Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: July 12, 2021

Thousands demand freedom in protests in Cuba, top U.S. Afghanistan commander to step down, and more

1

Thousands demand freedom in protests in Cuba

Demonstrators filled the streets in Cuban cities including Havana on Sunday, protesting food shortages, electrical blackouts, economic crisis, pandemic restrictions, and a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines amid a surge of infections linked to the Delta variant of the virus. Protesters chanted "Freedom!" and "We are not afraid!" and demanded the resignation of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel. These are the largest demonstrations the communist country has seen in decades. No significant police suppression of the gatherings has been reported, but Diaz-Canel promised intolerance for further "provocations" and told his supporters they have an "order for combat" to suppress the protests.

2

Top U.S. Afghanistan commander to step down

The 18th and final commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller, will step down from his post Monday in a symbolic step of the Biden administration's plan with draw down the United States' two-decade war in Afghanistan. The mission officially ends August 31, but U.S. airstrikes and clandestine operations will continue, and a significant contractor presence will remain. Remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be under the purview of the commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, going forward. Miller became commander in 2018. "It is time for this war in Afghanistan to end," said Miller's predecessor, Gen. John Nicholson, in his farewell message three years ago.

3

Haitian police arrest suspect in president's assassination

Haitian authorities on Sunday announced their arrest of Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a suspect in last week's assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Sanon is accused of hiring a team of 26 Colombian and two Haitian-American mercenaries to arrest Moïse. Sanon had "political objectives," said National Police Chief Léon Charles, alleging he told the mercenaries they would become his bodyguards and that he would become president after Moïse's ouster. Sanon is one of nearly two dozen suspects in police custody. Meanwhile, gang violence in Haiti has escalated, and the position of prime minister is claimed by two rival politicians.

4

California wildfire expands as effects of heat wave linger

The Beckwourth Complex Fire crossed the state line from California into Nevada on Sunday, expanding by some 20,000 acres and destroying around 20 homes. The largest U.S. wildfire of 2021 so far, the blaze is only 8 percent contained and now covers more than 80,000 acres, comprising around a tenth of the 768,000 acres currently burning in the western United States. Many of the wildfires now burning there and in Canada began during the intense heatwave of late June and early July. Cooler temperatures are forecast for the coming week, and firefighters expect to make more progress then.

5

Pfizer to discuss third vaccine dose with Washington

Drugmaker Pfizer will meet with top Food and Drug Administration officials Monday to request federal approval to offer a third COVID-19 shot as a booster for the initial two shots in its vaccine regimen. The company says its research indicates a third dose dramatically increases antibody levels, but National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases chief Anthony Fauci said Sunday he isn't convinced the government should advise a third dose at this time. The daily case rate remains far below its winter peak as vaccination continues to provide effective protection, but a surge is presently being fueled by an uptick of cases in a handful of states, driven largely by the Delta variant as it makes its way through unvaccinated pockets of the population.

6

Texas legislature advances GOP voting bills

Committees in both houses of the Republican-controlled Texas state legislature voted Sunday to advance their versions of a bill to change election procedure in the state. The measure can now move to a floor vote in the coming days as the legislature continues to convene in a special session. Texas Democrats vehemently oppose the bills and staged a walkout in protest in May. If the legislation passes, it will prohibit drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, among other changes. Supporters of the proposal say it will preserve election integrity; opponents say it is a suppression plan that will particularly harm voters of color.

7

U.S. reaffirms rejection of Chinese maritime claims

Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement Sunday rejecting China's claim to contested waters, a longstanding U.S. position the Trump administration also held. "Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea," Blinken said. "The People's Republic of China (PRC) continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway." The U.S. maintains a naval presence in the region as well as a 70-year-old mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. Blinken reaffirmed U.S. commitment to the pact.

8

TikTok IPO reportedly delayed indefinitely over data security risks

ByteDance, the parent company of popular video app TikTok, has indefinitely suspended its plans for an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States or Hong Kong, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Chinese officials told the Beijing-based company to "focus on addressing data-security risks," the Journal reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with ByteDance's plans. The decision was made last March, at which point the company also lacked a chief financial officer, which has reportedly also contributed to the delay. Beijing has recently tightened regulation of IPO candidates for foreign markets.

9

Trump wins CPAC straw poll, denounces impeachments again

Former President Donald Trump easily triumphed in the 2024 Republican presidential primary straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Texas on Sunday. Traditionally an annual event held in Washington in early spring, the conference moved to Florida this year and added a second gathering in Dallas. Trump won the straw poll at both 2021 CPACs, but he had a larger victory margin at the later meeting in Texas. Seventy percent of respondents said they want him to run, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with 21 percent. DeSantis was the top choice when Trump was not on the list, winning the support of 68 percent of respondents. Trump took a defiant tone in his speech to the CPAC crowd Sunday, saying two impeachments did not change him, except that he "became worse."

10

Italy defeats England to win European soccer championship

Italy won the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship final against England on Sunday, taking the soccer championship with a 3-2 penalty shootout win. England stunned Italy with a goal from Luke Shaw in just the second minute of the contest. They held the lead for a while, but Italy's Leonardo Bonucci evened things up in the 67th minute, moving the game into extra time and, eventually, penalties. A dramatic save from Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma sealed the deal for the Azzurri, who capped an impressive return to form after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. This is Italy's first such victory in 15 years, while England's hopes were dashed in its first final game for the country's men's team since 1966. Delayed by pandemic restrictions since last summer, the game was played in London's Wembley Stadium with 60,000 fans in attendance. 

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