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 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.
The latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights deteriorations in August in seven countries – the majority of them in Africa and Latin America – as well as improved situations in Sudan, Ukraine and Guyana.
In Mali, a military coup forced President Keïta to resign after months of mass protests. The transition ushers in a period of uncertainty, with military leaders advancing a three-year timeline to return to civilian rule.
In Colombia, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a dramatic rise in violence as armed groups, which seek to exploit the health crisis to extend control over territories and attract new recruits, launched a series of attacks against civilians, leaving dozens dead.
A massive explosion in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, which killed at least 190 people, fuelled violent anti-government protests and prompted Prime Minister Diab’s government to resign.
Looking ahead to September, CrisisWatch warns of four conflict risks:
Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea could face major pre-electoral violence as both countries head to the polls in October. With announcements in August that both President Ouattara and President Condé will likely run for a controversial third term, tensions are running high.
In Eastern Ukraine, while the Donbas ceasefire largely held in August, Donetsk’s de facto leadership threatened a new escalation.
Meanwhile, U.S. pressure to reimpose all pre-nuclear deal sanctions on Iran by 20 September risks significantly escalating tensions.
In his introduction to this month’s edition of CrisisWatch, our President Robert Malley reflects on the risk of violence in a number of upcoming African elections.
Comprehensive agreement on filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on Blue Nile River remained elusive despite stop-start negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. Following 3 Aug resumption of tripartite negotiations between water ministers under African Union auspices, Sudan and Egypt next day suspended participation in protest at Ethiopia’s proposal to negotiate agreement only on filling of dam, instead of comprehensive agreement on filling and operation, and later to negotiate separate treaty on Blue Nile water allocation. Negotiations 10 Aug resumed but Sudan immediately requested talks be further postponed for a week to conduct internal consultations. Egyptian PM Mostafa Madbouly and senior Sudanese officials in Khartoum 15 Aug renewed calls for legally binding agreement on filling and operation of GERD including dispute resolution mechanism. All three water ministers resumed negotiations few days later. Ethiopia and Sudan 25 Aug vowed to make “all efforts” to reach deal but latter 28 Aug said talks had again stalled. U.S. Sec State Pompeo late Aug approved plan to halt some U.S. aid to Ethiopia, reportedly in effort to mediate agreement.
Jihadist groups carried out several attacks mainly against civilians in east and north, in apparent strategic shift away from usual targeting of govt forces. Security situation remained precarious in East region, with several deadly attacks on civilians following late-July raids on schools in Tapoa province. Notably, in Gourma province, unidentified gunmen 1 Aug killed four and abducted two in Ougarou village, and 7 Aug stormed cattle market in Namoungou village, killing around 20 civilians; amid counter-insurgency operation in Namoungou area, army convoy 12 Aug detonated explosive device, four soldiers wounded. In north, explosive device 1 Aug killed six children and wounded four others in Bembela village, Yatenga province in North region; IED likely planted by Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) or Islamic State (ISIS) militants. Grand Imam of Djibo, Souaibou Cissé, was found dead 15 Aug after unidentified gunmen 11 Aug kidnapped him near Gaskindé town, Soum province in Sahel region. Unidentified assailants 22 Aug ambushed security forces convoy in Barsalogho area, Sanmatenga province in Centre-North region, killing at least three. In Boucle du Mouhoun region in west, unidentified assailants night of 11-12 Aug stormed camp hosting volunteers fighting alongside security forces in Barani commune, Kossi province, killing civilian. France 15 Aug designated area along southern border with Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire as “red zone”, highest level of security risk, which now covers entirety of country’s border areas. UN Humanitarian Agency (OCHA) 18 Aug said country now registers over 1mn displaced persons, fourfold increase in one year, and 2.9mn people need humanitarian assistance, twice as many as same period last year. Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme 21 Aug said more than 3.2mn people in Burkina Faso are facing acute food shortage due to conflict and COVID-19, 50% rise since March.
Following mass anti-govt protests since June, military coup forced President Keïta to resign; violence continued at lower intensity in centre and north. After reports emerged 18 Aug of early morning shots in Kati and N’Tominkorobougou military bases near capital Bamako, army convoys moved from Kati to Bamako, and soldiers arrested several senior govt officials, including Keïta and PM Boubou Cissé. Keïta stepped down in televised address following night. Group of senior military officers calling themselves National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), led by army colonel Assimi Goita, next day claimed responsibility. Coalition of opposition and civil society groups M5-RFP, which has been at forefront of anti-Keïta protests since June under leadership of prominent Imam Mahmoud Dicko 20 Aug said they were ready to work with CNSP. Thousands of opposition supporters next day celebrated Keïta’s removal in Bamako. Amid widespread international condemnation of coup, delegation of regional body Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 22-24 Aug met CNSP, Keïta and Cissé in Bamako to mediate transition back to civilian rule; talks failed to yield agreement after CNSP reportedly pushed for three-year military-led transition. CNSP 27 Aug released Keïta. ECOWAS next day demanded immediate civilian-led transition and elections within one year; France 30 Aug said CNSP’s three-year transition proposal was “out of question”, calling for quick return to civilian rule; discussions on format of transition still ongoing late Aug amid tensions between CNSP and M5-RFP. Prior to coup, thousands protested against Keïta in Bamako 11 Aug, and again on day of coup 18 Aug. Meanwhile, violence persisted at lower intensity in centre and north. In Ségou region in centre, suspected jihadists 2 Aug killed at least five soldiers in simultaneous attacks on army base and convoy in Niono circle. In neighbouring Mopti region, explosive devices 21-22 Aug killed two gendarmes and four soldiers in Bandiagara and Koro areas; suspected jihadists 27 Aug ambushed soldiers on Konna-Douentza axis, killing four. In town of Gao in north, clashes between ethnic Songhaï and Arab communities 17 Aug left two dead; unidentified assailant 30 Aug reportedly killed Arab trader.
Suspected jihadists targeted foreign humanitarian workers near capital Niamey, while counter-insurgency operations continued in south east. In first jihadist attack in Tillabery region’s Kollo department, suspected Islamic State militants 9 Aug killed eight including six French humanitarian workers and two Nigeriens in Kouré National Park, 60km east of Niamey; French prosecutors 10 Aug opened investigation into attack and France 12 Aug designated whole country except Niamey as red zone, highest level of security risk; Niger’s national security council same day extended state of emergency to entire Tillabery region except Niamey, and govt 18 Aug said security forces had arrested one suspect amid ongoing security operations in area. In Diffa region in south east, security forces 17 Aug carried out cross-border operation into Nigeria and freed eleven civilians, whom Boko Haram combatants had kidnapped 11-12 Aug in two villages of Gueskerou commune. Misappropriation of defence funds involving senior state officials, first revealed in Feb, continued to spark controversy. Confidential govt audit of defence spending leaked early Aug alleged over $137mn of public money have been lost to corruption in govt procurement of defence material since 2011.
President Ndayishimiye continued to take steps to consolidate his rule and turned hostile toward neighbouring Rwanda. In session boycotted by main opposition party National Congress for Freedom (CNL), National Assembly 7 Aug elected new bureau: ruling party CNDD-FDD hardliner Daniel Gélase Ndabirabe appointed as president. Crackdown on opposition and civil society continued. CNDD-FDD youth wing Imbonerakure 11 Aug arrested two CNL members in Mabayi commune, Cibitoke province, for allegedly vandalising CNDD-FDD property, and next day detained CNL member in Kanyosha commune, Bujumbura Rural province, on grounds of “insult to the head of state”. Suspected Imbonerakure 15 Aug threw grenade at house in Bukemba commune, Rutana province, killing four; CNL representatives said attack was targeted at party member. Police 25 Aug detained two CNL members in Kanyosha commune for allegedly belonging to armed group. Kayanza High Court 9 Aug sentenced three young individuals to 30 years in prison on charges of “attack and conspiracy against the head of state” after they allegedly threw rocks at president’s convoy in Kayanza province 5 Aug; civil society immediately denounced “politically motivated” decision in run-up to 24 Aug communal elections. Suspected members of Burundian rebel group Red-Tabara crossing from neighbouring DR Congo 23 Aug reportedly killed 11 civilians in Bugarama commune, Rumonge province; security forces killed five assailants. After Rwandan President Kagame in recent months stated willingness to improve relations with Burundi, Ndayishimiye 6 Aug said Burundi does not want relations with “hypocrite state” holding Burundian refugees hostage; statement follows late-July claim by five Burundian refugees that Rwanda is preventing their repatriation. Rwandan govt 12 Aug said it is ready to facilitate refugee returns but Burundi unwilling to mend ties. First group of 500 refugees returned to Burundi 27 Aug. Military intelligence chiefs from Rwanda and Burundi 26 Aug met at Nemba border post in Rwanda, agreed to cooperate on border security; first high-level meeting between neighbours since 2015.
Violence continued unabated in Anglophone South West and North West regions, while jihadists inflicted heavy toll on civilians in Far North. Amid persistent conflict between separatists and military in North West, unidentified assailants 7 Aug killed local aid worker in Batibo town. Separatists same day beheaded woman they accused of collaborating with military in regional capital Bamenda and 10 Aug killed member of vigilante group in Bamunka village. Security forces 13 Aug killed suspected separatist and unidentified individual in Kumbo area. In South West, suspected Anglophone separatists 11 Aug beheaded woman they accused of collaborating with military in Muyuka locality; amid wide circulation of beheading video on social media, NGO Human Rights Watch 14 Aug called on UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions on separatists. In following days, soldiers reportedly retaliated by killing about seven individuals and arresting about 200 in Muyuka area. Unidentified gunmen 27 Aug reportedly abducted 15 in Ekok town. Authorities mid-Aug acknowledged about 130 former separatist combatants recently escaped from Disarmament, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation centres in Bamenda and South West capital Buea due to poor living conditions and unmet promises. Anglophone detainee in pre-trial detention since 2017 died 5 Aug in capital Yaoundé, sparking outcry from human rights activists and separatist leaders, with NGO Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa same day calling on govt “not to subject inmates to any form of inhumane and degrading treatment”. In Far North, jihadist attacks inflicted heavy toll on civilians. Suspected Boko Haram (BH) combatants night of 1-2 Aug attacked Nguetchéwé IDP camp, Mayo-Tsanaga division, killing at least 17 and forcing 1,500 to flee. UN High Commissioner for Refugees 4 Aug warned of “significant increase in violent incidents” in Far North. BH attacks continued 5-23 Aug, reportedly killing at least nine civilians. Army 9-10 Aug repelled BH attacks on three IDP camps in Mayo-Sava division, killing one militant. After security forces 11 Aug left their position in Kordo village, also Mayo-Sava, following opening of new military base in nearby Grea village 6 Aug, up to 6,000 civilians fearing rise in insecurity fled Kordo in following days.
Armed groups maintained attacks in several areas in attempt to disrupt preparations for general elections scheduled for Dec. Armed group Union for Peace in Central African Republic (UPC) leader Ali Darassa 1 Aug disengaged from agreement reached with govt in July, in which he committed to facilitate electoral preparations in areas under his control and initiate disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration program, and renounce alliance reached in June with other Fulani-dominated armed group Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R). In following days, UPC launched attacks against electoral officials. In Ouaka prefecture in centre, UPC 12 Aug assaulted election registration officers in Ippy town. In Haut-Mbomou prefecture in south east, UPC 16 Aug abducted two election registration officers and seven members of medical team in Mboki town; govt 18 Aug said all hostages had been released; UPC mid-Aug reportedly ambushed and killed trader on Obo-Bambouti axis. 3R also continued to target civilians in charge of electoral preparations. In Ouham-Pendé prefecture in north west, suspected 3R elements 2 Aug ambushed electoral registration officials on Bozoum-Bouar axis; 3R leader Sidiki Abbas 16 Aug ordered cessation of electoral enrolment and departure of electoral officers from Bouar city and Koui area; UN mission (MINUSCA) and armed forces next day reportedly ousted 3R from Koui town. UN Security Council 5 Aug imposed sanctions, including travel ban and asset freeze on Abbas, citing involvement in killing civilians and arms trafficking. In Haute-Kotto prefecture in east, armed group Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance 24-28 Aug reportedly expelled electoral officers from Nzacko and Yalinga towns. Meanwhile, clashes between anti-balaka Ayoloma group and armed forces 2 Aug left six anti-balaka dead in Grimari city, Ouaka prefecture. Armed group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) carried out wave of kidnappings in Haut-Mbomou prefecture, reportedly killing two hostages and kidnapping seven locals in Birho village 1-2 Aug, and several others in following days; LRA reportedly freed all hostages 10 Aug after 8 Aug meeting with MINUSCA.
Jihadist threat in Lake Chad region and violence in neighbouring Sudan fuelled population displacement. International Organization for Migration reported about 20,000 people 8-20 Aug fled their villages in Lake Chad region in west amid fears of renewed Boko Haram (BH) attacks and as a result of floods, totalling 360,000 persons currently displaced in region. President Déby 8 Aug said BH will long remain threat in Lake Chad basin and acknowledged Multinational Joint Task Force – which includes troops from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Benin, and Nigeria – is struggling to retain control of area, citing coordination challenges. UN High Commissioner for Refugees 11 Aug said late-July spate of violence in neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur province brought over 2,500 refugees to eastern Chad; Déby 20 Aug met Sudan’s Sovereign Council Chair Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan in Chadian city of Am-Djarass to discuss reinforcement of security cooperation along mutual border. Meanwhile, herder-farmer clashes 12 Aug left four dead and 24 wounded in Banga-Dormon village, Tandjilé region in south west. In alleged effort to improve relations with key ethnic communities ahead of 2021 general elections, Déby 7 Aug reintegrated former Defence Minister Mahamat Nour Abdelkerim into army, 10 Aug pardoned three imprisoned former rebel leaders. In ceremony 11 Aug, Déby was granted title of Marshal following National Assembly June decision to honour him for his leadership in recent operation against jihadist groups in Lake Chad basin; opposition and civil society immediately denounced move amid persistent jihadist threat, COVID-19 and economic challenges. Govt 17 Aug announced two-week extension of COVID-19-related curfew in N’Djamena and several other provinces.
Armed groups continued to carry out deadly attacks in eastern provinces. Armed group Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) 1 Aug signed unilateral commitment to end hostilities in Walendu-Pitsi sector, Djugu territory in Ituri province. However, attacks continued in Ituri. Armed group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) 5 Aug killed three civilians and took several hostages in Kyamata locality, Irumu territory. Suspected CODECO 9 Aug killed 19 civilians in simultaneous attacks on three villages in Djugu territory, 16 Aug killed three civilians in ambush on Mungwalu-Dala axis, Irumu territory, and next day killed at least three civilians in Penge village, Djugu territory. In neighbouring North Kivu province’s Beni territory, ADF reportedly killed at least 40, mostly civilians, in several attacks 13-28 Aug. Also in North Kivu, clashes between factions of armed group Nduma Defence of Congo-Renovated (NDC-R) 1 Aug left 16 dead in Kaseke village, Walikale territory; NDC-R faction commander 17 Aug surrendered to army in Kashuga village, Masisi territory, along with 485 combatants. UN Joint Human Rights Office 5 Aug noted threefold increase in killings by armed groups in DRC in first six months of 2020 compared with same period last year. Amid persistent tensions within ruling coalition between President Tshisekedi and his predecessor Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC), both sides mid-Aug removed some members deemed “too radical” in coalition agreement monitoring committee, resulting in sidelining of Tshisekedi’s former ally Vital Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation. Situation remained tense in border areas. Ugandan sailors 5-6 Aug reportedly briefly captured 39 Congolese fishermen on Lake Edward on common border. Following mediation from regional bloc Southern African Development Community, Congolese govt 6 Aug announced retreat of Zambian troops from Tanganyika province; clashes between armies had erupted in March after Zambian troops reportedly occupied two Congolese villages. Burundian rebel group Red-Tabara based in DRC 23 Aug reportedly killed 11 civilians in Burundi’s Rumonge province (see Burundi).
President Kagame’s recent efforts to improve relations with neighbouring Burundi continued despite setback. After five Burundian refugees in Rwanda late July sent letter to Burundian President Ndayishimiye claiming Rwanda was preventing them from returning to their home country, Ndayishimiye 6 Aug said Burundi does not want relations with “hypocrite state” holding Burundian refugees hostage. Rwandan FM Vincent Biruta 12 Aug said govt is ready to facilitate refugee returns but Burundi is unwilling to mend ties. First group of 500 refugees 27 Aug returned to Burundi. Military intelligence chiefs from Rwanda and Burundi 26 Aug met at Nemba border post in Rwanda, agreed to cooperate on border security; first high-level meeting between neighbours since 2015.
Concerns persisted over food insecurity amid COVID-19 pandemic. UK-based human rights group Eritrea Focus 3 Aug accused govt of using COVID-19 to increase hardship for population by imposing prolonged lockdown and rejecting international medical aid, called on UN to intervene to stop “deliberate starvation and death of Eritrean people”. Govt 13 Aug reportedly began releasing prisoners in bid to limit spread of virus in overcrowded prisons, excluding political prisoners.
Security forces violently suppressed protests in Oromia region and Southern Nations region, while tensions persisted between federal govt and Tigray region over Tigray’s planned elections. In Oromia region in centre, unrest sparked by June killing of popular Oromo musician continued. Demonstrations 17 Aug broke out against detention since late June of two prominent Oromo opposition leaders; security forces violently suppressed protests reportedly killing at least 40 people 17-24 Aug. Amid major cracks in Oromia’s ruling establishment, Oromia branch of ruling Prosperity Party 9 Aug suspended party membership of Defence Minister Lemma Megersa and two other senior officials; as part of cabinet shake-up, PM Abiy 18 Aug replaced Lemma as defence minister. In Southern Nations region, protests 9 Aug erupted in Wolayta zone’s capital Sodo following same day arrest of local officials and activists seeking regional statehood for Wolayta ethnic group; security forces 9-12 Aug killed at least 21 protesters in Sodo and other towns in Wolayta; Southern Nations branch of Prosperity Party 28 Aug replaced Wolayta zone administrator. Also in Southern Nations, clashes between ethnic Konso and Ale late Aug reportedly left at least a dozen dead. In Somali region in east, protests 17 Aug broke out in Degehabur city following police killing of youth previous week; police reportedly arrested “scores” of protesters. Political tensions persisted as Tigray region pressed ahead with preparations for regional elections scheduled for 9 Sept in defiance of federal govt’s COVID-19-related postponement of polls. Despite PM Abiy ruling out military intervention in July, Tigray in apparent show of force early Aug staged several military parades in regional capital Mekelle and other towns. Speaker of federal parliament’s upper house early Aug said govt will be forced to take “necessary and proportional measures” if Tigray’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front fails to halt electoral preparations. Tigray authorities reportedly detained throughout month at least 300 ethnic Amhara who refused to register for polls, and thousands of Amhara reportedly fled region. Talks continued between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (see Nile Waters).
Disputed revenue-sharing bill laid bare political fissures while anti-govt protests erupted following corruption allegations. In senate, President Kenyatta failed to push through revision of formula to determine share of national revenues received by counties; proposed revision, which would have benefited his ethnic Kikuyu base, voted against on several occasions by group of 25 senators including allies of Deputy President William Ruto. Ahead of 17 Aug vote, police briefly arrested three senators opposed to revised formula, prompting outcry and sparking small-scale protests 17-18 Aug in Samburu and Kakamega counties; senate speaker refused to call vote and appointed 12-member committee to break stalemate. Media reports mid-Aug alleged misappropriation by govt officials and business leaders of up to $400mn earmarked for COVID-19 response, sparking public outrage; hundreds of anti-corruption protesters gathered 21-25 Aug in capital Nairobi and Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu cities, police used teargas to disperse them and arrested at least a dozen. Kenyatta 26 Aug extended COVID-19-related curfew for another 30 days. In border area between Isiolo and Garissa counties in centre, clashes between ethnic Borana and Somali herders 4 Aug left two dead and four others seriously injured. Police 31 Aug shot dead suspected Al-Shabaab militant in southern Kwale county, amid significant decrease of Al-Shabaab activity, with no deadly attack reported in Aug.
Al-Shabaab launched deadly attacks in capital Mogadishu and rural areas, while frictions heightened between federal govt and member states Jubaland and Puntland over organisation of elections. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab suicide bombings 3 Aug killed at least three including two security guards and 8 Aug killed eight soldiers. Inside Mogadishu’s central prison, Al-Shabaab inmates 10 Aug attempted to break free using smuggled weapons; shoot-out between inmates and prison guards backed up by security forces killed 15 inmates and four prison guards; one Al-Shabaab inmate reportedly managed to escape and killed two civilians outside prison. Al-Shabaab attack on Mogadishu hotel 16 Aug left at least 16 dead, mostly civilians. In south and centre, suspected Al-Shabaab attacks 2-23 Aug killed at least 42 security personnel, officials and civilians in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Bay, Gedo, Hiraan and Mudug regions. Security forces 2-29 Aug reported over 80 suspected Al-Shabaab militants killed in Lower Juba, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Gedo and Bay regions. Security forces 14 Aug rescued 33 children from Al-Shabaab camp in Lower Shabelle region. U.S. Africa Command said three U.S. airstrikes 20-25 Aug killed eight Al-Shabaab militants in Lower Shabelle and Middle Juba regions. In Puntland in north, security operation 20-21 Aug left at least ten Al-Shabaab militants and two soldiers dead in Bari region. President Farmajo and heads of federal member states Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West mid-Aug signed agreement reiterating July commitment to hold Nov 2020 parliamentary and Feb 2021 presidential elections on time and settling on indirect electoral model instead of “one person, one vote” polls; presidents of Puntland and Jubaland states boycotted meeting, accusing Farmajo of failing to deliver on previous commitments on elections, and 21 Aug jointly distanced themselves from agreement; 27 Aug however said they would soon attend meeting with Farmajo in Mogadishu to discuss 2020-2021 polls.
Electoral commission ruled out holding elections this year while Somaliland’s nascent relationship with Taiwan prompted opposition from Somalia and China. Electoral commission (NEC) 15 Aug said legislative and local elections – last held in 2005 and 2012 respectively – could not be held in 2020 as agreed in July by ruling Kulmiye and opposition parties Justice and Welfare Party and Waddani; NEC, ruling and opposition parties 23 Aug then agreed to hold polls in May 2021. In Awdal region in west, Gadabursi clan mid-Aug threatened to boycott parliamentary polls if their representation in House of Representatives is not increased; after Supreme Court 26 July ruled out revising seat allocation ratio, and authorities next day reportedly denied Gadabursi clan leader entry from Ethiopia into Somaliland, hundreds same day took to streets in Awdal’s capital Borama; security forces reportedly opened fire on protesters, leaving at least one injured. After Taiwan and Somaliland – both of which seek international recognition – in July agreed to establish diplomatic relations, high-level Chinese delegation early Aug met President Bihi in capital Hargeisa; Bihi reportedly rejected Chinese offer to cut ties with Taipei in exchange for development package and Chinese liaison office. Taiwan 17 Aug opened representation office in Hargeisa; Mogadishu next day condemned Taiwan’s “reckless attempts to infringe on the sovereignty” of Somalia “and violate its territorial integrity”; Hargeisa next day warned Mogadishu to refrain from “groundless and uninformed statements”. Meanwhile, talks with Somalia over Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty continued to experience delays.
Govt and former rebel opposition groups reached wider agreement on local power-sharing while disarmament campaign sparked deadly violence in centre. Following months-long deadlock, President Kiir, former rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) and Other Political Parties (OPP) 10 Aug signed agreement on power sharing at state and county levels; deal, which complements June agreement on appointment of state governors, allocates seats on state cabinets, state legislatures, county commissions, and county councils. Kiir and Machar however remain at loggerheads over latter’s pick for governor of contested Upper Nile state. In centre, govt-led disarmament campaign in Kiir’s stronghold Warrap state 8-9 Aug triggered clashes between security forces and ethnic Dinka militias refusing to disarm, leaving at least 148 dead on both sides in Tonj East County; UN mission 11 Aug dispatched peacekeeping patrol to area, next day said it had set up temporary base in Tonj town to deter further violence. In south, rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS), which refused to be part of Sept 2018 peace agreement, 5 Aug reportedly attacked army base in Gorom Payam, 15km outside capital Juba; NAS claimed eleven soldiers killed. NAS 13 Aug said it had repelled same day attack by Kiir-aligned South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) and Machar’s SPLA-IO on its positions outside Kajo Keji town, Central Equatoria state; four reportedly killed on both sides. NAS 19 Aug killed six bodyguards of VP James Wani in Lobonok County, also Central Equatoria. Intercommunal violence persisted. In Lakes state in centre, intercommunal clash between Nyang and Amothnhom youth 5 Aug left at least six dead in Rumbek Central County. Kiir 13 Aug declared state of emergency in Jonglei state and Greater Pibor Administrative Area in east, citing recent violence between local ethnic Dinka and Nuer on one side, and ethnic Murle on the other, and rainy season-related floods. Govt and Sudan 26 Aug vowed to settle dispute over contested Abyei region.
Govt and some rebel groups struck landmark peace agreement; intercommunal violence in urban and rural areas continued. Following year-long negotiations in South Sudanese capital Juba, rebel coalition Sudanese Revolutionary Front and Sudan Liberation Movement/Army faction led by Minni Minnawi 31 Aug signed peace agreement with govt. Agreement provides for redistribution of economic and political powers in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states and integration of rebel fighters into military. Faction of rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North led by Abdelaziz al-Hilu withdrew from peace talks 20 Aug, and holdout armed opposition Sudan Liberation Movement/Army faction led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur refused to take part. Intercommunal clashes persisted in south, west and east. In South Darfur state, unidentified gunmen 1-2 Aug attacked several villages in Kass locality and clashed with Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Boronga village, killing unknown number and displacing some 3,000. In Kassala state, clashes between Zaghawas and Halfawis 1 Aug left two dead in New Halfa area. In Red Sea state’s capital Port Sudan, clashes between Nuba and Beni Amer tribes 9-12 Aug left at least 34 dead; authorities imposed curfew 9-17 Aug and govt 13 Aug deployed over 100 RSF paramilitary to stamp out violence, at least 85 arrested. On first anniversary of constitutional declaration establishing three-year transitional period, hundreds of thousands 17 Aug took to streets in capital Khartoum and other urban areas to protest delayed implementation of transitional agenda; police fired tear gas to disperse protesters and detained dozens. Sudan continued start-stop negotiations with Egypt and Ethiopia over filling and operation of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (see Nile Waters). Sovereign Council Chair Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Chadian President Déby 20 Aug met in Chad to discuss reinforcement of security cooperation along mutual border. U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 25 Aug visited Sudan, met with PM Hamdok and Sovereign Council chair to discuss normalisation of Sudan’s ties with Israel and support to Sudan’s transition, including removal of country from U.S. State Sponsor of Terrorism list. Govt and South Sudan 26 Aug vowed to settle dispute over Abyei region in south.
Authorities continued to restrict press freedom and civil rights and harass opposition ahead of general elections scheduled for Oct. Authorities 10 Aug banned local media from publishing or broadcasting foreign outlets’ contents without govt permission, prompting criticism from press freedom organisations. Prominent rights organisation Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) 18 Aug suspended its operations, citing incessant intimidation and meddling in its activities by security forces, after police previous day reportedly briefly detained its national coordinator and THRDC’s bank accounts were reportedly frozen mid-Aug after organisation failed to submit to authorities contracts signed with foreign donors. National anti-corruption body 11 Aug questioned main opposition party Chadema chairperson Freeman Mbowe over alleged misuse of party funds. After Chadema 4 Aug nominated vice-chairperson and former MP Tundu Lissu as party’s presidential candidate, unidentified assailants 13 Aug set Chadema’s offices on fire in Arusha city in north ahead of Lissu’s arrival. Chadema and opposition party Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT) 28 Aug alleged widespread irregularities and “unfair” disqualifications in enrolment of their candidates for parliamentary and local council elections and asked electoral commission to reinstate them.
Ahead of 2021 general elections, President Museveni continued to use legal means to harass key challengers. In Hoima town, police 14 Aug detained Joseph Kabuleta, who previously said he would run for president in 2021, and charged him with flouting COVID-19 restrictions; Kabuleta same day released on police bond. Police 15 Aug arrested 17 officials of presidential hopeful and former Security Minister Henry Tumukunde’s Renew Uganda platform in Wakiso district, 18 Aug briefly detained Tumukunde in Buikwe district for allegedly flouting COVID-19 restrictions, and same day summoned him for questioning over allegations he held political meetings with army veterans. Former president of opposition party Forum for Democratic Change Kizza Besigye 19 Aug said he would not run for president in 2021 elections and instead pursue “plan B” to remove Museveni from office “through fighting”, hinting at possibility of military coup. Army 28 Aug said there is “no chance” for coup or fighting in Uganda.
Authorities pursued efforts to remove from power remnants of former President Mutharika’s rule. Amid corruption investigations into Mutharika and several prominent figures linked to his presidency, police 6 Aug arrested former Local Govt and Rural Development Minister Ben Phiri over allegations of fraud and money laundering. Authorities mid-Aug froze bank accounts belonging to Mutharika, his wife, former presidential security aide Norman Chisale and another of Mutharika’s close collaborators. Supreme Court of Appeal 20 Aug dismissed Chisale’s 9 Aug application for injunction against further arrests, which he filed after police in July arrested him three times on different charges; Chisale, suspected of involvement in 2015 killing of national anti-corruption body’s former Director of Corporate Affairs Issa Njauju, remained on remand in capital Lilongwe prison after High Court 28 Aug denied him bail. In national address 8 Aug, President Chakwera vowed to introduce legislation to scale back presidential powers, notably that of appointing senior officials across executive, legislative and judicial branches. Amid surge in COVID-19 cases, authorities 9 Aug ordered bars and churches to close and banned most public gatherings; opposition leader in parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa 11 Aug condemned “harsh and unrealistic” measures; police in Chikwawa town in Southern region 13 Aug arrested 145 for allegedly failing to wear masks in public places; Chakwera 14 Aug pardoned 499 prisoners to reduce risk of COVID-19 spreading in congested prisons; authorities 27 Aug said Lilongwe airport would reopen 1 Sept and schools would start reopening 7 Sept.
Islamist militants seized major port town in far north after intense fighting. In Cabo Delgado province in far north, Islamist militants 5-11 Aug launched series of coordinated attacks in and around port town and district capital of Mocímboa da Praia in third such offensive since March, forcing security forces to withdraw and seizing town 11 Aug. Offensive left dozens dead on both sides: Islamic State (ISIS) said twin attacks against two army barracks in Mocímboa da Praia city 6 Aug left some 50 soldiers dead or injured; govt same day said it had repelled both attacks, killing 16 militants; insurgents 10 Aug killed at least 55 soldiers in ambush in Awasse area near Mocímboa da Praia city. Elsewhere in Mocímboa da Praia district, suspected militants late Aug beheaded seven and kidnapped several others on Nhonge island. In neighbouring Macomia district, suspected Islamist militants 8 Aug killed five civilians in Litamanda village. Security forces continued to face accusations of excessive use of force and unlawful killings; in one incident on 13 Aug, they reportedly sank boat carrying displaced persons from Nkomangano village to Nhongue island, killing 40. Regional bloc Southern African Development Community 17 Aug committed to providing support to Mozambique against jihadist insurgency in Cabo Delgado. Govt and French oil and gas company Total 24 Aug reached agreement over security of latter’s natural gas projects in Cabo Delgado. Suspected members of Renamo Military Junta, dissident faction of opposition party Renamo, 30 Aug attacked civilian bus on Muxunguè-Rio Save axis in Sofala province in centre; no casualties reported. Unidentified assailants 23 Aug threw Molotov cocktails at offices of two local independent newspapers in capital Maputo.
President Mnangagwa stepped up hostile rhetoric against opposition and civil society as crackdown on dissent continued unabated. After security forces forcefully thwarted planned anti-govt protest in capital Harare 31 July, Mnangagwa in national address 4 Aug condemned “machinations” of “terrorist opposition groupings” backed by “foreign detractors”, and threatened to “flush out … bad apples”. South African President Ramaphosa 6 Aug appointed two special envoys to Zimbabwe to “engage” parties and “identify possible ways in which South Africa can assist Zimbabwe”; special envoys 10 Aug met Mnangagwa in Harare, same day cancelled meeting with Nelson Chamisa’s faction of main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A), reportedly at govt’s request. MDC-A 10 Aug said at least 30 senior party figures had fled their homes since thwarted protest, citing “fears of being abducted, tortured or detained” by police. Zimbabwe’s Catholic bishops 16 Aug condemned govt’s corruption and human rights abuses; govt immediately denounced “evil message” intended to stoke “genocide”. MDC-A next day called on regional bloc Southern African Development Community to “urgently intervene” to resolve “governance and legitimacy crisis”. Courts denied bail to prominent investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono 6 and 24 Aug, and to opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume 21 Aug, both arrested ahead of protest on charges of inciting violence; court 18 Aug barred prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from further representing Chin’ono and called for lawyer to be charged with contempt of court over accusations that she commented on court case. Police 21 Aug arrested MDC-A vice-chairman and MP Job Sikhala, who went into hiding late July, on accusations of inciting violence. In joint statement, seven countries including U.S., UK and Germany 28 Aug warned govt against using COVID-19 to crack down on dissent, expressed concern over deteriorating political, economic and health situation. U.S. 5 Aug imposed financial sanctions on prominent businessman and Mnangagwa ally Kudakwashe Regimond Tagwirei and his energy company over corruption allegations.
Deadly protests erupted across country after President Ouattara announced his candidacy in presidential election scheduled for Oct, raising risk of all-out violence in coming weeks. In reversal of previous commitment to leave power, Ouattara 6 Aug said he will run for third term in presidential election scheduled for 31 Oct, citing “duty” and “case of force majeure” after his designated successor and ruling-party candidate Amadou Gon Coulibaly died last month. Opposition unanimously denounced move, with prominent opponent in exile Guillaume Soro 8 Aug accusing Ouattara of violating two-term constitutional limit; Ouattara argues his first two mandates do not count under new constitution adopted in 2016. Move sparked small-scale protests 7-10 Aug in economic capital Abidjan; despite govt 12 Aug ban on demonstrations, protests 12-13 Aug intensified in Abidjan and elsewhere, leaving at least six dead and over 100 wounded across country; notably, clashes between ethnic Malinké supporters of Ouattara and Baoulé supporters of former President Bédié’s Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI) killed four and injured at least 90 in Daoukro city in centre east. Govt 14 Aug said security forces in past few days arrested 68 on charges of “disrupting public order, incitement to revolt and violence against law enforcement”, and vowed to take protest instigators to court. NGO Amnesty International 18 Aug denounced “alarming resurgence of the use of unofficial ‘law enforcement’ agents” in protests. UN Sec-Gen Guterres same day urged all parties “to resolve their differences through dialogue” before elections. Govt 19 Aug banned all demonstrations until 15 Sept, but Ouattara’s nomination ceremony 22 Aug sparked renewed protests in Abidjan, Gagnoa city and Bonoua town. Several politicians late Aug submitted presidential candidacies to electoral commission, including Bédié, former PM Affi N’Guessan, and ex-Ouattara Ministers Marcel Amon-Tanoh and Albert Mabri Toikeuse; supporters of former President Gbagbo, in Belgium following his 2019 acquittal of crimes against humanity by ICC, and Soro also submitted their candidacies despite electoral commission earlier in Aug barring both of them from entering presidential race.
Political tensions deepened after ruling coalition nominated President Condé to run for re-election despite year-long protest movement against third term, raising risk of violent escalation ahead of vote scheduled for Oct. Democratic Coalition for Change in Continuity, comprising ruling party Rally for the Guinean People and its allies, 6 Aug nominated Condé to run for third term in presidential election scheduled for 18 Oct. Coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), which over past year has led mobilisation against Condé’s third term, immediately condemned move. Amid rising fears of political unrest, Muslim leaders 7 Aug urged all parties to favour peace over violence; capital Conakry Archbishop Vincent Koulibaly 15 Aug reiterated plea and called for dialogue between stakeholders. U.S. embassy 17 Aug called on all sides to “refrain from violence … and engage in dialogue” and urged authorities to investigate all protest-related deaths since 2019. UN, African Union and regional body Economic Community of West African States representatives mid-Aug reportedly met with senior officials from ruling party, FNDC and electoral commission in Conakry in attempt to mediate between parties. FNDC 24 Aug announced resumption of protests in early Sept. Meanwhile, several opposition figures, including former allies of Condé, announced plans to run for election, while opposition party Union of Democrats for the Renaissance of Guinea 27 Aug said it will not participate, citing anomalies in voter registration. Condé 31 Aug confirmed he will seek third term. Court in Conakry 27 Aug acquitted FNDC activist Oumar Sylla alias Foniké Mengué of charges of “dissemination of false information”; Sylla was arrested in April after he called for protests and accused govt of killings, torture and arbitrary detention.
UN condemned stifling of dissent amid persistent standoff between govt and opposition. At UN Security Council meeting 10 Aug, Special Representative and Head of UN peacebuilding mission in Guinea-Bissau Rosine Sori-Coulibaly said “political crisis and parliamentary paralysis” since late-2019 presidential election has left country in fragile state, with “arbitrary arrests, intimidation and detention” of opponents, journalists and civil society leaders contributing to “hostile” atmosphere of mistrust; Sori-Coulibaly also warned that mandate of UN mission in Guinea-Bissau – which involves restoring political stability – will unlikely be fulfilled before it expires in Dec, and urged President Embaló to implement reforms outlined in 2016 Conakry agreement, which comprises constitutional revision aimed at establishing better checks and balances. At same meeting, UN Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Ghada Fathi Waly warned against resurgence of transatlantic cocaine trafficking in Guinea-Bissau, urged for coordinated response to make sure 2019 anti-trafficking achievements, including security operations which led to seizure of roughly 3 tonnes of cocaine, were not carried out in vain. Regional body Economic Community of West African States mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB) 27 Aug started to withdraw its troops from country; withdrawal due to be completed by Dec 2020.
Jihadist and criminal violence continued in north east and north west, and herder-farmer tensions persisted in many states. In Borno state in north east, Boko Haram (BH) and BH faction Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) attacks continued despite airstrikes by govt forces, which left dozens of insurgents killed 11-17 Aug notably on Lake Chad islands and in Sambisa forest. Suicide bomber 2 Aug killed herself and two others in Konduga town. Suspected ISWAP 10 Aug reportedly killed 13 civilians and several soldiers in Magumeri and Kukawa towns. After ISWAP 18 Aug again attacked Kukawa town, local sources reported they took hundreds hostage, while military said troops thwarted attack, killing eight insurgents and losing three soldiers. In Nasarawa state, near capital Abuja, troops 26 Aug raided camp of little-known Islamist group Darul Salam in Toto area; military reported over 400 group members surrendered, and troops seized artisanal explosive device-making factory and assault weapons. In north west, security operations against armed groups killed at least 25 and curbed attacks in some areas; but raids on villages continued, particularly in southern Kaduna state, leaving 33 killed in Zango Kataf area 6-8 Aug, and 11 others in Zango Kataf, Kajuru and Kachia areas 16-19 Aug. In Katsina state, gunmen 9 Aug abducted several women in Kurfi area. In Niger state, armed group 12 Aug killed 15 civilians in Ukuru village, Mariga area. Concerns over jihadist groups forging links with armed groups in North West continued. Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa 5 Aug warned against “al-Qaeda starting to make some inroads” there. Amid persistent tensions between herders and farmers and other communal violence in many states, prominent Fulani herders’ group 13 Aug accused community vigilantes of killing 68 Fulani civilians in Kebbi state 29 April-11 Aug, warned “large conflict” was looming. In alleged fallout from long-running chieftaincy-related dispute, gunmen 10 Aug killed at least 13 in Edikwu village, Benue state.
Tensions continued between Japan and China over contested island chain in East China Sea. Japanese coast guard 3 Aug reported no Chinese vessels seen near disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands due to Typhoon Hagupit, ending 111 consecutive days of continuous presence since April; Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono 4 Aug said military would support coast guard over island dispute and “act firmly when necessary” and 18 Aug reportedly told Chinese ambassador to Japan that China should refrain from military activities around islands. Japanese PM Shinzo Abe 28 Aug announced his resignation over health issues. Some 60 lawmakers from ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan 17 Aug formed pressure group to urge govt actions to control islands. Kono and U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper 29 Aug met at U.S. military base in Guam, agreeing to “oppose countries unilaterally changing the status quo by force” in South and East China seas. Amid arrest of activists in Hong Kong under controversial new security law, Japanese govt 11 Aug voiced concerns over territory and said it was important for Hong Kong to “develop democratically and in a stable manner”; Beijing same day called on Japan to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs”.
U.S. and South Korea carried out annual joint-military exercises, while Pyongyang’s economic struggles continued amid spread of COVID-19 and mass flooding. As dispute between Seoul and Washington over sharing cost of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on Korean Peninsula still unresolved, U.S. and South Korea 18-28 Aug held annual joint military drills; exercises smaller than previous years with U.S.-based troops unable to join due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel; North Korea unusually quiet during drills. Amid widely suspected COVID-19 epidemic, North Korea 14 Aug lifted lockdown, imposed in July, on border city of Kaesong following accusation North Korean defector who swam back from South Korea in July imported virus. Pyongyang also faced major damages from floods that began 1 Aug during monsoon season. Amid floods affecting harvest and COVID-19 causing halt to nearly all trade with China due to closing of borders, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un 20 Aug admitted to failure of govt’s economic policy during meeting of ruling party officials; hours later, South Korean media reported Kim had given responsibility for relations with Seoul and Washington to Kim Yo-jong, top official and Kim’s sister. Reuters 3 Aug reported confidential UN document stated several countries believe Pyongyang has developed “miniaturised nuclear devices” for ballistic missiles. International concerns over suspected North Korean cyberattacks continued; Israel 12 Aug said it had prevented cyberattack by Pyongyang-linked hackers on its defence industry, though a cybersecurity firm said attack had been successful. In South Korea, civil society and conservative groups, including over 50,000 protestors rallying in downtown Seoul 15 Aug, continued to accuse President Moon’s govt of authoritarian practices and violations of democratic rights, including passing new laws without due process and invading privacy; criticism among minority voices also continued over alleged election fraud during April general election. Meanwhile, Seoul 22 Aug announced new restrictions on gatherings and events following its second COVID-19 outbreak.
Cross-strait tensions continued between Taiwan and China amid visit to Taiwan by highest U.S. official in four decades. U.S. health chief Alex Azar met with President Tsai during 9-12 Aug visit to Taipei, in most senior visit by American official since break of Washington-Taipei ties in 1979; Azar lent support to Taiwan’s participation in global health forums like the World Health Organization and oversaw signing of first bilateral memorandum of understanding on health cooperation including vaccine development and infectious disease control; in lead up to visit, Chinese foreign ministry 7 Aug urged U.S. to “stop official ties with Taiwan” and said Beijing “will take firm countermeasures”. U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo 10 Aug criticised China’s objections to Azar’s visit as sign of “weakness.” During visit, Chinese J-10 and J-11 fighter jets 10 Aug crossed median line in Taiwan Strait, with Taipei scrambling planes in response, while Chinese military 13 Aug reported it had carried out further drills during Azar’s visit, both in Taiwan Strait and to the north and south of Taiwan. Taiwanese defence ministry 10 Aug said it had tracked Chinese planes with radars from surface-to-air missiles for first time. U.S. destroyers 18 and 30 Aug transited Taiwan Strait. Taipei 13 Aug proposed 10% increase to defence spending to $15.4bn in 2021 and next day reportedly finalised purchase from U.S. of 66 F-16 fighter jets. Taiwanese govt 19 Aug said hackers linked to Beijing attacked at least ten govt agencies since 2018 in attempt to steal data.
Intra-Afghan dialogue remained delayed while violence persisted across country. Following 3 Aug end of Eid holiday ceasefire between Taliban and govt, several attacks occurred, which govt blamed on Taliban but militants did not claim: militants 8 Aug attacked govt base on outskirts of Ghazni city (south east), killing seven Afghan security forces and wounding at least 12, while ten militants died during attack; militant suicide attack in Farah city (south west) on vehicle of deputy provincial police chief killed four police officers and wounded 15 people 12 Aug. Fighting intensified in northern regions, where Taliban did claim several attacks, including one on govt-sponsored militia in Takhar province (north east), killing nine militia members. Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) 2-3 Aug carried out major coordinated attack on prison in Jalalabad city, Nangarhar (east), leading to 29 deaths and escape of hundreds of prisoners; although IS-KP claimed attack, govt officials blamed Taliban, who strenuously denied accusation. Attacks on activists and politicians increased: notably, in capital Kabul, unidentified attackers 15 Aug attempted to assassinate MP, women’s rights activist and member of govt’s intra-Afghan team Fawzia Koofi; bomb 19 Aug killed ministerial official involved in Doha meetings between govt and Taliban. Despite international hopes intra-Afghan dialogue could begin in Aug, peace process remained delayed amid Taliban violence and govt blocking release of final several-hundred prisoners; President Ghani convened 7-9 Aug Loya Jirga (traditional assembly of influential figures) in Kabul over issue of final several hundred prisoners, with govt claiming prisoners guilty of crimes including terrorist attacks and drug trafficking; Jirga 9 Aug voted to release prisoners amid concerns of Australia and France, both of which reportedly oppose release of several prisoners accused of killing their citizens. Domestic political stasis continued with tensions between Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah over appointments including positions in newly-created High Council of National Reconciliation; Ghani reportedly objected to Abdullah’s nomination of Minister of Economy Mustafa Mastoor for position of State Minister for Peace. Ghani 29 Aug named some 40 individuals to council, but Abdullah 31 Aug said president did not have authority to appoint people to body, which he heads.
Amid ongoing govt crackdown on critics, security operations continued against alleged members of banned militant groups. Police continued to detain people under controversial Digital Security Act over social media posts critical of govt, in cases mainly filed by ruling Awami League (AL) supporters: police 2 Aug opened investigation against journalist in Chittagong over critical comments about an AL parliamentarian; police 3 Aug detained three people in Thakurgaon district for criticising PM Hasina and allegedly spreading misinformation, and 6 Aug arrested one person in Jhenaidah district after AL activist accused individual of using abusive language about PM’s brother Sheikh Kamal, assassinated in 1975; paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) 9 Aug detained man in Sylhet district for insulting PM and security agencies. In continued anti-militancy efforts, anti-terrorism police 5 Aug arrested suspected member of Ansar al-Islam in Jhenaidah district and police 11 Aug arrested five alleged Neo-Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh members in Sylhet district, accusing them of planning an attack on a Hazrat Shahjalal shrine in Sylhet before Eid holiday. In north, mass flooding continued; since floods began late June in Jamalpur, Kurigram, Gaibandha and other districts, 6mn people affected, over 100 killed and thousands of villages submerged. Police 2 Aug suspended 21 officers following 31 July killing of retired army officer at police checkpoint in Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong district.
In symbolic victory for PM Modi’s Hindu nationalist project, construction of Hindu temple began at long-disputed site. In Uttar Pradesh, PM Modi 5 Aug formally launched construction of Hindu temple at location in Ayodhya, long contested by Hindus and Muslims with dispute triggering some of India’s deadliest Hindu-Muslim violence in recent decades; in speech same day, Modi said Hindu god Ram’s birthplace had “finally” been “liberated” and India was “creating a glorious chapter in history”. In response to derogatory Facebook post about prophet Muhammad by nephew of local Indian National Congress politician in Bangalore, hundreds of Muslims 12 Aug took to streets; police opened fire on protesters, killing at least three, and arrested some 200. Wall Street Journal 14 Aug alleged that Facebook had failed to remove hate speech posted by at least one member of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and at least three other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups” due to fear of harming business prospects in India. Meanwhile, anti-Maoist operations and Maoist violence continued: in Chhattisgarh (centre), security operations 5-30 Aug killed seven Maoists in Bijapur, Kanker, Sukma and Dhamtari districts; suspected Maoists 23-31 Aug killed two police officers in Bijapur district. In Andhra Pradesh (south east), Maoist landmine 3 Aug killed two civilians in Visakhapatnam district. In Maharashtra (west), Maoists 14 Aug shot and killed police officer in Gadchiroli district; security forces 26 Aug shot and killed Maoist in Gadchiroli district. India and China continued talks on disengagement of troops at disputed border: military officials met 2 and 8 Aug, and diplomats 20 Aug agreed “to resolve outstanding issues” related to disengagement “in an expeditious manner”, but India 31 Aug accused China of “provocative military movements” to change the status quo on Line of Actual Control, adding it took measures to “thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change the facts on the ground”; China same day denied accusation. COVID-19 cases continued to soar with total number of cases 23 Aug surpassing 3 mn; by end of month India had world’s third-highest caseload and third-highest death toll.
Militant attacks persisted inside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) while clashes continued across Line of Control (LoC, dividing Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir). Militant attacks remained frequent in J&K, including on members of ruling-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): in Kulgram district, militants killed local BJP officials 4 and 6 Aug; militants 9 Aug shot BJP member in Budgam district, who died next day. Following attacks, several BJP members reportedly resigned; police officer 10 Aug said some 400 officials moved to secure accommodation elsewhere. Security forces 10 Aug detained two suspected militants in Sopore district and three more in Kupwara district next day; one soldier and two militants 12 Aug killed in clash in Pulwama district. Militants 14 Aug killed two police officers on outskirts of Srinagar, and next day killed civilian in Pulwama district. Militants 17 Aug attacked security post in Baramulla district, killing two paramilitary soldiers and police officer; 29 Aug attacked security forces at checkpoint in Panthachowk on outskirts of Srinagar, which left one policeman and three militants dead. Meanwhile, New Delhi 4 Aug imposed curfew on eve of first anniversary commemorating revocation of Article 370, which afforded Kashmir autonomous status. New Delhi 6 Aug appointed senior BJP leader Manoj Sinha as J&K lieutenant governor; Indian PM Modi 15 Aug said elections would be held in territory after finalisation of new electoral constituencies. New Delhi 18 Aug claimed security situation had improved and ordered withdrawal of 10,000 paramilitary personnel deployed in region since Aug 2019. All Kashmiri mainstream parties 22 Aug signed joint declaration vowing to “collectively fight to restore the special status of J&K as guaranteed under the constitution”. Meanwhile, cross-LoC fire between India and Pakistan continued: New Delhi accused Pakistan of cross-LoC fire that injured six civilians 7 Aug, including man who died 13 Aug. Islamabad claimed Indian fire responsible for killing woman and injuring nine civilians 7 Aug, and injuring two civilians 12 Aug. Pakistani PM Khan 5 Aug addressed Pakistan-administered Kashmir’s legislature calling India’s 5 Aug 2019 actions in J&K, which revoked its special constitutional status, “illegal and unilateral” and reiterated support for UN-mandated plebiscite in territory.
External and internal political pressures on ruling communist party eased following thaw in relations with India and halt in intra-party tensions. PM KP Oli 15 Aug called Indian PM Narendra Modi to mark India’s Independence Day and, in first conversation between two leaders since border dispute began in May, mentioned looking forward to “meaningful cooperation” with New Delhi. Technical-level bilateral channels also reopened following 17 Aug eighth meeting of Nepal-India Oversight Mechanism (tasked in 2016 to oversee implementation of bilateral developmental projects) with Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi and India’s Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra; following discussions, foreign ministry officials proposed convening Boundary Working Group - joint entity formed by two govts in 2014 - which could pave way for formal dialogue on ongoing border row. Indian officials 20 Aug reportedly ruled out discussing contested territory along Nepal’s north-western border at Working Group level, instead preferring to address it between respective foreign secretaries. Meanwhile, leadership tensions within Nepal Communist Party (NCP) eased after internal task force formed by co-chairs Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal 22 Aug recommended Oli continuing as PM – with imminent cabinet reshuffle – while Dahal serves as party’s executive chair. NCP’s haphazard COVID-19 response continued to elicit widespread criticism with provincial-level officials accusing Oli’s govt of undermining transition to federalism after he 17 Aug empowered district administrators – instead of provincial leaders – with greater authority to tackle pandemic.
Tensions continued over govt use of anti-corruption cases to silence political opponents, while deadly militant violence persisted. Following Supreme Court’s July criticism of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s use of anti-corruption National Accountability Bureau (NAB), tensions remained high over body; NAB brought corruption cases against former Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) PM Abbasi on 6 Aug and former President and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chair Zardari on 10 Aug; Mayam Nawaz, daughter of former PM Sharif, and PML-N members 11 Aug protested against targeting of PML-N leaders outside NAB office in Lahore city, leading to clashes with police and arrest of 50 members. Amid concerns over attacks on press, group of prominent female journalists 12 Aug issued statement holding govt supporters responsible for “vicious online attacks” and threats, including “sexual and physical violence”. Police 16 Aug arrested paramilitary soldier accused of killing university student on 13 Aug in Kech district, Balochistan province. Militant attacks persisted: in Balochistan, bomb blast 10 Aug killed at least five and wounded 22 others in Chaman city and grenade attack 12 Aug killed child and injured six civilians in Quetta city; in Sindh’s capital Karachi, grenade attack on rally of political party Jamaat-i-Islami 5 Aug killed an activist and wounded dozens, and unidentified gunmen 14 Aug killed police officer, fifth police casualty in city since mid-July. Internationally, tensions increased with Afghanistan following 30 July clash between Afghan and Pakistani security forces after Islamabad closed Chaman border, leaving at least three dead, and raising concerns among govt officials about their desire to play key role in Afghan peace process; foreign ministry 13 Aug rejected Kabul’s complaints over building of fence on border; govt also reportedly held Kabul and New Delhi responsible for splinter groups Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul Ahrar 16 Aug merging with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan; group allegedly agreed to focus on targeting govt’s military, paramilitary and police forces. Following concerns Saudi Arabia may withdraw $3bn loan, army chief Bajwa 17 Aug visited Riyadh. Despite rising COVID-19 cases, govt 10 Aug began lifting restrictions on public transport and entertainment venues.
Ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) won resounding victory in parliamentary elections, paving way for unbridled executive powers for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and increasingly Sinhala nationalist policies. Following peaceful campaign, 5 Aug legislative elections resulted in ruling party SLPP securing 145 of 225 seats in parliament, enough – together with allied parties – to achieve two-thirds majority SLPP sought in order to amend constitution and unshackle presidential powers. In prominent Buddhist temple near capital Colombo, Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as PM 9 Aug. Mahinda and Gotabaya 12 Aug announced new cabinet and state ministers, giving portfolios to themselves and to three other family members; other appointees included Gotabaya’s personal lawyer as justice minister and retired admiral as foreign secretary. Cabinet 19 Aug approved repealing 19th amendment to constitution, which limits presidential powers, and established committee under justice ministry to draft replacement. In speech at opening of new parliament, Gotabaya 20 Aug promised that once 19th amendment had been replaced, govt would draft new constitution in which “priority will be given to the concept of one country, one law for all the people” and which will allow govt to make decisions freely without being influenced by “extremists”. Former Director of Police Criminal Investigations Department Shani Abeysekara remanded in custody 20 Aug accused of fabricating evidence in 2015 murder conviction; Abeysekara’s arrest widely seen as retribution for his key role investigating major criminal cases implicating senior officials in 2005-2015 Rajapaksa govt. Joint letter to Sri Lanka govt from six UN Special Rapporteurs sent in June and publicised 25 Aug expressed “grave concern over the seemingly arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention” of Muslim lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, in “what may be a reprisal for his legal work and human rights advocacy”. President 24 Aug appointed four prominent Buddhist monks to join all-Sinhalese task force on archaeological heritage in multi-ethnic eastern province. Foreign Secretary Adm. Jayantha Colombage announced Sri Lanka will adopt “India first approach” in its foreign policy and would “not do anything harmful to India’s strategic security interests”, despite China’s increasing influence in Sri Lanka.
Security forces continued operations against suspected separatists in Papua while Islamic militant group launched attacks in Central Sulawesi. In Papua province, security forces 16 Aug raided house in Mimika, killing senior WPLA commander Hengkin Wanmang; WPLA 17 Aug said group would retaliate; WPLA subsequently claimed killing several security force members. Papuan activists 15 Aug demonstrated in several provinces against 1962 New York agreement which led to transfer of rule over West Papua from Netherlands to Indonesia. In West Papua province, death in custody of brother-in-law of popular Papuan singer and Indonesian democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Edo Kondologit sparked hundreds 31 Aug to demonstrate at Sorong city police station demanding investigation. In Central Sulawesi province, suspected Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) militants 8 Aug kidnapped two farmers in Poso, reportedly killing one; later that day opened fire on vehicle of medical workers and robbed them. Also in Poso, police 11 Aug found body of retired military officer allegedly killed by MIT. Counter-terror unit Densus 88 11-12 Aug arrested at least 20 suspected terrorists with alleged links to MIT and Islamic State-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah in West Java, Jakarta and Riau. Company of 150 soldiers 15 Aug arrived in Central Sulawesi to support Operation Tinombala in hunting down MIT militants. Govt continued to press ahead with controversial job creation bill; National Human Rights Commission 13 Aug called on President Joko Widodo and parliament to end discussions of bill, saying it could potentially violate environmental and labour protections; thousands 14 and 25 Aug demonstrated against bill in capital Jakarta.
Amid ongoing fighting between Arakan Army (AA) and security forces, fourth “Panglong-21” Union Peace Conference took place in capital Naypyitaw. Violence continued across Rakhine state where unexploded ordnance and landmine 1-3 Aug killed three youths in Rathedaung and Ann townships. AA attacks against security forces 2-3 Aug caused several casualties in Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships; AA claimed killing “more than 20” and capturing six. Military shelling in first half of Aug reportedly injured ten villagers in Kyauktaw, Minbya and Rathedaung townships. Military 7 Aug arrested alleged AA fighter who later died in custody, body showed signs of torture. Unidentified gunmen 12 Aug killed head of Kyauktaw township police. AA 18 Aug reportedly abducted two Buddhist monks and two novice monks in Mrauk-U township. Military 24 Aug announced extension of its nationwide COVID-19 ceasefire until end-September, but continued to exclude Rakhine State. Fighting appeared to have eased in Rakhine after 16 Aug, when first local transmission of COVID-19 for many weeks detected in regional state; some 250 cases recorded by end of month, and night-time curfew and stay-at-home orders imposed across Rakhine 26 Aug. In Naypyitaw, representatives of govt and ten signatory armed groups of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement 19-21 Aug took part in fourth “Panglong-21” Union Peace Conference, first session in over two years; conference agreed on 20 “principles” with regard to ceasefire agreement, including some vague language on a future federal arrangement; govt’s exclusion of AA from conference due to its designation as terrorist organisation prompted six allied armed groups to boycott talks. Ahead of Nov general elections, electoral authorities began vetting candidate applications; between 11 and 16 Aug district-level election commissions rejected applications of six Rohingya due to alleged failure to prove citizenship status of their parents.
In south, clashes persisted but at reduced level of violence, while authorities’ focus on COVID-19 continued to delay implementation of peace agreement. In Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in south, clan feuds continued: clash between warring clans involving Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members 3 Aug displaced around hundred villagers at boundary of Datu Montawal and Pagalungan; armed groups from Moro side and indigenous Teduray natives 15 Aug conducted peace dialogue, defusing tensions over land in South Upi municipality; peace dialogue 18 Aug pacified warring commanders of 105th MILF base command in Shariff Aguak municipality; community feud involving MILF members 19 Aug erupted in Kalingalan and Nabalawag municipalities in Midsayap, and then pacified following intervention of BARMM Special Geographic Area caretaker and members of ceasefire committee. Govt drug enforcement raid 16 Aug killed village councillor of Northern Kabuntalan. Clashes continued between security forces and elements of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu province. Twin bombings in Jolo 24 Aug killed 15 and injured 74; perpetrators alleged to be Indonesian suicide bombers affiliated with Hatib Sawadjaan’s Islamic State-linked faction. Also in south, implementation of ceasefire between govt and MILF remained delayed as govt and interim govt concentrated efforts on preventing spread of COVID-19; countrywide cases continued to rise to over 217,000, with average of 5,500 new cases daily throughout month - double the daily average in July. Govt’s focus on halting contagion also continued to hinder efforts to rehabilitate Marawi city. Suspected Ansara Khilafa Philippines insurgents 9 Aug clashed with police operatives in Polomolok town, in South Cotabato, killing four insurgents and injuring one. Clashes continued throughout month between communist New People’s Army and armed forces in Visayas in centre, Mindanao in south, and Luzon in north at relatively decreased levels in comparison with July, killing at least 15 combatants and civilians and injuring 13 in total throughout month.
Tensions continued between China and U.S., while Malaysia rejected China’s claims to historic rights in SCS. Chinese People’s Liberation Army 25 July to 2 Aug conducted live-fire drills in north-western SCS off Leizhou Peninsula. Following U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo’s July statement that China’s claims in SCS were “unlawful”, U.S. continued sizable military presence and operations in SCS: U.S. 11 Aug deployed two B-2 bombers to military base on Diego Garcia island in Indian Ocean; U.S. Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group 14 Aug conducted maritime air defence operations in SCS. U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper 6 Aug spoke with Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe for 90 minutes; Pentagon same day confirmed that Esper had “expressed concern about [Chinese military’s] destabilising activity in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea, and called on [China] to honour international obligations.” Malaysia 29 July issued note verbale to UN rejecting “China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction”, move follows Chinese opposition to Malaysian 12 Dec 2019 note to UN that sought to establish limits of Malaysia’s continental shelf in northern part of SCS pursuant to UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Philippine’s Navy Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Bacordo 19 Aug stated that Chinese navy was attempting to provoke Philippines and urged Philippines’ President Duterte to file diplomatic protest to Beijing over presence of two Chinese survey ships at Reed Bank, in north-eastern SCS. Manila 20 Aug filed diplomatic protest with China over Chinese coast guard’s “illegal confiscation” of Filipino fishermen’s fishing equipment in May. China 26 Aug test-fired two missiles – DF-21D and DF-26B – from its mainland into SCS. U.S. 26 Aug imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese companies involved in building artificial islands in SCS. Malaysia 27 Aug filed note verbale at UN that rejected Philippines’ claim over Kalayaan/Spratleys island group and state of Sabah.
Protests continued amid growing calls for constitutional reform. In capital Bangkok, human rights lawyer Anon Nampa 3 Aug organised small demonstration at Democracy Monument, where in taboo-breaking speech he called for reform of monarchy; in response, senior govt official 5 Aug filed lèse-majesté complaint against Anon, and police 7 Aug arrested him and activist Panupong Jadnok for involvement in 18 July rally, releasing both on bail 9 Aug. More than 5,000 gathered 10 Aug at Thammasat University in Pathum Thani province, demanding dissolution of parliament, new constitution and end to harassment of govt critics; at end of rally, student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul unveiled list of ten demands aimed at reforming monarchy, including revoking lèse-majesté law and prohibiting king from endorsing coups. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 11 Aug said protesters had gone “too far”. Prayuth 13 Aug called on Thai citizens to reject efforts to divide them. Police 14 Aug arrested protest organiser Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak in Nonthaburi province, released him on bail following day. Activist group Free People 16 Aug organised largest pro-democracy rally since 2014 coup as some 20,000 gathered at Democracy Monument. Police 19-20 Aug arrested nine activists including Anon, all released on bail 20 Aug. Authorities 26 Aug arrested two Free Youth Movement leaders and charged them with sedition among other crimes before releasing them on bail. Anti-govt protesters gathered overnight at 14 October Monument 27-28 Aug; protesters scuffled briefly with police. Prayuth 4 Aug said govt would propose constitutional amendments to parliament but reneged on his promise 18 Aug; Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong 19 Aug said he had no objection to amending constitution. Facebook 24 Aug complied with govt request to block access in Thailand to Royalist Marketplace, a satirical page with more than one million members; Facebook said it would challenge legality of govt order. Cabinet 25 Aug approved extension of COVID-19 emergency decree for one month until 30 Sep. In deep south, suspected insurgent bombings 13 Aug killed two rangers in Pattani and Narathiwat provinces; security forces 14-16 Aug killed seven suspected insurgents in Pattani province.
U.S.-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed. Following cancellation of U.S.-sponsored Kosovo-Serbia talks in June and resumption of EU-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue in July, Kosovo State Coordinator for Dialogue with Serbia Skender Hyseni 3-5 Aug visited Washington D.C. to request permanent and active U.S. presence at negotiating table; Hyseni 4 Aug stated that U.S. Special Envoy Richard Grenell confirmed he remained “committed and strongly engaged in the Kosovo–Serbia dialogue, which must conclude with mutual recognition”. Grenell 14 Aug announced new meeting between both countries would take place early Sept in Washington D.C; both Hoti and Serbian President Vucic confirmed their participation; PM Hoti 14 Aug stated that they would meet “as two independent countries” and talks would focus on “major economic cooperation projects”. Meanwhile, European Commission 11 Aug signed Memorandum of Understanding for €100mn in macro-financial assistance program.
Newly elected PM-designate reached agreement on new coalition govt. Following his election as PM-designate mid-July, head of Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) party Zoran Zaev 18 Aug reached agreement on new coalition govt with Albanian party Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) led by Ali Ahmeti; under coalition agreement, there will be four deputy PMs – three nominated by SDSM and one by Democratic Union for Integration, and Zaev will remain PM but will transfer role to ethnic Albanian proposed by BDI one hundred days before next election; parliament 31 Aug endorsed new coalition govt led by Zaev as PM. Meanwhile, European Commission 11 Aug signed Memorandum of Understanding for €160mn macro-financial assistance program to support govt in curbing economic fallout of COVID-19 pandemic.
Pro-Serb opposition staged largest protests to date against controversial religion law ahead of late Aug parliamentary elections. In run-up to parliamentary election held 30 Aug, hundreds 23 Aug protested against controversial Freedom of Confession Act in capital Podgorica and towns across country in largest demonstrations since law was passed in Dec 2019; critics of the law have argued that it facilitates govt register of all religious sites in attempt to reduce role of Serbian Orthodox Church and allow govt to claim religious sites as state property. Leading Serbian Orthodox bishop Amfilohije Radovic 23 Aug announced he will be voting for first time in upcoming elections, urged people to “vote against those who rule with false laws”; President Djukanovic accused Serbian Orthodox Church of running political campaign. Following election, preliminary results 30 Aug indicated that ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) won 29 of 81 seats, short of majority necessary for govt, while opposition parties “For the Future of Montenegro”, “Peace is Our Nation” and “Black on White” won 27, ten and five seats, respectively; DPS and opposition both claimed victory, citing ability to form govt with political allies. Three opposition parties 30 Aug announced intentions to form govt despite significant political differences and next day called on minority parties to join; DPS and President Djukanovic said they will “wait for the final results of the State Electoral Commission” and called on citizens to stay home awaiting confirmation of results.
Govt decision to congratulate Belarusian President Lukashenko following his re-election in disputed vote sparked domestic opposition. PM Pashinyan 10 Aug congratulated Lukashenko on controversial re-election for sixth term in office; President Armen Sargsyan same day sent congratulatory telegram. Pashinyan’s words of congratulations prompted numerous activists to demand that he rescind statement, while politicians, civil society groups and activists gathered in small protests in capital Yerevan and published apology statements, condemning actions of Belarusian police forces and calling for support to opposition groups over following days. In response to criticism, Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan 16 Aug said govt had taken decision to congratulate Lukashenko after “comprehensive risk assessment”. Former leader Serzh Sargsyan 19 August spoke for first time in press conference about govt’s alleged mishandling of April 2016 escalation that resulted in loss of life and territory in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, stating Azerbaijan launched unpredictable offensive and denying army’s corruption and poor performance. Govt 12 Aug extended some COVID-19 lockdown restrictions until 11 Sept with plans to resume school classes on 15 Sept.
Turkey and Russia sought to deepen military cooperation with Azerbaijan. Following Turkey’s expression of support to Azerbaijan amid July escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict (see Nagorno-Karabakh), political consultations between both govts and joint military drills increased in Aug. FM Ceyhun Bayramov 11 Aug made first official visit to Turkey; Turkish delegation headed by Defence Minister Hulusi Akar 13-14 Aug visited Baku and met with President Aliyev; ten Azerbaijani opposition parties 6 Aug issued joint statement urging Turkish and Azerbaijani authorities to discuss greater military cooperation, and calling for Ankara to establish military bases in Azerbaijan, despite Azerbaijan’s 2010 military doctrine prohibiting foreign military bases on its territory; Turkish and Azerbaijani military forces 29 July-10 Aug held joint military drills in five cities in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Russia made efforts to defuse tensions over recent media reports about weapons it reportedly supplied to Armenia soon after mid-July clashes along state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan; Aliyev 13 Aug told Russian President Putin during phone conversation that media report had raised “concerns and serious questions in the Azerbaijani society”. During visit to Baku 25 Aug, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu said that shipment in question contained construction materials for Russian military base in Armenia’s Gyumri city and did not include weapons for Armenia; he proposed more military cooperation with Azerbaijan next year. FM Ceyhun Bayramov 26 Aug visited Moscow to discuss NK peace process and bilateral relations. Following 4 Aug deadly blast in Lebanese capital Beirut, govt 5 Aug offered $1mn in assistance to Lebanese authorities; opposition groups criticised financial support to Lebanon on grounds that govt was diverting public funds away from COVID-19 financial relief to support foreign country with pro-Armenian bias. Govt 29 Aug extended some COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, including closure of borders, until 30 Sept. Aliyev 10 Aug congratulated Belarusian President Lukashenko on controversial re-election for sixth term in office.
De facto South Ossetian leader dismissed cabinet while de facto authorities in Abkhazia faced new spike in COVID-19 cases after reopening border crossing with Russia. Following public calls for his resignation, de facto South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov 28 Aug urgently dismissed cabinet of ministers. Hundreds of people 28 and 31 Aug protested in front of main governmental building after news emerged of death in custody of local 28-year-old man detained 27 Aug for alleged involvement in 17 Aug shooting on car of de facto interior minister; photos circulated on social media of body with multiple bruises, strengthening torture accusations of inmates; local medics said man died due to heart problems. Amid increasingly severe financial deficits in de facto entity Abkhazia, crossing with Russia reopened 1 Aug following July talks between de facto and Russian authorities; reopening of border with Russia, which closed in March to contain spread of COVID-19, led to most serious spike in coronavirus cases since start of pandemic, rising from 81 in July to 224 confirmed cases as of 20 Aug. De facto leadership kept southern crossing with Georgia closed, except for regular launch of temporary “humanitarian corridors” for ethnic Abkhaz and Georgians with Abkhaz documents. Several UN Security Council members – Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, U.S., and UK – along with Norway and Ireland, 6 Aug made first-ever joint statement in support of Georgia on occasion of 12th anniversary of Aug 2008 war with Russia, criticising presence of Russian military in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Following major military escalation along state border in July, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued over foreign arms sales. Following Turkey’s expression of support to Azerbaijan amid July escalation in NK conflict, political consultations between both Ankara and Baku and joint military drills increased in Aug. Meanwhile, Russia made efforts to defuse tensions over recent media reports about weapons supplied to Armenia soon after mid-July clashes; Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu 25 Aug said that shipment in question contained construction materials for Russian military base in Armenia’s Gyumri city and did not include weapons for Armenia; he proposed more military cooperation with Azerbaijan next year (see Azerbaijan). Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 21 Aug blamed Armenia for triggering mid-July clashes by moving its military outpost closer to border and pipelines that deliver gas and oil from Azerbaijan to Europe. Following Baku’s criticism of Serbian weapons being used by Armenia in mid-July clashes, Serbian Deputy PM Nebojsa Stefanovic 11 Aug visited Baku to discuss arms deal and anti-terrorism cooperation with Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Baku 23 Aug reported detention of one Armenian soldier in north of NK conflict zone; Armenia said officer got lost because of snow in mountainous area and demanded his release. Following 4 Aug blast in Lebanese capital Beirut, de facto NK President Araik Harutyunyan 5 Aug offered support to Lebanese-Armenians and welcomed them to NK; de facto and Armenian govts 9 Aug sent plane with humanitarian aid to Lebanon; Azerbaijan 8 Aug criticised Harutyunyan’s plans. Azerbaijan 17 Aug released new satellite photos allegedly confirming construction of new buildings in one illegal settlement in Kelbajar district.
Weekly mass protests continued in Far East against July arrest of local governor while security forces led series of counter-terrorism operations in North Caucasus. In North Caucasus region, National Anti-Terrorism Committee confirmed counter-terrorism operations in Republic of Ingushetia. Notably, special forces 7 Aug killed two militants and detained one in Nazran and Sagopshi localities and 18 Aug led operation that killed two militants in Sunzhensk district; armed clash 23 Aug also took place between security officials and alleged Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Troitskoye, killing three militants and injuring two special force officers. In Far East, weekly Saturday protests continued throughout month in Khabarovsk city against July arrest of local governor and member of nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Sergei Furga, accused of involvement in murders of businessmen in 2005-06. Acting governor of Khabarovsk territory appointed by Putin in July, Mikhail Degtyarev, 18 Aug announced creation of People’s Council inviting “those who participated in the mass protests, to a dialogue”. Meanwhile, spokesperson for Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny 20 Aug confirmed Navalny had slipped into coma after falling ill from suspected poisoning; German Chancellor Angela Merkel 24 Aug said that those “responsible must be identified and held accountable.”
Mass demonstrations erupted in run-up to and following disputed presidential elections, leading to clashes with police and large-scale arrests. Mass protests against President Lukashenko’s bid for sixth term continued ahead of 9 Aug election: police 8-9 Aug launched violent crackdown on thousands of protesters in capital Minsk. Central Election Commission 10 Aug declared Lukashenko winner with 80% of votes, while opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya received 9.9%; opposition same day rejected result, accusing govt of rigging vote and calling for dialogue on peaceful transfer of power. Tsikhanouskaya 11 Aug fled to Lithuania following alleged threats from govt. Thousands took to streets in following weeks including in Minsk, Brest, Grodno, Vitsebsk and other cities demanding Lukashenko step down; police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and used batons to disperse crowds, killing at least three and detaining thousands; protesters in return set up barricades in several areas of Minsk. UK and U.S. 10 Aug expressed grave concern over violence and flawed election; EU foreign policy chief 10 Aug called for immediate release of detainees while UN human rights chief 12 Aug described detentions as “clear violation of international human rights standards”; Belarus govt 13 August issued apology for use of force and released over 2,000 protestors. Lukashenko 15 Aug said “Russia will provide comprehensive assistance to ensure the security of Belarus”; Kremlin 19 Aug said Russia saw no need for intervention for time being. Lukashenko 17 Aug refused to hold new elections while expressing readiness to share power; Tsikhanouskaya’s representative next day announced launch of Coordination Council with aim of negotiating transfer of power; Lukashenko denounced move as “attempt to seize power” and court 25 Aug sentenced two high profile members of Council to ten days in jail. EU 19 Aug announced intention to impose sanctions on individuals; Russian FM 25 Aug warned EU and U.S. against move. Defence ministry 23 Aug warned protestors that army would respond to any “violation of order” near presidential residence; tens of thousands same day gathered peacefully near residence. Supreme Court 25 Aug rejected Tsikhanouskaya’s appeal to annul election results.
Following late July ceasefire deal between Minsk accord parties, casualties decreased in Donbas conflict zone; Donetsk de facto leadership threatened new escalation. July ceasefire in Donbas conflict zone largely held throughout month: Ukrainian military confirmed no casualties or injuries in combat. Both sides continued to sustain non-combat casualties, however, particularly from landmines, including one Ukrainian serviceman killed 13 Aug, one Russian-backed fighter killed 15 Aug and two Russian-backed fighters killed 28 Aug. Sides accused each other of violating ceasefire rules with small arms, drones and fortification of positions. In move that could escalate conflict, Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) head Denis Pushilin 28 Aug threatened to order “destruction of trenches and shelters of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fortified or created after 22 July” if these were not removed by 3 Sept. Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) members held heated discussions throughout month on meaning of “special status” for territories currently under control of separatists; Ukrainian delegation head Leonid Kravchuk 4 Aug suggested replacing “special status” with “special system of administration”; in response, DPR de facto FM Natalia Nikonorova warned of Ukrainian attempts to “nullify the [Minsk] agreements”. Deputy head of presidential administration Andryi Yermak 7 Aug announced imminent exchange of 200 prisoners. Luhansk People’s Republic TCG representative Olga Kobtseva 20 Aug said, however, no progress made on swap due to Kyiv govt legislation passed in July stating that no elections would be held in Donetsk and Luhansk until govt takes control of state border, which Kobtseva said would negate “the whole point of the Minsk agreements”. Ukrainian govt said sides 20 Aug agreed to 20 new demining zones and four disengagement zones. Following Ukraine’s extradition request of Wagner military battalion members arrested in Minsk in July, Belarus authorities 14 Aug announced fighters had been handed over to Russia. As of 1 Sept, DPR de facto authorities reported steady rise of total COVID-19 cases to 2,560 while Luhansk People’s Republic registered total 692 cases.
Tensions rose in Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey throughout month continued drilling activities with three vessels in disputed maritime areas in Eastern Mediterranean: Cypriot FM 11 Aug criticised presence of Turkish drilling ship in Blocks 2 and 3, stating “once again Turkey chooses the route of unilateral illegal actions”; Turkish exploration vessel Oruç Reis 10 Aug resumed activities in waters south of Kastellorizo island in the area between Greek, Cypriot and Egyptian-claimed waters, same day prompting Greece to hold national security council meeting and state “most of the fleet is ready to be deployed whenever necessary”; Turkish President Erdoğan 13 Aug pledged retaliation if Greece interfered with Oruç Reis activities. Previously, Greek PM Mitsotakis 6 Aug and Erdoğan 10 Aug respectively voiced openness to begin talks to solve issues. Greek frigate Limnos and Turkish vessel Kemalreis reportedly collided 12 Aug. Turkey 15 Aug issued new advisory for drilling activities in maritime area southwest of Cyprus; EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell same day said move “regrettably fuels further tensions and insecurity”. EU foreign affairs council 14 Aug reaffirmed support for Republic of Cyprus and Greece; Borrell 28 Aug said adoption of sanctions against individuals based on Republic of Cyprus recommendations will be sped up and “list of further restrictive measures” could be discussed next month. Meanwhile, France and Republic of Cyprus 1 Aug began implementation of 2017 defence cooperation agreement. Greece, Cyprus, France and Italy 26 Aug launched joint military exercises south of Cyprus; United Arab Emirates same day deployed fighter jets to Greece to take part in joint military exercises. Turkish military 28 Aug reportedly intercepted six Greek F-16 fighter jets that had taken off from Greek island of Crete and headed towards Cyprus, further raising fears of escalation. Turkish Navy 27 Aug announced military drills off the coast of Turkish city Iskenderun until 1-2 Sept and on 29 Aug off the coast of Turkish town Anamur until 11 Sept.
Low-level political tensions continued. Groups of youths and police 8 Aug clashed in west of regional capital Belfast after police attempted to remove inflammatory material used for bonfires that were held in some republican areas to mark anniversary of introduction of internment which led to mass arrests without trial of hundreds of suspected members of Irish Republican Army (IRA) in August 1971. Police mid-Aug launched joint security operation with Republic of Ireland police that led to arrest of ten suspected members of dissident republican group “New IRA”.
Turkish military continued operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq in rural areas of Turkey’s south east, while tensions rose in eastern Mediterranean. In northern Iraq, Turkish military reportedly seized control of Jaldah mountain as well as the areas of Mamand and Kohareş located in Haftanin region and conducted 15 air raids on PKK positions throughout month, including drone strike 11 Aug that reportedly killed several PKK militants and two Iraqi army officers in the Sidakan area in north-eastern Iraq (see Iraq); in retaliation, PKK 17 Aug announced it had shot down Turkish helicopter, which was unconfirmed. In south east, amid small scale clashes with PKK militants, security forces 12 Aug launched major anti-PKK operation in Amanos mountains in southern border province of Hatay; operation is fourth of its kind announced since 20 July. In northern Syria, low-intensity clashes continued between Turkish security forces and People’s Protection Units (YPG). Govt continued moves toward criminalising members of Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP); police detained at least 95 HDP members throughout month. Govt continued crackdown on Islamic State (ISIS) in Turkey: security personnel reportedly detained 83 individuals with suspected ISIS links throughout month. Security forces 13 Aug in Bursa province’s İnegöl district detained foreign national who illegally entered Turkey from Syria reportedly plotting suicide attack. Amid continued Turkish drilling in disputed maritime areas in eastern Mediterranean and reported collision 12 Aug between Greek frigate and Turkish vessel, tensions rose with Greece and Republic of Cyprus (see Cyprus). Following visit to Athens, German FM Heiko Maas 25 Aug visited Ankara to help defuse tensions; Turkish FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkey is ready for dialogue without any preconditions but talks must not include Greek preconditions either. Following the conclusions of the informal EU foreign council 28 Aug, Turkish MFA released a statement saying the EU has no authority to criticise Turkey’s hydrocarbon activities within its continental shelf and asking EU countries to refrain from supporting “Greece’s maximalist claims that violate international law”. COVID-19 cases began to resurge throughout month with 1,200-1,500 cases reported daily since the start of August.
Amid slowing spread of COVID-19, govt maintained some restrictions; meanwhile, several protests took place throughout month. Following stabilisation of COVID-19 cases, Health Minister Alexei Tsoi 3 Aug advised residents to “maintain positions that have been won through very hard trials endured by the entire population and healthcare system”. Dozens of vendors in capital Nur-Sultan 3 Aug protested against closure of Artyom shopping mall as part of COVID-19 lockdown measures and condemned govt’s relief sum of $100 as insufficient. Govt 14 Aug said some health measures would be maintained, including weekend lockdowns and closure of schools until Oct, but postponed July decision to document pneumonia cases with COVID-19 symptoms. Police in Almaty city 3 Aug detained activist Serik Azhibai for protesting outside Chinese consulate; Azhibai accused Chinese ambassador of stating military cooperation between two countries could help quash possible riots; court same day sentenced Azhibai to 15 days in prison on charges of staging unapproved public event and disobeying police orders. District court in Almaty 12 Aug sentenced civil rights activist Asya Tulesova to 18 months of restrictive freedom for assaulting and insulting police during 6 June protest that called for range of democratic reforms. Uzbek law enforcement 17 Aug confirmed Kazakh authorities deported Uzbek opposition activist Khurram Berdiev to Uzbek capital Tashkent (see Uzbekistan). In Aqmola province, at least 100 activists 8 Aug gathered in Talapker village to commemorate prominent civil rights campaigner Dulat Aghadil in Talapker village who died in custody in Feb 2020. In response, police 26-27 Aug detained dozens in cities across country, and courts imposed short jail sentences or fines on activists for attending unsanctioned rally. In south, security forces early Aug reportedly deployed officers to Qosmezgil village after late July clashes between several young ethnic Uzbek and ethnic Kazakh men, which left four injured, including one policeman. In north east, security forces 16 Aug reportedly closed off roads to Baydibek-biy village, day after alleged inter-ethnic clash between Chechens and Kazakhs.
Tensions surfaced on Kyrgyz-Tajik border while govt asked Belarusian govt to hand over former PM wanted since 2010. Clashes along Kyrgyz-Tajik border 6 Aug killed one Tajik villager and wounded one Kyrgyz border guard; officials from both countries same day confirmed tensions had been resolved. Foreign ministry 11 Aug asked Belarusian diplomat in capital Bishkek to detain and extradite former PM Daniyar Usenov, citing investigation into Usenov’s alleged involvement in killing of nearly 100 anti-govt protesters in 2010; move comes after Usenov’s 10 Aug public appearance with Belarusian President Lukashenko near Belarusian capital Minsk. After Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security in Bishkek 9 Aug detained Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev at Uzbekistan’s request on grounds of unspecified crimes, NGO Human Rights Watch 12 Aug urged Kyrgyz authorities not to extradite Abdullaev, citing “risk of torture”, while U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan 13 Aug expressed deep concern; govt 22 Aug announced extradition of Abdullaev to Uzbekistan, saying Uzbek govt provided assurances that he would not be ill-treated (see also Uzbekistan). Following July decision to begin counting pneumonia cases suspected to be tied to COVID-19, govt 21 Aug reported new cases of pneumonia with COVID-19 symptoms. Authorities 26 Aug announced lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions imposed since March, including allowing Friday prayers to resume in mosques from 28 Aug.
Govt targeted members of proscribed Muslim groups in wave of arrests and detentions. Head of anti-organised crime department of interior ministry, Shodi Hafizzoda, 3 Aug said more than 200 members of terrorist groups were arrested in past six months. State Committee for National Security 3 Aug reportedly summoned and detained former Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) member Jaloliddin Mahmudov on unknown charges; govt designated group as extremist in 2015. Law enforcement 14 Aug arrested three sons of late IRPT founder, Said Kiemitdin Gozi, on unknown charges. Following July trials of 116 members of Muslim Brotherhood, group proscribed since 2006, court in northern Sughd province mid-Aug found 20 people guilty of Muslim Brotherhood membership, sentencing them to 5-7 years in prison. Parliament 6 Aug scheduled presidential elections for 11 Oct.
Despite continued denial of COVID-19 cases inside country, authorities continued to grapple with health concerns. While authorities continued to deny presence of COVID-19 in country, govt 6 Aug ordered civil servants to pay for mandatory COVID-19 tests. After World Health Organization (WHO) mission urged govt to “activate critical measures to prepare for COVID-19 outbreak” during July visit, President Berdymukhamedov 7 Aug agreed to second health mission and reportedly consented to submitting COVID-19 test samples after call with WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; WHO European director same day confirmed Turkmenistan govt cooperation but raised concerns about national rise in pneumonia cases attributed to COVID-19. In Lebap regional capital Turkmenabat, 120 health workers early Aug reportedly signed letter to regional govt demanding better protective equipment amid worsening health crisis, prompting authorities to threaten prosecution. Following Constitutional Court meeting on 19 Aug, parliament 22 Aug discussed amendments to constitution, reportedly aimed at establishing bicameral parliament; People’s Council to make final decision on amendment in Sept.
Protesters rallied in capital Tashkent against govt plan to amend district boundaries. After govt 5 Aug announced plans to merge parts of Tashkent with surrounding region, hundreds of Tashkent residents 6 Aug protested against potential loss of status as capital residents and associated education, employment and housing privileges; authorities 11 Aug confirmed cancellation of redistricting plans. Govt early Aug approved development plan for Sokh exclave in Ferghana Valley, including resumption of flights to enclave for first time since 1990s. General Prosecutor’s Office 12 Aug confirmed it had called on Kyrgyz authorities to detain Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev; Kyrgyz govt 22 Aug extradited Abdullaev to Tashkent citing assurances by Uzbek authorities; upon arrival, Abdullaev was released but barred from movement inside country pending investigation for unknown charges. Law enforcement in Tashkent 17 Aug announced Kazakh authorities handed over Uzbek opposition activist Khurram Berdiev, arrested in Kazakhstan in Feb (see Kazakhstan), and that Berdiev had been charged with human trafficking. Interior ministry 10 Aug published draft legislation to allow right to hold public demonstrations; organisers will have to apply for permission two weeks prior and must comply with specific restrictions. President Mirziyoyev 27 Aug pardoned and released 113 convicts mostly sentenced on charges of religious extremism, including former Tashkent imam Rukhiddin Fahruddinov detained for past 15 years.
Nationwide protests against third postponement of presidential election turned violent. Following late-July govt decision to delay polls for third time, indigenous and labour groups aligned with former President Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party and led by Bolivian Workers’ Centre (COB) union early Aug erected over 75 road blockades across Bolivia; authorities justified postponement from 6 Sept to 18 Oct by need to avoid Sept projected peak in COVID-19 infections. After talks between COB and electoral authorities broke down 9 Aug, clashes erupted between protesters and armed individuals on blockade sites in La Paz and Cochabamba cities 10-11 Aug, leaving dozens injured. Interim govt 11 Aug deployed military to protect oxygen transport into cities for COVID-19 patients. Morales, exiled in Argentina, next day called for dialogue and lifting of blockades; COB by 14 Aug dismantled majority of blockades but some indigenous groups continued to demand resignation of interim President Áñez. Áñez 13 Aug signed new electoral law, which sets election date to 18 Oct and rules out further postponements. Two trade union headquarters in La Paz, including that of COB, were attacked with explosives 14 Aug; govt 17 Aug announced arrest of six members of anti-Morales group Resistencia de los Pititas. Justice ministry 20 and 24 Aug filed two criminal complaints against Morales over alleged sexual relationships with two minors. Unidentified assailants 26 Aug broke into Bolivian Ombudsman’s office in alleged attempt to attack Ombudsperson Nadia Cruz; UN next day called on interim govt to protect institution.
Amid concerns over armed groups exploiting COVID-19 pandemic to recruit youths and extend control over territories, attacks against civilians increased, leaving dozens dead. Series of attacks targeted civilians throughout month, leaving high toll on youth, primarily in country’s south west but also in north east along Colombia-Venezuela border. Gunmen 9 Aug killed two schoolchildren in Cauca department; authorities accused Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups). Unidentified gunmen 11 Aug killed five youths in Cali city, Valle del Cauca department, and 15 Aug killed eight others in Samaniego town, Nariño department; National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas 17 Aug denied responsibility for latter attack and blamed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident group Los Contadores. Armed groups 21-22 Aug killed at least 17 youths in three attacks in Arauca, Nariño and Cauca departments in one of deadliest 24 hours since 2016 peace deal between govt and FARC. Further attacks killed three in Capitan Largo, Norte de Santander department 25 Aug and three others in Antioquia department 28 Aug. Armed groups also pursued efforts to increase control over populations and territories. ELN 3-17 Aug implemented strict restrictions on movement in south of Bolívar department (north), ostensibly to control spread of COVID-19. Fighting between armed groups and restrictions imposed by them also confined over 17,000 people in their communities 21 July-17 Aug including 2,000 people from indigenous Embera community in Murindó municipality and 14,300 people in El Bagre municipality, both Antioquia department, as well as 1,270 people in Bojayá municipality, Chocó department (west). Number of COVID-19 cases 27 Aug reached 581,995, making Colombia seventh worst coronavirus-affected country globally. Controversy emerged after Supreme Court 4 Aug placed former President Uribe, head of ruling Democratic Centre party, under house arrest over suspected witness tampering in relation to allegations that Uribe helped found paramilitary group in 1990s; President Duque next day argued court had violated presumption of innocence. Duque 20 Aug said he had received information from foreign intelligence services that Venezuela was looking to acquire Iranian missiles and reiterated accusation that Caracas supports armed groups on Colombia-Venezuela border.
Govt continued to press for legislative elections in Dec despite widespread domestic and international concerns over fair conditions and inclusive vote. In statement issued 2 Aug, 26 mainstream opposition parties led by Juan Guaidó confirmed refusal to participate in legislative elections scheduled for 6 Dec, said vote would be rigged and taking part would amount to “collaborating with the dictatorship’s strategy”. Episcopal Conference of Venezuela 11 Aug warned abstention could lead to demobilisation of opposition and called on it to adopt clear strategy. Guaidó 19 Aug called on opposition and civil society leaders to sign up to Unity Pact as pledge of support to existing strategy. Two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, formally a member of mainstream opposition, did not rule out electoral participation; govt twice put back deadline for candidates to register, apparently to accommodate him. VP of electoral authority Rafael Simón Jiménez – linked to minority opposition parties taking part in govt-led National Dialogue – 6 Aug resigned, arguing he was unable to maintain neutral stance; govt immediately replaced Jiménez with senior member of National Dialogue party, breaching law on appointments to body. EU foreign policy chief Borrell 11 Aug said govt had failed to compromise on electoral framework and conditions for “transparent, inclusive, free and fair” election did not exist, pledged to convene ministerial-level meeting of EU-backed International Contact Group to consider next steps. Group of 30 countries including U.S., UK, some small EU states and members of regional body Lima Group 14 Aug issued joint statement calling for “inclusive transitional govt” to lead country into “free and fair presidential elections”. Maduro 17 Aug said govt-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC) would close down when its mandate expires in Dec; ANC was created in 2017, supposedly to reform constitution, but has so far failed to deliver on its mandate. Govt 31 Aug pardoned over 110 people including opposition politicians; Guaidó immediately said move was govt ploy to legitimate elections and institutional reform was only route to “reconciliation”. Amid exponential increase in COVID-19 cases, concerns persisted over govt and health system’s capacity to respond to crisis.
President Bolsonaro strengthened his popularity and hold on power despite world’s second worst COVID-19 outbreak. Although COVID-19 pandemic reached milestones of 3mn reported infections and 100,000 deaths, most major cities continued to relax confinement measures as infection rate started to slow in most states, with only Goiás and Tocantins states reporting rising infection rate. Datafolha institute’s public opinion poll, which surveyed 2,065 people, 13 Aug showed Bolsonaro’s approval rating jump from 32% in June to 37%, with analysts attributing rise to emergency cash transfer program to people in need during pandemic. Piauí magazine 5 Aug reported that Bolsonaro had threatened to send troops to substitute Supreme Court judges in May after Judge Celso de Mello considered request to seize phones of Bolsonaro and his son Carlos as part of probe against group of presidential advisers suspected of fostering and spreading fake news; neither president nor Supreme Court commented on media report. Bolsonaro’s bid to build new political alliances with “Big Center” (Centrão) parties to strengthen govt support in Congress and avoid possible impeachment moved forward with 12 Aug appointment of center-right Progressive Party member, MP Ricardo Barros, as govt’s chief whip in Congress. In wake of increasing death toll from police operations to combat crime in poor communities of Rio de Janeiro, which led to 21-year high in police killings last year (1,814 dead) and further rises early this year, Supreme Court 18 Aug extended restrictions on police raids in Rio, allowing them only in case of extreme necessity and prohibiting use of helicopters in operations.
Govt’s management of COVID-19 crisis continued to come under scrutiny amid tensions between Congress and judiciary. In address to Congress 3 Aug, first party in Congress Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza said govt has only distributed 3.5% of food rations earmarked in emergency funds approved to address COVID-19. Indigenous and civil society groups stepped up criticism of govt and lawmakers over management of pandemic; over 20 organisations in Quetzaltenango department 9 Aug declared five of their Congress representatives as persona non grata, and several organisations in Chiquimula department 11 Aug did the same for their three representatives. Maya, Xinca and Garifuna indigenous authorities 14 Aug demanded resignations of heads of executive, judicial, and legislative branches, citing their alleged inability to serve citizens. Hundreds 15 and 22 Aug gathered in capital Guatemala City to protest govt’s management of pandemic. Concerns over slow response grew further after media 17 Aug reported four out of 14 COVID-19 relief programs have yet to distribute money despite being approved five months ago. Congress continued to delay elections of Supreme Court and appeal courts magistrates after Attorney General’s office in Feb revealed irregularities in selection process of magistrates; Attorney General 7 Aug requested that immunity of 92 Congress members and several Supreme Court and Constitutional Court members be lifted for allegedly thwarting election process. Armed assailants 11 Aug killed French NGO worker in San Antonio Ilotenango municipality, El Quiché department (north east). Govt 16 Aug renewed for 15 days state of emergency imposed late July in five municipalities in Izabal (east) and Alta Verapaz departments over reported presence of criminal groups there.
Authorities faced new allegations of corruption and mismanagement of COVID-19 response, while fight against corruption suffered setback. National Anti-Corruption Council 3 Aug charged former head of state-managed company Invest-H Marco Bográn with fraud and abuse of power following reports that Invest-H overpaid medical equipment amid COVID-19 pandemic. Prosecutors 10 Aug launched investigation into alleged govt mismanagement of COVID-19 response after 250,000 tests which had been inadequately stored were destroyed in April-May. Fight against corruption suffered major setback. Appeals Court 5 Aug dismissed embezzlement charges against 22 National Congress deputies in so-called “Pandora case” involving diversion of $12mn in public money to finance election campaigns. Faced with persistent insecurity, members of Garifuna indigenous community 10 and 18 Aug protested in Triunfo de la Cruz village, Atlántida department, demanding release of five community leaders kidnapped by armed group in July. Insecurity in prisons remained high; fellow inmates 6 Aug killed three jailed members of 18th Street gang in La Tolva (east of Tegucigalpa) maximum security prison; police 3, 14 and 21 Aug carried out inspections in three different jails, finding large volumes of cash and weapons. In ongoing operations against drug trafficking, security forces 9 Aug destroyed airstrip used by trafficker in Gracias a Dios department (Caribbean region), and 16 Aug dismantled drug production facilities in Colón department (north). Govt 11 Aug invited Organization of American States (OAS) to oversee 2021 general elections. National Election Council next day approved introduction of second round in presidential election; reform now requires Congress approval.
Tensions persisted between President Bukele’s govt on one hand and Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court on the other, while corruption allegations emerged against current and previous administrations. Assembly 2 Aug approved Inter-American Development Bank’s $250mn loan to address COVID-19 pandemic after missing 31 July initial deadline for approving loan following disagreement with govt on how money would be spent. Supreme Court 7 Aug ruled July executive decree, which postponed second phase of economic reopening until 20 Aug, as unconstitutional as it gave health ministry power to limit citizens’ rights; businesses 23 Aug resumed operations without restrictions. After Bukele said in 9 Aug televised speech that he would have “shot [fusilado]” Supreme Court magistrates who ruled against govt were he a dictator, UN rapporteur on judiciaries 11 Aug expressed concern over threat to life and integrity of magistrates. Allegations of corruption involving current and former govt officials continued to emerge; authorities 14 Aug charged two former defence ministers and a former president of opposition ARENA party over suspicion of unlawful transactions with weapons company, while media outlet Factum next day accused current director of prisons of misusing $8.5mn revenue from jail shops. Govt continued to tout security achievements but homicide rates increased. Justice and Public Security Minister Rogelio Rivas 3 Aug stated femicides had dropped by 61.4% and disappearances by 46% since Bukele took office in 2019; but police reported average of 4.1 daily homicides 1-24 Aug, increase from 3.6 in July and 2.3 in June.
Attacks on opposition, press and clergy increased, while internal divisions continued to plague opposition platform National Coalition. Media association and civil society group Violeta Barrio de Chamorro Foundation 7 Aug reported 30 attacks on press in July and identified police as main perpetrator, while police 15 Aug temporarily detained eight members of opposition Blue and White National Unity (UNAB)’s political council in Estelí city, Estelí department (north). At least five churches late-July to early-Aug denounced acts of vandalism, thefts and assaults; notably, Episcopal Conference 1 Aug condemned assailants who previous day set chapel of capital Managua cathedral ablaze. After National Coalition member Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) 6 Aug sent letter to Organization of American States Sec Gen Almagro demanding joint control of Supreme Electoral Council with ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front Party, major coalition members UNAB and Civic Alliance 11 Aug suspended their participation in coalition’s working committees; U.S. State Department same day called for unity in virtual meeting with UNAB, Civic Alliance and campesino (peasant) movement; Civic Alliance official 25 Aug accused campesino movement of allying with PLC to control coalition. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, concerns grew over incidents at southern border with Costa Rica, with reports of Nicaraguans attempting to return home through illegal crossings after govt mid-July introduced stricter conditions for entering country. Govt continued to receive criticism for reportedly downplaying and mismanaging COVID-19 crisis, with NGO Citizens’ Observatory reporting death toll 20 times higher than officially admitted as of 19 Aug.
Opposition candidate was sworn in as president following months of political standoff over election results. After Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield submitted final report on March presidential election, Electoral Commission Chair Claudette Singh 2 Aug declared opposition People’s Progressive Party presidential candidate Irfaan Ali winner; Ali was sworn in same day, after months of post-electoral crisis marked by court actions, vote recount, and intervention by regional bloc Caribbean Community. Outgoing President Granger immediately acknowledged declaration of results, but vowed to challenge it in court, citing “significant anomalies and irregularities”; Granger’s Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU-AFC) 31 Aug filed election petition in High Court, asking it to cancel polls and order fresh elections within 90 days.