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CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 80 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.

October 2020

Global Overview

The latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in October in thirteen countries and conflict areas, as well as improved situations in Bolivia, Chile and Libya.

In Nigeria, protests against police brutality turned violent in major cities as police and pro-police thugs clashed with protesters, killing dozens. Election-related violence flared in Tanzania, where opposition supporters claimed they faced attacks and intimidation.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban launched a large-scale assault on Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province, in the group’s first major attack on an urban centre in 2020 – the Taliban had so far avoided such attacks, in line with their February agreement with the U.S. 

Looking ahead to November, CrisisWatch warns of seven conflict risks.

In West Africa, election-related violence in Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea is likely to escalate and could take an increasingly ethnic turn.

A feud between Ethiopia’s federal government and Tigray region reached a breaking point and could turn violent as Addis Ababa is set to redirect federal funding away from Tigray’s executive on 4 November.

In Yemen’s north, the Huthis’ military campaign could escalate in Marib, the government’s last stronghold, and further advances toward Hodeida port could put in jeopardy the 2018 ceasefire agreement. 

War between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh – which killed hundreds on both sides and displaced tens of thousands in October – could further intensify and spread.

Africa

Nile Waters

African Union hosted tripartite meeting to break deadlock on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), while U.S. President Trump’s comment ignited tensions. African Union 27 Oct hosted virtual meeting between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan ministers of foreign affairs and water resources to discuss ways to resume talks over filling and operation of GERD. Earlier in month, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work 5 Oct said dam will begin generating power in next 12 months; Ethiopia’s aviation chief same day said all flights in airspace over GERD had been banned “to secure the dam”. Sudanese PM Hamdok 23 Oct urged for “amicable solution” to dispute while U.S. President Trump same day said Egypt could end up “blowing up that dam”. Ethiopian govt next day accused Trump of trying to incite “war” between GERD parties, and FM Gedu Andargachew same day summoned U.S. ambassador.

Burkina Faso

Suspected jihadists launched major attacks against civilians in northern regions, and preparations for Nov general elections made progress. In north, jihadist combatants killed scores in largest attacks against civilians since early 2020. In Centre-North region, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 5 Oct kidnapped and killed 25 internally displaced persons near Pissila city, Sanmatenga province. In Sahel region, suspected ISWAP combatants 14 Oct killed between 20 and 40 civilians in two villages of Gorgadji commune, Seno province; next day ambushed civilians in Gorom-Gorom area, Oudalan province, killing two. Meanwhile, security forces 12 Oct reportedly killed nine civilians in Bangao village, also Oudalan province. Security improved in Sahel region’s Soum province, with no major incident reported in Oct; lull in violence follows opening of negotiations in Sept between govt and local branch of Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) there. In East region, suspected jihadists 2 Oct abducted Fulani individual suspected of being member of Koglweogo community defence group in Gourma province’s capital Fada N’Gourma. Overall, violence caused by civilian volunteers fighting jihadists alongside security forces decreased in north and east. In western Boucle du Mouhoun region, suspected jihadists 2 Oct attacked Kona village, Kossi province, killing three civilians. Intercommunal relations improved in Kossi after ethnic Fulani and Dogon communities from Barani and Kombori communes 8 Oct reached peace agreement; local sources reported defence and security forces arrested and killed ethnic Dogon individual involved in communal violence as precondition for peace set by Fulani authorities; exclusion from deal of some armed actors may hinder its implementation. Constitutional Council 22 Oct approved 13 candidacies ahead of presidential election set for 22 Nov, including those of incumbent President Kaboré and opposition leader Zephirin Diabré. Political parties, all 13 presidential candidates, NGOs and media outlets 26 Oct signed code of conduct, committing to “avoid inflammatory rhetoric” and “resolve electoral disputes through legal means”. Campaigning started 31 Oct. World Bank 7 Oct warned COVID-19 outbreak could cause 500,000 people in Burkina Faso to slide into extreme poverty by end of 2020, and a million more by end of 2021.

Mali

Military junta secured international support following conciliatory moves, while jihadist attacks continued unabated in centre and north. Junta’s governing body, National Council for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), 1 Oct published transitional charter with major amendment to prerogatives of VP, junta leader Colonel Assimi Goïta, as required by regional body ECOWAS. Interim President N’Daw 4 Oct appointed 25-member govt, awarding four key portfolios to military officials. Coalition of opposition and civil society groups M5-RFP 6 Oct said it was not represented in govt despite its “key role in toppling former President Keïta”, called on supporters to remain mobilised. Meanwhile, ECOWAS same day lifted post-coup commercial and financial sanctions on Mali, called on interim govt to dissolve CNSP and release 12 individuals arrested during coup; govt 8 Oct announced their release. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 16 Oct expressed support for transition, and EU same day announced resumption of its training and capacity-building activities in Mali. Interim govt 8 Oct announced release of four hostages detained by jihadist Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM), including opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé; in exchange, govt reportedly released 200 prisoners, including high-profile JNIM figures. Meanwhile, jihadist attacks continued unabated in centre and north. In central Mopti region, suspected jihadists 6 Oct attacked military outpost near Koro town, killing three. JNIM 13 Oct attacked military base in Sokoura town, killing at least nine soldiers; later same day killed at least two soldiers and 12 civilians in two separate attacks on Bandiagara-Bankass axis. Amid counter-insurgency operations in Bankass and Koro areas, local NGO accused army of killing 15 Fulani civilians in Libbé village in Bankass area 22 Oct. In neighbouring Ségou region, suspected jihadists 6 Oct abducted around 20 civilians in Farabougou village, few days later killed five others. In north, suspected jihadists 1 Oct attacked police patrol in Timbuktu city, killing two; MINUSMA vehicle 9 Oct hit explosive device in Kidal region, three peacekeepers injured; JNIM later claimed attack. Ethnic Songhai and Arab communities mid-Oct clashed in Timbuktu city, death toll unknown; clashes erupted after suspected robbers 10 Oct killed Songhai individual.

Niger

Political tensions rose ahead of Dec general elections, while fewer jihadist attacks were reported. Ahead of general elections planned for 27 Dec, controversy emerged over presidential candidates’ eligibility. Ruling party repeatedly claimed opposition candidate and former PM Hama Amadou’s bid was unlawful due to past one-year prison sentence. Meanwhile, rumors spread that ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum was born abroad, sparking doubts over his eligibility. Constitutional Court due to review candidacies and publish final list of candidates by 1 Dec. President Issoufou 14 Oct reiterated his intention not to run for third term and respect peaceful transfer of power. Amid clashes between Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and rival Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) near Gadia island in Diffa region (south east) early Oct, fewer jihadist attacks reported. ISWAP 13 Oct however attacked military barracks in Toumour commune, Diffa region; death toll unknown. In Tillabery region (south west), suspected jihadists 12-13 Oct abducted Muslim cleric and his son, whom they accused of collaborating with security forces, in Nassirou village near Burkina Faso border. In Tahoua region (south), unidentified assailants night of 26-27 Oct abducted American missionary in Massalata village; U.S. special forces night of 30-31 Oct freed hostage during operation in neighbouring Nigeria, reportedly killing several of his captors.

Burundi

Authorities continued crackdown on opposition and targeted Kinyarwanda speakers and ethnic Tutsi minority amid tense relations with neighbours. Police early Oct arrested rights activist and former opposition MP Fabien Banciryanino in economic capital Bujumbura on charges of “rebellion” and “threat to national security”; Banciryanino in Feb accused former President Nkurunziza’s govt of extrajudicial killings. Intelligence services 8 Oct reportedly arrested seven individuals, including three members of opposition National Congress for Freedom (CNL), in Mwaro province, on unknown charges. Meanwhile, residents in Kirundo province said authorities 13 Oct distributed arms to ruling party CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure; inhabitants of Ruyigi province mid-Oct reported paramilitary trainings of Imbonerakure on soccer fields. Govt 8 Oct called on Burundians to report presence of Kinyarwanda speakers (native to Rwanda and DR Congo), saying they posed threat to national security. Police 6-14 Oct reportedly arrested around 130 Congolese nationals from ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge group in operations to track down Kinyarwanda speakers in Gitega, Muyinga and Ngozi provinces. Imbonerakure 11 Oct beat young man to death in Bugabira commune, Kirundo province, reportedly for having Rwandophone accent. Supreme court 19 Oct sentenced in absentia former President Buyoya, current African Union High Representative for Mali and the Sahel, along with 18 political and military figures, mostly Tutsi, to life imprisonment for murder of Hutu President Ndadaye in 1993. After Rwanda 2 Oct announced arrest of 19 members of Burundian armed group RED-Tabara, Burundi requested immediate handover of prisoners; instead, Rwandan Intelligence Services 5 Oct asked International Conference on Great Lakes Region to launch investigation. Repatriation of Burundian refugees from Rwanda continued; FM Albert Shingiro 20 Oct met Rwandan counterpart at Nemba border post to discuss security cooperation. President Ndayishimiye did not attend 7 Oct regional summit on security cooperation hosted by DR Congo (see DR Congo). UN Human Rights Council 6 Oct extended Commission of Inquiry on Burundi for one year. After renewal of EU sanctions against Burundi last month, Shingiro 9 Oct summoned all foreign diplomats and demanded their respective countries suspend sanctions.

Cameroon

Attack killed schoolchildren in Anglophone region and jihadists stepped up offensive in Far North; opposition leader remained under house arrest. Govt 1 Oct deployed additional troops in Anglophone North West and South West regions to prevent separatists’ celebrations of their declared Independence Day; some shooting reported in Bui, Momo and Boyo divisions (North West), death toll unknown. In South West, army 12 Oct killed prominent separatist leader known as General Ayeke in Wabane area, Lebialem division, and released 11 hostages from Ayeke’s camp. After some schools early Oct reopened in both regions despite separatists’ boycott, unidentified armed individuals 24 Oct attacked school in Kumba city, killing at least six children; govt immediately denounced “terrorist act of intolerable cruelty and barbarity”, while separatists denied responsibility, blaming Cameroonian govt. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet 27 Oct condemned attack, called for “inclusive dialogue to carve out a durable resolution” to Anglophone crisis. Army 26 Oct reportedly killed separatist General Mendo Ze during military raid in Fako division. In attempt to unify separatist armed groups, imprisoned separatist leader Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe 15 Oct called on factional leaders to collaborate. In Far North, jihadist groups launched almost daily attacks on civilians and vigilante groups, leading govt to close over 60 schools in region in early Oct. Jihadists overnight 15-16 Oct killed three civilians and kidnapped five others in Oudal village, Mayo-Tsanaga division; 15-28 Oct killed two civilians and abducted nine others in Mayo-Sava division. Meanwhile, opposition leader Maurice Kamto’s lawyers 5 Oct submitted plea for authorities to lift his de facto house arrest, which court in Yaoundé rejected same day; Kamto’s Cameroon Renaissance Movement party remained under investigation for attempts to “destabilise state institutions and mount insurrection” following anti-govt protest last month. Geneva-based UN human rights experts 12 Oct called for Kamto’s immediate release and that of 200 others arrested in Sept; govt 14 Oct decried experts’ call as “partial and biased”.

Central African Republic

Armed group violence continued in north west and south east, and preparations for general elections moved forward. Govt representatives, UN Mission (MINUSCA) and peace agreement guarantors 3-5 Oct met armed group Restitution, Reclamation and Rehabilitation (3R) leader, Sidiki Abbas, in Koui town, Ouham-Pendé prefecture, to discuss electoral preparations; Abbas reportedly agreed to stop blocking voter registration process in north west, same day freed three policemen kidnapped last month near Bang town, Ouham-Pendé prefecture. Meanwhile, armed group violence continued in north west. In Ouham prefecture, anti-Balaka rival factions 1 Oct clashed over control of Bowara mining site, leaving four dead; unidentified assailants 10 Oct kidnapped two herders and killed one of them near Batangafo town; NGO Doctors Without Borders 16 Oct suspended its activities in Kabo town amid persistent targeting of humanitarian workers. In south east, violence flared between anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka armed group Unity for Peace in Central Africa (UPC). After UPC 3 Oct arrested anti-Balaka leader in Pombolo village, Mbomou prefecture, groups in following days clashed in Kembé town, Basse-Kotto prefecture, Pombolo and Gambo villages, both Mbomou prefecture; MINUSCA and local authorities 6 Oct intervened to de-escalate tensions. Ahead of Dec general elections, National Electoral Authority 16 Oct completed voter registration, 27 Oct published electoral lists; moves follow Sept National Assembly decisions to extend electoral calendar deadlines but keep 27 Dec as election day. Opposition parties repeatedly denounced “poor electoral preparation” and argued that their key demands could not be met in proposed timeframe, including addressing insecurity across country and enabling refugees to vote. Meanwhile controversy persisted over eligibility of former President Bozizé, who returned to country in late 2019, as electoral code requires presidential candidates to have at least 12-month in-country residence prior to filing for candidacy.

Chad

Clearing of mining sites in north increased tensions and govt announced imminent deployment of troops to fight jihadist groups in Sahel. President Déby 8 Oct ordered immediate clearing of all illegal gold mining sites around Miski in northern Tibesti province; also confirmed plans to withdraw mining rights except for approved companies with experience in mining sector; moves follow Sept withdrawal of Miski self-defence militia from 2019 peace agreement in protest at govt’s proposed plans to change legal framework for gold mining to their detriment. Meanwhile, during G5 Sahel meeting in Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, FM Amine Abba Sidick 5 Oct announced imminent deployment of Chadian battalion to tri-border area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to support fight against jihadist groups; Déby, who committed to sending additional troops there in Jan, had delayed deployment, citing need to concentrate military efforts around Lake Chad. In Lake region in west, suspected Boko Haram insurgents 19 Oct ambushed army convoy on Ngouboua-Kaïga axis, leaving four dead and at least ten injured. National inclusive forum on constitutional reform held 29 Oct-1 Nov despite boycott by several opposition parties, which claimed forum would not genuinely address structural issues or army reform; authorities 30 Oct banned opposition gatherings and circled headquarters of several opposition parties in capital N’Djamena, citing need to prevent demonstrations due to COVID-19.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Political tensions reached breaking point, threatening survival of ruling coalition, while deadly violence continued unabated in east. During President Tshisekedi’s visit to North Kivu’s capital Goma, North and South Kivu provincial deputies 7 Oct challenged late-Sept appointment of ethnic Tutsi (Banyamulenge) as mayor of newly created Minembwe commune, South Kivu province; Tshisekedi blamed decision on decentralisation minister and former President Kabila ally Azarias Ruberwa, himself a Banyamulenge, and 9 Oct revoked Minembwe’s status as commune. Ruberwa 19-21 Oct told National Assembly appointment followed direct orders from Tshisekedi himself, revealing major breach within ruling coalition. Meanwhile, Kabila’s Common Front for Congo 21 Oct boycotted swearing-in ceremony of three new Constitutional Court judges, who had been unilaterally appointed by Tshisekedi in July; next day said party will not recognise judges nor feel bound by any of their decisions. In east, armed groups continued to target armed forces and civilians. In North Kivu province, Uganda-born Islamic State-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) launched several attacks in Beni territory: ADF and Maï-Maï militia Kyandenga 5 Oct killed ten in Mamove locality; suspected ADF 20 Oct attacked Kangbayi prison in Beni town, freeing over 1,300 inmates including ADF and Maï-Maï combatants; ADF 21-31 Oct killed at least 50 civilians across Beni territory. In South Kivu province, clashes between Maï Maï and Banyamulenge militias late Oct left at least 20 dead. Army 25 Oct said troops had taken over stronghold of Burundian armed group National Liberation Forces (FNL) in South Kivu, killing at least 27 over three days of fighting. In Ituri province, armed group Patriotic and Integrationist Front of Congo (FPIC) 16 and 21 Oct killed at least 15 in Irumu territory. Faction of armed group Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) 22 Oct reportedly killed at least five near Ituri’s capital Bunia; in following days, army killed at least 21 militiamen in area. Tshisekedi’s efforts toward regional cooperation suffered setback. Burundi 7 Oct boycotted regional summit on security, health and economic cooperation, hosted by Kinshasa via videoconference, although bilateral meeting between FM Nzeza Ntumba and his Burundian counterpart was held in Burundi’s capital Gitega previous day.

Eritrea

President Afwerki consolidated regional ties as part of effort to play greater role in regional politics. Afwerki 4-5 Oct received Somalia President Farmajo, leaders agreed to upgrade July 2018 agreement that restored diplomatic relations between two countries and to re-double regional integration efforts on basis of Sept 2018 tripartite agreement between Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. Afwerki 12-14 Oct visited Ethiopia, discussed bilateral and regional issues with Ethiopian PM Abiy, including Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam; visit took place amid harsh dispute between Ethiopian federal govt and Tigray regional state which shares border with Eritrea and has long had hostile relationship with Afwerki. Govt 31 Oct accused Tigray ruling party of obstructing regional peace and stability. UN Human Rights Council 7 Oct appointed Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker as new UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea. European Parliament 8 Oct adopted resolution calling on govt to “put an end to detention of the opposition, journalists, religious leaders and innocent civilians” and condemning “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations”; also expressed concern that “COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the situation of famine and malnutrition that exists in parts of the country”.

Ethiopia

Feud between federal govt and Tigray region reached breaking point, threatening to spark violent escalation in Nov; intercommunal violence left dozens dead in several regions. After Tigray held regional elections in Sept in defiance of federal govt’s COVID-19-related postponement of polls, Tigray’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) 5 Oct recalled its representatives from federal govt and parliament, considering their mandates had expired. Tensions further increased after federal parliament’s upper house 6-7 Oct directed federal govt to cut ties with Tigray’s leadership and approved redirection of federal funding away from Tigray’s executive. Peace Minister Muferiat Kamil 9 Oct called on both sides to engage in dialogue and de-escalate tensions; TPLF 24 Oct however said Addis Ababa “is driving the Tigray region away from the federation” and that withholding of funds, due 4 Nov, would be “tantamount to a declaration of war”. In Benishangul-Gumuz region in north west, unidentified militia 6-7 Oct killed 14 civilians, including some ethnic Amhara, in Metekel zone; security forces reportedly killed 14 assailants. Also in Metekel, at least a dozen ethnic Amhara and Agew civilians 11 Oct were shot dead in unclear circumstances. In Southern Nations region in south, unidentified gunmen 18-21 Oct killed at least 31 civilians, reportedly all ethnic Amhara, prompting reported displacement of thousands of Amhara in Bench Sheko zone. In border area between Afar and Somali regions, clashes between ethnic Afar and Somalis late Oct left at least 27 dead. In Oromia region, regional police chief 1 Oct said more than 500 people had been arrested on suspicion of plotting violence during Oromo festival in late Sept-early Oct; security forces 11 Oct opened fire on protesters demanding release of political prisoners, leaving one dead in Bale zone; unidentified assailants mid-Oct killed two security personnel in East Wellega zone. Federal parliament’s upper house 6 Oct approved request by five zonal administrations and one district of Southern Nations region for referendum on creation of regional state. Tripartite meeting on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam took place 27 Oct (see Nile Waters).

Kenya

Deadly violence erupted amid power struggle between President Kenyatta and VP Ruto and increasing political polarisation; meanwhile Al-Shabaab attacks persisted in north east. After Ruto 1 Oct hosted allied MPs at ruling Jubilee Party (JP) headquarters in capital Nairobi during Kenyatta’s travel abroad, JP Sec Gen Raphael Tuju next day threatened to remove Ruto as party deputy leader. Opposition leader and Kenyatta ally Raila Odinga and Ruto’s campaigns respectively for and against referendum on constitutional reform continued to heighten polarisation between their supporters; ahead of Ruto’s visit to Kenol town, Murang’a county in centre, pro-Ruto youths 4 Oct clashed with Kenyatta and Odinga supporters, leaving two dead and several injured. Police 8 Oct used tear gas to stop fundraising event that Ruto intended to attend in Nyamira county on grounds that authorities had not been notified nor given green light; in following days, police outlawed or blocked several other rallies organised by Ruto’s camp, citing COVID-19 and security-related concerns. Kenyatta 28 Oct signed into law bill giving body of parliament – largely controlled by allies of Kenyatta and Odinga – four seats in seven-member panel tasked with appointing electoral commissioners. Kenyatta 8 Oct signed into law county revenue allocation bill for 2020-2021 largely benefitting his home county of Kiambu. In Mandera county in north east, suspected Al-Shabaab militants 6 Oct ambushed bus between Elwak and Kotulo towns, leaving at least eight injured; 18 Oct attacked police camp along border with Somalia, no injuries. Inter-clan skirmishes 22-23 Oct left three dead in Lafey-El Wak area, also Mandera county. Nairobi court 7 Oct convicted two men and acquitted another for alleged role in 2013 Al-Shabaab deadly attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall; unidentified gunmen next day abducted acquitted individual.

Somalia

Federal govt and member states reached agreement on electoral timetable but Jubaland state objected to holding polls in contested Gedo region; Al-Shabaab attacks continued. Federal govt and member states 1 Oct agreed to hold indirect legislative and presidential elections in Dec 2020 and Feb 2021 respectively; also decided on location of polls and allocation of parliamentary seats, and resolved to form federal and regional electoral commissions and dispute resolution committee. Jubaland President Madobe 6 Oct however said parliamentary elections could not take place in disputed Gedo region as long as Mogadishu’s forces remain present there; following alleged targeting of civilians by Kenyan forces and brief skirmish between Somali and Kenyan forces in Gedo late Sept-early Oct, Mogadishu, Kenya and reportedly also Jubaland early-to-mid-Oct deployed additional troops to Gedo. In south and centre, Al-Shabaab attacks and counter-insurgency operations 2-12 Oct left at least six soldiers and 32 militants dead in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Gedo, Lower Juba, Bay and Hiraan regions. Clashes between Al-Shabaab and security forces 14-15 Oct reportedly left at least 18 soldiers and 61 militants dead in Lower Shabelle region. Roadside bombings 15-18 Oct killed at least four soldiers and two civilians in Middle Shabelle region. Security forces 16-25 Oct reportedly killed several dozen militants in Middle Shabelle, Lower Shabelle, Bay and Hiraan regions. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab suicide bombing 1 Oct killed senior intelligence official; Al-Shabaab roadside bomb targeting govt official 20 Oct left at least two civilians dead; suspected Al-Shabaab militants 27 Oct shot and killed two aid workers and detonated car bomb, leaving at least three more dead. President Farmajo and Eritrean President Afwerki early Oct met in Eritrea, agreed to upgrade July 2018 agreement that restored diplomatic relations and to accelerate regional integration efforts on basis of Sept 2018 tripartite agreement between Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Somaliland

President Bihi solidified his control over ruling Kulmiye party ahead of 2021 elections and Al-Shabaab claimed capture of several villages in Sanaag region in east. Ruling Kulmiye party 4-6 Oct held party congress to elect new party leadership; Bihi retained chairmanship and solidified control over party by expelling several prominent rivals from party’s central committee, including Mohamud Hashi, Mohamed Ibrahim Adan “Qabyotire” and Mohamed Eid Dhimbil, who 14 Oct jointly criticised Bihi’s presidency and party leadership. Parliament’s upper house 6 Oct approved electoral law after lower house did so in late Sept, paving way for long-delayed parliamentary and local elections now scheduled for May 2021. In capital Hargeisa, unidentified gunmen 12 Oct shot and killed military official. In Sool region in east, unspecified number of soldiers 13 Oct defected from Somalia’s federal member state Puntland to Somaliland. In Sanaag region in east, Al-Shabaab 24 Oct claimed it had captured several villages. After Somalia and UN 15 Oct signed new cooperation agreement, Somaliland 17 Oct rejected deal as “an infringement upon Somaliland’s sovereign integrity” and 25 Oct suspended all UN programs until further notice. Somaliland and Taiwan – both of which seek international recognition – continued to bolster their nascent diplomatic relations. Taiwanese President Tsai 12 Oct received Somaliland’s representative to Taiwan, said Somaliland and Taiwan “can staunchly support each other in the international arena”; Bihi 26 Oct received Taiwan’s representative to Somaliland, discussed ways to bolster ties between two countries.

South Sudan

Govt and holdout rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS) agreed to three-month ceasefire while govt and former rebel groups made slow progress in local power-sharing negotiations. Negotiations between govt and coalition of non-signatory rebel groups, South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA), 9-12 Oct resumed in Italy’s capital, Rome; amid internal frictions, SSOMA split into two camps prompting govt to hold separate talks with NAS, during which they agreed on seven of ten principles of draft Declaration of Principles aimed at guiding future political negotiations; NAS 18 Oct said it had agreed to three-month ceasefire and that it would only commit to open-ended cessation of hostilities once parties agreed on all ten principles. Meanwhile, govt and signatory opposition groups 20 Oct broke deadlock over allocation of county commissioner positions and President Kiir next day asked former rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar and other parties to submit nominees for ministerial and county commissioner positions; disagreement persisted over appointment of Upper Nile state governor. In Unity state in north, Paul Malong’s SSOMA faction South Sudan United Front/Army (SSUF/A) early Oct defected to Kiir’s forces and 20 Oct launched attack on Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), killing at least one near state capital Bentiu. In Central Equatoria state in south, former SPLA-IO senior commander who in Sept defected to Kiir’s forces 4 Oct launched attack on SPLA-IO base in Kajo-Keji county, reportedly leaving at least two dead. Unidentified gunmen early Oct killed son of former Central Equatoria governor between Juba and Terekeka counties, reportedly prompting reprisal that 9 Oct killed at least six. In Eastern Equatoria state, cattle raids 3-12 Oct left four dead in Torit and Budi counties. Clashes between South Sudanese and Ugandan soldiers along border 27 Oct reportedly left two dead on each side. In centre, intercommunal clashes 7 Oct killed at least ten in Tonj county, Warrap state. Raiders 17-18 Oct killed five cattle traders in Cueibet county, Lakes state. Unidentified gunmen 5 Oct attacked World Food Programme boat-convoy carrying food assistance from Jonglei state to Upper Nile state (east), one crew member missing.

Sudan

U.S. removed country from State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) list, govt and rebel groups formalised Aug peace deal, and violence erupted in east. U.S. President Trump 23 Oct signed order to remove Sudan’s SST designation after Sudan transferred $335mn to escrow account for victims of al-Qaida’s 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; Trump same day announced Sudan and Israel had agreed to normalise relations. In South Sudanese capital Juba, govt, rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front and Sudan Liberation Movement/Army faction led by Minni Minnawi 3 Oct formalised Aug peace deal; Sovereign Council and cabinet approved deal 12 Oct and its incorporation into constitutional declaration 18 Oct. Faction of rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu 29 Oct began talks with govt aimed at bringing group into deal. In east, ethnic Beja 3-6 Oct demonstrated in Port Sudan, Suakin and several other towns in Red Sea state against peace agreement’s “eastern track” and called for self-determination for eastern Sudan; protesters 5 Oct killed police officer in Haiya town. PM Hamdok 13 Oct dismissed ethnic Beni Amer governor of Kassala state after months of Beja protests opposing his Aug appointment; in following days violence erupted in Red Sea and Kassala states leaving at least 30 dead by 20 Oct; notably, clashes between Beni Amer and Beja 14 Oct killed six in Suakin; security forces 15 Oct confronted Beni Amer protesters in Kassala city, leaving seven protesters and one soldier dead. In South Darfur state, fighting between factions of holdout rebel group Sudan Liberation Movement/Army led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur displaced more than 4,500 in Sharg al-Jabal area throughout month; clashes between ethnic Fellata and Masalit 20-22 Oct left at least 14 dead in Gireida locality. In capital Khartoum and other cities across country, thousands 21 Oct demonstrated against dire economic situation and poor living conditions; security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Khartoum, reportedly killing two.

Tanzania

Election-related violence flared amid clampdown on opposition and allegations of widespread election fraud. Ahead of 28 Oct general elections, opposition party Chadema few days before vote said local ruling party officials opened fire at campaign rally in Nyamongo town in north east, killing two. On semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, opposition party Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) 27 Oct said police previous night shot at least nine people dead as they tried to stop soldiers suspected of distributing pre-marked ballots to polling stations; police same day reportedly used tear gas on citizens who defied order to remain at home and briefly detained ACT presidential candidate in Zanzibar Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad. Widespread disruption of internet and text-messaging services reported across country starting 27 Oct. UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet same day expressed concern at “worrying reports of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and physical attacks against political opponents, journalists, women human rights defenders and other activists”. On day of vote, Chadema presidential candidate Tundu Lissu denounced “shameless election fraud” and urged for “mass democratic action.” Seif Sharif Hamad arrested again 29 Oct in Zanzibar’s Mjini Magharibi Region after he called for protests. Electoral commission 30 Oct announced preliminary results, giving President Magufuli as winner of presidential election with 84% of votes, and ruling party winner of 253 parliamentary seats out of 261 announced so far. Group of regional experts Tanzania Elections Watch same day said “vote marked significant backsliding in Tanzania’s democratic credentials.” Earlier in month, electoral commission 2 Oct suspended Lissu’s campaign for seven days for allegedly inciting violence in run-up to vote by “using offensive words which are against election ethics”. Police 6 Oct reportedly arrested unspecified number of Chadema supporters in Coast region near capital Dar es Salaam on allegations of unauthorised campaigning. Meanwhile, Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated combatants from neighbouring Mozambique 14 Oct reportedly killed at least 22, including three security force members, in Kitaya village, Mtwara region; attack is first claimed by ISIS in Tanzania (see also Mozambique). ISIS 30 Oct claimed attacks on three villages in Michenjele county in past few days.

Uganda

Authorities continued to harass opposition through legal means ahead of early 2021 general elections. Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) 7 Oct criticised electoral commission for lack of prompt reaction to Sept election-related violence, said violence could escalate in run-up to elections. Main opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) 8 Oct endorsed party president Patrick Amuriat Oboi as presidential flag bearer; other opposition party also chose respective presidential candidates throughout month. Police and military 14 Oct raided headquarters of opposition National Unity Party (NUP) in capital Kampala, seized campaign material and arrested party leader and presidential hopeful Bobi Wine along with more than 130 of his supporters for using red berets, which are akin to military uniforms, as campaign symbol; Wine released later that day. Information Minister Judith Nabakooba 18 Oct urged nominated candidates to abide by electoral commission’s ban on in-person campaigning amid COVID-19 pandemic. Opposition throughout month continued to denounce double standard in implementation of directive, saying security forces do not disperse ruling party National Resistance Movement’s rallies. Police 12 Oct resumed enforcing COVID-19 nightly curfew in Kampala. South Sudanese and Ugandan soldiers 27 Oct clashed along common border, reportedly leaving two dead on each side.

Angola

Security forces violently suppressed protests. Around 2,000 people 24 Oct demonstrated in capital Luanda against worsening living conditions and Sept decision to postpone municipal elections amid COVID-19 pandemic, following call by coalition of civil society organisations Angolan Revolutionary Movement (MRA) endorsed by opposition party UNITA; police clashed with protesters, reportedly killing one, injuring over 50 and detaining over 100. In following days, demonstrations erupted in several areas in solidarity with detained protesters; in Huambo city (south of Luanda), police 28 Oct cracked down on protesters, severely injuring nine. UNITA same day decried “terrorism by national police”, while MRA said 387 participants in 24 Oct protest were still missing.

Mozambique

Islamist militants staged deadly attacks in far north, albeit at lower intensity, and across border in Tanzania; President Nyusi’s unilateral, week-long ceasefire with dissident Renamo armed faction failed to kickstart peace talks. In Cabo Delgado province in far north, Islamist insurgents late Sept to mid-Oct killed at least 30 civilians and kidnapped 62 others in several villages in Macomia district. Several attacks also reported throughout month in Quissanga, Palma and Muidumbe districts. Some 300 insurgents 14 Oct crossed border into Tanzania and reportedly killed at least 22, including three Tanzanian security forces personnel; Islamic State (ISIS) next day claimed responsibility, first time ISIS claims direct attack on Tanzanian soil (see Tanzania). Military 21 Oct reportedly killed over 30 insurgents and several civilian hostages in counter-insurgency operation on Matemo island, Ibo district. Police Commander Bernardino Rafael 29 Oct said security forces had killed 108 insurgents in attacks on terrorist “encampments” in Cabo Delgado over three-day period. In centre, suspected members of Renamo Military Junta, dissident faction of opposition party Renamo, 6 Oct attacked vehicles on Muxunguè-Mutindir road in Sofala province, injuring five. Nyusi 24 Oct announced unilateral, week-long ceasefire in Sofala and Manica provinces in attempt to kickstart peace talks with dissidents; Renamo Military Junta leader Mariano Nhongo two days later said he was willing to negotiate with Nyusi but not with Renamo leader Ossufo Momade; Nhongo 31 Oct said attempt to start talks had failed, denounced ceasefire violations and harassment of his combatants by govt forces. Demobilisation and disarmament of Renamo forces continued, with 173 former combatants demobilised 12 Oct. In response to govt’s Sept request for assistance to tackle Cabo Delgado insurgency, EU 9 Oct announced training program, logistical support and medical services for Mozambican forces.

Zimbabwe

Govt continued to suppress faction of main opposition party amid intra-party power struggle. Leaders of two factions of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Nelson Chamisa (MDC-A) and Thokozani Khupe (MDC-T) continued to vie for control of party. At request of MDC-T, parliament 1 Oct expelled ten Chamisa-aligned MPs, including MDC-A faction VP Lynette Karenyi-Kore. Govt, citing COVID-19 concerns, next day suspended Dec by-elections to fill MDC-A parliamentary and municipal seats vacated amid leadership dispute, sparking widespread criticism. In following days, at least five citizens and two civil society organisations filed High Court application challenging suspension; MDC-A 7 Oct decried it as “unconstitutional” and called for its reversal; meanwhile, Khupe and 14 other MDC-T officials same day were sworn in as MPs to replace MDC-A MPs. In capital Harare, students 15 Oct demonstrated to call for release of student union president Takudzwa Ngadziore, arrested in Sept on charges of inciting violence; High Court next day granted him bail, but imposed stringent conditions including prohibiting him from participating in any public gatherings. In state of nation address to parliament, President Mnangagwa 22 Oct vowed to crack down on NGOs critical of govt’s human rights record, said parliament would soon discuss bill to “revamp the administration” of NGOs and “correct the current anomalies”. Cabinet 27 Oct approved legislation to criminalise “unsubstantiated claims” of human rights violations, anti-govt protests that could draw international attention and “unauthorised communication or negotiation” with foreign govts. Authorities 12 Oct requested South Africa to extradite Saviour Kasukuwere, former Mugabe administration minister, over corruption allegations. Mozambique President Nyusi, chairman of regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC), and African Union (AU) Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat 25 Oct called for removal of all international sanctions on Zimbabwe. Ruling party ZANU-PF 28 Oct called on SADC and AU to intervene against Islamist insurgency in neighbouring Mozambique (see Mozambique).

Côte d’Ivoire

Violence erupted in lead-up to and on 31 Oct presidential election, leaving over 30 dead; violence threatens to escalate in coming weeks. After opposition Popular Ivorian Front presidential candidate Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) candidate Henri Konan Bédié 15 Oct called for “active boycott” of vote and urged supporters to disrupt electoral operations, violence broke out in several regions. Clashes between ethnic Agni who support Affi N’Guessan and ethnic Dioula who support President Ouattara 17 Oct left two dead in Bongouanou (centre east), Affi’s hometown and electoral bastion. Ethnic Adjoukrou tribesmen, deemed close to opposition, and Dioula individuals 20-21 Oct clashed in Dabou town (south east), killing at least 16 and injuring over 60. Meanwhile, police 19 and 30 Oct confronted opposition supporters in Bonoua town (south east), leaving one dead and several seriously wounded. On 31 Oct election day, clashes between supporters of rival parties reportedly left a dozen dead across country; opposition supporters also reportedly burnt electoral material in Brobo town and prevented access to polling stations in several regions. Earlier in month, UN, African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 4 Oct sent high-level delegation to economic capital Abidjan on three-day mission to defuse electoral tensions; delegates reportedly advised authorities to approve former President Gbagbo and former PM Guillaume Soro’s candidacies and delay vote, which Ouattara rejected. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters 10 Oct rallied in Félix Houphouët-Boigny stadium in Abidjan to protest Ouattara’s third term bid. ECOWAS 18 Oct dispatched its second ministerial delegation in Abidjan since Sept, called on Bédié and N’Guessan to “reconsider their call for civil disobedience”. PM Hamed Bakayoko 21 Oct hosted dialogue with opposition representatives in Abidjan, which PDCI and FPI boycotted saying govt showed no genuine willingness to compromise on any of their core demands, including reshuffling electoral commission and delaying vote.

Guinea

Violence broke out following competing claims of victory in presidential election, leaving at least 21 dead, and could escalate amid post-electoral crisis. After 18 Oct vote went largely peacefully, opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo next day claimed victory. Electoral commission immediately denounced announcement as “premature” and “void” and police 20 Oct blocked access to Diallo’s house in capital Conakry. In following days, violence flared across country. Notably, Diallo’s supporters 21 Oct clashed with security forces in Conakry, leaving at least three dead; same day clashed with incumbent President Condé’s supporters in southern Nzérékoré and Macenta cities, death toll unknown; unrest 23 Oct reportedly killed five in Conakry. Govt 22 Oct deployed troops in several areas. Electoral commission 24 Oct declared Condé winner with 59.5% of votes; Diallo immediately rejected results and vowed to take to street. Joint UN, African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mission 25 Oct arrived in Conakry to mediate crisis; electoral commission VP and other commissioners same day denounced “massive fraud” and called for “resumption of election”. Ten opposition candidates 30 Oct called on supporters to resume demonstrations against Condé 3 Nov, same day vowed to challenge results before Constitutional Court. Prior to election day, ruling party Rally for the Guinean People (RPG) and UFDG supporters 1-4 Oct clashed in Siguiri and Kankan cities (both east), leaving several wounded. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 7 Oct voiced concern over rising hate speech in lead-up to election and urged parties to refrain from stirring ethnic divisions. Meanwhile, attempted mutinies 16 Oct broke out in two military bases in Kindia city in west, leaving one commanding officer dead; in response, authorities reportedly killed around ten mutineers and arrested several others, and immediately imposed lockdown on Conakry’s Kaloum neighbourhood, where govt headquarters are located.

Guinea-Bissau

Amid harassment of civil society activists, opposition denounced judicial proceedings against former PM. Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League 6 Oct said unidentified individuals previous day abducted two civil society activists, Queba Sane and Carlos Sambu, near capital Bissau and released them next day; Attorney General Fernando Gomes 8 Oct promised investigation into circumstances of activists’ kidnapping; in joint press conference, Sane and Sambu 9 Oct said elements of presidential security service arbitrarily detained and beat them in presidential palace 5-6 Oct. Lusa news agency 13 Oct revealed Court of Appeals had put former PM Aristides Gomes under house arrest in Aug on suspicion of embezzlement; Gomes took refuge in UN mission headquarters in Bissau after being dismissed by President Embaló in Feb. Opposition African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde parliamentary leader Califa Seidi 21 Oct denounced govt persecution of Gomes, saying cases were being “forged” against him. Attorney General’s Office 30 Oct said Gomes was under investigation in three separate cases.

Nigeria

Protests against police brutality and impunity  turned violent in major cities, while jihadist and criminal violence persisted in North East and North West. Peaceful protests 5 Oct started in federal capital Abuja and largest city, Lagos, following public outcry at 3 Oct video showing police unit Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) shooting unarmed man in Ughelli town in Delta state. Federal govt 11 Oct acceded to protestors’ primary demand by disbanding SARS unit; govt 13 Oct however announced creation of new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to replace old unit which angered protesters. Protests subsequently grew, involving tens of thousands, and increasingly turned violent as authorities forcefully dispersed protesters, armed pro-police thugs attacked demonstrators, and looting and criminal violence erupted across many cities. Soldiers 20 Oct opened fire at protesters in Lagos city, killing at least a dozen according to rights groups; govt denied killings. Mobs subsequently destroyed at least 25 police stations, killed or wounded dozens of officers, facilitated jailbreaks enabling over 2,000 to flee, ransacked shopping malls and looted food warehouses. Govt 23 Oct reported 69 people killed in protest-related violence, including civilians, police officers and soldiers. As of 25 Oct, 27 state govts and Federal Capital Territory had set up judicial panels to investigate police abuses. Meanwhile, jihadist violence persisted in north-eastern Borno state despite counter-insurgency operations. Jihadists 12 Oct killed 14 farmers in Ngwom village; 16 Oct attacked Jakana military base, killing 14 soldiers; 25 Oct slaughtered eight farmers in Moranti village outside state capital Maiduguri. Military 1 and 17 Oct killed unspecified number of insurgents in air strikes in Ngala and Dikwa areas respectively; 25 Oct repelled insurgents’ attack on army camp in Damboa area, killing at least 20. Armed group attacks and kidnappings persisted in North West. Bandits 3-13 Oct abducted 28 civilians and killed six vigilantes in Katsina, Niger and Kaduna states, while community vigilantes 13 Oct killed 14 Fulani youths suspected of collaborating with local bandits in Wurma village, Katsina state. Bandits 29 Oct attacked villages in Dandume area, Katsina state, and Maradun area, Zamfara state, killing at least 21 including police and vigilantes.

Asia

China/Japan

Tensions continued between Japan and China over contested island chain in East China Sea, while Tokyo and Washington began biannual military exercises. Beijing 3 Oct opened digital museum claiming “legal and historical proof” that disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands belong to China; Tokyo 5 Oct demanded museum website be taken down. Two Chinese coastguard vessels 11-13 Oct entered Japanese territorial waters around Senkaku/Diaoyu, staying for record 57-hour period; during stay, the vessels 12 Oct approached Japanese fishing boat in area, prompting Tokyo to send coastguard for protection and to lodge protest with Beijing over incident. Japanese Self-Defence Forces 9 Oct conducted anti-submarine drill in South China Sea. U.S. and Japan 26 Oct began biannual “Keen Sword” military exercises around Japan involving air, sea and land forces and including cyber and electronic warfare for first time; drills to run until 5 Nov; commander of U.S. forces 26 Oct said exercises would demonstrate forces’ ability “to defend the Senkakus”. New Japanese PM Suga 18-21 Oct visited Vietnam and Indonesia in first trips abroad; Suga and Vietnamese PM Phuc 19 Oct agreed to increase security cooperation, including by Tokyo exporting military equipment to Vietnam, while Suga next day agreed to increase speed of defence and trade talks with Indonesian President Widodo; Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper 19 Oct quoted Chinese analysts saying deals targeted China and could “cast a shadow over regional stability and peace” in South China Sea. In first speech to parliament, Suga 26 Oct stressed importance of stable China-Japan relations for both countries and region.

Korean Peninsula

North Korea unveiled new missiles during annual parade while U.S.-South Korea dispute over military cost sharing continued. Pyongyang demonstrated previously unseen long-range intercontinental ballistic missile and submarine-launched missiles at 10 Oct military parade to celebrate 75th anniversary of Party Foundation Day attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; during event, Kim claimed all citizens in North “healthy and sound” despite reports of COVID-19 outbreaks; next day, govt in Seoul held emergency meeting to discuss military parade. U.S. and South Korea 13-14 Oct held annual military talks featuring heads of military and defence ministers; in joint statement, Washington and Seoul pledged to “continue to develop” U.S.-ROK Alliance and recognised “significant threat that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose”; amid continued tensions over sharing cost of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on Korean peninsula, statement also noted that lack of agreement has “lasting effects for Alliance readiness”. Defence ministry in Seoul 26 Oct said U.S. did not commit to maintain its current troop levels as Washington wished to have more flexible deployment. Danish documentary produced over ten years 11 Oct alleged pro-Pyongang organisation Korean Friendship Association helped North Korea evade UN ban on trading arms. Senior U.S. justice official 22 Oct accused China of helping North Korea launder money from cyber-attacks to evade UN sanctions; next day, Beijing denied accusation and said it “fully and earnestly” implements UN sanctions. In reported defection of senior official, chairman of South Korea’s National Assembly’s intelligence committee 8 Oct confirmed reports that North Korean diplomat Jo Song-gil, who disappeared while acting as ambassador to Italy in 2018, had been living in South since 2019. Pyongyang 30 Oct blamed Seoul for Sept killing of South Korean fisheries official at de facto maritime border.

Taiwan Strait

Cross-strait tensions remained high amid intense Chinese military activity and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Taiwanese govt claimed series of Chinese military jets entered Taiwanese Air Defence Identification Zone during month, including: Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft on 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 15-17, 21, 25 and 31  Oct; one KJ-500 surveillance aircraft 7 Oct; two planes including one Y-9 transport aircraft 9 Oct; three jets including KJ-500 jet 20 Oct; two jets including a Y-8 plane 26 Oct; one electronic warfare plane 27 and 29 Oct; two planes 28 Oct; and three planes including electronic signals intelligence plane 30 Oct. In response, Taipei scrambled jets and tracked planes with air defence system on each occasion. Canadian warship 3 Oct and U.S. warship 14 Oct sailed through Taiwan Strait; following latter, Chinese military warned Washington to stop “words and deeds that provoke trouble”. U.S. military transport plane 8 Oct flew route along “median line” in Strait. Meanwhile, U.S. state dept 21 Oct approved sale of three weapons systems, including missiles and artillery, to Taiwan; next day, Taipei welcomed package, thanking U.S. for helping “strengthen its self-defense capabilities”; Beijing 26 Oct announced it would sanction U.S. arms companies involved in deal, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon for move, which “China firmly opposes and strongly condemns”. Taipei denied reports on Chinese state television 12 and 13 Oct that allegedly showed confessions of two Taiwanese spies that Chinese authorities had supposedly arrested as part of a large anti-espionage operation “Thunder 2020”. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien 16 Oct said Taiwan should “fortify itself” against potential invasion or Chinese-led economic measures such as embargo. In Taipei, parliament 6 Oct unanimously passed opposition Kuomintang party-proposed resolutions calling for further U.S. military aid and resumption of U.S.-Taiwan diplomatic ties. Taiwanese President Tsai 10 Oct in annual National Day address said maintaining “stability in cross-strait relations is in the best interest of both sides”.

Afghanistan

Hostilities escalated as Taliban launched major attack on Helmand’s provincial capital while intra-Afghan peace talks stalled. Taliban 10-11 Oct launched large-scale assault on Lashkar Gah, provincial capital of Helmand province (south) in first major attack on urban centre in 2020; militants seized much of city’s outskirts amid reports of Afghan troops’ extensive withdrawal from front-line areas; fighting killed dozens and displaced over 35,000. Other notable Taliban attacks during month included: several clashes in Kunduz province (north) killing and wounding dozens of security forces 8, 9 and 18 Oct; assault on checkpoints in Gozargah-e Noor district, Baghlan province (north) 14 Oct that killed at least twelve police officers and soldiers; 18 Oct bombing in Firuzkoh, Ghor province (centre) that killed tens and wounded nearly 100; and assault on Baharak district, Takhar province (north) that killed at least fifteen security forces 21 Oct. U.S. military continued to limit its action, primarily conducting defensive airstrikes to protect Afghan troops around Lashkar Gah; U.S. President Trump 8 Oct tweeted he intended to continue drawdown of U.S. forces and have all soldiers “home by Christmas”. Islamic State (ISIS) claimed 24 Oct suicide attack at education centre in Kabul that killed at least 24. Meanwhile, intra-Afghan talks stalled in pre-negotiations over procedure and protocol; U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 6 Oct travelled to Doha, Qatar’s capital, in effort to break impasse and urge de-escalation of violence; attempt to reduce violence seems to have failed but early reports suggest that parties may accept third-party mediation. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of former militia Hizb-e Islami, 21 Oct announced he would seek talks with Taliban to “join forces” in future Afghan state despite govt’s opposition. Domestic political tensions continued as High Council for National Reconciliation chief Abdullah Abdullah and President Ghani continued to compete for political prominence; rolling series of visits conducted abroad by FM and Ghani appointee Hanif Atmar, along with Abdullah, including to India, Pakistan and Iran. Govt 16 Oct appointed VP Saleh to oversee security for Kabul; Saleh announced increased surveillance and tougher police enforcement in city.

Bangladesh

Political tensions emerged over local by-elections, security forces continued anti-militancy operations and armed groups clashed in refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Ruling Awami League (AL) and opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) traded accusations of violence in lead-up to 17 Oct by-elections in “Dhaka 5” and “Naogaon 6” constituencies that AL won; AL said BNP responsible for two bomb blasts at AL rally in Joypurhat district 4 Oct that injured three; BNP candidate claimed AL supporters attacked his car in Demra area of capital Dhaka 7 Oct. BNP alleged massive electoral irregularities in vote and held widespread protests in Dhaka and other cities 18-19 Oct. BNP also claimed AL supporters responsible for violence and intimidation during AL by-election victory in Khulna district 20 Oct. In continued anti-militancy operations, counter-terrorism police 13 Oct detained six suspected members of Neo-Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh in Chittagong district and 15 Oct arrested seven alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir and Ansar al-Islam members from several areas of Dhaka; paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion 25 Oct detained three suspected Allahr Dal members in Rangpur district. Dhaka court 27 Oct indicted chief of banned Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and 185 other leaders and members for 2014 attack on police station. Govt continued to suppress critics, particularly journalists; police 10 Oct arrested journalist in Rajbari district after AL official accused him of defaming PM Hasina on social media. Amid reports govt formed committee to relocate 10,000 Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char island in Bay of Bengal despite longstanding concerns that island is prone to flooding and lacks services. NGO Human Rights Watch 1 Oct requested visit by UN to see if island is “safe and hospitable”. Meanwhile, armed groups clashed in Cox’s Bazaar district 30 Sept-7 Oct: Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and criminal group reportedly trafficking drugs fought for control of Kutupalong refugee camp, killing at least eight Rohingyas and one Bangladeshi, injuring over 100 refugees and displacing 2,000 others, while dozens of houses burnt down; govt 7 Oct sent additional forces to camp and arrested twelve residents for suspected involvement in clashes.

India (non-Kashmir)

India held disengagement talks with China amid tensions over disputed border, anti-Maoist security operations continued, and India bolstered ties with U.S. and regional allies. Following flare-up in tensions in Sept, Indian and Chinese military officials 12 Oct held “positive, constructive” talks on disengagement of troops along Line of Actual Control and agreed to reach “a mutually acceptable solution (…) as early as possible”. Indian defence minister 25 Oct said India “wants an end to the ongoing border tensions”, but reiterated that its soldiers “will never allow even an inch of our land to be taken away”. FM Jaishankar 6 Oct met with U.S., Australian and Japanese counterparts in Japan’s capital, Tokyo, for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) to discuss Indo-Pacific regional security issues; U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo called on “Quad” members to “collaborate to protect our people and partners” from Beijing’s “exploitation, corruption and coercion”; India defence ministry 19 Oct announced Australia will join India-U.S.-Japan Malabar annual military exercises in Nov. During 26-27 Oct visit by Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper to capital New Delhi, U.S. and India signed agreement expanding military satellite information sharing. Meanwhile, anti-Maoist security operations and Maoist violence continued. In Maharashtra state (west), security forces 18 Oct killed five Maoists in Gadchiroli district. In Telangana state (centre), Maoists 11-25 Oct killed two civilians in Mulugu and Bhadradri Kothagudem districts; police 18 Oct shot and killed two Maoists in Mulugu district. In Chhattisgarh (centre), Maoists 2-24 Oct killed civilian and security personnel member in Bastar and Narayanpur districts; security forces 17-29 Oct killed three Maoists in Longding, Bijapur and Sukma districts. In Arunachal Pradesh (north east), Maoist attacks 4-21 Oct left at least two security personnel dead in Changlang and Tirap districts. In Jharkhand state (east), Maoist 18 Oct shot and killed civilian in Chatra district. In Odisha state (east), Maoists 21 Oct reportedly killed civilian in Malkangiri district. UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet 20 Oct called on govt to safeguard rights of activists and human rights NGOs. India’s reported COVID-19 cases 29 Oct surpassed 8mn.

Kashmir

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). Inside J&K, militants 5 Oct killed three paramilitary police officers in Pulwama district and two others in regional capital Srinagar; militants 6 Oct attacked a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Ganderbal district, killing security guard. Security forces same day killed three militants in Shopian district; in further operations police killed four militants in Kulgam and Pulwama districts 10 Oct, two in Srinagar 12 Oct and another in Anantnag district 17 Oct; security forces 26 Oct killed militant in Pulwama district, and two others in Bugdgam district the next day. Additional militant attacks injured police officer and civilian 17 Oct and paramilitary officer 18 Oct, both in Pulwama, and killed police officer in Anantnag district 19 Oct. Militants 29 Oct killed three BJP politicians in Kulgam. Tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad continued over reciprocal allegations of cross-LoC fire and Pakistan’s intention to hold legislative elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly part of J&K, on 15 Nov; India accused Pakistan of cross-LoC fire that killed two soldiers and injured five others 1 Oct, killed army officer 5 Oct, and injured civilian and two border guards 10 Oct in two separate incidents that day. Pakistan claimed Indian fire was responsible for wounding two civilians 14 Oct. Authorities 13 Oct released former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti after over one year in detention under controversial Public Safety Act, which allows detention for up to two years without charges, trials or judicial review; following release, Mufti said Kashmiris need to take back what New Delhi had taken away “illegally and in an undemocratic manner”, referring to govt’s 5 Aug 2019 revocation of constitutional article 370; all mainstream J&K parties 15 Oct formed alliance calling for restoration of region’s special constitutional status. Opposition parties also protested 27 Oct notification allowing non-residents to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir for first time.

 

Nepal

Divisions within ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) re-emerged as govt struggled to mount response to worsening public health and economic crises. Despite efforts to address factional differences in Sept, tensions flared within NCP between PM KP Oli and party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, raising prospect that party could soon split. Oli 1 Oct nominated two officials close to him to key ambassadorships in U.S. and UK, despite previously committing to taking such decisions only after discussing with other party leaders. Leadership dispute in Karnali province surfaced as local NCP leaders 11 Oct registered no-confidence motion against provincial chief minister closely allied to Dahal; move reflected how factionalism is rife at several levels within party. Oli’s 14 Oct decision to shuffle cabinet portfolios and appoint three new ministers criticised by Dahal as unilateral and taken without adequate consultation with other NCP leaders. These dynamics made more complicated following Dahal’s claims of being unaware of Indian intelligence chief Samant Goel’s unannounced 21-22 Oct visit to capital Kathmandu where he met Oli; Goel’s visit was first by high-level Indian official since Nepal-India border tensions escalated in May; Indian Army chief General MM Naravane scheduled to visit 4 Nov in further efforts to mend bilateral relations. Meanwhile, World Bank 8 Oct projected economic growth for 2020/2021 fiscal year could fall as low as 0.1 per cent, with informal businesses — comprising 50% of all enterprises — suffering most acutely. Nepal’s COVID-19 total caseload 30 Oct reached 168,235 cases; healthcare sector severely strained with 12 Oct reports of hospital bed shortages in Kathmandu and patients being transferred to hotels.

 

Pakistan

Tensions escalated between ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and opposition alliance, which strongly criticised military. Opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance – formed in Sept and featuring eleven opposition parties including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – held mass anti-govt rallies in several cities including Gujranwala 16 Oct, Karachi 18 Oct and Quetta 25 Oct attended by tens of thousands; PDM continued to call for PM Khan to resign and for new elections, and plan more demonstrations in Dec and mass rally in capital Islamabad in Jan. Alliance members – particularly former PML-N PM Sharif – continued to decry military’s influence in politics; Sharif 16 Oct accused army chief Javed Bajwa and intelligence chief Faiz Hameed of undermining democratic institutions; Khan next day accused Sharif of “trying to sow discord in the military”. Police 19 Oct arrested Sharif’s son-in-law in Karachi, reportedly under pressure from army; son-in-law later released on bail. Internationally, govt continued to position itself as key player in Afghan peace process; U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan 8 Oct made unannounced visit to Pakistan to reportedly ask for Bajwa and govt’s help in convincing Taliban to agree to ceasefire or reduce levels of violence. Leader of former militia Hizb-e Islami and Pakistan ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar 19 Oct met Khan, President Alvi and FM Makhdoom Qureshi in Islamabad and two days later announced he would seek talks with Taliban. Inter-governmental body Financial Action Task Force late Oct retained Pakistan on “grey list” until Feb 2021. Meanwhile, militant attacks continued: in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistani Taliban 10 Oct killed two soldiers and wounded three others in North Waziristan tribal district and roadside bomb 14 Oct killed seven soldiers. Bomb blast reportedly targeting Afghan cleric 27 Oct killed eight madrasa students and injured around 120 in Peshawar city. In Balochistan province, Baloch separatists claimed 15 Oct attack on oil company convoy near Omara town in Gwadar district that killed seven soldiers and seven security guards; bomb blast 25 Oct killed three persons in Quetta. Amid inter-communal tensions in Karachi, gunmen 10 Oct killed prominent Sunni Deobandi religious leader.

 

Sri Lanka

Parliament removed constitutional checks on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, heralding return to authoritarianism and institutionalisation of hardline Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. Govt-sponsored bill introduced in Sept on 20th constitutional amendment, which would give president sweeping powers, continued to generate strong criticism throughout month, including from bar association and retired judges. Supreme Court (SC) 5 Oct concluded hearing of 39 petitions filed by opposition and civil society challenging amendment. Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka 13 Oct urged govt not to proceed with amendment saying “that concentration of power in an individual without checks and balances does not augur well for a democratic, socialist republic”; senior monks of two of Sri Lanka’s four Buddhist chapters previous day called on govt to withdraw amendment, saying that it threatened “democracy by undermining the system of checks and balances” and that its adoption would mark “birth of authoritarianism [and] arbitrary despotism”; chief monks of both chapters later disavowed statement. Parliament speaker 20 Oct said SC ruling indicates that with revision of four clauses, amendment bill could be passed by two-thirds parliamentary majority without approval at public referendum; following two-day debate, parliament 22 Oct passed revised bill giving president virtually unlimited powers, including to appoint judges and all senior state officials, appoint and dismiss ministers, head ministries and dissolve parliament halfway through its term. Meanwhile, police 19 Oct arrested opposition All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) party leader, Rishad Bathiudeen, for alleged misappropriation of public funds during 2019 presidential election; arrest followed widespread criticism of Sept release of Bathiudeen’s brother, detained since April for alleged involvement in 2019 Easter bombings, reportedly as part of deal for ACMC votes for 20th amendment. Gotabaya 9 Oct received high-level Chinese delegation, which promised additional financial assistance and defence of Sri Lanka “at international fora” including UN Human Rights Council. During visit to capital Colombo, U.S. Sec of State Mike Pompeo 28 Oct accused China of “lawlessness” and being a “predator” and pressed Sri Lanka to “take meaningful, concrete steps to promote accountability, justice, and reconciliation”; Chinese Embassy in Colombo 27 Oct accused U.S. of trying to “bully Sri Lanka”.

Indonesia

Amid ongoing security operations, low-level violence continued in Papua, while large-scale demonstrations erupted after govt passed controversial job creation law. In Intan Jaya regency, Papua province, armed separatist group West Papua Liberation Army (WPLA) 9 Oct attacked govt investigative team, leaving two injured; WPLA next day rejected Jakarta-mandated team tasked to lead inquiry into Sept killings and called instead for UN investigation. Investigative team 23 Oct reported finding evidence that security forces were involved in last month’s killing of local pastor in Intan Jaya. During joint military-police operation in Jalae village in Intan Jaya, security forces 26 Oct shot dead local resident; military alleged man belonged to armed group, while Timika diocese 27 Oct refuted claim. As students protested against Special Autonomy law in Papua region in regional capital Jayapura, security forces 27 Oct allegedly opened fire to disperse protesters; a dozen students reportedly arrested. In Aceh province, unidentified assailants 23 Oct shot dead two fishermen near Simeulue island. Series of demonstrations held throughout month in capital Jakarta and other major cities following passage of controversial job creation bill on 5 Oct; demonstrators fear law will weaken labour protections and environmental regulations. Street clashes between law enforcement and protesters 5-9 Oct led to nearly 4,000 protesters arrested and over 100 protesters injured.

Myanmar

Fighting continued between Arakan Army (AA) and security forces, while election commission cancelled forthcoming polls in numerous locations. In central and northern Rakhine State and Paletwa town in Chin State, armed conflict escalated in first half of October, with major clashes between Arakan Army (AA) and Tatmadaw in Rathedaung and other townships; govt 5 Oct deployed air power and both sides reportedly suffered dozens of casualties. AA fighters 14 Oct abducted three ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates in Toungup township, 19 Oct called them “traitors”, offered to free them in return for release of all innocent Rakhine civilians. Dire human rights situation continued in AA conflict: patrolling Tatmadaw soldiers 5 Oct used two Rohingya children working as cowherds in Buthidaung township as human shields, forcing them to walk ahead of troops; both killed after patrol walked into AA ambush. NGO Human Rights Watch 8 Oct released report on conditions of 600,000 Rohingya in Rakhine State, concluding that situation met legal definition of apartheid and calling for officials to be prosecuted; NGO Amnesty International 12 Oct issued report on recent “indiscriminate attacks” by Tatmadaw in Kyauktaw township that showed “disregard for human suffering” constituting crimes against humanity. Ahead of 8 Nov elections, Union Election Commission (UEC) 16 Oct announced locations where polls would not be held for security reasons, covering Kachin, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan States, as well as Bago Region; cancellations included six whole townships in Shan State, nine whole townships in Rakhine State, and partial cancellations in 582 wards and village tracts across the six regions; subsequent 27 Oct announcement revoked a small number of these partial cancellations, and added most of rural Paletwa township to cancelled areas. Cancellations will leave 22 seats vacant in national parliament, likely benefiting ruling NLD. UEC 2 Oct disqualified three Rohingya Muslim candidates and an ethnic Chinese candidate, stating that candidates’ parents were found not to have been citizens at time of birth.

Philippines

Clan feuds and clashes between militant groups and security forces continued in south. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in south, clan feuds continued: clash between warring clans 10 Oct killed four and injured four in Pikit municipality in Cotabato province; firefight 13 Oct broke out between commanders of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 105th and 118th Base Commands in Mamasapano municipality; two warring MILF commanders of 105th and 118th Base Command 18 Oct engaged in firefight in Shariff Aguak municipality, killing one combatant. Small-scale clashes between soldiers and elements of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) continued in Sulu archipelago: authorities 10 Oct arrested individual involved in Jolo blast in Aug, along with two other female ASG members; authorities 11 Oct arrested ASG senior leader in Zamboanga City; clash between security forces and ASG members 18 Oct killed two ASG members in firefight in Isabela municipality. Ceasefire between govt and MILF remained stable but progress on peace agreement implementation remained delayed as govt and interim govt focused on preventing spread of COVID-19; total cases countrywide continued to rise to over 360,000, with average of 2,000-3,000 new cases daily throughout month. Bangsamoro Transition Authority resumed parliamentary sessions late Oct. Regarding ongoing govt efforts to rehabilitate Marawi city, Task Force Bangon Marawi chairman Del Rosario 23 Oct confirmed rehabilitation was on track and would be completed by Dec 2021 deadline. Clashes between communist New People’s Army and armed forces continued in Luzon island in north, Visayas islands in centre and Mindanao island in south at relatively lower levels than last month, killing at least 10 combatants and civilians and injuring 16 throughout month.

South China Sea

Tensions continued between China and U.S. amid military exercises on both sides. China began five simultaneous military exercises late Sept which continued in Oct, including two near Paracel Islands, one in East China Sea, and another in Bohai Sea. Japanese FM 6 Oct hosted Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Indian, Australian and U.S. counterparts, which China 2 Sept denounced as “mini-NATO”. Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force 9 Oct conducted anti-submarine drills in SCS and in Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam 10-11 Oct; Chinese state-backed news outlet Global Times 10 Oct criticised drills. Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency 9 Oct detained six Chinese fishing vessels in waters east of Johor state along with some 60 crew members for alleged illegal fishing. Chinese People’s Liberation Army 12 Oct accused U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain of trespassing in Chinese territorial waters near Paracel Islands and warned vessel to leave area, dispatching ships and planes to track it; U.S. 7th Fleet responded that vessel had “asserted navigational rights and freedoms” in area. Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi 13 Oct said during visit to Malaysia that Beijing and members of South East Asia regional organisation ASEAN should cooperate to remove “external disruption” in SCS. China-backed South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative think tank 12 Oct alleged U.S. aircraft conducted 41 reconnaissance flights over SCS last month. U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group 15 Oct returned to SCS to conduct flight operations, maritime strike exercises and training between surface and air units. U.S., Japan and Australia 19 Oct conducted trilateral naval exercises in South China Sea. During visit to Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, Japanese PM Suga 19 Oct confirmed that Japan had agreed to export military equipment, including patrol planes and radar, to Vietnam. Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds 19 Oct met with Japanese Defence Minister Kishi Nobuo during visit to Tokyo, agreeing that countries would enhance maritime cooperation in SCS. Chinese and U.S. military officials 28-29 Oct held video conference to discuss crisis communication mechanisms.

Thailand

Amid mass pro-democracy protests, authorities used emergency decree to crackdown on activists and low-level violence persisted in deep south. Following small-scale protests early Oct in capital Bangkok and provincial capitals, mass protest 14 Oct drew tens of thousands at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument before marching to Government House demanding resignation of PM Prayuth and his govt as well as new constitution and reform of monarchy. Royal motorcade of Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn same day passed through protest area, prompting jeers from protesters. Citing motorcade incident, govt 15 Oct imposed “serious state of emergency”, prohibiting gatherings of over four people and broadening powers of arrest and censorship; police same day cleared protesters from around Government House. In defiance of emergency decree, however, anti-govt protests escalated for eight consecutive days: thousands 15 Oct gathered at Bangkok’s Rachaprasong intersection; police next day cracked down on demonstrators at Bangkok’s Pathumwan district; tens of thousands 17-19 Oct assembled in capital and in at least twenty provinces. Police 16-20 Oct arrested three activists for crime of threatening royal family. PM Prayuth 21 Oct said govt was willing to lift state of emergency if there was no further violence; thousands same day gathered at Victory Monument and marched through police barricades to Government House; protesters dispersed after giving Prayuth three-day deadline to resign. Royal Gazette 22 Oct said state of emergency was lifted. Extraordinary parliamentary session 26-27 Oct resulted in govt approval of proposed reconciliation committee but govt showed no signs of meeting protesters’ demands. Tens of thousands 26 Oct marched to German embassy in Bangkok demanding that Berlin determine if King Maha Vajiralongkorn violated German law by exercising political power while residing in Bavaria; German govt 28 Oct reportedly concluded no violation so far. Hundreds of royalists 27 Oct rallied at Lumpini Park. In deep south, suspected insurgents 9 Oct ambushed teacher protection team in Sai Buri district, Pattani province, killing one police and injuring two others; IED detonation in same area same day killed one ranger and wounded three others; roadside IED 12 Oct damaged armoured pick-up at Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre in Si Sakhon district, Narathiwat province.  

Europe & Central Asia

Kosovo

EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue remained on hold while discord surfaced over implementation of previous agreements. Following postponement of EU-led Kosovo-Serbia talks in Sept due to COVID-19, PM Hoti 1 Oct said that govt remained open to dialogue but would not discuss Kosovo Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM) – provision of 2013 and 2015 Brussels agreements that would enable Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo to form self-governing association – which 2015 Constitutional Court ruling mandated be formed in accord with constitution. EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák throughout month urged govt to establish ASM. PM Hoti 13 Oct said govt would not implement ASM before reaching final settlement that includes mutual recognition with Serbia; Serbian President Vučić 15 Oct expressed readiness to continue dialogue, while insisting on full implementation of association agreements. Following meeting with Vučić in Serbia’s capital Belgrade, Lajčák 16 Oct said “dialogue will continue” and next step will be negotiations on status of Association in Brussels. Meanwhile, Serbian govt 14 Oct operationalised Merdare Common Border Crossing Point with Kosovo, thus finalising implementation of 2011 Integrated Border Management deal; U.S. Special Envoy Richard Grenell same day welcomed move. Hoti 19 Oct hosted U.S. delegation to discuss implementation of economic normalisation deal with Serbia signed in Washington D.C in Sept; govt next day adopted 16-point plan for further implementation of deal. State Coordinator Skender Hyseni 29 Oct met with Serbian delegation for another round of EU-led dialogue in Brussels to discuss financial claims and property issues. Following Sept arrest, former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Salih Mustafa 28 Oct pleaded not guilty to war crimes at Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, Netherlands.

Eastern Mediterranean

Tensions remained high between Greece and Turkey. Tensions in Eastern Mediterranean continued. NATO 1 Oct established deconfliction mechanism that includes hotline between Greece and Turkey for use in event of crisis. Greek and Turkish FMs 8 Oct met in Bratislava, Slovakia, and agreed on date to relaunch exploratory talks, but subsequent developments overshadowed positive step: Turkey continued with gas explorations in Greek and Republic of Cyprus-claimed waters while both Greece and Turkey continued to carry out small-scale military exercises, including in contested waters in the Aegean, throughout month. Ankara 9 Oct issued advisory for exploration activities east of Cyprus until 9 Nov. Tensions rose significantly after Ankara 11 Oct issued advisory for exploration activities of Oruç Reis drillship in Greek-claimed waters south of Kastellorizo. Greek FM 13 Oct slammed decision and said talks are not possible while drillship remains within “Greek continental shelf”; Turkish defence minister next day said Oruç Reis “is not a threat to anybody”. Turkish decision prompted German FM Heiko Maas to cancel trip to Turkey and 15 Oct condemn move alongside French counterpart, while U.S. State Dept 13 Oct said it “deplores” decision. In response, Turkish MFA 11 Oct published report accusing Greece of escalating tensions. NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 23 Oct announced that Greece and Turkey decided to cancel military exercises planned for following week. Following 30 Oct earthquake in Izmir, Turkey, that killed at least a dozen and injured hundreds, Greek PM Mitsotakis same day telephoned Turkish President Erdoğan to offer condolences; Erdoğan same day thanked Mitsotakis, saying “that two neighbors show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life”.

Armenia

Deadly fighting with Azerbaijan worsened in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) with attacks extending to Armenia’s border regions; deadly attacks could further intensify and spread in Nov. Largest-scale fighting since 1994 ceasefire continued following Azerbaijani military’s late Sept offensive on line of contact in NK conflict zone: fighting reportedly killed and wounded thousands of military personnel on both sides; civilian areas inside conflict zone suffered continued attacks, killing at least 39 civilians and injuring over 100 (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Missile and drone attacks late Sept-early Oct also spread to Armenia’s regions near NK area, with at least three civilians reported killed and tens injured. After attacks at border regions, PM Pashinyan 31 Oct sent official appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin for military support in line with Russia-Armenia mutual assistance agreements from 1997 and 2006.  In interview with Russian state-owned news agency, Pashinyan 19 Oct confirmed readiness to cease fighting and start peace negotiations on condition that settlement be based on “compromise, not capitulation”. Armenia prosecutor’s office 31 Oct said two Syrian fighters detained in NK; in video testimony, one detainee said Turkish officials recruited and transported him to fight along with Azerbaijani troops.    

Azerbaijan

Deadly fighting with Armenia escalated in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), with attacks extending to Azerbaijani cities; deadly attacks could further intensify and spread in Nov. Largest-scale fighting since 1994 ceasefire continued following Azerbaijani military’s late Sept offensive on line of contact in NK conflict zone: fighting reportedly killed and wounded thousands of military personnel on both sides (see Nagorno-Karabakh). Since early Oct, Azerbaijani offensives advanced in direction of Jebrail and Zangelan, near border with Iran, progressing north along border with Armenia towards Lachin district, which hosts main road connecting Armenia with NK. Fighting throughout month reached Azerbaijani cities near line of contact, particularly Barda town, but also areas further away, including Absheron peninsula, Mingachevir town and Ganja city. Authorities reported that ballistic missiles struck Ganja on 4, 8, 11 and 16-17 Oct, resulting in 25 civilians killed and 125 more injured. Missiles 27-28 Oct also killed 26 civilians and wounded over 70 in Barda; NGO Amnesty International next day said cluster bombs used by Armenia for first time during attack. In interview with Russian state-owned news agency, President Ilham Aliyev 19 Oct confirmed govt’s readiness to cease hostilities and start peace negotiations on condition that Armenia accept  basic settlement principles developed by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, cease fighting and start immediate withdrawal of troops from NK. COVID-19 cases continued to rise despite govt measures to halt spread in place throughout month, including education institutions closed and two thirds of public sector employees working at home.

Georgia

Amid rising COVID-19 cases, political tensions subsided in lead-up to 31 Oct election. Tensions emerged ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 31 Oct: small-scale scuffles, which started late Sept, 1 Oct continued between ruling Georgian Dream party and opposition United National Movement (UNM) supporters in Kvemo Kartli region, particularly in areas mainly populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis; no reported casualties. Meanwhile, COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread across country, with average of over 1000 new daily reported cases throughout month; govt 16 Oct tightened restrictive measures to fight virus, including prohibition of public gatherings of more than ten people. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights 11 Oct stated that it will limit election observation mission deployment to core teams of experts and long-term observers due to pandemic. Central Elections Commission (CEC) 31 Oct reported preliminary results, which gave significant lead of over 40% to ruling Georgian Dream party, with opposition United National Movement taking over 20% of votes; some opposition parties called elections illegitimate and planned street protests; according to CEC, more than 46%cast vote in elections. In Abkhazia, amid sharp rise of COVID-19 cases, members of opposition early Oct criticised de facto authorities for apparent lack of sufficient measures to combat pandemic. De facto President Aslan Bzhania 13 Oct introduced additional restrictive measures, such as ban on mass gatherings and closure of schools and kindergartens. In South Ossetia, press service of de facto President Anatoly Bibilov 17 Oct confirmed he had fallen ill with COVID-19; 30 Oct reported he had fully recovered. At request of de facto leadership, Russia deployed military and opened field hospitals to treat COVID-19 in Abkhazia 19 Oct and South Ossetia 27 Oct.

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops left hundreds killed and tens of thousands displaced; deadly attacks could further intensify and spread in Nov. Clashes took place in all parts of NK conflict zone, involving artillery, missile, and drone strikes on Armenian positions. Fighting reportedly killed thousands of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers. Civilian areas on both sides near front line also suffered continued attacks, resulting in over 100 civilians killed and hundreds injured on both sides. Armenian-controlled NK capital Stepanakert and other towns and villages throughout month faced Azerbaijani artillery, missile and drone attacks, decimating infrastructure and displacing some 90,000 people (out of estimated total population of 150,000). NGO Amnesty International 5 Oct revealed M095 DPICM cluster munitions appeared to have been fired by Azerbaijani forces into Stepanakert; NGO Human Rights Watch 23 Oct confirmed Azerbaijan used cluster munitions four times in NK. Fighting also hit Azerbaijani cities near line of contact, killing dozens of civilians (see Azerbaijan), and spread to Armenian regions close to NK border (see Armenia). Meanwhile, Russia, France, U.S. 1 Oct called for immediate cessation of hostilities and resumption of dialogue; 10, 17 and 26 Oct brokered humanitarian ceasefire agreements, but failed to stop progression of Azerbaijani military in NK as both sides accused other of violating terms. Both Baku and Ankara repeatedly denied Armenian accusations that Turkey had deployed military advisers and provided intelligence; France and Russia 1 Oct corroborated reports that Turkish-backed Syrian National Army fighters had been deployed in support of Baku. President Aliyev and Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan 19 Oct confirmed readiness to cease hostilities and start peace negotiations under certain conditions; Aliyev raised need for Armenia to accept basic settlement principles developed by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, cease fighting and start immediate withdrawal of its troops from NK, while Pashinyan said that any settlement should be based on “compromise, not capitulation.”

Russia (Internal)

Weekly mass protests continued in Far East, while security forces led counter-terrorism operations in North Caucasus. In Far East, thousands of protestors in Khabarovsk city rallied on Saturdays throughout Oct to protest July arrest of former local governor and member of nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Sergei Furga for alleged involvement in murders of businessmen in 2005-2006; baton-wielding police 10 Oct cracked down on protest for first time, detaining 25 people for alleged illegal attempt to erect protest tents in central square. Authorities 5 Oct reportedly charged son of detained former Khabarovsk Governor Anton Furgal with organising illegal protests. In North Caucasus region, National Anti-Terrorism Committee confirmed counter-terrorism operations in Chechnya and Republic of Ingushetia. Special forces 11 Oct led anti-terrorist operation near border of Sernovodsk district, in Chechnya, and in Sunzha district, in Ingushetia, killing two alleged militants; clash between special forces and alleged militants 13 Oct killed three officers and four militants in Oktiabrsky district in Grozny city, Chechnya. Kremlin 5 Oct announced that President Putin had accepted Dagestan leader Vladimir Vasilyev’s request to “relieve him from his duties.”

Belarus

Mass demonstrations continued following disputed Aug presidential elections, resulting in clashes with police and large-scale arrests. Mass protests of thousands of people, including more than 100,000 on 4 Oct, 11 and 18 Oct demanded resignation of President Lukashenka and freedom for political prisoners, at which police turned water cannon, used tear gas, fired rubber bullets into air; hundreds arrested. In unprecedented move, Lukashenka 10 Oct visited detained opposition members in prison, talking with them over period of four hours; opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya same day said “event is a result of our pressure.” Interior ministry 12 Oct permitted police to use firearms against protesters “if need be”. After Tsikhanouskaya next day threatened mass workers’ protest if Lukashenka refused to resign by 25 Oct, over 100,000 anti-govt protesters 25 Oct marched in capital Minsk. Lukashenka next day ignored ultimatum, prompting factory workers, business owners and students to go on strike while thousands continued to rally in Minsk; dozens of factory workers and students subsequently fired and expelled for joining strikes. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev 7 Oct announced that Russia put Tsikhanouskaya on its wanted criminals list for “criminal charge”. Meanwhile, EU member states 1 Oct agreed to impose sanctions on about 40 govt officials, excluding Lukashenka, on grounds of flawed presidential election; in response, govt 2 Oct accused EU of “striving towards deterioration of relations”, announced retaliatory sanctions and cancelled accreditation of all foreign journalists. After Lukashenka 9 Oct demanded Poland and Lithuania scale down their diplomatic missions, eight European countries, including UK and Germany, 5-9 Oct recalled ambassadors from Minsk in solidarity. European Parliament 22 Oct awarded Sakharov Prize for human rights to democratic opposition in Belarus, led by Tsikhanouskaya.

Ukraine

Local elections took place across country, excluding some communities and separatist-held areas in east, while July ceasefire in Donbas largely held. First round of local elections 25 Oct organised nationwide; in setback for President Zelenskyy, incumbent mayors in major cities held off challenges from his Sluha Narodu party. Separatist-held areas in east excluded from vote as per parliament’s July decree, many residents near front line also excluded for security reasons. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers praised vote as well organised but raised concerns many residents near front line in East could note vote despite absence of direct hostilities in years. In conflict zone, July ceasefire largely held although two govt servicemen were killed and two injured, according to Ukrainian officials; both sides sustained non-live-fire casualties, including at least one Ukrainian soldier injured, according to military authorities, and 11 Russian-backed fighters killed, according to social media reports. Landmines injured one man 4 Oct, two boys 6 Oct, and three male civilians 9 Oct. OSCE Special Monitoring Mission Chief Monitor Yaşar Halit Çevik 8 Oct noted that de facto authorities continued to hamper movements of ceasefire monitors in non-govt-controlled areas. In Luhansk region, govt 12 Oct announced closure of civilian crossing Stanytsia Luhanska until 30 Oct due to quarantine; hundreds of civilians trapped at closed checkpoints; armed forces 28 Oct extended closure to 15 Nov. Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (D/LPR) de facto authorities reported significant rise in COVID-19 cases, while de facto DPR Health Minister Aleksandr Opryshenko 15 Oct admitted true rate of infection higher than official one and testing capacity lacking; de facto DPR head Denis Pushilin 16 Oct cancelled public sporting events. In blow to ongoing anti-corruption reforms, Constitutional Court 27 Oct abolished criminal liability for inaccurate asset declaration by govt officials, prompting thousands 30 Oct to rally in capital Kyiv, and Zelenskyy to call for Constitutional Court’s judges to be fired. EU-Ukraine Summit memorandum 5 Oct noted “Ukraine’s constructive approach in the Normandy Format and the Trilateral Contact Group”, calling on Russia to ensure OSCE ceasefire monitors can access parts of non govt-controlled areas near Russian border.

Cyprus

Turkish Cypriots elected new “presidential” leader Ersin Tatar. “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) govt 6 Oct collapsed after coalition partner People’s Party withdrew in protest of 8 Oct govt decision to partially reopen beachfront strip in Maraş/Varosha, town that has remained closed to visitors after Turkish military seized it in 1974; President Erdoğan 14 Oct described move as “historical milestone for Cyprus”; Greek PM Mitsotakis 7 October called it “a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution” while Republic of Cyprus presidency 8 Oct condemned opening. In second round of TRNC “presidential” election, Ersin Tatar 19 Oct defeated Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı; election of Tatar could further complicate ongoing UN efforts to relaunch reunification talks given Tatar favours “two-state solution” over bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. UN 27 Oct said Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders will meet in UN mission in island’s buffer zone on 3 Nov.

Turkey

Military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continued in northern Iraq and south/south east Turkey, while Ankara turned focus to Eastern Mediterranean and Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In Turkey’s south east, military operations focused on rural areas of Şırnak and Hatay; PKK 29 Oct claimed 26 Oct suicide bomb attack that targeted police station in Iskenderun in Hatay province, injuring two; attack coincided with intensified military operations against the PKK in Hatay’s Amanos mountains. Air raids targeting PKK positions in northern Iraq also continued throughout month. Ankara welcomed 9 Oct agreement between Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government on security of Sinjar (see Iraq), in hope deal will help remove PKK-affiliated groups competing for control since town was liberated from Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. Govt also continued efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish political opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP): police detained more than 100 HDP members and activists throughout month, including Ayhan Bilgen, HDP’s provincial mayor in Kars city, on charges of inciting violence during Oct 2014 Kobani protests; HDP now runs only 5 of 65 municipalities it had won in 2019 local elections. Govt continued operations targeting ISIS: police detained over 150 individuals for alleged links to ISIS, the majority of them foreigners (mostly Syrian and Iraqi nationals). Meanwhile in eastern Mediterranean, renewed drilling activity and military drills fuelled tensions with Greece, despite establishment of NATO deconfliction mechanism 1 Oct (see Eastern Mediterranean). Amid ongoing hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan (see Nagorno-Karabakh), Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 6 Oct visited Baku in show of solidarity and urged Armenia to withdraw from Azerbaijani territory. EU Commission’s 2020 Progress Report on Turkey 6 Oct warned of “serious backsliding in the areas of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights and the independence of the judiciary”; Turkish MFA same day said report reflected “the EU’s prejudiced, unconstructive and double-standard approach”.

Kyrgyzstan

Contested parliamentary elections results sparked violent protests, prompting president to step down. Following parliamentary elections held 4 Oct amid complaints of voter intimidation, opposition parties same day said they would not recognise official results due to suspicious preliminary figures granting large majority to pro-govt parties; opposition supporters immediately gathered in rallies in capital Bishkek and north-western Talas city in protest. Demonstrators next day reportedly attempted to break into govt headquarters in Bishkek, prompting security forces to use teargas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds; clashes killed one protester and injured hundreds. Electoral commission (CEC) 6 Oct annulled parliamentary election results and announced rerun of election; CEC 24 Oct scheduled presidential elections for 10 Jan 2021. Anti-govt protesters 6 Oct stormed Kyrgyz govt buildings, freed imprisoned former President Atambaev and opposition politician Sadyr Japarov; President Jeenbekov same day called for calm and restoration of “law and order” and PM Kubatbek Boronov resigned. Parliament 6 Oct nominated Japarov as PM candidate; popular anger quickly followed announcement with protesters calling for “clean” generation of politicians and mob storming hotel where govt meeting took place, forcing Japarov to flee. Jeenbekov 9 Oct ordered nationwide state of emergency and reportedly deployed army onto Bishkek streets amid clashes between supporters of different parties. Parliament next day officially voted in Japarov as new PM in session attended by 51 MPs, less than majority; Jeenbekov 13 Oct rejected Japarov’s appointment citing lack of parliamentary majority present at voting session, asked parliament to conduct second vote. Following unexpected resignation of Jeenbekov as president 15 Oct, Japarov same day claimed “all power” was in his hands; parliament next day approved transfer of presidential powers to Japarov, making him de facto acting president until Jan 2021 elections. After CEC 24 Oct scheduled presidential elections for 10 Jan 2021, interim President Japarov next day announced plans to step down in Dec to become eligible to run in elections due to law prohibiting acting presidents from seeking office; Supreme Court 29 Oct refused to hear CEC’s appeal to rerun parliamentary elections in Dec, reportedly for procedural reasons.

Tajikistan

President Rahmon won fifth presidential term amid reports of voting irregularities. Following presidential elections on 11 Oct, Central Election Commission 12 Oct announced President Rahmon’s victory with 90.92% of votes, securing his fifth term in office. Amid media reports of ballot stuffing and electoral irregularities, EU same day said elections were “peaceful and orderly” but failed to implement previous EU recommendations, including media independence and political plurality. Rahmon 30 Oct was sworn in during presidential inauguration ceremony.

Turkmenistan

Suspected COVID-19 outbreak reported in prison. Amid continued govt denial of COVID-19 cases, independent media RFE/RL 16 Oct reported major disease outbreak, suspected to be COVID-19, in women’s prison in northern Dashoguz region, with several inmates reportedly in critical condition. Pro-govt media outlet 25 Oct praised “effectiveness of the Turkmen model of response to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Uzbekistan

Construction workers stormed gas company offices in anger over unpaid salaries. Thousands of workers 21 Oct protested at Enter Engineering gas plant administrative offices in southern Qashqadaryo region over unpaid wages. In response, authorities reportedly deployed security forces, while prosecutor general’s press secretary said incident would be investigated; company 22 Oct said worker salaries had been paid. Two former political prisoners, Chuyan Mamatqulov and Elyor Tursunov, early Oct filed unprecedented lawsuit demanding govt compensation for “unjust convictions” and harm caused during detention in notorious Jaslyk prison in north west; prison was closed in 2019 following public outcry at abusive practices and reports of torture; Qashqadaryo regional court 9 Oct ruled govt should compensate Mamatqulov for illegal imprisonment.

Latin America & Caribbean

Bolivia

After tense electoral campaign, general elections – which returned Movement toward Socialism (MAS) to power – held largely peacefully 18 Oct. MAS, party of former President Evo Morales, retained majority in both houses of Congress, while Luis Arce, its presidential candidate, secured victory with 55% of vote. Peaceful voting preceded by hostile pre-elections climate. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Bolivia 2 Oct recorded at least 30 acts of violence against MAS sympathisers, other opposition parties as well as journalists between 6 Sept and 2 Oct. In country’s largest city Santa Cruz, around 5,000 people 20 Oct protested against MAS victory, accused party of fraud. Right-wing Creemos party supporters same day set up vigils near electoral tribunal departmental centres in Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Chuquisaca departments. Morales 29 Oct said he will return to Bolivia 11 Nov, after judge 26 Oct annulled arrest warrant against him for alleged sedition and terrorism. Outgoing parliament 29 Oct approved motion recommending that outgoing interim President Jeanine Áñez and 11 of her ministers face justice for responsibility in late 2019 violence, which left around 30 dead.

Chile

Chileans approved rewriting of dictatorship-era constitution seen as symbol of neo-liberal economic model, amid one-year anniversary of protests over inequalities. Referendum on new constitution, one key demand of protesters in late 2019, held 25 Oct; 79% in favour of instituting specially elected body of citizens to draft new constitution to be submitted to referendum by mid-2022, paving way for end to constitution in place since General Augusto Pinochet’s military rule (1973-1990). In celebration, tens of thousands gathered overnight 25-26 Oct in capital Santiago’s central square. Earlier in month, series of demonstrations took place to commemorate one-year anniversary of Oct 2019 protests over austerity and inequalities, which left some 20 people dead. During anti-govt protest in Santiago, policeman 2 Oct reportedly pushed teenage boy from bridge into Mapocho river; as demonstrators circulated video of incident, Office of the Ombudsman for Children same day denounced “attempted homicide” by police forces; police next day denied allegations, while govt ordered investigation. Thousands 19 Oct protested in cities across country, notably against police brutality; several riots and looting incidents reported; notably, masked individuals set fire to police headquarters and two churches in Santiago.

Colombia

Social unrest remained widespread and armed groups continued to consolidate territorial control. Thousands of indigenous people mostly from Cauca department (Pacific coast in south west) 19-20 Oct protested in capital Bogotá, demanding protection from armed groups, dismantling of paramilitaries, rural reform and reopening of peace negotiations with National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas; 21 Oct joined National Strike Committee-led demonstration in Bogotá against President Duque’s social and economic policies; national strike day protests across country were significant but smaller than in Sept. Meanwhile, armed groups continued to expand territorial control and harass populations. In apparent show of force, drug trafficking group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) 2 Oct tagged walls in 60 municipalities in ten departments; in pamphlet dated “Oct 2020”, AGC in Sucre department (north) declared all indigenous and social leaders “military targets”. ELN 9 Oct and again later in month reiterated willingness to negotiate bilateral ceasefire with govt and called on authorities to fully implement 2016 govt-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) peace accord; govt maintained ELN had not met minimum conditions for talks including release of all hostages and cessation of criminal activity. Govt 25 Oct said recent military operation had killed Jaime Arias, alias Uriel, commander of ELN’s Western War Front, in Chocó department (west). Three senior FARC senators 3 Oct said FARC was responsible for 1995 assassination of senator Álvaro Gómez Hurtado and five other public figures; members of ruling Democratic Centre party thereafter called for senators to resign; Hurtado’s relatives, who believe others are responsible for killings, rejected FARC’s statement as unfounded. UN Sec-Gen Special Representative in Colombia Carlos Ruiz Massieu 14 Oct raised concerns over rising rural violence and killings of former FARC combatants, after UN Mission in Colombia late Sept reported 19 ex-FARC combatants killed 27 June-25 Sept, bringing total of ex-FARC combatants killed since peace accord to 224.

Venezuela

Govt remained on course to hold legislative elections 6 Dec and regain control of National Assembly, as mainstream opposition reiterated boycott strategy. Opposition-led National Assembly 1 Oct approved “consultation” of electorate, to take place around election date, over current strategy of “national and international pressure” on President Maduro’s govt and rejection of any vote held before conditions for free election are in place. Following 30 Sept announcement he would not present candidates for 6 Dec elections, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, formally a member of mainstream opposition, early Oct said he would continue to pursue electoral solution to political crisis. Govt-controlled National Constituent Assembly 9 Oct approved “Anti-blockade Law” enabling Maduro govt to avoid legal obstacles to international trade and investment and budgetary oversight of ensuing proceeds; legislation ostensibly aimed at circumventing U.S. sanctions. Bogotá-based U.S. Chargé d’Affaires for Venezuela Jimmy Story 15 Oct said Washington would continue to recognise mainstream opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president until free elections were held. Organization of American States 21 Oct passed resolution “affirming its profound concern at and rejection of the maneuvers to secure control by the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro”. Intelligence agency SEBIN 20 Oct raided media outlet Correo del Caroni in eastern Puerto Ordaz city, seized equipment and detained two staff members. Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party figure and former political prisoner Leopoldo López 23 Oct fled his hideout in Spanish ambassador’s residence and was reunited with his family in Spain’s capital Madrid next day; Venezuelan FM 25 Oct accused Spain of complicity in escape of “dangerous criminal”. Chief prosecutor 27 Oct announced “terrorist financing” charges against Voluntad Popular coordinator Roland Carreno days after he was arrested by security forces. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, Maduro 18 Oct announced reopening of number of govt offices, as well as tourist facilities and other economic sectors, arguing number of cases is steadily decreasing, despite doubts expressed by independent doctors.

Guatemala

Allegations of corruption continued to plague current and former govts, while tensions with Honduras rose over migration issues. Opposition legislators 12 Oct reported irregularities in govt’s purchase of emergency food in late Sept, and alleged financial subsidy destined for those most affected by COVID-19 pandemic had been distributed to at least 7,000 dead people since outbreak of pandemic. Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) 16 Oct seized $16mn in cash in house in Antigua town, near capital Guatemala City, tied to former Communications Minister José Luis Benito Ruiz; Attorney General’s Office 20 Oct issued arrest warrant against Benito, who is fifth minister of former President Morales’ administration being investigated for criminal activities. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 28 Oct announced “public designation” of First Secretary of Congress Felipe Alejos Lorenzana and former Deputy Delia Bac for role in alleged corruption, rendering them ineligible for entry to U.S. Meanwhile, attorney general 7 Oct issued administrative complaints against head of FECI and three FECI prosecutors, accusing them of corruption and money laundering; U.S. state department next day denounced charges, said attorney general must “prosecute the corrupt, not the anti-corruption prosecutors.” As elections of Supreme Court magistrates remained stalled in Congress after Attorney General’s Office in Feb revealed irregularities over selection process, Supreme Court 13 Oct passed ruling allowing current magistrates to stay in office. Police 6 Oct transferred 13 Barrio 18 gang members from Matamoros prison to different jails in attempt to prevent them from organising criminal activity while incarcerated. Tensions increased between Guatemala and Honduras over migration. As caravan of 3,000 Hondurans 1 Oct departed for Guatemala en route to U.S., govt same day declared state of prevention, allowing security forces to detain and deport migrants; authorities 4 Oct claimed around 3,300 migrants were sent back to Honduras, but accused Tegucigalpa of refusing to take back its citizens.

Honduras

Armed group attacks on civil society activists continued, and tensions mounted with Guatemala over migration. Armed groups continued to target human rights defenders, environmental activists and journalists following Sept uptick in murders. Notably, gunmen 13 Oct killed environmentalist Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo in Tocoa municipality, Colón department (north). Police 26 Oct reported 11.16 daily homicides across country for 1-25 Oct period, highest level in 2020. As part of ongoing anti-narcotic effort, security forces 8 Oct destroyed four hectares of coca plantations in San Esteban municipality, Olancho department (centre); weekly newspaper Proceso 23 Oct reported that counter-narcotic authorities had destroyed 331,500 coca plants and ten laboratories so far in 2020, mainly in Olancho and northern Colón and Yoró departments. Military police 21 Oct said 3.2 tonnes of cocaine had been seized so far in 2020. Tensions with Guatemala increased over migration. As caravan of 3,000 Hondurans 1 Oct departed for Guatemala en route to U.S., Guatemalan govt 4 Oct said 3,300 migrants were sent back to Honduras; Tegucigalpa immediately said only 1,000 migrants had returned and complained about Guatemalan govt’s allegations that Honduras was refusing to take back its citizens.

El Salvador

Amid uptick in gang violence, tensions ran high between President Bukele’s govt on one hand and Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court on the other over delays in salary payments. Country 11 Oct saw uptick in violence, with 13 reported murders including six from mass killing in capital San Salvador’s Concepción neighbourhood; police immediately detained 18th Street gang member but released him next day. Daily murder rate average for 1-22 Oct period reached 5.1, up from 2.3 in June. Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court of Justice employees late Sept-early Oct said Bukele’s administration was withholding their salaries; Bukele 6 Oct said govt would pay salaries next day but could not pay certain funds allocated to municipalities, prompting hundreds of city halls’ employees to stage protests and roadblocks in at least 11 locations across country 7 Oct. Supreme Court 12 Oct ordered govt to avoid delaying salary payments again; Bukele immediately rejected ruling and accused judges of being “corrupt and sold”; delegation of mayors 19 Oct sent letter to presidency demanding allocation of funds, saying 75 city halls are on brink of bankruptcy. In ongoing investigations of high-level corruption cases, Attorney General’s Office 8 Oct froze four bank accounts and seized eight properties of former Defence Minister David Munguía Payés, alleging they had been obtained illegally.

Nicaragua

Amid new round of international sanctions against President Ortega’s rule, authorities dramatically scaled up crackdown on opposition and media ahead of 2021 presidential election. Govt-controlled National Assembly 15 Oct passed “foreign agents” bill, which increases scrutiny of citizens and organisations receiving funds from abroad and bans them from participating in politics; 27 Oct passed “cybercrime” bill that criminalises spreading “false and/or misrepresented information” online. Ahead of votes, European Parliament 8 Oct condemned proposed legislations as “repressive tool to silence” critics. Police 11 Oct surrounded building where members of opposition platform National Coalition were holding meeting in Masaya, south of capital Managua, and govt supporters threw stones at journalists covering event, injuring two. Relatives of political prisoners 3 Oct reported at least 53 of 113 detainees at La Modelo prison near Managua had begun hunger strike, and three had sown their mouth shut, in protest at incarceration; relatives and members of opposition Blue and White National Unity next day demonstrated in Managua to request prisoners’ release, while Permanent Commission on Human Rights 20 Oct was denied access to La Modelo prison to verify detention conditions. Opposition group Civic Alliance 26 Oct announced they were leaving National Coalition they co-created, notably to protest alleged lack of representation of youth movements. International actors increased pressure on govt to abide by rule of law and carry out electoral reforms. U.S. 9 Oct imposed sanctions on two Ortega allies and govt-linked bank for helping govt “undermine Nicaragua’s democracy”, while EU 12 Oct extended framework for targeted sanctions against officials involved in human rights violations including repression of civil society and democratic opposition, and actions undermining democracy and rule of law, for another year. In resolution adopted 21 Oct, Organization of American States expressed concern over “deterioration of democratic institutions” and urged govt to agree with opposition on electoral reforms by May 2021.

Haiti

High levels of gang violence and social unrest persisted. Death of student, reportedly shot in back by security guard during unemployment-related protest in capital Port-au-Prince 2 Oct, sparked days of social unrest. Protesters burned cars and blocked roads in several of capital’s neighbourhoods; in response, security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds, reportedly killing demonstrator 5 Oct. Meanwhile, gang violence remained high. Notably, gunmen on motorcycle 6 Oct shot dead police inspector on road to Port-au-Prince; assailants allegedly belonging to G9 coalition of gangs same day set houses alight and fired gunshots in Port-au-Prince’s Bel Air neighbourhood, toll unknown. In statement to UN Security Council, UN Special Representative Helen La Lime 5 Oct said late Aug murder of prominent lawyer and govt critic Monferrier Dorval “epitomizes for many the weak state of rule of law in the country” and expressed concern that unrest “has become increasingly prevalent” in past few months; Security Council 15 Oct extended mandate of UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), tasked to support political stability and governance, until Oct 2021. Election officials 2 Oct reiterated legislative, presidential and municipal elections would take place “in the next months”; move follows Sept and early Oct protests in Port-au-Prince against President Moïse’s appointment of electoral council by decree. Amid economic, political and security crisis, Haitians continued to seek refuge abroad. Turks and Caicos Islands authorities 9 Oct intercepted boat carrying 206 Haitian migrants in Caribbean Sea. Dominican Republic 15 Oct deployed about 10,000 soldiers to border with Haiti to prevent undocumented migrants from crossing.

Mexico

Criminal violence continued unabated while Supreme Court endorsed President López Obrador’s plan to hold referendum on prosecuting past presidents. Armed group violence continued at high level notably in Guanajuato state (centre), where Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (SRLC) and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) compete for territory and oil siphoning. Amid concerns, first raised in Sept by former Justice Ombudsman of Guanajuato Juan Miguel Alcantara Soria, of possible alliance between Sinaloa Cartel and SRLC, authorities 1-7 Oct registered over 100 murders in state including 32 on 5 Oct; newspaper Mazaltan Post 6 Oct reported CJNG members extorting local business owners in Guanajuato city; authorities late Oct found at least 59 bodies in unmarked graves in Salvatierra municipality. Shootout between rival armed groups 3 Oct left six dead in capital Mexico City. Unidentified gunmen 29 Oct killed journalist Arturo Alba Medina in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state (north). Govt 7 Oct reported 77,171 people have gone missing since 2006 with 13,821 having disappeared during López Obrador’s administration. Supreme Court 1 Oct endorsed López Obrador’s plan to hold referendum on whether former presidents should be prosecuted, but removed any reference to past presidents in referendum question, framing it instead as whether “a process of clarifying political decisions taken in past years” should be undertaken; López Obrador next day hailed decision as “important step forward”, while many others, including political commentators and human rights groups, criticised move as sign court lacks independence and justice is being co-opted. In U.S., former Public Security Minister Genaro García Luna 7 Oct pleaded not guilty in New York court to charges of collaborating with Sinaloa Cartel, trafficking and importing cocaine, and reporting false statements to U.S. authorities; Los Angeles police 15 Oct arrested former defence minister, General Salvador Cienfuegos, on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. Amid COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, López Obrador 8 Oct cut funding of 109 public trust funds, claiming officials had taken advantage of emergency funds. Govt 25 Oct admitted COVID-19 death toll was higher than official figures, revising total from 88,924 to 139,153.

Middle East & North Africa

Israel/Palestine

Tit-for-tat attacks between Gaza factions and Israel continued, while internationally Israel normalised relations with Sudan. Building on normalisation deals last month, Israel intensified bilateral activities with United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain: Israeli and UAE FMs 6 Oct met in German capital Berlin in first ever public meeting; Knesset 15 Oct approved normalisation deal with UAE by large majority; Israeli delegation in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, 18 Oct signed memoranda of understanding on economic and trade cooperation. In third deal of its kind, U.S. President Trump 23 Oct announced normalisation of relations between Israel and Sudan. In Gaza, Palestinian armed groups 5 Oct fired single rocket into southern Israel; Israeli air force retaliated against military site in southern Gaza causing material damage, no casualties. Hamas and Islamic Jihad 14 Oct threatened to end ceasefire if Palestinian hunger striker Maher al-Akhras dies in Israeli custody. Militants 16 Oct launched two rockets into southern Israel; Israeli air force same day responded with airstrikes against military installations. Hamas 5 Oct announced intention to hold internal elections in early 2021. Meanwhile, Israeli justice ministry 1 Oct approved moratorium on demolition of buildings in East Jerusalem citing COVID-19 concerns. Palestinian Authority (PA) 2 Oct issued first batch of building permits for Palestinians in Jordan Valley in bid to assert sovereignty over Area C. Israeli defence ministry 14-15 Oct approved additional 5,000 settlement household units in West Bank in move that advances de facto annexation. Elsewhere in West Bank, Israeli forces 5 Oct killed Palestinian youth in Tulkarem city; Israeli soldiers 24 Oct allegedly beat to death Palestinian protester north east of Ramallah. PA 7 Oct reiterated commitment to hold international conference to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in coordination with U.S., UN, EU and Russia. In first non-security-related talks in three decades, Israel and Lebanon 14 and 28 Oct engaged in U.S.-mediated discussions at UN base in Naqoura town, Lebanon; PM Netanyahu 15 Oct rejected prospect of “real peace” with Lebanon so long as Hizbollah “effectively controls Lebanon.” Amid record daily COVID-19 cases, demonstrations in Tel Aviv continued against govt corruption and handling of pandemic despite strict lockdown. 

Lebanon

Former PM Saad Hariri returned to power as new PM while govt began negotiations with Israel on disputed maritime border. Following PM-designate Adib’s resignation last month, former PM Saad Hariri – who stepped down following mass demonstrations last year – 8 Oct declared himself “the natural candidate” to form unity govt; despite opposition from major Christian parties, Hariri 22 Oct earned mandate to form new govt after receiving narrow parliamentary support in consultations held with President Michel Aoun, vowing to lead non-aligned technocratic cabinet and implement French-led reform initiative. In first non-security related talks in three decades, Lebanon and Israel began negotiations to delineate maritime border: Lebanese and Israeli delegations 2 Oct confirmed agreement on terms of negotiations; U.S.-mediated discussions 14 and 28 Oct took place at UN base in southern Naqoura town; Hizbollah 8 Oct declared negotiations over border did not amount to “reconciliation” or “normalisation” with Israel. Amid fraying security situation, rival clans in eastern Beqaa valley early Oct threatened confrontation with heavy machine guns and medium-range missiles; Lebanese Armed Forces 8 Oct deployed to Baalbek to prevent further escalation, arresting over dozen; clashes resumed late Oct. Meanwhile, local police reports publicised late Oct indicated boom in petty crime, robbery and murder in Lebanon in last year. Protesters outside French embassy in Beirut 30 Oct clashed with police, leaving three injured. U.S. Treasury 23 Oct imposed sanctions on senior Hizbollah members Nabil Qaouk and Hassan al-Baghdadi of party’s central council. Daily COVID-19 cases tripled since early Sept while foreign exchange reserves dwindled, threatening stocks of medical supplies.
 

Syria

In Idlib, rebel group Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) clashed with rival jihadist groups and Russia resumed airstrikes, while regime forces clashed with Islamic State (ISIS) in east and assassinations targeted opposition leaders in south west. In north west, jihadist rebel group HTS 5-19 Oct continued to launch crackdown on rival groups: HTS arrested at least 30 al-Qaeda-backed Hurras al-Din members in Idlib province, including senior commander; HTS security operation 10 Oct killed ten ISIS fighters in Talada area; HTS 12 Oct killed 13 ISIS members in western Aleppo countryside, and ISIS same day killed two HTS militants in al-Mastouma, Idlib province. Meanwhile, Russia 17 Oct renewed airstrikes on jihadist positions in Idlib after month-long hiatus, escalating to highest daily strike tally since March ceasefire on 20 Oct; suspected Russian air raids 26 Oct targeted military training camp of Turkey-backed Failaq al-Sham, reportedly killing dozens. Simultaneous rebel attacks in Idlib, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo 27 Oct reportedly killed 15 regime soldiers. U.S. drone attack on Idlib’s Salqin city 22 Oct killed 23, including 17 militants allegedly linked with Hurras al-Din. Large number of wildfires 9 Oct broke out in forests along Syrian coast, killing at least three and displacing as many as 25,000. In Aleppo governorate, two explosions in Turkish-controlled al-Bab 4-6 Oct killed at least 16. In north east, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council 5 Oct issued blanket amnesty to all 25,000 Syrians in al-Hol camp, which holds displaced people and families of suspected ISIS fighters. In Deir Ez-Zor and Hama countryside, fierce battles persisted between regime forces and ISIS fighters; heaviest day of fighting 17 Oct in Deir Ez-Zor saw 37 killed on both sides. In south west, wave of assassinations continued against former opposition leaders who reconciled with regime: unidentified gunmen 1-14 Oct killed at least five former opposition leaders; notably, death of commander Adham al-Karad 14 Oct constituted highest-profile killing since regime takeover of Daraa and is set to dent efforts by former opposition leaders to consolidate power in area. In first attack since mid-Sept, alleged Israeli strikes 21 Oct hit Iran-linked targets in al-Quneitra province. 

Iran

As country faced worsening economic crisis and enduring COVID-19 effects, Tehran hailed technical expiration of UN arms restrictions while U.S. continued to roll out unilateral sanctions. Following U.S. efforts in Aug-Sept to “snap back” pre-nuclear deal sanctions on Iran and thereby extend UN arms embargo, UN arms restrictions on Tehran technically expired 18 Oct; Iran’s MFA same day hailed expiration as “a momentous day” and assuaged fears of major weapons procurement by stating “a buying spree of conventional arms ha[s] no place in Iran’s defence doctrine”; Iranian defence officials predicted sales would outpace purchases. Meanwhile, U.S. rejected expiration of embargo; Sec State Pompeo 17 Oct said “virtually all U.N. sanctions on Iran returned” when Washington unilaterally triggered “snapback” on 19 Sept; Pompeo next day warned, “We are prepared to use domestic authorities to sanction individuals or entities contributing to these arms sales.” U.S. also continued to expand its sanctions designations against Iran and Iran-linked targets. U.S. Treasury 8 Oct blacklisted 18 Iranian banks; Iranian FM Javad Zarif same day accused Washington of wanting “to blow up our remaining channels to pay for food and medicine”. U.S. 19 Oct blacklisted eight additional companies and persons linked to Iran’s Shipping Lines company; 22 Oct sanctioned “five Iranian entities for attempting to influence U.S. elections” and Iranian ambassador in Iraq; 26 Oct blacklisted energy targets on counter-terrorism authorities; and 29 Oct sanctioned eight entities for “their involvement in the sale and purchase of Iranian petrochemical products”.  Iran continued to face worsening economic hardship and rampant third wave of COVID-19 cases: national currency mid-Oct hit new historic low of 322,000 rial to U.S. dollar before regaining some ground; authorities 27 Oct announced highest single-day death toll from COVID-19 with 346 confirmed dead. Central bank governor 12 Oct announced agreement with Baghdad on release of estimated $5bn in Iranian assets held in Iraq, part of tens of billions in funds govt says are blocked worldwide. MFA 7 Oct announced it had issued letters of protest to Armenia and Azerbaijan after stray mortars and rockets fell within Iranian territory amid hostilities between two countries (see Nagorno-Karabakh).

Iraq

Anti-U.S. groups announced conditional halt on rocket attacks, while PM Kadhimi and Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) struck deal over Sinjar. Following last month’s attacks on Baghdad’s Green Zone and U.S. assets, so-called anti-U.S. “resistance factions” 10 Oct announced conditional ceasefire with militant group Kataib Hizbollah 11 Oct claiming ceasefire depended on implementation of parliament’s 5 Jan decision to expel U.S. forces; no known rocket attacks reported since announcement. After U.S. threatened to close embassy in Sept, Sec State Mike Pompeo 14 Oct expressed gratitude to Iraqi govt for improving security for U.S. diplomats. Federal govt 9 Oct announced deal with Kurdish Regional Govt over Sinjar district, establishing unified administration to facilitate return of 200,000 displaced Yazidis and 2,500-member force under Baghdad-Erbil supervision. Deal drew resistance from local groups linked with Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party, such as Sinjar Resistance Units, that were excluded from negotiations despite being called upon to withdraw from district under agreement; Sinjar Autonomous Administration claimed deal favoured return of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to disputed territories ahead of 2021 parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, tensions rose between PMF and Kurdish forces after Kurdish authorities 1 Oct blamed PMF for Erbil airport rocket attack previous day; PMF supporters 17 Oct set fire to KDP headquarters in capital Baghdad after Kurdish minister earlier in month advocated “clean up” of PMF militias. Anti-Islamic State (ISIS) activities persisted throughout month: security forces 13 Oct established two security coordination centres in Erbil and Baghdad for joint operations with KRG; security forces 19 Oct launched campaign against ISIS strongholds in Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din, and Ninewa. Unidentified gunmen 17 Oct executed eight men in Salah al-Din’s al-Farhatiya village; PM’s office 21 Oct blamed ISIS for killings. Amid worsening economic situation, federal govt 13 Oct unveiled austerity measures to reduce public sector wages from 25% to 12% of budget; Kadhimi 19 Oct embarked on European tour to win economic support. Thousands 25 Oct protested in Baghdad and southern cities to mark one-year anniversary of anti-govt protests; clashes with police resulted in dozens injured on both sides.

Yemen

Huthis continued their military campaign in north, raising prospect of escalating offensives toward Marib and Hodeida in Nov, while Hadi govt and Huthis implemented major prisoner swap agreement. In north, fighting continued along key front lines throughout month and could further worsen around Marib and Hodeida in Nov. Notably, Huthis reportedly pushed into Marib’s al-Abdiyah and Harib districts. Both pro- and anti-Huthi forces also claimed progress in strategically important Rahabah and Jebel Murad districts; govt-aligned forces in turn claimed progress in their push across northern desert in al-Jawf governorate towards key Huthi-held military base. Skirmishes around Red Sea port city of Hodeida further strained Dec 2018 Stockholm Agreement: Huthis early Oct made concerted push into Durayhimi district, south of Hodeida, and reportedly regained full control of Durayhimi town and its environs; heavy fighting followed on “Kilo 16” front line, stretch of territory along main highway linking Hodeida with northern highlands; Huthi’s capture of Kilo 16 could lead to end of partial siege of city as well as collapse of Dec 2018 ceasefire. In south, violent clashes between United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed forces and local govt-affiliated military forces continued throughout month in and around Taiz city. Hadi govt and pro-independence Southern Transitional Council (STC) 1 Oct swapped total of 58 detainees; reports of clashes between STC and govt reduced during month amid speculation of imminent force redeployments on both sides from Aden city and Abyan governorate and formation of new unity govt. Study by London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine 28 Oct found Aden suffered 2,100 excess deaths between April and Sept 2020, likely due to COVID-19 outbreak. International Committee of Red Cross and UN 15-16 Oct oversaw largest prisoner swap since war began in March 2015: Huthis and govt transferred 1,081 detainees; deal first agreed as part of Dec 2018 Stockholm Agreement but faced persistent delays. More than 240 people 14 Oct arrived in Huthi-held Sanaa from Oman’s capital, Muscat, as part of parallel deal involving Huthis, Saudi Arabia and U.S., facilitated by Oman, that saw release of two U.S. nationals detained by Huthis in past two years.

Algeria

Amid persistent repression of dissent, civil society renewed calls for political change. On anniversary of 1988 pro-democracy riots, hundreds 5 Oct took to streets in capital Algiers despite COVID-19 ban on protests; demonstrators called for release of members of Hirak anti-govt protest movement, denounced army’s extensive role in country’s politics and demanded genuine democracy; police reportedly arrested over 20. Small-scale demonstrations took place same day in other cities and towns. Repression of civil society and opposition continued. Court in Khenchela city (east) 8 Oct sentenced Hirak activist and figure of Amazigh community Yacine Mebarki to ten years in prison for “inciting atheism” and “offending the precepts of Islam”; sentence is longest ever given to Hirak activist. Constitutional referendum set for 1 Nov continued to spark tensions. Main opposition parties and Hirak activists continued to reject draft constitution, saying it fails to ensure separation of powers and end concentration of powers in president’s hands, and called for boycott of referendum. Campaigning kicked off 7 Oct, with all parties and individuals calling for boycott banned access to public media. Islamist parties and religious bodies late Sept-early Oct stepped up campaign against additional protections provided to Tamazight language in draft constitution in alleged attempt to gain popularity among non-Amazigh and conservative voters. Notably, Association of Algerian Ulemas 6 Oct said “certain articles of the proposed constitution are time bombs threatening national identity and the place of Islam”. Economic situation continued to deteriorate amid COVID-19 pandemic. Credit insurance company Euler Hermès mid-Oct projected GDP would contract by 6.7% in 2020 and budget deficit would reach 18% of GDP by end of year. President Tebboune was admitted into “specialized care unit” in Algiers military hospital 27 Oct and transferred to Germany next day, after he went into self-isolation 24 Oct due to COVID-19 cases among his close collaborators.

Egypt

Govt faced increased international scrutiny for crackdown on dissent and jihadists continued to pose serious security threat in Sinai peninsula. Following Sept protests against corruption and govt’s illegal building demolition policy, NGO Amnesty International 2 Oct said security forces killed at least two demonstrators, and human rights lawyer Khaled Ali 12 Oct said authorities arrested around 2,000 people in relation to protests. Over 50 Democrat U.S. Congress members 19 Oct called on President Sisi to release political detainees; 200 European lawmakers 21 Oct followed suit, calling on Sisi to release human rights defenders, lawyers, political activists and other prisoners of conscience unjustly detained. NGO Human Rights Watch 22 Oct said 49 detainees including 15 political prisoners were executed 3-13 Oct, called on authorities to immediately halt carrying out death sentences; series of executions followed clashes last month inside death row ward at capital Cairo’s Scorpion prison that reportedly left four policemen and four inmates dead. In North Sinai, jihadist militants targeted soldiers, mainly through IEDs and ambushes; notably, IED 14 Oct killed soldier and wounded four others in Bir al-Abd area. On occasion of Armed Forces Day celebrations, residents of Bir al-Abd area – who were displaced in late July-early Aug when Islamic State (ISIS) Sinai Province took control of several villages – 6 Oct protested to demand right to return to their homes. In following weeks, at least 14 citizens were reportedly killed by IEDs upon returning to their villages, including six from same family 24 Oct; devices were allegedly planted by jihadists before fleeing. Govt late Sept to mid-Oct stepped up diplomatic engagement on Libyan crisis. After Hurghada city late Sept hosted military talks, which paved way for permanent ceasefire, delegations from Libya’s rival parliaments 11-13 Oct met in Cairo to discuss constitutional roadmap. Tripartite meeting on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam took place 27 Oct (see Nile Waters).

Libya

Warring parties signed countrywide ceasefire agreement and resumed political talks under UN auspices, while oil production continued to increase. Representatives of UN-backed Govt of National Accord (GNA) and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar-led Arab-Libyan Armed Forces (ALAF) 23 Oct signed countrywide “permanent ceasefire” agreement, following UN-led talks in Geneva. Both sides agreed to stop hostilities across country, withdraw respective forces from front lines, expel foreign mercenaries and freeze foreign military training programs in Libya until new govt is formed. UN late Oct relaunched Libyan Political Dialogue; talks between 75 delegates representing rival camps, Tripoli-based High Council of State (HCS) and Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR), and other delegates handpicked by UN took place virtually 26 Oct; in-person meetings scheduled to start 9 Nov in Tunisia; discussions focus on formation of unified cabinet with view to reaching comprehensive political settlement. GNA 30 Oct announced PM Serraj, who last month said he would hand over duties by end of Oct, will stay in office until new govt is formed “to avoid a political vacuum”. Earlier in month, foreign actors hosted meetings between rival camps. Morocco 2-6 Oct convened delegations from rival assemblies to discuss appointment of heads of national institutions including Central Bank of Libya; delegations agreed to appoint either institutions’ chairman or deputy on basis of regional quotas. Egypt 11-13 Oct hosted HCS-HOR talks on constitutional roadmap. Meanwhile, tensions around central city of Sirte early to mid-Oct remained high as both sides reportedly continued to amass equipment and forces in spite of Aug local ceasefire; GNA early month accused Haftar’s camp of violating ceasefire by allegedly launching rockets against GNA positions, which Haftar denied. In attempt to pressure Russian military to withdraw from Libya, EU 15 Oct imposed travel ban and economic sanctions on Kremlin insider Yevgeny Prigozhin. Following Sept deal to lift months-long oil sector blockade, National Oil Corporation progressively lifted force majeure on export terminals and major oil fields, and oil production late-Oct reached 500,000 barrels per day. IMF data in Oct showed Libya’s GDP is expected to shrink by 66% this year and prices to increase by 22%.

Tunisia

Violent protests erupted in centre, and political tensions persisted. Dozens of residents 13 Oct clashed with police in town of Sbeïtla, Kasserine province in centre as they protested death of man previous night during destruction by local authorities of informal newspaper kiosk where he was sleeping; protesters reportedly broke into several govt buildings, erected roadblocks and threw stones at police who attempted to disperse them; PM Mechichi same day dismissed governor of Kasserine province and several other local officials and deployed military personnel to town, while authorities arrested head of municipal police. In capital Tunis, dozens 8 Oct demonstrated against draft security law, saying it would give security forces virtual impunity and might lead to increased police brutality. At govt’s request, parliament 12 Oct suspended discussion on draft law. Following President Saïed’s criticism in late Sept of PM Mechichi for appointing as advisers two close collaborators of former President Ben Ali, tensions between two leaders remained high. Notably, Mechichi 5 Oct dismissed Cultural Affairs Minister Walid Zidi after he criticised new COVID-19 restrictions; during formation of govt in Aug, Saïed had stepped in to support Zidi’s appointment. After authorities early Oct implemented night curfews in several regions amid rise in COVID-19 infections, govt 28 Oct announced nationwide night curfew, ban on inter-regional movement and school closure.

United States

United States (Internal)

As COVID-19 health crisis worsened and economic downturn deepened, political climate grew increasingly tense ahead of 3 Nov presidential election. Amid tight race between Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump, Texas Governor Greg Abbott 1 Oct restricted early voting ballot boxes to one per county; civil and voting rights groups subsequently launched lawsuits as they saw potential to affect vote tallies in this and other similar moves in states with few polling stations; Texas Supreme Court 28 Oct upheld Abbott’s order. Authorities 8 Oct arrested and charged 13 right-wing militiamen plotting abduction of Gretchen Whitmer and Ralph Northam, Democratic governors of Michigan and Virginia states, respectively; another man 16 Oct arrested. Brawl between Trump supporters and opponents 26 Oct erupted prompting 11 arrests in New York City; at least one injured. Senate 26 Oct confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to fill Supreme Court vacancy; Barrett’s appointment – seen as controversial due to nature and speed of her nomination close to election – would give conservatives potential 6-3 majority on election-related cases; Trump 23 Sept said he expected election to end up in Supreme Court, while Barrett 9 Sept refused to commit to recusing herself from election-related decisions. Meanwhile, COVID-19 spread continued with total 8.8 mn infections and 227,000 deaths as of late Oct. Health crisis featured heavily in electoral campaign throughout month: Trump claimed COVID-19, which he contracted 2-5 Oct, does not warrant lockdowns or other significant restrictions on activity, while Biden argued Trump had mismanaged pandemic. National polls 30 Oct showed large lead for Biden, but margins narrower in highly-contested states likely to determine outcome of election. With need to count unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, some polling aggregators throughout month expressed concerns that tight race means winner may not be known immediately after 3 Nov, which could prompt both Biden and Trump to claim victory and supporters to reject other side’s claim, thus raising risk of violence. Congress 29 Oct failed to agree on economic relief package amid 7.9% unemployment.