Global Review – 22nd August

Pope ‘concerned’ after Nicaraguan bishop detained

Pope Francis said Sunday he was “concerned” by rising tensions between the state and the Catholic church in Nicaragua, two days after bishop and regime critic Rolando Alvarez was detained. He said he was following “closely with concern and sorrow” the situation in Nicaragua, amid a worsening standoff between the Church and a government accused of increasing authoritarianism. “I would like to express my conviction and hope that through open and sincere dialogue, the basis for respectful and peaceful coexistence can still be found,” the head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics said after the Angelus prayer. The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been under increasing government pressure since opposition protests in 2018 were met with a crackdown that left hundreds dead. President Daniel Ortega maintains the protests were part of a Washington-backed opposition plot to unseat him, and accuses bishops of complicity. The Vatican has said Nicaragua expelled its ambassador to the country in March.

Alvarez was detained Friday for “destabilising and provocative” activities aimed at destabilising the country. His detention followed two weeks under police siege at his official residence in Matagalpa, central Nicaragua, after he criticised the closure of Church radio stations and news channels. Supporters said Alvarez was taken “with violence” to an unknown location, prompting the United Nations and Organization of American States (OAS) to express concern.

Eight others, including five priests, who had been holed up with Alvarez were taken to Managua with him, according to the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM), and were all under investigation. Later, the church said Alvarez was being held at his “family home” where Cardinal Lepoldo Brenes was allowed to visit him. Brenes reported the bishop’s “physical condition has deteriorated” but his “spirit is strong”, the archdiocese of Managua said in a statement.

The other eight were being held at El Chipote prison, according to the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights (Cenidh). El Chipote is a notorious lockup for government critics. Last week, the Cenidh said another Nicaraguan priest, Oscar Benavidez, had been “removed from his vehicle and taken by patrol car to an unknown destination”.

According to the European Union, Nicaragua has more than 180 “political prisoners”. In the first half of 2022, the bloc says, Nicaraguan authorities closed down over 1,200 civil society organisations. Earlier this month, Borrell’s office called for the liberation of Nicaragua’s political prisoners, denouncing the government crackdown on opposition activists.

Singapore to end ban on gay sex

Singapore will decriminalise sex between men, the prime minister said on Sunday, effectively making it legal to be homosexual in the city-state. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government would repeal a colonial-era law that criminalises sex between men, adding that society was becoming more accepting of gay people. “I believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will now accept,” he said in his annual National Day rally speech. However, Lee said the government had no intention of changing the city-state’s legal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. “Even as we repeal the law, we will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage,” Lee said. Under the law, only marriages between one man and one woman are recognised in Singapore.

South Korea, US begin military drills

South Korea and the United States began their annual joint military drills on Monday with a resumption of field training, officials said, as the allies seek to tighten readiness posture over North Korea’s potential weapons tests. The summertime exercises, renamed Ulchi Freedom Shield this year and scheduled to end on September 1, came after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, vowed to “normalise” the combined exercises and boost deterrence against the North.The drills were scaled back in recent years because of Covid-19 and as Yoon’s predecessor sought to restart talks with Pyongyang, which has called the exercises a rehearsal for invasion. North Korea fired two cruise missiles from the west coast town of Onchon last week, after South Korea and the United States kicked off preliminary training for the exercises. North Korea has conducted missile tests at an unprecedented pace this year and is ready to conduct its seventh nuclear test at any time, Seoul officials said.

Kiev says they have nothing to do with Dugin’s death

‘Kiev Independent’ quotes Mykhailo Podolyak, chief advisor to the Ukrainian president, Zelensky, saying “Ukraine has nothing to do with the murder of Dugin’s daughter”. Darya Dugina was killed in a car bomb explosion in Moscow on Sunday. Podolyak told national TV: “We are not a criminal state, unlike Russia, and definitely not a terrorist state.”

Western leaders call for restraint in Zaporizhzhia

US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime minister Boris Johnson have launched an appeal for military “restraint” around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The four Western leaders, during a telephone conversation, agreed on the need for “a quick inspection” of the IAEA of the nuclear plant. And in the interview they assured that they will continue to support Kiev. According to a White House note, “the leaders also “discussed the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme, the need to strengthen support for partners in the Middle East region and joint efforts to prevent and block Iran’s destabilising regional activities”.

US, UK, France, Germany discuss Iran nuclear issue

The leaders of the United States, Britain, France and Germany also discussed efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the White House said on Sunday in a statement largely focused on Ukraine. “In addition, they discussed ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, the need to strengthen support for partners in the Middle East region, and joint efforts to deter and constrain Iran’s destabilising regional activities,” the White House said in its description of the call among the four.The White House provided no further details regarding the Middle Eastern portion of the discussion among US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The European Union and United States last week said they were studying Iran’s response to what the EU has called its “final” proposal to revive the deal, under which Tehran curbed its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief. Failure in the nuclear negotiations could raise the risk of a fresh regional war, with Israel threatening military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. Iran, which has long denied having such ambitions, has warned of a “crushing” response to any Israeli attack. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump reneged on the nuclear deal reached before he took office.

Philippine classrooms reopen

Millions of children in the Philippines returned to school as the academic year started on Monday, with many taking their seats in classrooms for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The Philippines is one of the last countries in the world to resume full-time, in-person lessons – sparking warnings that the prolonged closure of classrooms had worsened an education crisis in the country.

Two topless women confront Scholz

During a public event in Berlin, two activists undressed in front of the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz going topless to display the slogans “gas embargo now” and “enough money for Putin” they had written on their chests. The two women, ‘Bild’ reports, also threw fake banknotes in the air and chanted a few sentences before being taken away by the security officers. Scholz did not lose his temper and continued to smile in front of the cameras during the protest gesture of the two activists.

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