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Paige Fusco

What We're Watching: Taliban ditch poppies, another Chinese COVID mishap, Darfur war crimes tribunal

Taliban ban poppy cultivation

Fulfilling a long-held promise, the Taliban have banned the cultivation of poppies, the main ingredient used in heroin and other opiates. “If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately, and the violator will be treated according to Shariah law,” the group said. Afghanistan is by far the largest producer of opium, accounting for 85% of all production globally. (After the Taliban took control last year, opium production increased in the country by 8%.) Indeed, the move comes as the Taliban are vying to gain recognition from the international community as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan and unlock millions of dollars worth of foreign reserves currently held in US banks. However, as cash runs dry from the opium trade, regular Afghan farmers who depend on the crops for their livelihood will feel the economic pain. Observers are warning of an impending calamity in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which is already reeling from economic collapse with reports of Afghans being forced to sell their children and organs to survive.

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Protesters carry a banner and national flags as they march against the Sudanese military's recent seizure of power and ousting of the civilian government, in the streets of the capital Khartoum, Sudan October 30, 2021.

REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin

What We're Watching: More trouble in post-coup Sudan

Sudan on the brink. Two weeks after a military coup in Sudan, the country's security situation continues to deteriorate. On Sunday, soldiers responded to pro-democracy protests in Khartoum by tear-gassing and arresting more than 100 teachers who refuse to return to work until the transitional civilian-military government is restored. (The intervention drew comparisons to the harsh crackdown against protesters that eventually led to the ousting of longtime despot Omar al-Bashir in 2019.) Meanwhile, civilian PM Abdalla Hamdok remains under house arrest, and the internet is still shut down. Arab League mediators have arrived in the capital to try to mediate between junta leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the pro-civilian forces, but Burhan refuses to even call the power grab a coup. The country's largest union, which played a pivotal role in the 2019 protest movement, has called a two-day national strike — the opening salvo of a campaign of civil disobedience to force the military back to the negotiating table. Since the generals show no signs of backing down, the odds of more bloodshed are growing by the day.

The ins and outs of Sudan's coup

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truckloads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) meets US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington DC, during his visit to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly. Picture date: Tuesday September 21, 2021.

REUTERS/PA Images

What We’re Watching: UK wants to be North American, Sudanese foil coup, Haitian refugee crisis grows

Can the UK join a North American trade deal? The acronym for the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement was never all that elegant, but now London wants to throw two more letters into that soup. That's right, the UK wants to join USMCA, the trade pact brokered by the Trump administration in 2020 as an update to the 1990s-era NAFTA agreement. London had hoped that Brexit would free it up to ink a bilateral free trade deal with the US, but as those talks have stalled in recent months, PM Boris Johnson now wants to plug his country into the broader three-party deal. The fact that the UK already has deals with Canada and Mexico should help, in principle. But it would doubtless be a complex negotiation. And there's at least one huge hurdle: US officials are reportedly unaware of any mechanism at all for bringing aboard additional countries.

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What We're Watching: A peace deal in Sudan, India-China border flare-up, EU threatens Ankara

Sudan, rebels shake hands: Sudan's transitional government and an alliance of rebel groups signed a peace agreement on Monday that aims to stabilize the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions after almost two decades of conflict. The deal covers several key issues, including the integration of rebel fighters into the national army and the return of refugees who fled the conflict since 2003. Indeed, it's the first major step towards peace in conflict-ridden Sudan since the ouster of former strongman president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. The joint military-civilian cabinet in Khartoum now plans to hand over Bashir to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he will face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity over his role in the Darfur war during which 300,000 were killed and more than 2 million were displaced. However, at least two rebel factions refused to join the latest peace agreement, highlighting the fragility of the nascent deal.

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