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5 things to know for May 21: Mideast ceasefire, Covid, Congress, Myanmar, South Korea

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins in less than two weeks, and NOAA is already predicting we’ll see above-average storm activity for a sixth year in a row.

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1. Mideast violence

Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire after more than a week of intense violence that left hundreds dead, mostly Palestinians. While the agreement may end the immediate bloodshed, it likely won’t end long-term conflict between the two sides. Still, people in Gaza and Tel Aviv celebrated the much-needed respite. The UN Secretary General welcomed the ceasefire but said a return to negotiations between Israel and Palestinians — as well as more humanitarian aid to the battered region — is necessary. Since the latest fighting began, Palestinian militants fired thousands of rockets into Israel, and Israel Defense Forces carried out numerous airstrikes in the Gaza region. About 72,000 Gazans have been displaced by the violence, according to UNICEF.

2. Coronavirus

The average daily pace of US coronavirus vaccinations is down almost 50% from its April peak. This could spell trouble for states like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, Georgia and Tennessee, which have the lowest vaccine rates per capita. The concern is that clusters of new outbreaks could pepper underprotected areas over the summer. Some states are getting creative in their bid to increase vaccine rates. New York, Maryland and Ohio are all giving away millions of dollars in vaccine “lotteries” available to those who get a shot. Meanwhile, India has surpassed 26 million Covid-19 cases. However, daily infection numbers are slightly down from the height of the resurgent outbreak that has devastated the country for weeks.

3. Congress

Several high-profile pieces of legislation have reached critical junctures in Congress. The White House had hoped to pass a police reform bill by May 25, the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. The Democratic-led House passed it, and bipartisan talks are ongoing with the Senate. But the House won’t be back in session until June, so it’s not likely the bill will hit the deadline. A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to reform the US Postal Service after the financially struggling agency asked Congress for help. The reforms could save the USPS $45 billion over the next 10 years. Meantime, hope is fading for a bipartisan deal on gun background checks, one of several gun control measures championed by Democrats. And the chances of the Senate agreeing to create a body to investigate this year’s fatal assault on the Capitol are rapidly falling to zero.

4. Myanmar

Myanmar’s junta-appointed election commission will dissolve the political party of the country’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta, which took over in a brutal February coup, has claimed the country’s November elections, which were swept by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party, were fraudulent. Suu Kyi has been in detention since she was arrested hours before the coup. More than 800 people have died in the ensuing violence. Now, opponents of the military’s rule have formed an undercover National Unity Government and hope to set up a People’s Defense Force to challenge the junta.

5. South Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit the White House today for an important summit that may set the tone for how the longtime allies work together over the next several months. Moon is in need of more Covid-19 vaccines for his country, while Washington needs Seoul’s help in pressuring China on areas of mutual concern, like human rights and trade. Both allies are also keen on discussing diplomatic solutions regarding North Korea. Moon’s visit will be only the second time Biden has hosted another world leader in person since taking office in January. The first, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, came last month.


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