Americas: IMF-backed austerity measures spark unrest in Suriname
Key Risks: civil unrest; political violence; political stability
In Suriname, on 17 February 119 people were arrested and 20 others were injured as protesters stormed parliament, looted local businesses and clashed with police in the capital Paramaribo. Thousands participated in initially peaceful demonstrations against government austerity measures – including the elimination of fuel and electricity subsidies on the IMF’s recommendation – amid rampant inflation, which hit 54.6 per cent in 2022, and the weakening of the Surinamese dollar. Some protesters demanded the resignation of President Chandrikapersad Santokhi – whose election in July 2020 ended former president Desire Delano Bouterse’s decade-long rule – and Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk. The protests came two days after the Suriname National Party left the ruling coalition, citing disagreements over social policies. Political instability risks will remain heightened and further similar protests remain a possibility despite a nightly curfew and increased security measures in place across the capital.
Asia Pacific: Armed criminals kidnap foreign national in Papua New Guinea
Key Risks: kidnapping; political violence
In Papua New Guinea, on 20 February Prime Minister James Marape confirmed that a research team of three local academics and an Australian archaeologist had been kidnapped by armed criminals near Fogomaiu village in the border area between the Southern Highlands and Hela provinces. There have been conflicting reports on the exact number of people taken and their citizenship, but it is possible that additional foreign nationals were among those kidnapped. A ransom has been demanded for their release. Marape added that communication lines with the kidnappers remained open. This came less than two weeks after West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) insurgents took a New Zealand pilot hostage in the adjoining remote mountains of neighbouring Indonesia’s Papua Highlands province. The incidents could inspire other armed groups in the region, further heightening the risk of kidnapping in the near term.
Eurasia: Attacks and sanctions to escalate as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hits anniversary
Sectors: all; energy; power infrastructure
Key risks: war on land
In Ukraine, 24 February will mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly warned that Russian forces may escalate missile and drone attacks against targets nationwide, including in the capital Kyiv and in the west. The latest such barrage came on 16 February when Moscow launched 36 missiles. Separately, on 15 February the European Union (EU) officially proposed its tenth package of sanctions on Moscow which is likely to be finalised before the anniversary. The package will include export bans on EU goods worth EUR11.3bln (US$12bln). Sanctions could also reportedly target three major Russian banks including Alfa-Bank, Rosbank and Tinkoff Bank. The risk of nationwide missile strikes will remain very high around 24 February and further punitive measures against Moscow from Kyiv’s Western allies should be expected.
Europe: Talks to normalise relations with Kosovo spark ultranationalist protests in Serbia
Key Risks: political stability; civil unrest
In Serbia, on 15 February hundreds of ultranationalists rallied in Belgrade and attempted to storm the presidential office over the government’s plan to approve a Western-backed proposal aimed at normalising ties with Kosovo. On 16 February Damjan Knezevic, leader of the far-right People’s Patrol party, was detained along with two other party members after he threatened “more than riots” should Belgrade accept the plan. Knezevic has ties to Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group. Although President Alexander Vucic dismissed the protest as “anti-Serbian”, ultranationalist sentiment remains strong in the country. Belgrade’s and Pristina’s delegates are meeting in Brussels on 20 February to discuss the proposal. As Vucic presses forward with the talks aimed at reaching an agreement with Kosovo – a prerequisite for Belgrade’s and Pristina’s bid to join the EU – the risk of further protests with a potential to turn violent remains high.
MENA: President Saied’s crackdown on dissent rekindles unrest in Tunisia
Key Risks: political stability; civil unrest
In Tunisia, on 18 February thousands of people associated with the powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) demonstrated across the country to protest the arrests of several opposition figures and deteriorating economic conditions. Following the arrest of a senior UGTT official on 1 February, the union – which claims to have more than a million members – once again denounced President Kais Saied’s progressively authoritarian rule. Arrests of political activists on ambiguous charges have become frequent in recent weeks. Saied triggered a political crisis with his move to dissolve parliament in 2021. Subsequently, two rounds of legislative elections which concluded on 29 January have only weakened the government’s legitimacy, with only 11.2 per cent of eligible voters participating in the votes. Further UGTT-led protests and strikes are expected in the coming weeks, with the government’s position expected to become increasingly tenuous.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Senegal’s opposition leader Ousmane Sonko faces fresh charges
Key Risks: terrorism
In Senegal, on 16 February security forces removed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko from his vehicle as his supporters demonstrated in Dakar following the announcement of an alleged politically-charged libel trial against him instigated by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. On 15 February Sonko had called on his supporters to demonstrate following Niang’s allegations of defamation, insults and forgery. In March 2021 Sonko was arrested over sexual assault allegations in another suspected political charge triggering protests which killed 12 people. Opponents of President Macky Sall – who is barred from running in 2024 due to constitutional term limits – have increasingly faced political charges. Sonko came in third in the 2019 presidential vote and although the trial might affect his ability to run for president in 2024, he remains a viable presidential candidate.