the best moment”. Following Turkish-backed forces advance in Libya, Turkish delegation 3 July met Libyan PM Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli and visited military training sites; Ankara 5 July announced that al Jufra airbase and Sirte were Turkey’s next targets (see Libya).
Govt reimposed lockdown as number of reported COVID-19 cases continued to rise sharply. Following 11 May lifting of nationwide state of emergency, President Tokayev 1 July announced return to COVID-19 lockdown until 19 July; PM Mamin 14 July further extended lockdown until 2 Aug and Tokayev 29 July again extended it for two weeks. While former President Nazarbayev’s spokesman 2 July announced Nazarbayev’s recovery from coronavirus, two govt officials mid-July reportedly died from disease, including deputy defence minister. Chinese embassy 9 July warned of “unknown pneumonia” outbreak in Kazakhstan that was supposedly deadlier than COVID-19; Health Ministry next day rejected claims. Amid rising number of pneumonia cases widely attributed to spread of coronavirus, health minister 17 July announced govt will start including pneumonia cases in official coronavirus figure in Aug; NGO Human Rights Watch 21 July welcomed move and said policy change was “vital to stemming the spread of the disease”. After Tokayev 10 July threatened to dismiss govt if coronavirus situation does not improve within two weeks, health minister 21 July announced situation had started to stabilise, citing 60% increase in number of recoveries.
Amid spike in COVID-19 cases following mid-May lifting of lockdown, President Jeenbekov scheduled elections for late 2020. President Jeenbekov 3 July announced parliamentary elections to be held 4 Oct. PM Boronov 6 July said govt would not return to lockdown despite surge in COVID-19 cases, citing high economic costs. Amid rising number of pneumonia cases, Vice PM Ismailova 17 July announced govt will start including pneumonia cases in official coronavirus figure; NGO Human Rights Watch 21 July welcomed decision, said policy change was “vital to stemming the spread of the disease”. Ethnic Uzbek rights defender Azimjon Askarov 25 July died in prison hospital in capital Bishkek; officials claimed Askarov had died from pneumonia; UN 28 July called for investigation into Askarov’s death.
Authorities accused of limiting space for govt critics and monitors, while court sentenced seven Tajik citizens for Nov 2019 Islamic State deadly attack. Court in capital Dushanbe 14 July sentenced seven Tajik citizens to prison terms of up to 27 years for deadly Nov 2019 Islamic State attack on Tajik border post south west of Dushanbe that killed two security personnel and fifteen militants. After authorities 25 June detained without charge Asroriddin Rozikov, son of imprisoned senior member of banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, NGO Human Rights Watch 9 July condemned “arbitrary” detention as “part of intensified efforts by Tajik authorities to spread fear among perceived govt critics and peaceful dissidents everywhere”. Austrian Supreme Court early July retrospectively invalidated extradition of Tajik activist Hizbullo Shovalizoda in March; Shovalizoda, now in Tajikistan, was 10 June sentenced to 20 years in prison on extremism charges. Govt mid-July rejected mandate extension of two leading Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe officials; UN special rapporteur for freedom of speech 10 July condemned govt’s decision as effort “to shield themselves from well-deserved criticism and monitoring”. Govt 29 July said it will provide one-time financial allowance ($40) for 488,000 people with social and financial needs to help alleviate impact of COVID-19.
Govt took series of unprecedented public health measures amid mounting COVID-19 concerns. After World Health Organization (WHO) mission 6 July arrived in capital Ashgabat for ten-day visit to assess public health situation and help govt prevent COVID-19 outbreak, leader of WHO mission 15 July expressed concerns about reports of pneumonia and urged govt to act “as if coronavirus was circulating”. While govt continued to claim it had not registered any coronavirus cases, it also announced unprecedented public health measures: authorities early July imposed country-wide restrictions until 1 Aug, including closure of restaurants and malls; health ministry 12 July strongly recommended wearing of face masks, citing dust particles in air, and advised public to practice social distancing. Turkish embassy official night of 7-8 July reportedly died of heart failure in hospital in Ashgabat where he was treated for pneumonia. Amid ongoing reports of economic crisis, President Berdymukhammedov 3 July replaced minister of finance and economy in cabinet reshuffle.
Amid economic strain, govt reimposed lockdown to contain COVID-19 outbreak. In response to spike in COVID-19 cases following 15 June lifting of lockdown, govt 10 July rolled out three-week lockdown and 26 July extended it until 15 Aug. President Mirziyoyev mid-July reprimanded senior officials over mismanagement of public health crisis: 15 July expressed dissatisfaction with officials in Tashkent region and city where authorities registered majority of lethal coronavirus cases; next day criticised health minister Alisher Shodmonov. Group of medical personnel in open letter 20 July criticised Mirziyoyev for “failure” to ensure adequate pay and protective equipment in hospitals. Mirziyoyev 27 July met Tashkent officials to discuss fight against coronavirus; promised more support from govt while urging officials to improve working conditions for medical personnel. Meanwhile, UN report 6 July reported 18% decrease in exports in first quarter and found 1.3% of population had sunk into poverty as result of coronavirus outbreak.
Latin America & Caribbean
Amid public discontent, presidential election delay sparked renewed mobilisation against govt. Thousands 14 July protested interim govt in capital La Paz, defying COVID-19 restrictions; demonstrators voiced grievances over mass layoffs and govt health and education policies. Supreme Electoral Tribunal 23 July postponed presidential election from 6 Sept to 18 Oct, citing virus-related health crisis; exiled opposition leader and former President Evo Morales same day accused govt of unconstitutional move to “gain more time”. Influential union Bolivian Workers’ Centre (COB) 28 July marched in second-largest city El Alto against election delay, accusing govt of using pandemic to extend its powers; COB next day declared indefinite general strike and countrywide mobilisation; COB 30 July met with electoral authorities.
Armed groups continued to take advantage of COVID-19 pandemic to expand territorial control, while National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas reiterated willingness to negotiate ceasefire with govt. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, armed group violence remained high. Notably, criminal group Rastrojos 18 June reportedly killed eight farmers and coca growers in Tibú municipality, Norte de Santander department (north east), forcing more than 400 people to flee. Attorney general’s office first week of July said 37 social leaders were killed in first six months of 2020 with a further 49 cases under verification; civil society group Indepaz counted 166 such assassinations in same period. NGO Global Witness 29 July said 64 environmental activists were killed in 2019, highest total globally and increase from 25 in 2018. ELN 7 July urged govt to negotiate bilateral 90-day humanitarian ceasefire amid coronavirus; next day, President Duque excluded possibility of bilateral talks until several preconditions are met. ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán 9 July said group would not consider unilateral truce, claiming govt used guerrillas’ April ceasefire to reposition forces and launch offensive in May. Govt 8 July launched individual demobilisation program allowing armed group combatants to disarm in exchange for reduced judicial sentences and economic reintegration packages; El Espectador newspaper 10 July reported Dairo Antonio Úsuga David alias Otoniel, leader of Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (one of country’s main drug trafficking groups), was exploring options to lay down arms through program. Govt 15 July relocated dozens of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) combatants from collective demobilisation zone in Ituango, Antioquia department (north west) following threats from dissident factions. Govt continued to insist on 31 July deadline for FARC political party to hand over economic proceeds from conflict, though party reiterated it had already returned profits in cash and commodities. Amid dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, govt 29 July extended nationwide quarantine until 30 Aug, with different sets of local restrictions depending on number of cases.
President Maduro’s govt continued to tighten control on electoral framework ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. Newly appointed electoral authority (CNE) 1 July said parliamentary elections would take place 6 Dec. On occasion of Independence Day 5 July, Defence Minister Padrino López delivered hardline speech describing mainstream opposition led by Juan Guaidó as “bunch of crooks” who will “never exercise power” as long as army remains “anti-imperialist, Bolivarian and revolutionary”. Supreme Court 7 July transferred command of Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party to ad hoc committee led by José Gregorio Noriega, previously expelled from party over allegations of corruption but recognised by govt as National Assembly VP; decision followed similar moves against two other mainstream opposition parties in June. Opposition continued to reject govt-controlled Supreme Court changes to electoral law announced in June – which resulted notably in increase in number of National Assembly seats from 167 to 277, and in number of MPs elected by party list rather than individually – saying they have no legal basis. In interview with Tal Cual newspaper 13 July, CNE board member Rafael Simón Jiménez admitted CNE, despite being officially independent, executes decisions taken by National Dialogue Roundtable – govt-led dialogue initiative involving minority opposition parties. Following call between EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell and FM Jorge Arreaza, govt 2 July rescinded its late June decision to expel EU representative from country; expulsion came in response to EU imposition of sanctions on individuals for “undermining democracy and rule of law” following appointment of new CNE earlier in June. Borrell 13 July proposed ministerial-level meeting of EU/Uruguay-led International Contact Group “with all the key players” of Venezuelan political crisis to discuss conditions for Dec elections. Opposition 24 July reiterated that Norway-sponsored govt-opposition talks were over after Norwegian govt representatives said they would visit capital Caracas late July to assess political and humanitarian situation. Amid dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, concerns persisted over health system capacity, while several high-level officials tested positive for virus.
Country remained second worst-affected by COVID-19 globally, while tensions ran high between President Bolsonaro’s govt and military, on one hand, and Supreme Court, on the other. Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendes 11 July said Bolsonaro’s response to COVID-19 pandemic amounted to “genocide”, and military could be seen as complicit. In response, Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo 14 July sent formal complaint against Judge Mendes to Federal Prosecution Office, accusing him of violating National Security Law, remnant of military regime. Brazil, country second worst affected by coronavirus globally, with more than 2mn active cases and 85,000 deaths; states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná (south) reported highest growth in number of cases in July; Bolsonaro 7 July tested positive. São Paulo Police Internal Affairs Department and Rio de Janeiro Institute of Public Safety 14 July reported record number of police killings in both cities, with 741 people killed by police in Rio de Janeiro and 442 others in São Paulo between Jan and May.
Under pressure for alleged corruption in handling of COVID-19, govt created new anti-graft body, while insecurity persisted. Following June removal of health minister and other ministry officials for mismanagement of COVID-19 response, including allegations of corruption, govt 9 July created Anti-corruption Secretariat. President Giammattei’s cabinet same day went into quarantine after minister tested positive for virus, amid reports pandemic had stretched health care facilities to their limits. Govt 27 July introduced ‘‘traffic light’’ alert system, allowing local authorities to impose different levels of restrictions depending on contagion numbers. Following Congress and Supreme Court’s late June attempt to lift immunity of Constitutional Court magistrates, Constitutional Court 25 July ruled to defend its members’ immunity; move came after series of Constitutional Court rulings on alleged irregularities in selection process of judges to Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, insecurity continued. Unidentified gunmen 14 July injured new mayor of Teculután town, Zacapa department (east), whose predecessor was murdered in May. Govt 27 July imposed 15-day state of emergency in five municipalities in departments of Izabal (east) and Alta Verapaz (north), alleging presence of criminal groups there; peasant (campesino) movement had rejected govt move to impose 30-day state of emergency in same municipalities 19 July saying it would militarise area and restrict rights; in statement published 21 July, 125 national and international rights groups supported peasants’ complaint. Tensions with U.S. remained high over continued deportation flights amid COVID-19 pandemic; health ministry 7 July reported 216 returned migrants had tested positive since outbreak started.
Govt continued to face accusations of using COVID-19 to stay in office, while unrest remained high over food shortages and living conditions. Concerns persisted that govt could call off or alter results of primary and general elections scheduled for March and Nov 2021 following delays in updating electoral register due to COVID-19 pandemic; commission in charge of register update 13 July said it will complete process on time and congressional leaders reiterated primary elections planned for March 2021 will go ahead. Liberty and Refoundation opposition party leader Xiomara Castro 21 July said she would not participate in primary elections, alleging they would be filled with irregularities. Insecurity persisted despite govt’s 30 June announcement that police had arrested senior figures of criminal group Barrio 18 and MS-13 gang senior leader known as “The Priest”. Notably, unidentified attackers 1 July killed two journalists in La Ceiba city, Atlántida department (north); armed men in police outfit 18 July kidnapped 5 indigenous Garifuna leaders in Tela town, also Atlántida; and ambush by unidentified assailants 19 July killed nine civilians in rural area in Yoro department (north). Turmoil in prisons continued with mutiny in Támara maximum security prison leaving penitentiary official wounded 20 July; authorities 22 and 24 July raided prison, seizing several weapons and discovering escape tunnel. Amid reports COVID-19 pandemic had stretched health care facilities to their limits, President Hernández 2 July left hospital having been admitted 17 June after testing positive; unrest over food shortages and deteriorating livelihoods continued nationwide, including protests by merchants in Danlí (El Paraíso department in south) 10 July, university union members in various cities 13 July, and taxi drivers in capital Tegucigalpa 14 July; govt late July extended nationwide curfew into Aug.
Tensions continued between, on one hand, President Bukele and, on the other, Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court, over COVID-19 response, while allegations of corruption in use of emergency funds plagued govt. After Legislative Assembly declined to discuss govt’s 24 June proposal to declare 15-day state of exception to restrict public movement and gatherings amid pandemic, at least three mayors 4 July requested MPs to allow localised quarantines. Bukele 19 July postponed sine die second phase of economic reopening, citing rising number of COVID-19 cases. Allegations of corruption in govt’s use of coronavirus emergency funds persisted, including reports of overcharging by suppliers linked to govt officials; newspaper La Prensa Gráfica 17 July reported Health Minister Francisco Alabí in April authorised purchase of health equipment worth $225,000 from family member’s auto repair business. Director of prisons 1 July said authorities had contained COVID-19 outbreak in prisons, though head of penitentiary system’s medical department same day said reduction in number of cases was due to infected inmates’ release. Govt continued to boast of security achievements; ministry of justice and public security 11 July said number of homicides in nine historically violent municipalities had decreased by 54 to 77% since Bukele took office in June 2019. Attorney General’s Office 23 July said authorities had arrested former Defence Minister David Munguía Payés and issued arrest warrant for former President Funes over allegations of “unlawful acts” during 2012-2014 gang truce, notably making “pact” with gangs. U.S. authorities 15 July announced arrest and indictment of 24 MS-13 gang leaders, for first time charging one with terrorism.
Political tensions and infighting remained high amid preparations for presidential election scheduled for late 2021. Family sympathetic to opposition in Masaya department (west) 3 July said strong contingent of police same day raided their property and occupied their land. Police 5 July raided and ransacked house of opposition member and university student Jerry Urbina in Waslala municipality, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (north). UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet 2 July reported “persistent impunity had eroded trust” in govt and “together with the lack of legal and institutional reforms, increased the risk of new human rights violations”. U.S. 18 July imposed sanctions on Jorge Mojica Mejía, President Ortega’s close collaborator, and Ortega’s son Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo, as well as two media companies, accusing both men of using these platforms to distribute propaganda and launder money. Supreme Electoral Council 14 July set presidential election for 7 Nov 2021 and extended deadline for parties to register for vote from Nov 2020 until June 2021, citing delays due to COVID-19 pandemic; opposition National Coalition immediately rejected change and demanded full electoral reforms. Internal divisions continued to plague National Coalition; coalition member Civic Alliance 21-30 July suspended participation to discuss several issues including alleged lack of participation of youth movements. Divisions also emerged within main private-sector association COSEP over organisation’s leadership, with several members early July calling for president to leave post in Sept elections. Opposition and civil society continued to accuse Ortega’s govt of concealing information about virus’ spread; celebrations of anniversary of 1979 Sandinista revolution held virtually 19 July.
Political standoff over results of March general election deepened amid protests. Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) 8 July declared invalid Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield’s June final report on elections, which gave incumbent President Granger’s Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC) the win; CCJ same day ordered Lowenfield to submit final election report based on electoral commission (GECOM)’s national recount of votes, which declared opposition leader Irfaan Ali’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) the winner; Lowenfield 11 July submitted unaltered version of report. Dozens of APNU-AFC supporters 13 July protested in front of GECOM’s building in capital Georgetown; suspected arson attack 14 July severely damaged GECOM’s office in Linden city in north east. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 15 July urged President Granger to “step aside” and announced visa restrictions on “individuals responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Guyana”. APNU-AFC 21 July said it would not accept final report based on vote recount result; in response, former president and PPP supporter Bharrat Jagdeo 23 July warned Granger’s refusal to leave office would be tantamount to coup d’état and meet “fierce resistance”. Court of Appeal 30 July reaffirmed Lowenfield must submit final report based on GECOM’s vote recount. U.S. same day imposed travel restrictions on additional senior officials, citing Granger’s refusal to accept vote recount result.
Political tensions emerged over new penal code, while gang-related violence persisted. After President Moïse late June published decree on new penal code due to come into effect in 2022, conservative opposition throughout month condemned code for lowering age of consent to 15 and legalising abortion, while liberal opposition denounced lack of debate; Senate president 7 July called upon Moïse to form commission to amend code; thousands of Haitians of Protestant faith 26 July protested “immoral” code in capital Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, insecurity remained high. Following June creation of G9 coalition of gangs in Port-au-Prince, opposition and civil society early July claimed group is involved in pro-govt electoral deals, govt denied accusations; over 50 armed G9 members 7 July protested in Port-au-Prince demanding legal recognition as local authorities in areas they control. Hundreds of civil society activists 6 July staged peaceful sit-in in Port-au-Prince to denounce insecurity, following similar action 29 June; police reportedly used live ammunition to clear crowds; in response, Moïse 9 July replaced justice minister. Episcopal Justice and Peace Commission 11 July said gang violence left 244 people killed in first six months of 2020. Govt 2 July suspended pardons to 415 prisoners, granted by Moïse in June to prevent COVID-19 spread in prisons, after human rights groups criticised govt for freeing inmates convicted of serious offences.
Criminal violence remained at record levels while govt faced scrutiny for COVID-19 response. In Guanajuato state (centre), armed attack on drug rehabilitation centre 1 July killed 27 in Irapuato town; attack reportedly part of territorial battle between Jalisco Cartel New Generation and Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel over drug routes and retail markets. In Tamaulipas state (south), army 3 July killed twelve people, allegedly members of Cartel of the Northeast, in Nuevo Laredo city, while criminal group Zetas Vieja Escuela 6-9 July reportedly carried out several attacks on food company delivery vehicles in state capital Ciudad Victoria. Criticism of President López Obrador’s austerity program and lack of economic response to COVID-19 persisted amid concerns that rising poverty levels could boost recruitment by armed groups; meanwhile govt continued its partial economic reopening amid steadily rising number of virus infections and deaths. Federal State Attorney’s Office 7 July announced it had identified remains of one of 43 Ayotzinapa teaching college students who disappeared in 2014, accused former President Peña Nieto’s administration of covering up state involvement; Federal Search Commission 13 July said at least 79,602 persons have disappeared since 2006. In first trip abroad as president, López Obrador 8 July visited U.S. President Trump, praising Washington’s respect of “Mexico’s sovereignty”; observers criticised comments, pointing to Trump’s use of anti-Mexican sentiment for electoral gain and forcing of Mexico into hardline anti-migration position. U.S. authorities same day detained former Chihuahua state (north) governor César Duarte for alleged links to organised crime and began extradition process. Former head of state-owned oil company PEMEX Emilio Lozoya arrived in Mexico 17 July to face corruption charges following extradition from Spain; amid reports Lozoya’s testimony may implicate Peña Nieto, López Obrador same day reiterated refusal to pursue legal cases against former presidents.
Middle East & North Africa
Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces continued in occupied territories while Israeli annexation plans stalled; anti-govt protests erupted across Israel. Clashes 1-13 July between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in West Bank left at least 70 Palestinians injured. Israeli security forces 9 July shot dead Palestinian man and injured another near Kifl Haris village, bringing number of Palestinians killed in West Bank this year to 17. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority (PA) 2 July announced it would pay only 50% of civil servants’ salaries, if above 1,750 shekels, for May and June; move comes after PA early June rejected tax revenues that Israeli authorities collected on its behalf. In Gaza, Fatah and Hamas leaders in rare joint press conference 2 July reaffirmed Palestinian unity in light of looming Israeli annexation of West Bank. After unknown assailants 5 July launched three rockets into Israel, Israel Defence Forces 6 July struck Hamas positions in Gaza; no casualties reported. While PM Netanyahu did not proceed with anticipated annexation of portions of West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany in joint statement 7 July warned Israel that annexation would have implications for bilateral relations. Israeli protesters throughout month and across country gathered on weekly basis over govt’s mismanagement of COVID-19 and economic crises; some assemblies saw violent clashes between protesters and police. After thousands of Israeli protesters 21 July marched from PM Netanyahu’s residence in West Jerusalem to Knesset, dozens of demonstrators 22 July blocked entrance to parliament; police arrested at least 34. Thousands of Israeli protesters 23-24 July in Jerusalem demanded Netanyahu’s resignation; police dispersed protesters with water cannon and arrested dozens. In Syria, Israel 20 July reportedly launched air raids targeting suspected Iranian and Iran-linked targets south of capital Damascus; five members of Iran-backed militia reportedly killed and a dozen more wounded, including seven Syrian govt soldiers (see Syria). Iranian officials reportedly accused Israel of involvement in series of incidents in Iran, including 2 July fire at uranium enrichment facility in Natanz (see Iran). Tensions also increased between Israeli forces and Hizbollah militants following 27 July purported border incident (see Lebanon).
PM Omar Razzaz’s comment on one-state solution for Israel-Palestine conflict sparked public outcry, while teachers late July took to streets in capital Amman. After Jordan, Egypt, France and Germany in joint statement 7 July warned Israel that annexing portions of West Bank would have implications for bilateral relations, PM Razzaz in interview with British newspaper 21 July said Jordan would consider “one-state democratic solution” to Israel-Palestine conflict. Largest parliamentary bloc al-Islah 23 July condemned PM’s statement and called for his dismissal; King Abdullah 22 July met United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, reaffirming country’s commitment to two-state solution. Meanwhile, police 25 July raided offices of opposition-run Jordan Teachers Association (JTA) and arrested senior members on corruption charges, including union’s leader who was charged with incitement following his 22 July speech critical of govt; move comes after JTA threatened to stage protests over salary dispute that triggered month-long strike in Sept 2019. Attorney general 25 July suspended JTA’s operations for two years while placing gag order on media coverage of situation. After teachers 29 July took to streets in Amman to oppose union leaders’ arrest, clashes with anti-riot police erupted; several demonstrators reportedly injured and dozens arrested. State media 29 July announced parliamentary elections to be held 10 Nov. Jordan’s Court of Cassation 15 July ruled that country’s Muslim Brotherhood branch has no legal standing and should be dissolved; Brotherhood 23 July questioned decision’s timing, given prospective Israeli annexation of portions of West Bank, and declared its intent to appeal.
Amid deepening economic crisis, anti-govt protests continued and talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) remained deadlocked. Exchange rate on black market early July for first time crossed 10,000 Lebanese lira to the dollar, up from 8,000 on 30 June; marking loss of 85% since beginning of crisis in Oct 2019. In response to rising inflation and poverty rate, Central Bank 6 July announced it will provide foreign currency at fixed exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese lira to the dollar for essential food industries. Anti-govt protests continued across country, fuelled by widespread electricity blackouts of up to 22 hours per day and reports of suicides of two men on 3 July that many blamed on govt’s inept response to deepening economic crisis; protesters 6 July took to streets in capital Beirut, blocking several roads. Negotiations with IMF continued to stall over divisions within Lebanese delegation regarding magnitude and distribution of financial losses. After IMF director Kristalina Georgieva 17 July confirmed no progress had been made in previous 17 rounds of talks, French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 23 July urged govt to finalise deal with IMF and enact reforms. Following 20 July killing of Hizbollah militant in reported Israeli air raid in Syria, tensions flared between Israel Defence Forces and Hizbollah members in 27 July purported border incident; Israel accused Hizbollah of infiltrating Israeli territory in disputed area along border; no casualties reported; Hizbollah same day denied launching operation and accused Israel of inventing “false and mythical victories”. Authorities 12 July reported highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases with 166 new infections, bringing total number of cases to 2,344. Meanwhile, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 7 July accused U.S. ambassador Dorothy Shea of “colonial” behaviour; move comes after Shea publicly criticised Hizbollah late June. U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie in meeting with President Michel Aoun 8 July reaffirmed Washington’s support for “security, stability and sovereignty” in Lebanon. In response, dozens of demonstrators, including Hizbollah supporters, 10 July rallied outside U.S. embassy in Beirut to protest Washington’s alleged interference in Lebanese internal affairs in second anti-U.S. assembly in Beirut this month.
Militant attack and Russian airstrikes in north west strained March ceasefire, while President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath Party won parliamentary elections. In north west, Russia and Turkey 22 July conducted 22nd joint patrol since March, for first time along entire 70km route following M4 highway. After 1 and 7 July joint Russian-Turkish patrols, IED attack in southern part of de-escalation zone 14 July wounded three Russian and several Turkish soldiers; Kataib Khattab Al-Shishani, unknown group suspected to be composed of militants from Caucasus, claimed responsibility for attack. In retaliation, Russia 14 July carried out more than a dozen airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Idlib and Latakia provinces, reportedly wounding five. Russian airstrikes 15 July reportedly killed one civilian and injured at least ten, including children, in Turkish-controlled Al-Bab city. Fighting 25-29 July intensified between govt and jihadists in Jabal al-Zawiya in southern Idlib. Vehicle-borne IED 19 July reportedly killed eight and wounded 77 near the Bab al-Salama border crossing; separate IED same day injured at least 13 in the centre of Afrin. Turkish defence ministry 26 July accused Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) of bomb attack same day in Ras al-Ayn's city centre in north east that reportedly killed five. Health authorities 10 July reported first COVID-19 case in Idlib province. Amid collapsing economy and U.S. sanctions in June, President Assad’s Baath Party and coalition won 19 July parliamentary elections, third election since civil war erupted in 2011; opposition Syrian National Coalition described election as “theatrical”. Iranian state media 10 July announced reinforcement of Syria’s air defence system as part of new military cooperation agreement. Israel 20 July reportedly launched air raids on suspected Iranian and Iran-linked targets south of capital Damascus; five members of Iran-backed militia killed, and dozen more wounded, including seven govt soldiers. In response to alleged mortar fire on occupied Golan Heights, Israel 24 July struck Syrian army targets in south. UN Security Council 11 July voted to resume cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria through one border crossing from Turkey. UN 24 July announced 24 Aug meeting of Constitutional Committee comprising representatives of govt, opposition and civil society.
Amid ongoing U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, tensions over implementation of 2015 nuclear deal continued while sensitive Iranian facilities suffered spate of incidents. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 3 July announced receipt of Iranian letter triggering Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) Dispute Resolution Mechanism; Iran foreign ministry same day said move was motivated by last month’s resolution from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted by France, Germany and UK (E3) urging Iranian cooperation on agency access requests and E3’s “continued non-abidance” with their JCPOA commitments; Borrell 17 July announced extension of resolution mechanism timeline. Meanwhile, IAEA director general 15 July underscored “absolute necessity” for Iran to cooperate on agency access to two sites of concern; discussions with Tehran ongoing. Washington continued diplomatic efforts to garner support for Security Council resolution extending UN arms embargo on Iran due to expire in Oct 2020. Following late June explosions in “public area” of Parchin and at medical centre in Tehran that killed 19, Iran suffered spate of further incidents, including 2 July blast at Natanz nuclear facility, 15 July combustion of more than six ships at Bushehr shipyard and 19 July explosion at Isfahan power plant. Iranian officials confirmed Natanz incident caused “significant damage” and warned of response if foreign govt responsible, while Israel’s defence minister Benny Gantz 5 July said Israel was not “necessarily” behind every incident in Iran; while unconfirmed, incidents at sensitive sites hint at possibility of new, covert phase of “maximum pressure” campaign by U.S. and/or its regional allies. U.S. military 23 July reported “visual inspection” of Iranian airliner over Syria; Iranian officials described incident as “illegal and dangerous”. Iran continued to struggle with COVID-19 pandemic: authorities 28 July reported deadliest day to date with 235 deaths; economically, rial currency continued to lose value through most of month.
Tensions escalated between PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s govt and U.S. on one hand and Iran-backed militias on the other. Two unknown attackers 6 July shot and killed Hisham al-Hashemi, prominent security adviser of PM Kadhimi as well as critic of Sunni and Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq, in capital Baghdad; Kadhimi 7 July said govt would prosecute perpetrators as no one was “above the law”. Kataib Hizbollah 8 July warned of “escalation” if Kadhimi continued crackdown on militia after security forces late June carried out raid on group’s base in Baghdad suburb. U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie 7 July reaffirmed U.S. would continue military presence in Iraq; suspected Iran-backed militias 5, 19 July conducted rocket attacks against U.S. positions in Baghdad’s Green Zone, reportedly injuring one child. Iran-backed militia Saraya Thawrat al-Ishreen al-Thania 11 July attacked Iraqi vehicles transporting U.S. military supplies near Diwaniyah. Unclaimed rockets 24 July struck Basmaya base south of Baghdad hosting U.S. troops and 27 July struck Camp Taji in north. In reshuffle of security institutions, Kadhimi 4 July dismissed Faleh al-Fayyadh from important security posts; appointed new head of Iraqi National Security Service and national security adviser. Following unprecedented financial shortfalls and failed reform attempts, Kadhimi 11 July launched campaign against corruption to recover import tax revenue lost to bribery. Demonstrators 10-14 July took to streets in several southern provinces to protest low electricity supply; clashes between protesters and security forces 26 July killed two and wounded dozens during protest in central Baghdad over electricity cuts. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces 11 July launched fourth phase of anti-Islamic State (ISIS) military operation; three militants reportedly killed, one arrested and 15 hideouts destroyed. UN expert at UN Human Rights Council 9 July called U.S. killing in Jan of Iran’s Qods Force chief and Popular Mobilisation Unit deputy chief “unlawful”; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo same day denounced UN report as “spurious”. After Turkish armed forces early July expanded operations against Kurdistan Workers Party in northern Iraq, President Barham Salih 16 July called for international stance against Turkey’s violations of Iraqi territorial sovereignty. Interior minister 29 July met Kurdistan Regional Government counterpart to discuss security cooperation in disputed territories.
UN top court backed Qatar in dispute with United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt over air blockade. Following three-year anniversary of intra-Gulf dispute in June, International Court of Justice 14 July upheld International Civil Aviation Organisation’s decision to hear Qatar’s case regarding closure of airspace to Qatari civil aviation; Qatar Airways next day announced it will seek compensation for financial losses due to “illegal airspace blockade” and 22 July launched international arbitration against blockading Gulf states, seeking $5bn compensation for financial losses due to airspace blockade. Following meeting with FM Mohammed al-Thani, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook 26 July said blockade has “continued for too long” and was harming shared regional interests in stability and security. U.S. along with Qatar and five other Gulf states 15 July imposed sanctions on six targets accused of providing financial support to Islamic State (ISIS) leadership in Iraq and Syria. Qatari defence minister and Turkish counterpart 20 July met in Turkey’s capital Ankara to discuss bilateral security cooperation.
Cross-border attacks between Saudi Arabia and Huthis intensified while fighting between Saudi-backed Yemeni govt forces and Huthis escalated in northern Yemen. Saudi-led coalition 2 July launched series of airstrikes targeting area around Huthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa. In retaliation, Huthis 13 July reportedly launched drone and missile attacks targeting oil facility in Saudi city Jizan, Abha airport and military sites in Jizan and Najran cities; no casualties reported. Saudi-led coalition same day said it had intercepted four Huthi missiles and six bomb-laden drones targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia. In north Yemen, Saudi-led coalition 12 July launched airstrike targeting Hajja governorate in north west, killing at least nine civilians, including seven children. Saudi airstrike near al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf, 15 July killed at least eleven civilians, including several children; UN special envoy next day called for investigation. In Yemen’s south, after Saudi Arabia in June presented new proposal to govt and Southern Transitional Council (STC) on stalled implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement, STC 29 July rescinded its April declaration of self-administration and agreed to implement provisions of Riyadh deal, marking progress toward ending months-long power struggle between STC and UN-recognised Yemeni govt; Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi 29 tasked PM Maeen Saeed with forming new govt in accordance with deal. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia 14 July permanently cancelled licence of Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN, citing “monopolistic practices”; move comes after World Trade Organization ruled in June that Saudi Arabia had breached obligations to protect intellectual property of beIN. Saudi Arabia, U.S. and five other Gulf states 15 July imposed sanctions on six targets accused of providing financial support to Islamic State (ISIS) leadership in Iraq and Syria. State media 20 July announced King Salman’s transfer to hospital in capital Riyadh for medical tests. UK’s Foreign Ministry 6 July announced economic sanctions against 20 Saudi nationals suspected of involvement in killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Oct 2018 while UK 7 July announced it would resume exporting arms to Saudi Arabia after one-year moratorium on grounds that Saudi human rights violations in Yemen were “isolated incidents”.
Amid rising COVID-19 cases, fighting between govt forces and Huthis in north and cross-border attacks between Huthis and Saudi Arabia intensified, while tensions in south de-escalated. In north, fighting between govt forces and Huthis escalated: Huthis 4 and 18 July fired ballistic missiles into Marib governorate, leaving four civilians injured. Saudi-led coalition 12 July launched airstrike targeting Hajja governorate in north west, killing at least nine, including seven children. Saudi airstrike near al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf, 15 July killed at least eleven, including several children; UN special envoy next day called for investigation. Meanwhile, Huthis mid-month stepped up campaign against tribes in south of Marib governorate in effort to pressure them into breaking with govt. Cross-border war mid-July intensified after Saudi-led coalition 2 July launched series of airstrikes targeting area around Huthi-held capital Sanaa; in retaliation, Huthis 13 July reportedly launched drone and missile attacks targeting oil facility in Saudi city Jizan, Abha airport and military sites in Jizan and Najran cities; no casualties reported. Saudi-led coalition same day said it had intercepted four Huthi missiles and six bomb-laden drones targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia. In south, after Saudi Arabia in June presented new proposal to govt and Southern Transitional Council (STC) on stalled implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement, STC 29 July rescinded its April declaration of self-administration and agreed to implement provisions of Riyadh deal, marking progress toward ending months-long power struggle between STC and UN-recognised govt; President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi 29 tasked PM Maeen Saeed with forming new govt in accordance with deal. Meanwhile, UN special envoy Martin Griffiths early July shared latest draft agreement to end conflict with govt; President Hadi 14 July publicly rejected draft on grounds that it “undermines the govt’s sovereignty”; govt reportedly criticised concessions around reopening of Sanaa airport and easing restrictions on Hodeida port. Local health authorities as of 17 July recorded more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases and 439 deaths; 50% increase in both figures from previous month. UN 15 July warned of risk of oil spill from FSO Safer oil tanker in Red Sea, which risks closure of Hodeida port that could cut off 11 million Yemenis from access to basic goods.
United Arab Emirates
Amid govt shakeup, tensions persisted between United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, on one hand, and Qatar, on the other. As economic challenges increased due to COVID-19 pandemic and oil price collapse, PM Mohammed Al-Maktoum 5 July announced govt overhaul aimed at facilitating “quicker and more efficient decision-making”; changes include merger of some of country’s largest ministries, including Ministry of Energy with Ministry of Infrastructure. Meanwhile, UAE early July obstructed U.S.-backed talks between Qatar and blockading Gulf states UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt on resolution of Gulf crisis; UAE reportedly urged Saudi Arabia to follow suit. International Court of Justice 14 July rejected Gulf states’ appeal to overturn International Civil Aviation Organisation’s decision to hear Qatar’s case regarding closure of airspace to Qatari civil aviation. UAE, U.S. and five other Gulf states 15 July imposed sanctions on six targets accused of providing financial support to Islamic State (ISIS) leadership in Iraq and Syria. UAE 20 July launched spacecraft from Japan bound for Mars; first interplanetary mission in Arab world.
Despite presidential amnesty granting release to several anti-govt protest movement (Hirak) supporters, courts continued to impose jail sentences on activists. Ahead of Independence Day 5 July, President Tebboune 1 July granted amnesty to several imprisoned Hirak activists and 4 July issued decree pardoning or reducing sentences of about 4,700 prisoners. Algiers court 2 July provisionally released high-profile Hirak figures Karim Tabbou, Amira Bouraoui, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche. Appeals court in Mascara city 14 July reduced journalist Ali Djamel Toubal’s prison sentence from two years to 15 months; Toubal was sentenced in June on charges of insulting state institutions and distributing publications harmful to national unity. In latter part of month, courts imposed jail sentences on several activists accused of having criticised govt and other officials. Court in Timimoun city 22 July handed Hirak activists Ahmed Sidi Moussa and Yasser Kadiri six-month prison sentence, including three-month suspended sentence, for “attacking the person of the president”, “attacking the integrity of the national territory” and “publishing leaflets likely to harm the national interest”. Bordj Bou Arreridj court 23 July sentenced Hirak activist Brahim Laami to 18 months’ imprisonment on charges of “insulting a regular body and employees”. Tizi Ouzou court 28 July sentenced Hirak activists Zakaria Belkacemi and Mohamed Hamali to one-year imprisonment for “contempt of a regular body” and “social media posts undermining national unity” and “attacking the person of the President”. Amid rising number of COVID-19 cases, authorities upheld movement restrictions throughout country. Notably, local authorities in Setif and Ouargla provinces 9-10 July reinforced partial lockdown measures. Govt 26 July also announced two-week extension of lockdown in 29 provinces.
Army grappled with Islamic State in Sinai, while govt continued to threaten military intervention in Libya. In Sinai peninsula, army 21 July reportedly repelled suspected Islamic State (ISIS)-Sinai Province attack on military installation in Bir al-Abed area, leaving 18 militants and two soldiers dead, while ISIS claimed 40 soldiers killed during incident; in following days, military confronted militants who reportedly seized control of four nearby villages, killing at least one soldier and forcing residents to flee. Court of Cassation 14 July upheld life sentence for Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leader Mohamed Badie and 186 other MB members on charges of attacking Minya city police station and killing policemen in 2013. Spain-based businessman Mohamed Ali, whose online videos accusing President Sisi of misusing public funds sparked wave of protest in 2019, 9 July appeared in Madrid court on preliminary extradition hearing; Egyptian authorities late 2019 requested Ali’s extradition from Spain on tax evasion and money laundering charges. Govt took preparatory steps toward military intervention in neighbouring Libya against Turkish-backed forces loyal to UN-recognised Govt of National Accord. Army 9 July reportedly carried out major military exercise in Qabr Gabis area near Libyan border. In 13 July statement, members of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar-aligned House of Representatives called for Cairo’s military intervention in Libya, citing national security threat to both countries. In Cairo, Sisi 16 July met with Libyan tribal leaders favourable to military intervention. Parliament 20 July authorised troop deployment abroad “in defence of national security” (see Libya). African Union-facilitated negotiations among Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam 3-13 July failed to secure agreement (see Nile Waters).
Turkish-backed forces loyal to UN-recognised Govt of National Accord (GNA) prepared offensive in Libya’s centre, while Egypt took preparatory steps toward direct military intervention, raising risk of conflict escalation in Aug. In west, unknown aircraft 5 July launched airstrikes on Wutiya airbase, reportedly destroying air defence systems following Turkish deployment of military equipment there. In centre, GNA-allied forces continued to prepare for offensive to capture Sirte city, gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals, and nearby Jufra airbase from Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Arab-Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF); column of about 200 vehicles reportedly moved eastward from Misrata city 18 July. Citing threat to national security, Egypt army 9 July held major exercise near Libyan border and Egyptian parliament 20 July authorised troop deployment abroad “in defence of national security” against “criminal armed militias and foreign terrorist elements”. UN Security Council special session on Libya 9 July highlighted international schisms: France fulminated against Turkey’s “aggressive” posture as destabilising factor; Turkey called for international community to end support for ALAF; Germany and U.S. supported demilitarisation of central Libya, but Russia did not; U.S. slammed Russia for deployment of mercenaries, which Russia denied. UN acting envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams late July warned of “huge risk” of miscalculation around Sirte triggering direct confrontation between rival foreign powers. Diplomatic efforts redoubled to secure agreement on reopening of oil fields and export terminals that Haftar-led forces and allied local tribesmen shut down in Jan. U.S., UN and Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) early July proposed draft agreement holding guarantees that oil revenue would not accrue in contested Tripoli Central Bank but in NOC-controlled bank account for 120 days, to allow for concrete steps to address Haftar’s demands to replace Central Bank top management. NOC 10 July lifted force majeure on oil sites and ordered resumption of oil exports, but agreement unravelled within 24 hours with Haftar rejecting NOC’s temporary holding of oil revenues and reiterating call for audit of Central Bank under UN supervision. UN 27 July announced launch of Central Bank audit.
Political crisis peaked with collapse of govt following weeks of tensions between PM Fakhfakh and Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda. National anti-corruption authority 13 July submitted report on PM Fakhfakh’s revenues to national judiciary and Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi over allegations of conflict of interest. Group of 105 MPs led by Ghannouchi’s An-Nahda (member of ruling coalition) 15 July tabled no-confidence motion against Fakhfakh’s govt, prompting him to resign same day. Fakhfakh, who remained head of caretaker govt until new one is formed, next day reshuffled cabinet and dismissed all An-Nahda ministers, also pledged to review appointments made by An-Nahda in central and local govt. President Saïed 25 July designated Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi as new PM and tasked him with forming new govt by 25 Aug. Group of 89 MPs led by Abir Moussi’s Free Destourian Party 16 July tabled no-confidence motion against Parliament Speaker Ghannouchi; in parliamentary session 30 July, motion fell short of 109-vote majority with 97 MPs voting against Ghannouchi. In south, several strikes and sit-ins brought production of phosphates to near halt. Notably, demonstrators asking for jobs in energy and related companies 16 July closed pipeline in Kamour area.