Morning Brief

Lebanon’s Protests Spiral

Amid political and economic crisis, anti-government protesters and riot police clashed in Beirut over the weekend.

Lebanese protesters throw stones at riot police in central Beirut on Jan. 19.
Lebanese protesters throw stones at riot police in central Beirut on Jan. 19. PATRICK BAZ/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Lebanon sees the worst violence since anti-government unrest began last October, hundreds of Central American migrants plan to cross into Mexico, and what to watch in the world this week.

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Beirut’s Weekend of Violent Unrest

Over the weekend Beirut saw some of the most violent unrest since anti-government protests began in October, with security forces using water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse crowds on both Saturday and Sunday. The clashes capped what organizers had called a “week of anger,” after a slowdown in the mass protests that began in Lebanon three months ago, forcing then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign.

On Saturday, demonstrators clashed with riot police before a planned protest on the road to Lebanon’s parliament building, with violence accelerating throughout the night. More than 370 people were injured. The protests turned violent for the second night on Sunday, leading to another confrontation with police. This week the protesters have also turned their anger on banks, vandalizing dozens across Beirut.

Why are people still protesting? In October, protesters called for an end to the ruling political elite. But Lebanon’s elites remain deadlocked—unable to form a new government as the country’s economy continues a sharp decline. Banks have imposed controls on U.S. and local currency, preventing people from taking out more than $300 per week, leading to anger against the banks.

What’s next? Many in Lebanon expect the spiral to continue. The tone of the protests—once peaceful—has shifted, with many on Saturday calling for “revolution.” Rights groups, meanwhile, have condemned the use of force by police. The defense and interior ministers, as well as other security heads, are meeting today at the presidential palace.

What We’re Following Today

‘Caravan’ tests Mexico’s migration policy. Hundreds of migrants from Central America plan to cross the border from Guatemala into Mexico today, testing Mexico’s commitment to curbing migration. U.S. President Donald Trump has used economic threats to get Mexico to tighten its border security, and U.S. agents are keeping tabs on the latest group, which left Honduras this week. Mexico will require the migrants to either accept work in the south of the country or apply for asylum in order to remain.

China’s pneumonia virus is spreading. Chinese authorities confirmed 139 new cases of the outbreak of coronavirus that was first reported in Wuhan this month. So far, three people have died from the severe respiratory illness. The new cases are the first within China outside the city of Wuhan. (Two cases have been confirmed in Thailand and one in Japan.) The outbreak comes as millions of Chinese tourists prepare to travel during the Lunar New Year holiday later this week. Authorities say they are stepping up efforts to control the virus.

Hong Kong police arrest democracy activist. Police in Hong arrested a prominent democracy activist, Ventus Lau, on Sunday—a day after police violently cracked down on a protest that he organized. Protest organizers say that 150,000 turned out for the protest. Though the rally was allowed by the city government, authorities say that it extended beyond its permitted area, leading the riot police to disperse the crowd. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests have grown considerably smaller in recent months.

Africa’s richest woman faces corruption allegations. Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s former president, José Eduardo dos Santos, is facing multiple allegations of corruption and nepotism after the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed a trove of leaked emails and documents suggesting that dos Santos “benefited from extraordinary opportunities afforded to her by the government of her father … before he stood down as president in September 2017.” Dos Santos contends she is the victim of a political witch-hunt and denies that her wealth comes from corruption or nepotism.

The World This Week

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is in Colombia today for a counterterrorism conference, where he is expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as well as Colombian President Iván Duque. Under a travel ban, Guaidó hasn’t left Venezuela since last February. He is seeking support: His claim to power has been weakened after the ruling party seized the National Assembly this month.

The World Economic Forum begins on Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland, and Trump is expected to deliver opening remarks. Trump’s second trip to Davos comes just after he signed a “phase one” trade deal with China last week. It also coincides with the day his impeachment trial starts in the U.S. Senate, with lawmakers still fighting over whether to call witnesses during the proceedings.

In a genocide case against Myanmar, the International Court of Justice will rule on Thursday on whether to order emergency measures to prevent further harm against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Gambia filed the suit against Myanmar in November, and Thursday’s ruling marks the first step in a case expected to take years.

Italy faces a crucial vote on Sunday: a regional election in Emilia-Romagna, where Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party hopes to disrupt nearly 75 years of leftist rule. A victory would give Salvini a boost after he left the ruling coalition last year. With polls close, a new grassroots movement, the Sardines, held an anti-League rally in Bologna over the weekend.

Keep an Eye On

Russia’s protesters. Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a constitutional shake-up that would extend his rule after his term limit ends in 2024, protesters marched against the reforms in Moscow over the weekend. But the demonstrators don’t seem to be united in their cause: Just 1,000 people turned out, considerably fewer than the 60,000 opposition protesters over the summer.

Paraguay prison break. At least 75 members of a Brazilian drug cartel tunneled out of a prison in Paraguay on Sunday—a plan that authorities knew about but were unable to prevent. The escape illustrates how far Brazilian cartels have penetrated security agencies in Brazil and neighboring Paraguay. “This is a prison break without precedent,” Paraguay’s justice minister said on Sunday.

Odds and Ends

Buckingham Palace officially announced on Saturday that Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, have agreed to give up their highest titles (His and Her Royal Highness), forego public funding, and pay back the taxpayer money used to renovate their home. The severance deal still leaves many options open for Harry and Meghan—and their future business ventures. The head of Netflix has already said he’s interested in working with the pair.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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