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Protests Spread Across the United States
As cities burn during continuing protests over police violence, the police have responded with even more violence.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States erupts in protest over police killings, U.S. President Donald Trump will postpone the G-7 meeting, and North Korea will issue bonds to fund its ailing economy.
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Protesters and Police Square Off Across the U.S.
Today, the United States is waking up to a situation that was nearly unthinkable just a week ago. The pain and social isolation brought about by the U.S. coronavirus epidemic has now taken a back seat to mass demonstrations that have paralyzed the country—including one outside the White House on Sunday night that reportedly sent President Donald Trump fleeing to an underground bunker.
Protests that originated in Minneapolis after a white police officer killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, quickly spread around the country to at least 140 cities. Much has been made of the damage to property, both in Minneapolis—where a police station was set on fire—and elsewhere, but what stands out about these protests is the level of violence exhibited by police in attempting to subdue the protesters.
Videos posted on social media and broadcast on television have shown multiple instances of officers attacking unarmed demonstrators and firing less-lethal weaponry indiscriminately—once at residents standing on their own front porch. In both New York and Los Angeles, police cars could be seen ramming protesters.
The view from Washington. Foreign Policy witnessed the protests on Lafayette Square on Saturday night (about 100 yards from the White House—the closest any non-police officer could get). The vast majority of the approximately 1,000 people in attendance were there peacefully, wearing masks, and chanting slogans. I saw two fireworks and a few watter bottles hurled at officers. The police, clad in personal protective gear from head to toe and carrying riot shields, eventually used tear gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse the crowd.
Where is the president? As protesters first gathered at the White House on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump was moved to a secure bunker—last used on 9/11—by the Secret Service, according to the New York Times. After spending the weekend criticizing protesters and Democratic party leaders on Twitter, Trump tweeted “LAW & ORDER!” and “FAKE NEWS!” to finish out his Sunday night.
What next? Apart from the public anger unleashed by Floyd’s killing, there are plenty of other reasons for people to stay out on the streets: schools and universities are closed for the summer, a record number of Americans are unemployed, and all sporting and entertainment distractions are currently on hold.
U.S. adversaries, too, have not missed the opportunity to twist the knife at a U.S. weak point. A commentary in the state-backed China Daily alluding to U.S. actions on Hong Kong argued “U.S. politicians should do their jobs and help solve problems in the U.S., instead of trying to create new problems and troubles in other countries.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif posted a marked-up version of a statement from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chiding Iran over its 2018 protests, replacing the word “Iran” with “U.S.”
What We’re Following Today
G-7 to become G-11? President Trump is postponing a prospective G-7 summit in June to next September, and has suggested the group be expanded to include India, Russia, South Korea, and Australia. Trump had pushed for a June summit as a signal of “normalization,” however the decision to postpone the summit came a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined the invitation, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Russia has not been considered a member of the smaller group of leading nations (then the G-8) since its invasion of Crimea in 2014.
Speaking on Sunday, U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien put the postponement down to timing. “The President’s thinking was, there are a couple of countries that have handled the COVID crisis incredibly well, and it would be useful to have them participate in the G-7 so we can learn some lessons there,” O’Brien said. “Logistically to pull something like that off, I think it will take a little bit more time, so we’re probably looking at the September time frame.”
Gantz apologizes for the killing of Palestinian man. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has apologized after Israeli security forces shot and killed Iyad Halak, a Palestinian who was autistic, in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday. “We are really sorry about the incident in which Iyad Halak was shot to death and we share in the family’s grief,” Gantz said.
Israeli police said they opened fire after they saw a suspect with a “suspicious object” who didn’t stop when ordered to. Police later confirmed that they found no weapon. Palestinian officials denounced the killing as a “war crime” and an “execution.” The killing led to demonstrations over the weekend in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with some participants holding signs tying the killing to that of George Floyd in the United States.
More Taliban prisoners released. The Afghan government released a further 700 Taliban prisoners over the weekend as it comes closer to reaching the release quota mandated by the February U.S.-Taliban peace agreement. The Taliban said it had released 73 imprisoned members of the Afghan security forces on Saturday, bringing the total released government prisoners to 420. Under the peace deal, the Afghan government is to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and the Taliban is to release 1,000 government prisoners as confidence building measures ahead of any further talks. To date, the Afghan government has released approximately 2,700 captives, and the Taliban has released 420.
Global coronavirus cases continue to rise. The number of coronavirus cases recorded globally now stands at roughly 6.2 million, an increase of 700,000 over the week before. The highest growth rates are currently in low-income countries—including Malawi and Zimbabwe—according to Our World In Data.
Keep an Eye On
North Korea’s economy. North Korea plans to issue bonds for the first time since 2003 in an effort to bolster its budget amid a global economic downturn. The news was first reported by Seoul-based news site Daily NK. The bond issuance is expected to be taken up by North Korea’s wealthy elites and is aimed at covering up to 60 percent of the country’s budget.
Rising food prices. U.S. food prices are likely to remain high as the effects of a disrupted supply chain due to the coronavirus pandemic continue to be felt. The U.S. Labor Department reported that the 4.6 percent rise in food prices in the month of April was the largest single jump in 46 years. The biggest increase in price was felt in meat, fish, and eggs, as they went up 4.3 percent. The Labor Department also registered the highest ever monthly rise in prices for cereal and bakery products, likely driven by a surge in home baking.
The World This Week
The final scheduled round of trade talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union will begin this week, with worries mounting that the two sides are no closer to a deal than when they started.
On Friday, June 5, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics released its monthly update on the U.S. employment situation, covering the month of May. Figures for April showed the United States lost over 20 million jobs that month, as a near global lockdown brought economic activity to a halt. The European Union will report its unemployment figures for the month of April on June 3.
Odds and Ends
The United States is quite unique among major democracies in its custom of giving coveted ambassadorships to the highest bidder. Although it’s a bipartisan practice, the Trump administration has set a new record in the proportion of ambassadorial roles going to donors over career diplomats. Roughly 44 percent of Trump administration ambassadors have come from political appointments, versus the historical average of 30 percent, according to the American Foreign Service Association. Under U.S. law, career diplomats must outnumber political appointees in ambassadorial roles. That balance is under threat, with 57 percent of ambassador nominations this year going to political appointees.
That’s it for today.