April in Review

Following are some of major events that have been dominating the global headlines in the month of April:

Terror in Sri Lanka as blasts hit churches and hotels during Easter celebrations

The Easter celebrations in Sri Lanka turned into carnage as blasts hit several churches and hotels in the capital Colombo, adjacent city of Negombo as well as Batticaloa in the east on 21 April. The attacks left at least 250 people dead and hundreds more injured. In response to the attacks, the Sri Lankan government imposed a curfew while social media sites such as Facebook and WhatsApp were blocked to prevent the spread of misinformation. A national day of mourning was also declared for 23 April. As the country reeled from the fatal attacks, efforts were also being mobilized to identify the culprit of the attacks that threatened to disrupt the relative peace since the civil war between Sinhalese and Tamils ended in 2009. Suspicions quickly fell on the little-known jihadist group, National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) that had in the past accused of inciting hatred against Buddhists. While the group was thought to be small, the likely involvement of the Islamic State (IS) might serve as an explanation as to how the attackers could have pulled out such act. Additionally, there will also be attention on the Sri Lankan intelligence-gathering capabilities in the aftermath of the terror attacks as various reports have indicated that some officials were being warned few weeks prior but did not act upon them.

Sudan’s Bashir ousted following military coup

Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule in Sudan came to an end following a coup d’état led by the country’s vice-president cum minister of defence. The fall of Bashir marked a dramatic end to the months of protests that were initially caused by widespread dissatisfaction against the rising prices of essential goods. The coup was quick, and Bashir was immediately put under house arrest and later a high-security prison at Kobar. Despite the excitement at the beginning, concerns have been growing that the military takeover will only hinder the country’s transition toward a democracy due to the absence of a civilian-led authority. The Sudanese Professionals Associations (SPA) that has been leading the revolt had said that its supporters will continue to protest and issued a call for sweeping change to end a violent crackdown on dissent, purge corruption and cronyism that flourished under Bashir’s rule. The SPA’s call was also echoed by the representatives of the main opposition groups known as Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change that later submitted a memorandum to the Transitional Military Council, calling for an establishment of a civilian-led ruling council instead. The military leaders have said they will consider some of the suggestions though a complete handover of power to the civilians is still highly unlikely.

Jokowi secures second term as Indonesian president

Indonesia’s metal-loving president, Joko Widodo secured a second term following an election in the world’s largest Muslim democracy. While the soft-spoken Jokowi appeared to be humbled by the results during a post-election press conference, the challenges ahead would be greater for him to make his last term counts. As a start, his closest rival, Prabowo Subianto has already challenged the results, calling it rigged in favour of the incumbent. A repeat of the 2014 scenario seems certain where a settlement at the Constitutional Court will be sought. There is also a risk of protest by Islamists who have been key supporters of Prabowo. The group had in the past mobilised tens of thousands of people to protest against then Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama also known as “Ahok”. Besides the legitimacy of his second term, Jokowi will also need to accelerate his economic agenda to focus more on other aspects besides infrastructures. If his first-term is marked with the development of new projects from airports to wind farms, Jokowi will need to make his administration to be centred more on human development in the remaining five years as he had been criticized in the past for not doing enough in addressing minority rights as well as stemming the rise of extremism.

Netanyahu wins fifth term as Israeli PM

The incumbent Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu secured a fifth term in office following a victorious re-election bid.  Amidst Netanyahu’s success, the opposition has vowed to give his Likud party a “difficult life” as he looked set to form a coalition government with several right-wing parties. In the Palestinian Territories, the election of Netanyahu was greeted with less enthusiasm as it also meant that the prospect of a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians is likely to be more remote than ever. He had previously vowed to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a move that is considered illegal under international law. Despite the victory, the premiership of Netanyahu remains far from stable as he is still facing three corruption cases and there is a chance that he could be indicted in the coming months. Unconfirmed reports have indicated that Netanyahu might attempt to persuade potential coalition partners to pass legislation that would grant prime ministers immunity from prosecution while in office.

Fire guts historic Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris

A large fire gutted the historic Notre-Dame cathedral located in central Paris in mid-April, sparking grief from many across the globe. In the aftermath of the fire, Parisians and tourists alike gathered around the structure that has been one of the key landmarks of the city to share their memories. Donations also poured in to restore the building back to its former glory. Amidst the grief, the French President Emmanuel Macron also rallied the public to rebuild the cathedral together while stressing on its cultural significance to the country. He even set an ambitious target to complete restoration efforts by 2024, just in time for the Olympics. Despite this, not everyone shared the same optimism as the 800-year structure was made out of 1,300 oak trees, a material that is hard to obtain today. On top of that, the compatibility of ancient craftsmanship with modern technologies as the structure is being restored will also need to be taken into consideration by engineers responsible for the process. Concurrently, an investigation has also been launched though there has been no suggestion that the fire has been caused by an “intentional act”. Instead, authorities suspected that the reason was likely to be “accidental”.

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