Welcome to the 195 series, where I take you on a mini-tour of every country (and maybe some places that want to be countries). Each week I'll feature a new location. Some you may have heard of, while others may be new to you. The point is to learn and nurture our curiosity about the wider world. Maybe you'll find a new artist or musician you like, too.
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Population: Roughly 98,000 people.
Current government: The three islands that make up the country Antigua and Barbuda are a constitutional monarchy and part of the Commonwealth, a political association of former territories of the British Empire. The country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1981, and the Queen of England now has a mainly ceremonial role.
Like the U.K., Antigua and Barbuda has a parliament. The current Prime Minister Gaston Browne is a member of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party. He's been in the role since 2014.
Languages spoken: English.
Religion: The vast majority of the population is Christian. The State Department notes that 17.6 percent of the population is Anglican, 12.4 percent Seventh-day Adventist, 12.2 percent Pentecostal, 8.3 percent Moravian, 8.2 percent Roman Catholic, and 5.6 percent Methodist. That is based on a 2011 census, which also said an additional 12.2 percent of the population belongs to other religious groups, including Rastafarians, Muslims, Hindus, and Baha’is.
Standout artist: Mark Brown.
You can watch a short interview with him, too.
Standout musician: Tyrone Mason, the world-renowned saxophone player who died last year.
Standout film: Dadli is a short in which a 13-year-old talks about his daily life on the island of Antigua.
A surprising thing: After 2009, the islands named a mountain after U.S. President Barack Obama. You can climb Mount Obama if you visit.
Story of the week: Antigua and Barbuda's High Court decriminalized gay sex for the first time this month. That seems like a pretty big deal.
What I'm writing:
• Lawmakers, lawyers, and victims of terror attacks are clashing over the fate of the $7 billion in Afghan Central Bank reserves that the U.S. froze after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. This story is locked, but there's a Twitter thread with the takeaways.
• During a series of events in the House of Representatives this week, lawmakers were told that the U.S. approach to African nations is failing—and Moscow is reaping the benefits.
What I'm reading:
• Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree offering a simplified path to Russian citizenship for all Ukrainianians, in a step that aims to solidify Moscow's presence in the occupied parts of the country, the New York Times reports.
• Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a ‘secret mobilization’ that allowed oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin to win back Putin’s favor, Meduza reports.
• NATO and European Union states are pushing for better tracking of weapons supplied to Ukraine in response to fears that criminal groups are smuggling them onto Europe’s black market, the Financial Times reports.
• North Korea officially recognized the so-called independence of the Russian-occupied Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, NK News reports.
• Anger is surging among a growing number of Georgians, who fear the ruling Georgian Dream party is appeasing Russia and deliberately undermining Tbilisi’s EU aspirations, Politico Europe reports.
• The EU Commission issued guidance saying Lithuania is obliged to allow the transit of sanctioned Russian goods, except weapons, between Russia and Kaliningrad as long as it's transported by rail, Al Jazeera reports.
• North Macedonia’s parliament held a special session to debate a plan proposed by France to enshrine more rights for the country’s Bulgarian minority. The plan aims to open the door for Skopje to start EU accession talks, which Bulgaria has so far vetoed. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in Skopje to address the MPs, and said that the EU wants North Macedonia in the union, ABC News reports.
• North Macedonia's lawmakers passed the deal to settle the dispute with Bulgaria, clearing the way to long-due EU membership talks, Al Jazeera reports.
• Slovenia’s new liberal government will draft legislation to strike down a ban on gay marriage and adoption “in a week or two,” STA reports.
• Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, claimed that the European Union has "shot itself in the lungs" with ill-considered economic sanctions on Russia, Reuters reports.
• The European Commission decided to sue Hungary over an anti-LGBT law and its refusal to renew the license of Klubradio, a broadcaster critical of the government, Reuters reports.
• Spain's government passed a democratic memory law, which seeks to address dictator Francisco Franco’s legacy. "The bill declares illegal the 1936 coup d’état that unleashed the [Spanish] civil war and eventually installed Franco in power, as well as his four-decade dictatorship. It also seeks to eliminate aristocratic titles linked to the regime and include accounts of Francoist repression in school textbooks," Politico Europe reports.
• Boris Johnson’s U.K. premiership will end on September 6 under a timetable agreed by Conservative Party bosses, Politico Europe reports. The people who could replace him are: Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat, and Suella Braverman.
• The Biden administration is discussing lifting its ban on U.S. sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia. Any final decision is expected to hinge on whether Riyadh is progressing toward ending the war in neighboring Yemen, Reuters reports.
• Two days after Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was gunned down, his Liberal Democratic Party and its allies swept to victory in a parliamentary election that gave them a chance to pursue Abe's long-held ambition of revising Japan's pacifist constitution, the New York Times reports.
• A trove of leaked files revealed how Uber flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers, and secretly lobbied governments during its global expansion. The leak also contains texts between Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick and French President Emmanuel Macron, who secretly helped the company when he was France's economy minister, the Guardian reports.
• The Islamic State planned to create a large stockpile of chemical and biological agents to use in attacks against major European cities. In response to this threat, U.S. officials launched a 2015 operation to kill Salid al-Sabawi, a key weapons expert in the group who had once helped President Saddam Hussein build his extensive arsenal of chemical weapons, the Washington Post reports.
• Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled his country for the Maldives on a military aircraft, the Financial Times reports. Meanwhile, back home:
• Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as temporary leader on Friday and has the ruling party's backing to take the role permanently, the BBC reports.
What the State Department says:
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