Picture: Alexis Huguet / AFP / Taken on November 23, 2023 – Supporters of Moise Katumbi, one of the main opponents of President Felix Tshisekedi, attend his election rally in a stadium in Goma, one of the largest cities in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC launched a month-long election campaign on November 19, 2023 with 23 candidates running for president amid a tense political climate and relentless fighting in the east of the country. Around 44 million registered voters, out of a population of almost 100 million, are set to elect a president on December 20.
By AFP, Sputnik, Xinhua and The Washington Post
As nations across the world prepare to say goodbye to 2023 and welcome 2024, Pakistan has banned New Year’s Eve celebrations to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
The government has urged people to instead “observe simplicity”. In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said that owing to the situation in Gaza, the government had “completely banned all kinds of events regarding the New Year celebrations”.
“The entire Pakistani nation and the Muslim Ummah were deeply saddened by the genocide of the oppressed Palestinians, especially the massacre of innocent children, in Gaza and the West Bank,” Kakar said.
New Year’s Eve is usually marked in a boisterous fashion in Pakistan with fireworks and aerial gunfire as well as a bank holiday on January 1.
Sharjah, an emirate of the United Arab Emirates, has also banned New Year’s Eve fireworks. The ban was “a sincere expression of solidarity and humanitarian co-operation with our siblings in the Gaza Strip”, Sharjah police said in a Facebook post.
Drawing lessons from the riots and attacks on emergency personnel on New Year’s Eve last year, Germany’s emergency services are prepared to be present in large numbers during the year-end festivities across the country.
“We are going into action together so that you can celebrate New Year’s Eve safely and to help you if you need us,” the police and fire departments in Berlin said in a joint video published on the social media platform X, “Don’t attack us”.
Last year, police officers, firefighters and paramedics became the target of attacks with firecrackers, with at least 30 of them being seriously injured in Berlin alone.
In the Middle East, fighting continued to rage between Israel and Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military continued to pound south and central Gaza on Friday as Egypt was to host a high-level Hamas delegation for talks to try to end the nearly 12-week war that has devastated the besieged Palestinian territory.
Although Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip has received greater attention, the UN has cited numerous abuses in the occupied West Bank territory, Sputnik reported.
The UN released a report this week urging Israel to end “unlawful killings” in the West Bank, citing a “rapidly deteriorating human rights situation”.
The report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cited the use of heavy-handed tactics by security officials leading to “arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of Palestinians” as well as “discriminatory movement restrictions”.
Additionally, Israeli military incursions were blamed for “extensive damage to civilian objects and infrastructure” in densely-populated areas, something also observed in Israel’s operation in Gaza where at least 21,500 people have been killed, according to the latest figures from local officials.
At least 4,700 Palestinians have reportedly been arrested in the West Bank, including some 40 journalists.
As the Israel-Gaza war threatens to destabilise the region, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati met with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron this week to discuss the conflict and the tension along the Lebanon-Israel border.
Mikati warned of “a comprehensive war” in the region if Israel continued its attacks in southern Lebanon and called for international pressure to stop them, according to a statement released by the Lebanese Council of Ministers.
He also underscored that the first step to halt the Gaza conflict is a ceasefire, followed by negotiations for a solution based on two states and securing the rights of the Palestinians.
The recent clashes between Hezbollah and Israel have killed 183 people on the Lebanese side, including 128 Hezbollah members and dozens of civilians, Lebanese security sources said.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have already disrupted shipping with their attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea this month, in what they claim is retaliation for Israel’s actions in the Gaza war.
Shipping lines are expected to avoid the Suez Canal during the rush to deliver freight to China for the Lunar New Year festival, said Ryan Petersen, the CEO of Flexport, a logistics company. The two weeks leading up to the celebrations is a peak period for freight deliveries before the holiday, which starts on February 10.
Experts say the costs of rerouting vessels around South Africa or through the Panama Canal in South America will increase the prices for consumer goods.
In the war in Europe, Russia launched drone and missile strikes across Ukraine on Friday, killing at least 12 people and wounding over 70 in one of the biggest air attacks of the war.
Ukraine is urging Western allies to maintain military support after the US just released its final package of weaponry under existing agreements.
Russia repelled 34 Ukrainian attacks and Kyiv has lost 1,675 soldiers in the Donetsk direction in the past week, Sputnik reported the Russian Defense Ministry as saying.
Meanwhile, the EU is preparing a debt-funded plan worth up to €20 billion to sidestep Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s objections in mid-December and quickly release money for Kyiv, the Financial Times reported this week, citing officials in talks.
On December 18, European Council President Charles Michel said that a new extraordinary EU summit to discuss financial aid to Ukraine would take place in Brussels on February 1.
Church leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have highlighted “numerous cases of irregularities” during the central African nation’s recent vote, which was extended over several days due to bureaucratic disarray.
At a news conference in the capital Kinshasa this week, an election-observation mission run by the Catholic Church and Protestant churches also raised questions about the legality of the shambolic voting process.
The mission noted “numerous cases of irregularities likely to affect the integrity of the results of the various ballots in certain places”, said Donatien Nshole, the head of the country’s Catholic episcopal conference.
Some 44 million people were registered to vote on December 20 in elections to choose a president, national and regional lawmakers and municipal councillors. But election officials struggled to get voting materials to polling booths, leaving some people unable to cast ballots. Voting was officially extended by a day to account for problems, but continued for days afterwards in remote areas.
The Catholic-Protestant observation mission, in its preliminary report, suggested that extending the vote by one day contravened electoral laws.
Some people were also still casting ballots through to December 27, according to the mission, which urged the DRC’s electoral commission to clarify the status of those votes.
In Cairo, the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources announced this week that 29 agreements with a total investment of about $1.2 billion for oil and natural gas exploration in the country have been signed in 2023.
The ministry said in a statement that 65 new oil and gas sites, including 51 for oil and 14 for gas, were discovered in the Western Desert, the Gulf of the Suez, Nile delta, and the Sinai Peninsula. It added that 87 new wells were drilled in 2023.
Egypt’s total production of petroleum in 2023 amounted to about 7 415 million tons, including 28 million tons of crude oil and condensates and 45 million tons of natural gas, it said.
Egypt aims to become a regional hub for the trade of oil and liquefied natural gas after major discoveries were made in recent years, including the Zohr gas field in the Mediterranean which holds an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Further south on the African continent, Zimbabwe and Zambia will experience curtailed electricity generation from their two hydropower stations at Lake Kariba following a reduction in water allocation to their two power utilities for the coming year by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA).
The ZRA’s CEO, Munyaradzi Munodawafa, said the latest hydrological simulations considered the high likelihood of a below-average rainfall season which, in turn, would likely result in below-average inflows into Lake Kariba, thereby negatively impacting the volume of water available for power generation during the year.
In India, in a town known as a flashpoint for sectarian violence, workers are crafting the final touches on a divisive temple that has come to symbolise the country’s rising tide of Hindu nationalism.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will next month inaugurate Ayodhya’s new shrine to Lord Ram on a site where a mosque once stood before it was torn down by Hindu zealots more than three decades ago. Muslim residents of the city, remembering the deadly riots that accompanied the demolition, have been wary of its renewed atmosphere of religious fervour. But for many more, the project is both a means of restoring Ayodhya to the glory of its depiction in ancient Hindu texts and proof of Modi’s commitment to defending India’s majority faith just months ahead of national elections.
In the US, the dollar is poised for its worst year since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic as Wall Street bets the Federal Reserve is set to lower interest rates after safely reining in prices.
After being whipsawed by false starts calling for the end of the Fed’s rate hiking regime, a Bloomberg gauge of the greenback is down nearly 3 percent since January in the steepest annual drop for the US currency since 2020. Much of the decline materialised in the fourth quarter on growing wagers that the Fed will sharply loosen policy next year as the US economy slows.
Meanwhile, the state of Maine this week blocked former president Donald Trump from its Republican presidential primary ballot, the second state to disqualify him over his role in the January 2021 assault on the US Capitol.
The decisions in both states invoked the US constitution’s 14th Amendment, which bars from office anyone formerly sworn to protect the country who later engages in insurrection.
In Argentina, the main labour union has called for a general strike over President Javier Milei’s reforms aimed at liberalising the country’s economy.
The libertarian Milei took office on December 10 with a promise to slash public spending and shake up an economy crumbling under annual inflation of 160 percent.
Hector Daer, the general secretary of the General Confederation of Labour, said the strike on January 24 would be in protest against a decree and package of bills announced by Milei, which would give the president “all public power”.
Facing rising protests, Milei’s government has warned protesters they will lose their right to social assistance, and will be billed for the cost of security.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket blasted into space on Thursday night to ferry the US military’s secretive X-37B drone on a research mission. The rocket was launched from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It is unclear where exactly the uncrewed and autonomously operating spacecraft is headed on its seventh mission. The Pentagon released little information about the space drone and its mission, which was initially scheduled for December 7, and SpaceX only cited the Pentagon’s mission code name – USSF-52 – in its statement.
The US and Russian space agencies have meanwhile agreed to keep working together to deliver crews to the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2025, Russian corporation Roscosmos said this week.
On a lighter note, almost a century after his big-screen debut, Mickey Mouse enters the public domain tomorrow, opening the floodgates to potential remakes, spin-offs, adaptations and legal battles with Disney.
The copyright on Steamboat Willie – a 1928 animation that first introduced audiences to the mischievous rodent who would become emblematic of American pop culture – expires after 95 years, tomorrow, under US law.
Anyone is now free to copy, share, re-use and adapt Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy – another 1928 Disney animation – and the early versions of the characters that appear within them, including Mickey and Minnie.
A vital caveat is that later versions of the characters, like those in 1940 film Fantasia, are not in the public domain. But artists would be free, for instance, to create a “climate change awareness version” of Steamboat Willie in which Mickey’s ship runs aground on a dry riverbed, or a feminist retelling where Minnie takes the wheel. That would echo imaginative re-uses of other characters whose copyrights recently expired, such as Sherlock Holmes and Winnie-the-Pooh.
Compiled from reports by AFP, Sputnik, Xinhua and The Washington Post.