The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 50

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, February 5th, 2024

Good morning everyone,

Let’s jump right in today.

In Europe, German public transport workers go on strike across the country, and Northern Ireland sees some government changes.

Over in the Middle East, Syria accuses the U.S. of supporting ISIS, Israel and Hezbollah exchange fire, and Turkey arrests a number of foreign nationals for alleged ties to the Islamic State.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Namibia’s President passes away, the African Union partially withdraws from Somalia, and the two warring parties in the Sudan war meet for talks in Bahrain.

In the Americas, Colombia restarts an offensive against a narco group, El Salvador’s President Bukele wins re-election, and the U.S. reimposes some sanctions on Venezuela.

In Asia and Oceania, the US and Japan officially name China an enemy, Taiwan gets new missiles, and a cyberattack in Japan leaks classified info.

All in all, it’s just another day at the office. Let's dive in:

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

Farmer Protests Persist Across Europe

The banner reads "Macron answer us", as French farmers block the highway in protest. (Photo - Reuters/Abdul Saboor)

February 3rd, 2024: (2 Minute Read)  Late last week, French farmers took to the streets to protest the most recent string of regulations and price increases that harmed their livelihoods. Now, it is spreading even further across Europe to the Netherlands and Belgium, as farmers have blocked the border; Greek farmers are blocking streets, and Polish unions have threatened to shut off border crossings with Ukraine.

The anger across Europe is consistent: increased red tape, cheap imports, rising costs, and no sign of help. The protests began as the EU made an ambitious drive to reduce carbon and nitrogen emissions by addressing industrial farms.

When the EU aimed to tackle climate change, they implemented measures to decrease livestock farming across member states. Additionally, they agreed to buy produce from Ukrainian farms, which often surpass the average European farm in size. This imposed heavy costs on European farmers, who were already struggling with the climate laws imposed by the EU.

Farmers' unions in France have urged protestors to stand down as other countries struggle to control the outrage. In Brussels, farmers threw stones, eggs, fireworks, and other trash at the European Parliament. Jose Maria Castilla, a farmer representing the Spanish farmers union, said, “We want to stop these crazy laws that come every single day from the European Commission.” It appears that even the unions in each country are struggling to control the outrage.

Concessions have been made in France, but other farmers worry that it will not be enough to address the massive supply chain issues that could arise from reductions in farming across Europe. Farmers warn that the future is in jeopardy if this is the path the EU chooses. European Parliament President Robert Metsola said, “We see you and we hear you,” in response to the protests outside.

In addition to allowing Ukrainian farmers to sell products in Europe, the EU has given $54 billion in aid to the country while also reducing the subsidies farmers rely on to operate their equipment and maintain operations. Farmers feel as though they are being forced to shut down their livelihoods. The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) has designated 300 billion euros to be distributed to farmers, but they feel like the policies within the CAP leave them behind.

With elections approaching, many of Europe’s right-leaning parties are taking the opportunity to make agriculture a voting issue to expand their base. There has been a lot of discussion about the future of Europe’s farms and their population if food from other countries begins to run out.


February 2nd, 2024 - Public transit across Germany ground to a halt on Friday, leaving millions of commuters and travelers without transportation as 90,000 public transport workers went on strike to demand better working conditions. The strike was organized by the labor union Verdi and called unions across the country into action. Unions in every federal state aside from Bavaria participated in the strike, marking Germany’s longest strike in history. In Berlin, however, workers would only strike in the early hours of the day in order to minimize disruption in the bustling city. Among Verdi’s demands were improved working conditions, including reductions in working hours and increased holiday entitlement. The union further highlighted the severe labor shortage in public transport, which has led to daily cancellations of buses and trains across all fare zones due to understaffing. This comes amid strikes and protests from workers all across Europe erupting in the past few months and follows closely with farmers in Germany protesting against a proposed decrease in diesel subsidies, which has since been reduced.

A photo of a strike poster being put up in Germany (Photo from Fabian Strauch/dpa/picture alliance).

February 3rd, 2024 - Northern Ireland elected the first nationalist First Minister after nearly two years without a functioning government on Saturday. The absence of a functioning government stemmed from the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) withdrawing in protest over post-Brexit trade arrangements they deemed unfavorable to Northern Ireland's interests. The party only returned to the Assembly after a revamp of trade laws spearheaded by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The British parliament's approval of the trade rule revamp, negotiated between the government and the DUP, marks a significant milestone. Among the key measures is the removal of physical checks for goods within the UK internal market system, with over 80% of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland exempt from checks. Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s newly elected First Minister and member of the nationalist Sinn Fein party, was elected following Sinn Fein’s historic majority win in the nation’s 2022 elections, gaining a majority in the Assembly. “To all of you who are British and unionist: Your national identity, culture, and traditions are important to me,” O’Neill said in her first speech to the assembly. “None of us is being asked or expected to surrender who we are. Our allegiances are equally legitimate. Let’s walk this two-way street and meet one another halfway.”

Middle East

February 4th, 2024 - Turkey’s Security Service has announced the arrest of 34 foreign nationals across several Turkish cities over the detainees' suspected affiliation with the Islamic State. A significant portion of those arrested had an INTERPOL Red Notice on their names. The nationalities of those arrested have not been made public. The arrests followed an attack by the Islamic State on a Catholic church in Ankara on January 28th, which killed one person. The attack was the first such attack by the Islamic State on Turkey since 2017.

Turkish Minister of the Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, stated on Twitter that “our state’s breath is always on the necks of terrorists and their collaborators” (Photo from Haber Merkezi).

February 3rd, 2024 - Following the US’ strikes against militant and IRGC targets in both Iraq and Syria on February 2nd, the Syrian Ministry of Defence has released a statement accusing the US of striking “the same area where the Syrian Arab Army is fighting the remnants of the terrorist organization ISIS”, stating it “confirms” that the US is “involved and allied with this organization, working to revive it as a field arm for them in Syria and Iraq by all dirty means." They further claim that the strikes resulted in the “martyrdom of a number of civilians and military personnel”. The strikes hit 85 different targets in at least 125 strikes spread across both Syria and Iraq and were in response to an attack by an Iranian-backed militant group on a US military base in Jordan, which killed 3 US soldiers and wounded at least 34 others.

February 4th, 2024 - Tensions have risen even further between Israel and Hezbollah after Israel launched a series of airstrikes against several Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon. The Israeli strikes were met with a salvo of rocket fire from Hezbollah, which launched dozens of rockets. The exchanges come as Israel has ordered hospitals close to Lebanon to prepare for treating a large amount of casualties and has again deployed more troops to the border. Clashes between Israel and Hezbollah have happened frequently since the beginning of the Israel-Gaza war but have thus far fallen short of the initially promised intervention from Hezbollah in the event of an Israeli ground offensive into Gaza.


February 4th, 2024 - Hage Geingob, the President of Namibia, has passed away at 82 years old at a hospital in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Taking his place is Vice President Nangolo Mbumba, before presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held at the end of 2024. Although the announcement of the president’s death did not state the exact cause of death, President Geingob a number of weeks ago had been diagnosed with cancer, which he was at the hospital receiving treatment for after returning from the US following “novel treatment” he received there. President Geingob was a very important politician in Namibia’s history, both pre- and post-independence. He chaired the body that created the nation's constitution, was a prominent voice in the pursuit of independence, and became Namibia’s first Prime Minister after the nation gained independence from South Africa, which was at the time white-minority lead. Geingob was first elected president in 2014.

Former President of Namibia, Hage Geingob (Photo from NAMPresidency on Twitter).

February 1st, 2024 - The African Union has completed phase two of it’s three-phase plan for withdrawing its intervention force from Somalia, a move which they say marks “a watershed moment in the ongoing Somalia security transition process." The first phase of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) withdrawal took place last year, with the withdrawal of 2,000 troops. In the current phase, 3,000 troops are withdrawing. The African Union has stated their belief that Somalia is seeing enough progress to where the third and final phase of their plan will be completed by June 30th, with the further withdrawal of 4,000 troops. ATMIS handed over seven military bases to Somalia and closed two others as a part of the withdrawal plan.

February 1st, 2024 - According to several sources, the Sudanese military government and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces met three times in January for high-level talks within Bahrain, the first such talks since the beginning of the war in April of 2023. While several talks had been held before in Jeddah, the talks typically involved low-level officials from both sides, and commitments made were almost never adhered to for long. The talks in Bahrain reportedly involved officials from the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt. While no breakthroughs have been made as of yet on a potential ceasefire, whether temporary or permanent, the talks are a step in the right direction for peace processes that have thus far seen little commitment from both sides. The talks were held privately and were not announced publicly. The reason why the talks were unannounced is not exactly clear and remains largely unacknowledged by those involved.

The Americas

February 1st, 2024 - The Colombian government announced plans to restart an offensive against right-wing paramilitary-turned-narco-terrorists known as Clan del Golfo on Thursday. The planned revival comes after a meeting between the nation’s President, Gustavo Petro, and top military and police officials regarding general policing issues, with a key portion being actions against the Gulf Clan. The operation, known as Operation Agamemnon, was originally devised to capture the infamous drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga David, also known as "Otoniel." However, following his capture in 2023, the government sought to replace Agamemnon with another operation, a decision that would be reversed. Agamemnon is a joint operation between the Colombian police and military with the sole intention of targeting the leadership of Clan del Golfo, one of the Colombian government’s largest threats in the criminal underground. The operation now focuses on Otoniel’s successor, Chiquito Malo, who was a close lieutenant to the captured narco lord.

Members of the Colombian military march during the inauguration of a new unit to address rebel and crime gang activities along its border with Venezuela, in Cucuta, Colombia, October 6, 2021. (Photo - Reuters)

February 5th, 2024 - Nayib Bukele, President of El Salvador, won the nation’s 2024 presidential election in a landslide victory, with the president claiming to have won over 85% of the vote. The president further claimed to have 58 of the 60 seats in the National Assembly. The re-elected president has been a controversial figure in international media due to his heavy-handed approach to crime within El Salvador, an approach that has seen a steep 70% decline in homicide in the nation. Bukele is often regarded as the reason for the decrease in crime following the Assembly’s declaration of a 30-day state of emergency, in which Bukele temporarily suspended the constitutional right to free assembly, the inviolability of correspondence and communications, and sent military units to gang-infested neighborhoods. The state of emergency has subsequently been extended every month, and remains in effect. Bukele’s legal sidestepping of the single term law for President’s has seen fears grow he may attempt to cling on to power, however Bukele has stated he does not intend to remain in power indefinitely.

January 29th, 2024 - The United States reimposed sanctions on Venezuelan gold on Monday following the ratification of a 15-year-long ban on an opposition leader. The US originally eased up sanctions on Venezuela in exchange for a variety of concessions, which included the release of US citizens held prisoner in Venezuela, the lifting of bans on opposition candidates, as well as new elections sometime in 2024. However, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ratified a ban on the opposition’s leading candidate, Maria Corino Machada, on January 26th, leading to fierce condemnation from the US. However, Venezuela wasn’t silent on the reimposed sanctions, with the President of Venezuela's National Assembly, Jorge Rodriguez, firing back at the US before stating that no state should interfere in matters concerning another state.

Asia and Oceania

February 4th, 2024 - For the first time, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military have designated China as a hypothetical enemy in their joint command post exercise. This shift comes amid growing concerns about a potential future invasion of Taiwan by Beijing. The computer simulation exercise, which began on February 1 and is scheduled to run until the 8th, focuses on a hypothetical emergency situation in Taiwan. In the past, a provisional name was used when referring to a potential adversary. Previously, to avoid potential leaks, the countries had used maps with slight variations from actual topography; however, the current exercise employs unaltered versions.

US Marines and Japanese soldiers during instruction at Exercise Keen Sword 2023 on Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan. (Photo - U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Thomas Sheng)

February 4th, 2024 - Raytheon has been selected to provide Taiwan with 50 new air-to-ground missiles at a cost of $68 million USD. The deal is set to be completed by 2028 and is part of a larger defense agreement enacted by the Trump administration in 2017. This missiles will be fitted for Taiwan’s F-16V multirole jets, which are also American supplied, in order to deter a potential conflict with China.

February 5th, 2024 - A government insider revealed that sensitive Japanese diplomatic information was leaked in 2020 due to cyberattacks on the Foreign Ministry. During the tenure of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan detected a significant cyberattack leading to the unauthorized release of diplomatic information, the specific content of which remains undisclosed to the public. The leak, containing highly confidential information exchanged daily between the ministry and diplomatic missions abroad, was transmitted through an encrypted Internet Protocol Virtual Private Network (IP-VPN), a crucial network for safeguarding sensitive data. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi, in a press conference, stated that the government, under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, has not confirmed whether secret Foreign Ministry information was accessed during the cyberattacks.

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