Lost among the mostly humdrum national elections in the Netherlands this week was the emergence of Volt, an anti-populist, pro-Europe party made up of students and young professionals that snatched three seats in the Dutch Parliament — the first national electoral success in its five years of existence.
Volt wasn’t the only outsider group to win a seat or two in the elections. One politician arrived at Parliament driving a tractor with flashing lights to claim her newly won seat for a farmer’s party. Sylvana Simons, a former TV presenter, won aseat for “Bij1,” an anticapitalist party. A new far right, anti-immigrant party won four seats.
Over the last two decades, however, it was populists and far right parties that played the insurgent role in Dutch politics, promoting anti-immigrant, anti-establishment and anti-European policies. While never a serious threat to seize power, in 2016 representatives of these parties initiated and won a referendum in the Netherlands on an E.U. trade treaty with Ukraine, temporarily halting the deal.
This makes this week’s victory of newcomer Volt all the more remarkable. The party is staunchly pro-Europe, something that most traditional parties had thought was a complete turnoff for voters.
Laurens Dassen, 35, the party’s Dutch leader. “For us, Europe is a fact of life.”
Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose center-right Party for Freedom and Democracy comfortably won the greatest number of seatsfor the fourth time since 2010, has had a tense relationship with Europe. Last year, for example, he upset Southern European countries when he refused to discuss financial support during the pandemic, and brought a biography of Chopin to the meetings because he wasn’t planning on talking anyway.
The success of Volt in the Netherlands is all the more remarkable in that it isn’t even a Dutch party but an offshoot of a European movement, with 9,000 members scattered across Europe, and a few more in Switzerland and Albania. The main party was established in 2016 by Andrea Venzon, 29, an Italian living in London, and has a presence in every one of the 27 member states of the European Union.
article about Volt, decided to join and gave up my job some months later to really try to get the party started.”
In the Dutch elections Volt piled up heavy vote totals in several Dutch student cities like Delft and Leiden, powered in part bya social media campaign and a broad network of volunteers.
Another pro-European party,theD66, won an extra four seats this week, making it the second largest party in the parliament. Its leader, Sigrid Kaag, is a former United Nations special envoy for Syria and the outgoing foreign minister of trade and development.
Because no party in the Dutch Parliament commands a majority, analysts said the idiosyncrasies of coalition building could bring Volt into the governing bloc along with Mr. Rutte and Ms. Kaag.
Whatever the outcome of that horse trading, analysts think Volt’s future is bright in the Netherlands.
“They could be big here and double their seats if they manage to go even stronger on the climate,” said Felix Rotterberg, a campaign strategist long affiliated with the social-democratic party PvdA. “Volt has the youth, and there will only be more of those in the future.”
The party is on a winning streak in other parts of Europe, though nothing else is as high-profile as its victories in the Netherlands. Volt now has over 30 elected representatives across Europe, mainly in municipalities in Germany and Italy. But it has also won its first seat in the European Parliament, in the person of Damian Boeselager, 33.
rejoin Europe campaign.
Its leaders emphasize Volt’s pan-European character, which they say differentiates it from any other party in Europe.
“Every one of our members, has direct voting rights at the European level, they are able to choose our board and influence our policies directly,” said Valerie Sternberg, 30, the party’s Germany-based co-president. “No matter whereyou live in Europe, even in Britain.”
The party doesn’t have a youth organization. “Most of us are young ourselves,” she said.
Ms. Sternberg said she cried “tears of joy,” when she learned about the success of Volt’s Dutch chapter, and said the party is now setting its sights on Germany, which is having national elections in the fall.
“Our weak point is in rural areas across Europe, we need to get our message there, now populists are winning there,” she said. “We hope that Covid is showing people that isolation makes us weak and cooperation makes us stronger.”
The extraordinary rancor aired by China’s top diplomats in Alaska was a manifestation of a newly combative and unapologetic China, one increasingly unbowed by diplomatic pressure from American presidential administrations.
Just as American views on China have shifted after years of encouraging the country’s economic integration, so have Beijing’s perceptions of the United States and the privileged place in the world that it has long held. The Americans, in their view, no longer have an overwhelming reservoir of global influence, nor the power to wield it against China.
That has made China more confident than it once was in pursuing its aims openly and unabashedly — from human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang to the territorial disputes with India and Japan and others in South China Sea to, most contentiously of all, the fate of Taiwan, the self-governing democracy that China claims as its own.
While China still faces enormous challenges at home and around the world, its leaders now act as if history were on their side.
it fought Indian troops last year and menaced ships from several countries, including Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam.
new report on the issue, said on Thursday.
Meetings between the Chinese and the Americans have been testy before, but the balance of power between the two countries has changed.
For decades, China approached American governments from positions of weakness, economically and militarily. That forced it at times to accede to American demands, however grudgingly, whether it was to release detained human-rights advocates or to accept Washington’s conditions for joining the World Trade Organization.
China today feels far more assured in its ability to challenge the United States and push for its own vision of international cooperation. It is a confidence embraced by China’s leader since 2012, Xi Jinping, who has used the phrase, “the East is rising, and the West is declining.”
largely tamed at home, and the internal political divisions roiling the United States. Mr. Yang singled both out in his remarks on Thursday.
“The challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated,” Mr. Yang said, citing the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality. “It’s important that we manage our respective affairs well instead of deflecting the blame on somebody else in this world.”
intensifying punitive measures imposed by the Trump and, now, Biden administrations.
In the latest round, the State Department announced this week that it would impose sanctions on 24 Chinese officials for their role in eroding Hong Kong’s electoral system. The timing of the move, just as the Chinese were preparing to depart for Alaska, contributed to the acrimony.
“This is not supposed to be the way one welcomes his guests,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in remarks in Alaska that were equally pointed as Mr. Yang’s.
impervious to outrage over its actions, making the task all the more challenging.
new national security law to restrict dissent in Hong Kong did nothing to halt a new law this year dismantling the territory’s electoral system.
China also chose Friday to begin its trials of two Canadians who were arrested more than two years ago and charged with espionage in what was widely seen as retaliation for the American effort to extradite a senior executive from Huawei, the telecommunications giant, for fraud involving sales to Iran.
It was striking that Mr. Yang, a veteran diplomat and a member of the ruling Politburo of the Communist Party of China, used his remarks to say that neither the United States nor the West broadly had a monopoly on international public opinion.
That is a view reflected in China’s successful efforts to use international forums like the United Nations Human Rights Council to counter condemnation over policies like the mass detention and re-education programs in Xinjiang, the predominately Muslim region in western China.
“I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion,” Mr. Yang said. “And those countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order.”
wrote approvingly under a video of Mr. Yang’s remarks.
While American officials said the temperature of the meetings in Alaska went down behind closed doors, few officials or experts on either side are hopeful of a significant improvement in relations. The talks are scheduled to continue for another round on Friday.
“On the whole, this negotiation is only for the two sides to put all the cards on the table, for the two sides to recognize how big and deep each other’s differences are,” said Wu Qiang, an independent political analyst in Beijing, “But in fact, it will not help to bring about any reconciliation or any mitigation.”
Chris Buckley in Sydney and Lara Jakes in Anchorage contributed reporting, and Claire Fu contributed research.
The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Yan Zhuang, a reporter with the Australia bureau.
Two weeks ago, four local councilors of Asian heritage across Sydney received letters calling for death to “all Chinese people.” On Wednesday night, one of them proposed a motion for his council to take part in a campaign called “Racism Not Welcome.”
The motion was narrowly defeated. Some councilors said it was unnecessary because the problem didn’t exist in the local community. Others took issue with one word in the campaign’s name: Racism.
“It’s a terrible word, and I don’t want to see it in any fashion or form in our community,” said one councilor who voted against the motion.
“I don’t agree with using those particular words,” said another. “I think we should be using more encouraging words. More inclusive words. More belonging words. More words of togetherness, rather than words of separation or segregation.”
when it comes to other campaigns, like climate change.
Finding a new value that everyone could gather around might also lift concerns some Australians held about a loss of national identity as the country gradually moved from a primarily Anglo culture to a more diverse one as new migrants arrived, the report said. That in itself could help in reducing racism.
one in five Chinese-Australians had been threatened or attacked during the pandemic, and in places like the United States, where shootings in Atlanta killed eight people, six of them Asian women, critics say the focus on harmony become a disincentive to candor and addressing the problem.
What appeared at the local council goes back decades.There’s a much wider awareness now that racism is a significant problem, Professor Jakubowicz said, but the unwillingness to talk about race, reflected in the history of Harmony Day, continues.
“The majority position, that Australians would like not to be disturbed by reflecting on these facts, is very much there. And Harmony Day says you don’t have to be disturbed,” he said.
Bank tellers’ windows are gathering dust. Cargo at the port sits uncollected. And in grand government ministries in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, stacks of documents are curling in the humidity. There are few people to process all the paperwork.
Since the military seized power in a coup last month, an entire nation has come to a standstill. From hospitals, railways and dockyards to schools, shops and trading houses, much of society has stopped showing up for work in an attempt to stymie the military regime and force it to return authority to a civilian government.
While demonstrators continue to brave bullets — at least 220 people have been killed since the Feb. 1 coup, according to a local group that monitors political imprisonments and deaths — the quiet persistence of this mass civil disobedience movement has grown into a potent weapon against the military. For all the planning that went into the putsch, the generals seem to have been utterly unprepared for the breadth and depth of resistance against them.
“They robbed the power of the people from our elected government,” said Daw Cho Cho Naing, a clerk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who has refused to work along with most of her colleagues. “Our country’s democracy journey has just started, and we can’t lose it again.”
The effect of millions of people refusing to do their jobs has been dramatic, even if the military is built to withstand pressure. Up to 90 percent of national government activity has ceased, according to officials from four ministries. Factories are idled. In February, the national business registry recorded fewer than 190 new registrations, compared with nearly 1,300 the year before.
In a country where at least a third of the population was already living below the poverty line, civil disobedience is bringing tremendous self-imposed hardship to the people. But the striking class hopes that just a few more weeks or months of financial coercion will starve the military of the work force and resources it needs to run the country.
On Sunday, dozens were killed in factory districts in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, when security forces cracked down on striking protesters with lethal force. The area is now under martial law, but many workers have vowed not to give up.
“We might be poor in terms of money, but we are rich with the value of loving our country,” said Ma Thuzar Lwin, whose husband, Ko Chan Thar, a construction worker, was shot in the neck during a recent attack.
Early this week, as her husband struggled for his life, Ms. Thuzar Lwin voiced her aspirations for him. “I want him to see with his own eyes the day the junta steps down,” she said.
Mr. Chan Thar died on Wednesday.
The Myanmar military, which has ruled the country for most of the past 60 years, is adept at killing. It is less practiced in running an economy that began integrating into the global financial system during a decade of reform.
In raids following the coup, soldiers rounded up hundreds of officials considered faithful to the civilian government led by the National League for Democracy party. An Australian economic adviser to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s de facto civilian leader, was also locked up. More than 200 employees of the central bank, including five deputy directors, have been fired for their civil disobedience.
As a result, taxes aren’t being collected in Myanmar. The bulk of licenses for imports, exports and much else are no longer being granted. With employees of private banks joining the strike, most money flows in and out of the country have stopped. Many companies have been unable to pay employees. Military banks have limited withdrawals for fear of runs on cash.
Last week, the military ordered private banks to transfer funds deposited by agricultural traders to state or military banks so the money could be withdrawn for the upcoming harvest. The order has gone unheeded.
“They are the king now, but we are not their servants,” said Daw Phyu Phyu Cho, a loan officer for a private bank who has joined the strike. “If we all unite, they can’t do anything.”
Myanmar is now short of many things at once: gasoline for cars, imported grains and legumes, foreign toothpaste. In the Yangon area, retail prices for palm oil have increased 20 percent since the coup, according to the World Food Program.
People have gotten used to long lines, for A.T.M. withdrawals, for pension collection, for handouts of rice and curry. Striking factory workers are having to choose between clamping on hard hats and goggles to join a protest or waiting in the hot sun for whatever basic necessity might be on offer that day.
For now, informal financing networks are helping to ease some of the pain of lost wages. In Mandalay, the second-largest city in Myanmar, a single Facebook group run by ordinary citizens has raised funds to support nearly 5,000 people who are participating in the civil disobedience movement, which is known by the abbreviation C.D.M.
“Myanmar people are so generous in their donations to people in need,” said U Aung Htay Myint, one of the organizers of the Mandalay effort.
Myanmar’s economy, one of the least developed in Asia after decades of military mismanagement, was already reeling from the coronavirus, which hit the garment and tourism industries particularly hard. With the coup, foreign investors are feeling skittish. Toyota has delayed plans for a factory opening. The World Bank has paused disbursements in the country.
Sanctions by Western governments on military officers and companies have piled up. Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department banned American dealings with, among other businesses, a gym and a restaurant owned by the children of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief who led the coup. The United States government has frozen about $1 billion in assets held by Myanmar in an American financial institution.
But the military still has plenty of income streams, most notably the country’s oil and gas fields. U Ye Kyaw Thu worked as an offshore platform technician for the Shwe gas project for a decade. Most of his colleagues are foreigners, and he knows that other Myanmar workers will be brought in to replace him. Still, Mr. Ye Kyaw Thu said participating in the strike was the right choice for him
“It’s all I can do,” he said.
A group of legislators that says it represents the ousted Parliament has written to foreign oil and gas companies requesting that they cease payments to the regime lest it “sustain the current military junta’s violent rule and enrich its leaders.”
But extraction of Shwe natural gas, which is sent to China, hasn’t decreased since the coup. Such oil and gas earnings add up to $90 million a month to the regime’s coffers, according to estimates from the disbanded Parliament.
Beyond oil and gas, the military and its vast business holdings profit from the illegal collection of natural resources, such as jade and timber, which brings in income rivaling the country’s official revenues.
“So many of their funds come from black markets,” said Dr. Sasa, a special envoy to the United Nations for the ousted civilian authority.
The civil disobedience movement won’t halt such illicit activity. In some cases, as with the production of methamphetamine and other drugs, production may boom in the shadowy spaces of political conflict.
In the meantime, Myanmar’s citizens are paying the greatest price. A township administrator in Shan State, who asked not to have his name published because of the danger of speaking out, described how he was hauled in for interrogation after participating in the civil servant strike. After escaping through the jungle, he is now in hiding.
In Yangon, Ko Soe Naing, a garment factory worker, said he recently watched as a fellow striking worker was shot in the head and killed. Mr. Soe Naing earned about $115 per month for his job, barely a living wage.
“We have nothing to lose,” he said. “As a basic laborer, we only have one choice. It’s to fight back against the junta.”
Last week, before dawn, soldiers descended on a housing complex for railway staff in Yangon. According to eyewitnesses, the soldiers demanded that strikers who had shut down the country’s rail system leave their homes immediately. All 700 or so residents left, grabbing armfuls of possessions at gunpoint.
U Ko Ko Zaw, one of the residents, scrambled out of his house with all that he owned: a suitcase of personal effects, a jug of cooking oil and a live chicken. Later that day, he sold the bird for money.
“It’s OK to die of hunger under military rule, it’s OK if they fire me,” Mr. Ko Ko Zaw said. “I will keep joining the C.D.M. because I believe it can bring down their economy.”
A stubbled crater attests to a recent artillery barrage, but with its bustling streets and shops, the highland Ethiopian city of Mekelle has an air of relative peace.
Then the stories start spilling out.
Of the hospital that begins its days with an influx of bodies bearing gunshot or knife wounds — people killed, relatives and Red Cross workers say, for breaching the nightly curfew.
Of the young man who made the mistake of getting into a heated argument with a government soldier in a bar. Hours later, friends said, four soldiers followed him home and beat him to death with beer bottles.
Of a nightlong battle between government forces and local militia fighters in a nearby town and its aftermath, when soldiers returning to collect their dead stormed into nearby homes, firing indiscriminately.
obtained by The New York Times.
A spokesman for the Ahmara regional government told Bloomberg this week that it was pressing to officially incorporate western Tigray into Amhara.
an investigation was approved by the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
In testimony to Congress last week,the United States secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, called the situation in Tigray unacceptable and reiterated calls for Eritrean troops to withdraw immediately.
“They need to come out,” Mr. Blinken said.
Mr. Mulu, the interim leader of Tigray, cuts a lonely figure in Mekelle. An ethnic Tigrayan installed by Mr. Abiy nine days into the war, he lives and works from a suite at the Axum Hotel where he is trying to trying to restart Tigray’s war-battered bureaucracy.
Unlike Mr. Abiy, Mr. Mulu does not deny the Eritrean presence in Tigray. And in an interview he said he had initiated his own investigation into reported atrocities.
“It’s not acceptable that people should die like this,” he said. “But we need evidence. We have requested our security forces to investigate it.”
Tigray’s health services, once among the best in Ethiopia, have been ravaged. On Monday, Doctors Without Borders said that dozens of clinics across the region had been destroyed and plundered by soldiers, often deliberately.
quit his job over the reports of atrocities in Tigray, accusing Mr. Abiy of leading Ethiopia “down a dark path toward destruction and disintegration.”
Inside Tigray, soldiers detained Ethiopian translators and reporters working for four international outlets, including TheTimes, last month. The men were released without charge days later, but by then most foreign reporters had been forced to leave Tigray.
In such a fraught environment, even massacres are contested.
Mr. Abiy’s officials frequently cite a massacre in Mai Kadra, a town in western Tigray, on Nov. 9, as an example of T.P.L.F. war crimes. Witnesses cited in an Amnesty International report blamed the deaths on Tigrayan fighters.
with a reputation for brutality, and insisted that the majority of victims were Tigrayans.
Solomon Haileselassie, 28, said he watched the slaughter from his hiding place in a garbage dump. “I saw them cut off people’s legs and arms with axes,” he said.
Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International’s Horn of Africa researcher, said the group had received credible new evidence of Tigrayan deaths, but stood by the finding that the majority of victims were Amharas.
Restricted access and the “high politicization of violence” make it hard to establish the truth about much of anything in Tigray, Mr. Fisseha added.
An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Mekelle, Ethiopia.
SEOUL — North Korea on Friday severed diplomatic ties with Malaysia after that country’s highest court agreed to extradite a North Korean man accused of money laundering to the United States, a major coup in Washington’s efforts to choke Pyongyang’s illicit trade.
In a ruling last week, Malaysia’s federal court approved the extradition of a North Korean citizen, Mun Chol-myong, rejecting his argument that the case against him was politically motivated and that he was caught in the cross hairs of diplomatic enmity between North Korea and Washington.
Washington has sought to bring Mr. Mun to the United States to face criminal charges that he laundered money through front companies and violated international sanctions by helping to ship prohibited luxury goods from Singapore to North Korea on behalf of the regime in Pyongyang. Mr. Mun was arrested in 2019 in Malaysia, where he had moved from Singapore in 2008.
Mr. Mun was the first North Korean extradited to the United States to face a criminal trial. His extradition is part of Washington’s efforts to crack down on what it has described as widespread sanctions-evading activities by North Korean businessmen and diplomats. Over the years, the United Nations Security Council has imposed a series of increasingly stringent sanctions on North Korea, seeking to strangle the country’s access to foreign currency, which it has used to help finance its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.
Kim Jong-nam, was assassinated at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Two women hired by agents from Pyongyang smeared his face with the internationally banned VX nerve agent. North Korea denied involvement.
After the incident, the two countries expelled ambassadors from their capitals.
North Korea’s severance of ties with Malaysia will deepen its diplomatic isolation. After the North conducted its sixth and last nuclear test in 2017, in defiance of United Nations resolutions, several countries, including Mexico, Spain and Kuwait, expelled North Korean ambassadors.
Thae Yong-ho, a minister in the North Korean Embassy in London, defected to Seoul in 2016 with his wife and two sons. Jo Song-gil, a senior North Korean diplomat who disappeared from Italy in late 2018, also ended up in Seoul, according to South Korean lawmakers briefed on the matter. Ryu Kyeon-woo, a senior North Korean diplomat who fled his posting in Kuwait in 2019, has turned up in South Korea, too.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III met with their South Korean counterparts in Seoul on Thursday. Afterward, the two allies said they would coordinate their approaches toward North Korea as the Biden administration finalizes its policy review in the next few weeks. Washington said it has tried to establish a diplomatic channel since last month, but that North Korea has not responded.
Choe Son-hui, first vice foreign minister of North Korea, said on Thursday that North Korea felt no need to respond to “the U.S. delaying-time trick,” and that dialogue would only be possible after the United States ended its “hostile policy.”
During his hearing in Malaysia, Mr. Mun, who is in his 50s, denied money laundering or issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to his home country. His lawyer called him “a pawn caught in the rivalry between the U.S. and North Korea.”
Four countries including the U.S. called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to reduce violence and begin discussions on sharing power, in a fresh effort to end the two-decade war as a deadline for the full withdrawal of American troops draws closer.
At a peace conference hosted by Moscow on Thursday, the U.S., Russia, China and Pakistan added that they would not support the restoration of an Islamic Emirate under the Taliban, and that any peace settlement must protect the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities.
Kabul’s chief peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, called for “an end to targeted killings and a comprehensive cease-fire to begin the next rounds of the talks in a peaceful environment.”
The summit took place amid intensifying international efforts to end fighting ahead of a May 1 deadline for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad represented the Biden administration at the conference, which underlined foreign countries’ desire to have a hand in shaping Afghanistan’s future, from curbing the threat of Islamist militants to securing nearby borders against drug smuggling and human trafficking.
The conference is aimed at jump-starting a peace process that has stalled since launching in Qatar in September. It comes ahead of a major peace summit in Istanbul, slated for April and initiated by the Biden administration.
Alongside the peace talks, violence in Afghanistan has escalated. Over the past year, the Taliban have attacked government forces across the country and seized larger parts of the countryside and vital highways. The government has accused insurgents of orchestrating an assassination campaign against government workers, civil society activists and journalists.
In February last year, the Trump administration agreed to draw down the remaining American troops in Afghanistan as part of a deal with the Taliban. President Biden has said he also intends to withdraw the remaining 2,500 troops from America’s longest war. In a television interview aired Wednesday, Mr. Biden said that even if the May deadline proved challenging to meet, it wouldn’t be extended by very much.
The U.S. and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani concur that the Taliban hasn’t done enough to reduce violence. But the Biden administration is also butting heads with Mr. Ghani, who has refused to be replaced by an interim government hashed out a negotiation table, insisting that any new administration must be democratically elected.
“If the Taliban are ready to participate in elections tomorrow, we are ready. But without elections, I am not ready to transfer the power to my successor,” Mr. Ghani said Tuesday.
A senior Afghan government official said that if Taliban leader Maulavi Haibatullah was to attend the Istanbul conference in April, and a positive outcome was expected, Mr. Ghani would also attend.
The Kabul delegation traveling to Moscow differed from the one in Qatar, featuring only one woman—Afghanistan’s first female governor, Habiba Sarabi—compared with four in Doha. The delegation also comprised strongmen who were excluded from Doha, including Abdul Rashid Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, both of whom were accused by rights groups of war crimes in past decades.
Russia holds little sway over either the Taliban or the Afghan government, analysts say, but the meeting shows the heightened international concerns that a collapsed peace process may escalate violence beyond Afghanistan’s borders.
Other militant groups in the country pose a threat to regional powers, including Russia. Some of the most active Islamist fighters belong to Central Asia-rooted groups such as the Islamic Movements of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Uyghur militants from the Turkistan Islamic Movement potentially threaten China. Al-Qaeda also still maintains hundreds of fighters in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials and the United Nations.
“Americans are leaving Afghanistan sooner or later,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. “In this situation, Russia can ignore Afghanistan only at its peril.”
—Ehsanullah Amiri in Kabul contributed to this article.
Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ann M. Simmons at email@example.com
TEL AVIV—In the world’s fastest coronavirus vaccine rollout to date, Israel has given at least one shot to nearly 60% of its residents, a feat propelled by an ample supply of doses and an uncommon healthcare system that combines competition with tax-funded universal coverage.
Israel, a small, wealthy nation with a young population, was uniquely qualified to confront the pandemic: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had secured enough vaccine stocks by paying more, as well as by offering access to Israelis’ personal health data to gauge the vaccine’s effectiveness. Its healthcare system had the means to quickly deliver the shots into the arms of Israelis.
The country’s four health-management organizations used centralized data-keeping, technology and the cradle-to-grave ties between Israelis and their doctors to speed up the vaccination drive, targeting residents nationwide with text messages, emails and phone calls. The efficiencies of Israel’s HMOs have been honed by years of competing for patients—and for the tax revenue gained by adding each new member—as they try to outdo each other in quality and availability of care.
“It’s really a unique structure,” said economist Moshe Bar Siman Tov, who oversaw Israel’s coronavirus response last year. “I’m not sure it’s possible to duplicate it. It’s a mixture of socialist fundamentals and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Israel’s bars and restaurants reopened last week to vaccinated people, prompting street parties in Tel Aviv, and the country is now looking ahead to a broader economic rebound.
The tiered “green passport” system has drawn protests by some who don’t want to get inoculated. But, in a country where anyone can get a jab on the spot, this strategy has been broadly accepted. Mr. Netanyahu, who is up for re-election Tuesday, is campaigning largely on the vaccination drive’s success.
Agam Rafaeli-Farhadian, 33 years old, received his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in January. “I got the text and was like, ‘Whoa, this is cool,’ ” he said, adding that it took 30 seconds to sign up and five minutes to get each of his two shots.
While Israel’s vaccination rate is the world’s highest, its HMOs are still struggling to overcome reluctance in some population groups. Health officials say full herd immunity will require inoculating 80% of the population, a number that includes children under 16, for whom no approved vaccine exists so far.
Meanwhile, vaccinating as many remaining adults as possible will be key to avoiding more lockdowns and not overloading health systems. Trying to reach that goal, the HMOs are working with Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency response services, to set up pop-up vaccination points on busy streets, at workplaces and in night-life districts.
Unlike Israel’s healthcare providers, many of Europe’s national health services buckled under the wave of coronavirus infections last year, and European Union nations are still struggling with the vaccine rollout. The U.S., after initial difficulties, is rapidly gaining speed. The U.K., which has the fastest vaccination rollout among large countries, has an inoculation rate that is a third of Israel’s.
Since the start of the pandemic, 6,057 people or 700 per million have died from Covid-19 in Israel. In the U.S., the latest number is 536,914 people or 1,625 per million. In the U.K., the death rate was 1,857 per million.
Many in Israel credit its hybrid healthcare model with providing high-level care that kept the death toll low. Israel’s relative youth—the average age is 30—has also blunted the pandemic’s severity. Most of the coronavirus deaths world-wide have been among older people.
Another advantage: Israelis agree to share personal information with government-supervised systems, part of a cohesive social compact forged in a country where men and women must serve in the army and where military conflicts break out every few years. Patient data allowed Israel’s four HMOs to monitor individuals who contracted the virus and to intervene early as the disease progressed.
Amanda Lounsbury, a 33-year-old environmental researcher in Tel Aviv, tested positive in January. Right away, she started receiving daily calls from her HMO’s family doctors and nurses. The provider sent her a pulse oximeter to check her blood oxygen level and report the reading during their calls, a standard practice.
“I felt very much not alone,” said Ms. Lounsbury, who is originally from Connecticut. She has since made a full recovery.
Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech agreed to supply their vaccine to Israel ahead of other nations, in part, because the country’s assent to share medical data would provide them insights for future research. Privacy experts say the agreement shows how far Israel lags behind European nations in protecting confidential personal data.
“We’re all very, very happy about the results of the vaccine efficiency research, but you need to take a very, very careful look at the process,” said Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based, nonpartisan think tank. “Israel is a kind of lab for the world. It’s frightening. We need to have stricter rules in terms of asking for consent.”
Israel’s healthcare system is mandatory. All residents pay up to 4.8% of their income in health taxes, part of their overall tax bill. Residents can switch their HMO provider, though only 1% to 2% actually do each year.
“There is no competition over money, because everybody pays the same.” said Ehud Davidson, chief executive of Clalit, the largest Israeli HMO. Many medical services are free with the occasional copay.
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Clalit and the three other HMOs, all of them not-for-profit entities, are reimbursed by the state according to a formula based partly on the number of members, their ages and where they live. Providers that lose patients to rivals also lose revenue. To retain members, the HMOs have an incentive to provide better levels of service and easier access to doctors, clinics and diagnostic facilities.
“We based our conversations with Pfizer on the very existence of Israel’s HMOs,” Israel Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said. “We were able to say to Pfizer, ‘If we get the vaccine quickly, we will run such a massive operation and such a quick one, the whole world will be talking about the Pfizer vaccine.’ ” Israel has almost exclusively relied on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
During the peak of the pandemic, hospitals in Italy, the U.K. and parts of the U.S. were overrun and had to ration access to lifesaving treatments. Israel escaped those shortages, even though it had similar or higher infection rates and significantly fewer hospital beds per 1,000 people. Some of this can be explained by the relative youth of Israel’s population. But with one of the world’s highest life expectancies, there are many Israeli’s in their 80s and 90s.
“There was enough equipment, ventilators, monitors and drugs,” said Mr. Davidson of Clalit. “There was never a situation of collapse in any Israeli hospital, and every patient received maximum treatment.”
Cradle to grave
Israel’s healthcare reform of 1995 required the country’s four HMOs to accept everyone and to provide similar medical services, regardless of either pre-existing conditions or affiliation with labor unions or political parties. Clalit accounted for 63% of the market at the time and has since seen its share dented by rivals, particularly Maccabi, now the second-largest.
In Israel’s system, family doctors affiliated with an HMOs each supervise between 1,000 and 1,500 residents, developing lifelong connections.
“In healthcare, Israeli citizens are very traditional. When they have a relationship with a doctor, they have it from birth to death,” said Sigal Regev Rosenberg, chief executive of the Meuhedet HMO, with 1.2 million members.
All four HMOs operate their own networks, in addition to providing coverage for independent and state-owned hospitals and, if care is unavailable in Israel, for treatment in specialized facilities overseas.
While all of Israel’s 9 million Jewish and Arab citizens have the same basic healthcare coverage, the quality of service is higher in affluent secular Jewish communities, such as in Tel Aviv, compared with poorer ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.
Dr. Osama Tanous, a pediatrician in Haifa who is currently at Emory University on a fellowship, said the system, with its roots in the Jewish settlement movement in the early 20th century under Ottoman and British rule, never adjusted to the needs of Israel’s 1.6 million Arab citizens. As a result, Israel’s Arabs have worse outcomes than Israel’s Jews in parameters that include heart disease, diabetes and neonatal health.
Unlike Israel’s Arab citizens, the 5.1 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip aren’t covered by the Israeli healthcare system. The exception are some 340,000 Palestinians, who are not citizens of Israel, living in annexed East Jerusalem.
The 1993 Oslo agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that established the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza transferred the Israeli-run health infrastructure there under the Palestinian ministry of health, which provides far more limited services. In Gaza, where the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in 2007, a United Nations agency has become the most important healthcare provider.
The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has been much slower than Israel in organizing a vaccination campaign, which will mostly rely on the Covax program led by the World Health Organization. Criticized by human-rights groups for neglecting to share with the Palestinians, Israel recently donated about 5,000 vaccine doses to healthcare workers in the West Bank. Last week, it began vaccinating some 120,000 Palestinians who work in Israel and the Jewish settlements in Israeli-run sites at border crossings and industrial areas inside the settlements. Covax doses also began arriving this week.
The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, shipped some 20,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to the Gaza Strip, as part of its world-wide vaccine diplomacy campaign.
Israel’s swift vaccine rollout figures prominently in Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election campaign. He showed up to receive the first shipment of vaccines at the Tel Aviv airport and got inoculated during a prime-time TV broadcast. In recent weeks, he has hosted the leaders of Austria, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Hungary to share Israel’s vaccination experience.
Mr. Netanyahu, who faces a trial on corruption charges that he denies, is running to retain power in Israel’s fourth national election in two years after a previous coalition collapsed. His final campaign poster, released ahead of the vote, shows him standing with two thumbs up, surrounded by flying confetti; above, a motto proclaims: “Back to Life.”
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MOSCOW—Armenia’s prime minister called a snap parliamentary election in an attempt to quell tensions that have led to demands for his resignation following the country’s loss of swaths of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave to Azerbaijan in last year’s brief but bloody war.
Nikol Pashinyan said on Facebook on Thursday that during a meeting with the country’s political opposition it was decided that “the best way out of the current domestic political situation is early parliamentary elections,” which are planned for June 20.
Turmoil has engulfed Armenia, a close Russian ally, since last November when the country suffered a bruising defeat to Azerbaijan in fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, a long-disputed region. A cease-fire brokered by Moscow ended the battles and allowed Azerbaijan to keep control of the areas it recaptured, under the supervision of Russian peacekeepers. The enclave is still largely populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, but is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan.
The six-week conflict killed an estimated 5,000 people and forced more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians to flee their homes, according to aid groups.
While Azerbaijan has been awash in celebration following the deal, many Armenians have called on Mr. Pashinyan to resign for having agreed to the truce, condemning it as an act of capitulation. Anger and street protests have flared in the Armenian capital of Yerevan and other parts of the country.
But Mr. Pashinyan, who carries primary executive power in Armenia, has refused to step down. Last month, the embattled prime minister accused the country’s armed forces of plotting a coup to remove him. He has insisted that the decision to sign the Nov. 10 cease-fire was a painful but necessary step to end the fighting with Azeri troops, who were backed by Turkey.
As part of the deal, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to work together to develop war-ravaged Nagorno-Karabakh, including taking concrete steps to build economic ties and build infrastructure projects, but disagreements persist. The fate of dozens of Armenian soldiers, who Armenian and international human-rights activists say are being held as prisoners of war by Azerbaijan, remains one of the most polarizing issues in the aftermath of the conflict.
The recent hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh can be traced back to 1988, when both Armenia and Azerbaijan were still part of the Soviet Union. As the bloc began to weaken and crack, Armenians in the area made the case that Nagorno-Karabakh was historically part of Armenia and demanded unification with their homeland. They later cited a 1991 referendum in which the majority ethnic-Armenian population voted to break away from Azerbaijan, although the United Nations continues to regard the enclave as Azeri territory.
The subsequent conflict claimed some 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people by the time of a cease-fire in 1994.
The Myanmar construction tycoon spoke in a faltering monotone, blinking fast and gulping occasionally for air. He said that over the past several years he had handed a total of $550,000 to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Myanmar who was ousted in a military coup last month.
On two occasions, he had provided $100,000 and $150,000, the businessman said in a confessional statement broadcast on a military television network Wednesday night. In the English subtitles, the money had been handed over in a “black envelope.” In Burmese, the description had him presenting the money, meant to enhance his business ties, in a paper gift bag.
Either way, the envelope or gift bag would have been very large to hold that much cash.
The televised statement by U Maung Weik, a military crony who was once imprisoned for drug trafficking, appears to be the latest act in an intricately planned effort to impugn Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
Before elections in November, an online campaign amplified by pro-military groups raised a litany of unproven allegations against the civilian leader, who had shared power with the military for five years. Once her party won a landslide victory, military-linked forces stepped up their attacks on her, calling her corrupt and under the influence of foreigners.
a digital forensics investigation found.
Myanmar’s envoy to the United Nations, who gave an impassioned speech last month decrying the military’s seizure of power.
On Wednesday, the last of Myanmar’s major independent newspapers ceased publication. More than 30 journalists have been detained or pursued by authorities since the coup. The country, for decades under the military’s fist, is rapidly losing whatever democratic reforms had been introduced over the past few years.
various crimes that could see her imprisoned for years. The charges include esoteric crimes such as illegally importing foreign walkie-talkies and contravening coronavirus regulations.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has not yet been charged in relation to Mr. Maung Weik’s accusations that he gave her money to better his business relationship with the civilian government. The military television network said that investigators were currently looking into the case.
25 pounds of gold and about $600,000. Mr. Maung Weik’s accusations of money transfers are separate from this figure.
If charges are brought in any such cases, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, could face life imprisonment.
“I 100 percent believe that their accusations against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are groundless,” said U Aung Kyi Nyunt, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity in Myanmar far outstrips that of the generals who have controlled the country for most of the past 60 years. She spent 15 years under house arrest and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to nonviolent resistance.
While her international reputation faded after she defended the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims, her star appeal endured at home. The National League for Democracy’s electoral performance last year bested its 2015 landslide. The military has called fraud on the polls.
Mr. Khin Maung Zaw, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer, said that by silencing and imprisoning her the military regime risked burnishing her popularity further.
“They should not let Daw Aung San Suu Kyi change from a hero to a martyr,” he said. “If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi becomes a martyr, then the strength of the people will never be destroyed, and her martyrdom will become the people’s greatest strength.”