Morning Brief

Will Belarus Go On Strike?

Opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has called for a national strike today after President Lukashenko ignored her “People’s Ultimatum.”

A woman argues with law enforcement officers during an opposition rally in Minsk, on October 25, 2020.
A woman argues with law enforcement officers during an opposition rally in Minsk, on October 25, 2020. AFP/Stringer

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya calls for a national strike today in Belarus, Chileans vote for a new constitution, a cease-fire begins in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the world this week.

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Belarus Opposition Calls for National Strike

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s future may depend on whether his fellow citizens turn up for work today. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the remaining opposition candidate in August’s rigged presidential election, has called for a national strike today after Lukashenko refused her “People’s Ultimatum” to resign by last night.

The move comes after police appeared to use stun grenades on protesters in Minsk yesterday—the 11th successive Sunday that protests have rocked the capital. According to a local human rights group, at least 216 people were detained by police.

Speaking from the relative safety of her exile in Lithuania, Tikhanovskaya won’t be leading the picket lines from the front (and as she is self-isolating after a possible COVID-19 exposure, that’s probably just as well.) Belarus’s largely leaderless masses will decide whether today’s strike succeeds where others in the previous weeks have failed.

A diplomatic lifeline? On the eve of Tikhanovskaya’s ultimatum, Lukashenko received a phone call from an unlikely source: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It represents one of the first official communications between a Western country and Belarus since the August election. According to a statement from Belarus, the call was to discuss “the internal political situations in both Belarus and the U.S.” Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Tikhanovskaya believes the call was more likely to negotiate the release of an American in detention.

Will he go? Writing in Foreign Policy earlier this month, FP’s Amy McKinnon reported on the Belarusian president who shows no signs of stepping down any time soon, and has even taken to cultivating his own loyal opposition.

The World This Week

On Monday, Oct. 26, The U.S. Senate holds the final confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

The latest round of hearings in the case of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, continue as part of extradition proceedings initiated by the United States.

The fifth plenary session of the 19th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee opens.

On Tuesday Oct. 27, Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar and Minister of Defense Shri Rajnath Singh host Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper for annual talks.

On Wednesday, Oct. 28,  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet’s (Google) CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testify virtually before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to defend their companies’ content-moderation practices.

Israel and Lebanon resume U.S.- and U.N.-brokered talks to resolve a maritime border dispute between the two countries.

Voters in Tanzania go to the polls in presidential and legislative elections. President John Magufuli is expected to win a second five-year term.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Indonesia and meets with counterpart, Retno Marsudi.

On Thursday Oct. 29, the U.S. GDP estimate for the third quarter is released. Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, also announce Q3 results.

On Saturday, Oct. 31, voters in Ivory Coast will vote to elect a president for the next five years. Alassane Ouattara is hoping to win a controversial third term following the death of his designated successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, in July.

Georgia holds legislative elections for the first time since it introduced a new party list proportional representation system in 2019 in response to protests.

On Sunday, Nov. 1, Algeria holds a constitutional referendum on whether to impose a two-term presidential term limit and give greater powers to parliament to investigate government activities.

In Moldova, presidential elections will be held. Incumbent Igor Dodon is likely to need a second round of voting to secure a new term.

What We’re Following Today

Chile votes for new constitution. Voters in Chile on Sunday appeared to overwhelmingly approve a referendum proposal to ditch their Pinochet-era constitution, according to preliminary results showing 78 percent of voters in favor of the proposal. The move comes a year after mass protests over inequality sparked by a public transit fare hike swept the country. Voters will now have the chance to elect delegates for a constitutional convention that will draft a new document. As FP’s Kelly Kimball and Augusta Saraiva write, the new constitution is an opportunity for the country to shed its “facho” past.

British special forces storm hijacked tanker. On Sunday evening, U.K. special forces boarded and seized control of a Liberian-flagged tanker off the southern coast of England near the Isle of Wight. The Nave Andromeda had departed Lagos, Nigeria on Oct. 6 and was bound for Southampton. Seven stowaways on the ship reportedly threatened the crew and attempted to hijack the vessel. The military responded to police requests after the ship’s movements became erratic. “Armed forces have gained control of the ship and seven individuals have been detained. Police investigations will now continue. Initial reports confirm the crew are safe and well,” the British Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Coronavirus cases reach daily record in Italy. Italy, the former global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, recorded a new daily record number of cases on Sunday, as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced new restrictions designed to combat the surge. Italy recorded 21,273 new cases in total and 128 deaths. Over the weekend, the European Union countries represented roughly a third of new cases discovered worldwide.

U.S.-brokered Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire announced. A cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan goes into effect today at 8 a.m. ET. The cease-fire was agreed following a meeting between Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun according to a joint statement released by the three governments. It is the third attempt at a cease-fire since the conflict resumed on Sept. 27.

Thai parliament holds special session. Thailand’s parliament will hold a special session today to discuss the state of the country following weeks of protests calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and for reform of the monarchy. The session comes after a largely ineffective emergency decree banning political gatherings of more than five people was revoked on Thursday.

Keep an Eye On

Qatar accused of invasive and abusive treatment of female airline passengers. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne demanded an official investigation after reports surfaced of female passengers on a Sydney-bound flight being removed and subjected to invasive medical examinations.

On Oct. 2, an abandoned newborn was discovered in a Doha airport bathroom, prompting Qatari authorities to order all women passengers to disembark from a flight boarding nearby as they searched for the baby’s mother. The women reported being subjected to examinations by a female doctor before being allowed to return to the plane. One passenger recalled seeing women returning to the plane shaking and in tears. She told the Guardian, “I was the luckiest one on the whole flight because I have grey hair and I’m in my 60s. They probably looked at me and thought well, that’s impossible, it could not be her.”

The Australian government called the women’s treatment “offensive, grossly inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which the women could give free and informed consent.” Payne added: “It is not something that I have ever heard of occurring in my life, in any context. We have made our views very clear to Qatari authorities on this matter.”

Kuwait co-ops ban French products. Kuwait’s retail co-ops have removed French products from their shelves following calls to boycott French exports after President Emmanuel Macron defended the French schoolteacher who was murdered by a Chechen teenager after an outcry over the teacher’s decision to show cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to his students. Earlier this month, Macron declared war on what he has called “Islamist separatism.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken the opportunity to reproach the French president, suggesting his problems with Islam stem from needing “treatment on a mental level.” France has since recalled its ambassador to Turkey over the comments.

Sudan and Israel to begin talks. Sudan’s foreign ministry has said that it will begin discussion on agreements with Israel on agriculture, aviation, trade and migration in the coming weeks, bringing the two countries closer to fully normalizing relations. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced it would be sending $5 million worth of wheat immediately “to our new friends in Sudan.”

Treaty banning nuclear weapons to enter into force. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will enter into international law in 90 days, following its ratification by Honduras. The Central American nation’s approval of the treaty brings it across the 50 nation threshold needed following its endorsement by the U.N. General Assembly in 2017. Under the treaty, signatories promise to “never under any circumstances develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

None of the world’s nuclear powers have signed the agreement. The United States has said the treaty “turns back the clock on verification and disarmament.” 

Odds and Ends

A plan to enlist America’s Santa Claus performers to get the word out about coronavirus prevention in return for early access to a vaccine has been scrapped. First reported in the Wall Street Journal, the scheme would have allowed those playing Mrs. Claus and helper elves to also access the vaccine. The plan was thought up by Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. federal health agency, who has since left the agency on medical leave. After hearing that the idea was being shelved, Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, said it was “extremely disappointing.”

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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