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Forecast Podcast: Anti-government protests break out in Sri Lanka as economic and energy crises worsen

The title image for the Factal Forecast. It is a black and white mercator projection of Earth with clouds above the map and a couple dozen Factal incident event markers.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Imana Gunawan discuss anti-government protests in Sri Lanka,  plus more on Russia resuming travel with 52 “friendly” countries, a presidential election in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, a trucker convoy headed for Los Angeles and Somalia swearing in members of Parliament.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

Note: Our podcast will be off next week for Spring Break, but we’ll be back on April 21. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter where we’ll still be posting breaking news.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jess Fino, Irene Villora, Vivian Wang, Jeff Landset and Imana Gunawan.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.

Podcast Transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is April 7th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Russia resuming air travel with 52 “friendly” countries, a presidential election in the Russia-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia, a trucker convoy headed for Los Angeles, Somalia swearing in members of Parliament and anti-government protests in Sri Lanka.

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Russia to resume flights with 52 “friendly” countries

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Russia says it will resume air travel with a selection of “friendly” countries on Saturday.

That, according to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

The move comes as Russia tries to revive its economy from international sanctions

Tough travel restrictions introduced back in March of 2020 were beginning to be lifted gradually as the country reopens, but the invasion of Ukraine in late February and the sanctions that followed led Russia to close its airspace to several countries. 

Meanwhile, such sanctions have also led international companies to end contracts with Russian airlines.

Now, the 52 “friendly” nations Russia says it will resume travel with includes China, Pakistan, South Africa and 49 other countries that did not take part in the sanctions imposed amid the attack on Ukraine. 

Russia is obviously hoping to bring in some revenue after being severely hit by the international response to the invasion, but it remains to be seen if airlines will resume operations and if national airlines will be able to operate despite a freeze on the sale of aircraft parts or maintenance services to the country.

South Ossetian presidential elections

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: South Ossetia, a largely unrecognized Russia-backed breakaway state carved out from Georgia, will hold presidential elections on Sunday.

The election comes just over a week after the current President Anatoly Bibilov said the republic will take legal steps to join Russia.

South Ossetia, like most other post-Soviet conflicts, can trace its contemporary roots to the fall of the Soviet Empire. 

Tensions escalated steadily until 2008, when Russia launched a full invasion following a series of provocations, expelling Georgians from South Ossetia and recognizing its independence. 

Of course, when talking about elections in South Ossetia, it’s important to note that elections there are not at all free and fair, with Russia heavily pre-screening candidates.

Now, Moscow has, at least in the past, rebuffed South Ossetia’s efforts to join Russia and they’ve again made clear that they had taken no legal measures to annex the region, though the Kremlin added it respects the will of the South Ossetian people. 

Still, the move comes during a tense period in the caucasus following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Georgia has painstakingly avoided provoking Russia, both over Ukraine and now over South Ossetia, making it clear that Tbilisi will not use force to respond if South Ossetia holds a referendum to join the Russian Federation.

Trucker convoy plans protest in Los Angeles

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: After spending weeks demonstrating in Washington, D.C., a caravan of truckers is heading toward Los Angeles for more protests on Sunday. 

The caravan, inspired by the “Freedom Convoy” protests that paralyzed Ottawa, Canada, earlier this year, will be protesting coronavirus mandates.

Several groups of truckers set off in late February from around the country for Washington, D.C., to protest against the country’s federal emergency declaration and vaccine mandates. 

The convoy, however, hasn’t seen any of their demands met yet, and hasn’t picked up much momentum aside from disrupting traffic in the D.C. metro area for weeks. 

Still, The movement’s organizers say around 100 vehicles are returning to Los Angeles and are hoping to pick up more participants along the way. 

Demonstrations could exacerbate traffic in Southern California the same way they did in the capital. 

Organizers say they plan to return to D.C., but did not specify when.

Somalia parliament swearing-in

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Somalia is scheduled to swear in members of Parliament on Thursday, ending a series of long delays that left the country without a functioning legislative body for months.

A bit of background: In 2012, Somali politicians established a bicameral parliament that would directly elect the country’s president. 

And the process has been rife with corruption since then, with some experts calling the 2017 election among the most fraudulent in the country’s history. 

The next round of elections were delayed for several reasons, including the coronavirus pandemic, and only 30 representatives had been elected by December of last year. 

However, threats of missing payments from the United Nations and visa bans by the United States have led the process forward.

Now, Somalia has been attempting to stabilize its democracy during its ongoing decades-long civil war. 

Incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo, has stayed in office for more than a year longer than he should. Still, Thursday’s swearing-in should finally lead to elections

Lastly, the swearing-in comes amid threats from al-Shabab, an armed group with links to al-Qaeda.

Somali intelligence warns al-Shabab is planning to attack the country’s president and prime minister. 

Unrest over economic crisis in Sri Lanka

Information compiled by Imana Gunawan

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the protests underway in Sri Lanka. For more on that I spoke with our Asia desk lead Imana Gunawan.

JIMMY: Hey, Imana.

IMANA: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Well, Imana, I’m hoping you can educate us on what’s been going on in Sri Lanka. Can you tell us about the protests that broke out there at the end of March?

IMANA: Yeah. So, since March 31st, there’ve been anti-government protesters across the streets of Sri Lanka after, really, what has been weeks of upheaval over the country’s economic and energy crisis. So, because of the huge amounts of debt that the country has taken on there’s been shortages of food, fuel, crucial medicine, power cuts, and so on and so forth, and so people are growing resentful over these circumstances. And particularly, they have also been resentful over the rule of the current president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. His family is also really powerful in Sri Lanka. So there’s kind of several forces driving the protests at the moment.

JIMMY: I know the president declared a state of emergency last weekend. Has that had any impact on the unrest?

IMANA: Yeah, so because he declared a state of emergency, he basically gave security forces sweeping powers of arrest. You know, enacted a curfew that made it illegal for people to leave their houses, enacted a social media ban, and all of those things. Obviously that led to scores of arrest and kind of heavy handed response to the protests that also led to injuries as well.

JIMMY: Besides the emergency declaration, how has the Sri Lankan government responded to the unrest? Are they addressing protesters’ demands?

IMANA: So the main demand of the protest has been for President Rajapaksa to resign, but so far, despite those demands, the president and his brother, who was a former president but is now the current prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, they both have remained in their positions. And instead the entire cabinet, which also includes several members of the Rajapaksa family, has resigned and the president proposed a unity government – which interestingly, a lot of the opposition parties and politicians have rejected that proposed unity government. And so far, like I mentioned, the president has resisted demands for his resignation. But he has lifted the state of emergency on April 5th, which, you know, since it was enacted, has gotten pretty negative responses across the board because of the kind of show of force that occurred during the protests.

JIMMY: I know a lot of what lies ahead for SriLanka ultimately depends on a ton of factors with the energy situation and the economic crisis, but still, can you tell us what you think folks should be watching for next? 

IMANA: Yeah, because the main demand of, you know, the resignation of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is basically still unmet, protests and unrest are expected to continue, especially now that the state of emergency has been lifted. And, you know, politically, the Rajapaksa government has become a minority in Parliament as dozens of lawmakers have left the ruling coalition. And also several parties have demanded a caretaker government to be formed to basically help deal with this crisis. You know, and on the economic front, what is probably more concerning is that, you know, the Sri Lankan rupee has depreciated further, billions of dollars in debt payments are due soon and, I guess more importantly, the government is running out of foreign currency to import essential medicine, food and fuel, which, you know, people need for their day to day lives. So it’s kind of up in the air what’s going on right now. But we’ll be watching closely, of course.

JIMMY: Well, Imana, thank you for your time. I always appreciate your keeping us up to speed on all the important news in the region.

IMANA: Thank you for having me. 

JIMMY: Take care

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jess Fino, Irene Villora, Vivian Wang and Jeff Landset. Our interview featured editor Imana Gunawan and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com.

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

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