The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 31

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, September 4th, 2023

Good morning everyone,

It’s an important week coming up, with the G20 Summit right around the corner. A week like this sets a global precedent for months to come, so we will certainly be keeping a close eye on it over at See you over there.

Now, to the news of the week. In Europe, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s funeral takes place, Armenia and Azerbaijan once again trade fire, and Belarus accuses Poland of violating its airspace. Over in the Middle East, Netanyahu calls for the deportation of all of Israel’s migrants, the SDF and Arab militants clash in Syria, and Putin and Erdogan hold a very important meeting. Meanwhile in Africa, the DRC military is accused of a massacre, a building fire in Johannesburg kills 70, and South African police kill 18 robbers in a shootout. In the Americas, the famous Burning Man festival is struck by floods and heavy rains, leaving many stranded, car bombs rock the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, and Brazilian police discover the bodies of nine people. In Asia and Oceania, there are shakeups in the G20, the Japanese Supreme Court strikes down a legal battle against US military base expansion, and South Korea announces its plans to curb North Korea at the global summits.

All in all - just another day at the office. Let’s get to it.

- Joshua Paulo, Sebastien Gray, Trent Barr, & the Atlas team

Military Coup in Gabon

Sunday, September 3rd, 2023: (2 Minute Read) Gabon, a country of over 2 million on the west coast of Central Africa, has seen in the past 24 hours a seemingly complete transfer of control of all government and military institutions from the hands of the Bongo administration. The 14-year rule of President Ali Bongo has ended for another family member of the Bongo lineage, General Brice Oligui Nguema, who had up to this point served under his cousin as the commander of the Gabonese Republican Guard and had prominently led both military forces and directed internal reforms aimed at corruption and state-led embezzlement. This came after Ali had just won a heavily disputed election where polls awarded him the winner with 64% of the vote, with a reportedly 56% voter turnout. Opposition parties called the election a fraud, and in second came opposition candidate Albert Ossa with 30%.

The Republican Guard directly serves the president and his close family as well as other leading officials, meaning this coup d’état came as a surprise to many, likely also to former president Ali Bongo, who is now under house arrest and "retired", according to Nguema. Nguema is also the current leader of the military junta’s "Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions," which is comprised of soldiers and officers, including some from the Republican Guard.

On the streets, it seems largely people have come out to support the soldiers involved in the coup and cheer on military parades; so far, no major protests have unfolded.

A curfew has been put in place between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., but free travel within the country is allowed. "The president of the transition insists on the need to maintain calm and serenity in our beautiful country... At the dawn of a new era, we will guarantee the peace, stability, and dignity of our beloved Gabon," Lt. Col. Ulrich Manfoumbi said during one of several statements made by junta leaders on state TV.

Supporters of Ali Bongo’s regime in France and elsewhere have condemned the coup and expressed their upset over losing access to Gabon’s military as well as natural resources, mostly in the form of oil and mining. Others, such as China, have called for Bongo’s safety to be guaranteed.


August 29th, 2023 - Yevgeny Prigozhin’s funeral took place in St. Petersburg. His funeral was notably small, only attended by 20–30 friends and family, and lasted a mere 40 minutes. This was done mostly in order to prevent it from becoming a large public tribute. Prigozhin died in a plane crash the previous week near Moscow. Many have suggested foul play, including US intelligence. Many have also taken to blaming Russia for the crash, particularly since Prigozhin’s death was two months to the day after his short-lived mutiny against the Russian MoD. Russia has called the accusations an "absolute lie".

The grave of Yevgeny Prigozhin in St. Petersburg (Photo from Olga Maltseva/AFP).

September 1st, 2023 - Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of opening fire upon them as clashes erupted that lasted several hours and saw the usage of artillery, drones, and mortars. As a result of the fighting, three Armenian servicemen were killed, with an additional two wounded, and three Azeri servicemen were wounded. During and following clashes, both sides also accused the other of a military buildup at each nation's respective borders. The fighting took place near Sotk in Armenia, and Kelbadjar in Azerbaijan.

September 1st, 2023 - Belarusian authorities have accused Poland of violating Belarusian airspace, claiming that a Polish Mi-24 helicopter flew across the border at "an extremely low altitude" on Friday. The Belarusian state-owned news outlet, BelTA, reported that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry summoned the Polish charge d'affaires and demanded an investigation into the matter. However, Lieutenant Colonel Jacek Goryszewski, a Polish military operational command spokesman, denied any airspace violation. Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski has previously urged authorities to exercise "great caution" when dealing with claims by Belarusian authorities, claiming that such statements are "a direct extension of Lukashenko's regime," referring to Belarus’ President, Alexander Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994. Tensions with neighboring Belarus have been high in recent years following Polish claims that the Baltic state was purposefully sending illegal immigrants from Africa and Middle Eastern countries across the border.

Middle East

August 29th, 2023 - This week in Syria has been marred by clashes between the SDF and a number of Arab tribal elements. The clashes began after the SDF arrested a man named Ahmad al-Khabil, aka Abu Khawla, who heads the Deir ez-Zor Military Council (DMC). The SDF had not announced why the man was arrested; however, they released a general statement saying they had launched "an operation to bolster security" against criminals "involved in drug trafficking and benefiting from arms smuggling". As of September 1st, 45 people, including five civilians, had died during the clashes.

Presidents Erdogan and Putin shake hands in Sochi, Russia on September 4th, 2023 (Photo - Sputnik/Sergei Guneev/Pool via REUTERS).

September 4th, 2023 - Turkish President Erdogan and Russian President Putin are today meeting in Sochi, Russia. As of publication, the meetings are still ongoing but have already produced things of note. At the top of everyone’s minds is the revival of the grain deal, which ended in July after Russia withdrew. At the opening of the meeting, Putin said to Erdogan, "I know that you intend to raise the issue of the grain deal. We are open to negotiations on this question." Russia withdrew from the deal, claiming that its produce and fertilizer exports were facing significant restrictions. Continually, they have demanded a separate agreement to facilitate the ease of transport and sale of their own product. Russia has said, should they achieve this, that they would be open to returning to the grain deal. Russia’s withdrawal from the deal drew criticism from a number of African states at the Russia-Africa summit held a number of weeks ago. Many African nations are dependent or semi-dependent on Russian and Ukrainian grain exports, and the withdrawal worsened the food crises that afflict many.

September 2nd - 3rd, 2023 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the deportation of all migrants in Israel after rival Eritrean groups clashed on Saturday, which injured over 150 people. The fights took place nearby the Eritrean embassy in Tel Aviv, which was holding an event marking the nation's 30th year of independence. The clashes were between supporters and opponents of the Eritrean government. Eventually violence broke out, which resulted in brutal fighting that also injured 30 police officers who were attempting to quell the violence. Netanyahu has called for the immediate deportation of all those who took part in the incident and has stated his intention to seek the deportation of all migrants within Israel, calling them "illegal infiltrators".


August 31st, 2023 - Over 70 people have been killed in a devastating fire that tore through a five-story apartment block in Johannesburg, South Africa. Johannesburg municipal authorities owned the apartment block but appeared to have little idea who was actually living within the building. Some have suggested that the building was mostly occupied by squatters; however, others have suggested the building had criminal elements renting rooms, who would then rent them out to other people in a manner of extortion. Housefires are common in Johannesburg, particularly as people resort to candlelight and wood fires for light and heat when South Africa’s widespread power outages strike.

Two Congolese civilians arrested following military crackdowns on the anti-UN protest (Photo - AFP).

August 30th - September 4th, 2023 - A brutal crackdown by DRC troops on Wednesday on anti-UN protests has left between 57 to 100 people dead. The crackdown, referred to by many as a massacre done by the DRC military, was on a protest headed by a religious group against the UN mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, which is slated to leave the country by the end of the year. Estimates after the massacre put the death toll at 57, who were kept at the Goma Provincial Hospital’s mortuary. However, the head of the Collective of Youth Solidarity Organizations (a youth group in the DRC), Lucas Pecos, has claimed to have confirmed that an additional 43 bodies are being held at local military facilities. Congolese Interior Minister Peter Kazadi announced that a commander of the Republican Guard Brigade, as well as a regiment commander, have been arrested in connection with the killings.

September 1st, 2023 - South African police have killed 18 suspected robbers after a shootout began between the robbers and police in the Limpopo province. The robbers were believed to have been planning a cash truck heist, and police say they had committed several similar crimes throughout the country. Only one police officer was injured as a result of the shooting. Police say that when they approached the address of the suspected robbers, they were fired upon, prompting them to respond. An investigation into the plot began in January. Four people were arrested in a separate location in connection with the plot.

The Americas

September 3rd, 2023 - Flooding at Nevada’s annual Burning Man festival has led to the death of a festivalgoer, while thousands of others remain stranded due to the inclement weather. The organizers closed vehicular access to the festival on Saturday night and will remain closed for the remainder of the festival, which was scheduled to end on Labor Day. Festival goers have been seen trudging through the mud wearing plastic bags, while organizers urged festival goers to conserve food and water and to shelter in place until conditions improve. Organizers further announced that mobile internet and phone trailers were to be deployed in several areas of the event in order to give festivalgoers access to the internet for a brief period of time. Police have begun an investigation into the death but have not released the identity of the deceased nor any information regarding the cause of death.

Festival attendees walk through the mud during the Burning Man festival. (Photo - Trevor Hughes/USA Today Network)

August 31st, 2023 - Two car bombings targeted buildings operated by Ecuador’s prison agency, SNAI, in the nation's capital, Quito, on Thursday. 10 individuals have been arrested in connection with the bombings, while authorities theorize that the attacks may be in response to security operations at a prison that commenced on Wednesday. The operation was initiated in an effort to seize arms, munitions, and explosives present within Cotopaxi prison. The bombs reportedly targeted two buildings that were associated with the agency; one is no longer in use by the agency, while another bomb targeted the agency’s headquarters in Quito. No one was injured in the bombings; however, the bombings caused minimal damage to nearby infrastructure.

August 29th, 2023 - Nine bodies were discovered in Mata de Sao Joao, a city located in Brazil’s north-eastern Bahia state, on Monday in what authorities believe to be a drug-related crime. The victims included two women and three children who suffered gunshot wounds and were then burned with the other victims, leaving only charred remains. A 12-year-old girl was the sole survivor and was quickly transported to a hospital, suffering severe burns from the fire. Two suspects were killed by Brazilian police, while another was taken into custody. Two pistols, ammunition, radio communicators, and drugs were discovered on the suspects. The suspects were located in a forested area of the city, where they were reportedly hiding out in an attempt to avoid police capture. Another suspect has reportedly evaded capture, with law enforcement undergoing efforts to locate them.

Asia and Oceania

September 3rd, 2023 - The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced Monday that Chinese Premier Li Qiang will attend the G20 Summit instead of President Xi Jinping. With the leader of the world’s second-largest economy absent from the "premier economic forum," many leaders and experts have expressed concern over the success of the G20. Many worry that this signifies to the world China's rejection of the global order and the Western-led status quo, particularly as an insult to US President Joe Biden and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The other noteworthy absence that continues for the second year in a row is the absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The last time Xi Jinping skipped this important forum was in 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic was still at its peak and the Chinese government’s hard "Zero COVID policy" prevented him from going overseas.

(Photo - Alet Pretorius / AP)

September 4th, 2023 - The Supreme Court of Japan rejected the Okinawa Prefecture's appeal, allowing the central government to continue with landfill operations for the relocation of a crucial U.S. base in the southern island prefecture. The Supreme Court's First Petty Bench supported the Fukuoka High Court's Naha branch ruling, which affirms the central government's power to instruct the local government to ratify changes. Locals on Okinawa have a long history of battling against the Japanese government's support of US military base expansions, which have increased alongside the Chinese threat to the region.

September 3rd, 2023 - President Yoon Suk Yeol will attend the ASEAN and G20 summits in Indonesia and India this week to implement the South Korea-ASEAN Solidarity Initiative. He plans to advocate for global collaboration to counter North Korea's increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile activities and will call on China to use its influence over Pyongyang to persuade them to abandon their WMD programs at the multilateral events.

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