Wed. Sep 18th, 2019

Dec 10: Top aide quits White House, UK’s contempt of parliament, and Algeria’s padlock parliament

North America

  • White House chief of staff John Kelly will leave his job by the end of the year. This was announced by President Trump who had described Mr Kelly as a “great guy” and said a replacement would be named “over the next day or two”.
  • William Barr, a well-known conservative lawyer, has been nominated by President Trump to be the new attorney general, replacing current acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker. He held the same role under President George H W Bush from 1991 to 1993. If Mr Barr is confirmed by the Senate after his official nomination the 68-year-old will take charge of the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.
  • State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has been chosen by President Trump to be US’s new UN ambassador. After making the announcement, President Trump told reporters: “She’s very talented, very smart, very quick, and I think she’s going to be respected by all.” Ms Nauert’s appointment to the UN role now has to be approved by the US Senate.
  • The Trump administration’s Department of the Interior has unveiled plans to allow drilling on millions of acres that have been off-limits to protect the greater sage grouse. It said the order would protect sage grouse “while also ensuring that conservation efforts do not impede local economic opportunities”. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also said it would end rules limiting carbon emissions on new coal plants.
  • The arrest of China Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in Canada due to a US extradition request has prompted speculations about the link between that and US-China trade negotiations. But White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said “they are two separate events” while US National Security Adviser John Bolton said “Not respecting this particular arrest, but Huawei is one company we’ve been concerned about”. Meng has been charged with using a sham shell company to access the Iran market in dealings that violate sanctions by US.
  • US has re-established a permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia nearly 30 years after it closed its Mogadishu embassy in 1991. “This historic event reflects Somalia’s progress in recent years and is another step forward in formalising US diplomatic engagement in Mogadishu since recognising the federal government of Somalia in 2013,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. The US diplomatic mission for Somalia in recent years has been attached to the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

South America

  • Bolivian president Evo Morales’s desire to seek a fourth term in office has been approved by the Supreme Electoral Court. But opponents have called it unconstitutional and a general strike will be held this week to oppose Morales’ re-election bid.
  • Employees at state-owned Brazilian company Petrobras have received more than $30m in bribes from leading global oil traders Vitol, Trafigura and Glencore. And this may still be ongoing, investigators said. Petrobras employees offered the trading companies lower prices for oil and its derivatives as well as storage tanks in more than 160 separate operations, then shared in the savings. The bribes moved through bank accounts in the US, Britain and Sweden, among others, raising questions of whether those countries would open investigations.
  • The government of Cuba has announced it will scrap some tough new restrictions on the private sector, which had caused concern among entrepreneurs. The most controversial rule, which would have allowed only one business licence for each person and location, is among those that have been dropped. Other rules dropped include a cap that limited restaurants to 50 seats and for every business owner to have a bank account, with some exceptions.
  • Mexico City has sworn in its first female mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum. Women now make up half of Congress, 15 years after a gender quota system was introduced. Her key promises included reducing crime and enforcing zoning laws, a hot-button issue in the constantly growing megalopolis, where developers routinely build bigger buildings than zoning rules allow.
  • Venezuelans who are fleeing from the country’s spiralling collapse is causing a huge toll on neighbouring Colombia’s healthcare services. Colombian public hospitals have provided more than $40 million worth of emergency treatment, childbirth and vaccination services. “Every day it keeps growing, many people arrive,” said Jorge Guardiola, project coordinator for social work with the Catholic Church in Riohacha. “We’re going to need more resources.”
  • Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, says he was jailed to prevent him from winning the 2018 presidential election. In response, Judge Sergio Moro said the verdict was upheld by an appeals court and was not “a one-man decision”. Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro was elected for presidency instead.

Asia

  • Kamal Hossain, Bangladesh’s former foreign minister has emerged as the face of the opposition to end the decade-long rule of prime minister Sheikh Hasina. In a general election due at the end of this month, Hasina’s ruling Awami League will be fighting to retain power against a new alliance, Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front). The alliance consists of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and two other parties.
  • Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has banned President Maithripala Sirisena from sacking the legislature until it decides on the legality of his move last month to call for snap elections. Sacked prime minister Wickremesinghe’s party and their allies, who command a majority in the 225-member assembly, have suggested they could begin impeachment proceedings against Sirisena depending on the ruling. The courts reopen today.
  • President Trump has sought Pakistan’s help with Afghan peace deal in a letter to prime minister Imran Khan. He hopes the South Asian nation, who has some leverage over the Afghan Taliban, will be able to bring them to the negotiating table.
  • Ethnic Malays held a rally to celebrate a government decision not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) last weekend. This has led to fears that Mahathir’s government is losing reform momentum while the opposition argue that it is just protecting the constitution and the rights of the majority Malays.
  • Australia has passed controversial laws designed to compel technology companies to grant police and security agencies access to encrypted messages. While the Labor opposition had reluctantly supported the laws to help protect Australians during the Christmas period, “legitimate concerns” such as undermining overall security and privacy of users remained. The government pledged to debate possible amendments next year.

Europe

  • German chancellor Angela Merkel used a cheat sheet, accompanied with an identifying photo when meeting Australian prime minister Scott Morrison at the G20 summit last week. This highlights the unpredictable nature of politics in Australia, where parties of left and right appear almost addicted to political assassination. Morrison is the fifth leader since 2013 and Merkel had met at five since her stint in 2005.
  • Germany’s ruling Christian Democrat Union has chosen Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as its new party leader, ending Angela Merkel’s 18-year reign. She received 517 of 999 votes, defeating Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn. As the head of Germany’s largest party, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer could now become the next German chancellor.
  • Merkel has left a mixed legacy as she hands the baton over to the next party leader. While her open-door policy has won her praise within the international community, it has received negative sentiments from German citizens, which also gave rise to the far-right. The far-right is known for its anti-immigration and anti-refugee positions.
  • Rescue and relief organisations SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have announced they are ending the Aquarius refugee rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea after what they call “a relentless ongoing political, judicial and administrative campaign backed by several European states”. In June, Italy blocked the ship, carrying 629 refugees and migrants, from docking at its ports. Since February 2017, the European Union has been funding the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats.
  • Serbia suggested that the creation of a standing army in Kosovo could provoke a military intervention. The predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo parliament is set to vote on Dec 14 on transforming its 4,000-strong, albeit lightly, armed defence force into a regular army. Serbia is afraid that this could be used to expel remaining minority Serbs from Kosovo.
  • The UK government has been found to be in contempt of parliament for failing to publish in full legal advice it received regarding the widely criticised Brexit deal. In a landmark vote last week, parliamentarians in the lower chamber House of Commons backed a motion, tabled a day before by six parties, demanding full disclosure of the counsel by 311 votes to 293.
  • With the fourth consecutive weekend of protests happening in Paris, various French ministers, including the prime minister Édouard Philippe have spoken. While the finance minister, Bruno Le Maire called the “yellow vest” protests “a catastrophe” for the French economy, Philippe vowed to “restore national unity”. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets last Saturday – the latest day of “yellow vest” demonstrations against fuel tax rises and high living costs. President Emmanuel Macron will make an address to the nation this week.

Middle East

  • Qatar will be withdrawing from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The Gulf state is the first Middle East nation to quit the oil cartel, saying it wants to concentrate on gas production and that the move is not political.
  • Peace talks aimed at ending nearly four years of civil war in Yemen have started in Sweden. UN special envoy Martin Griffiths has managed to clinch a prisoner swap deal with both parties which would see thousands of families reunited. While the latest talks are not expected to deliver a breakthrough, it might be able to prevent an all-out battle for the rebel-held Red Sea port of Hudaydah where thousands of civilians are trapped. The UN also hopes to come up with a framework for talks on what a future political solution in Yemen will look like.
  • A US-sponsored resolution condemning militant group Hamas for firing rockets into Israel has failed to pass at the UN General Assembly. The resolution won a majority of 87 to 57, with 33 abstentions, but did not reach the required two-thirds backing. This resolution was the first condemning Hamas that the 193-nation assembly had considered.

Africa

  • Libya’s electoral commission could organise a referendum on a new constitution for the strife-torn country in February if it gets security guarantees and funds. Commission chief Imed al-Sayeh said the first hurdle was overcome when the parliament, based in the remote east of the country, approved in mid-September a law on the referendum.
  • Algeria’s parliament was locked up for several hours to press demands for the house speaker to step down. Protesters blocked the entrance with a chain and padlock. Said Bouhadja, president of Algeria’s lower house, has since late September resisted calls to resign over charges of “mismanagement, exaggerated and illicit expenses and dubious recruitment”. Algeria’s constitution and laws do not lay down a procedure for the dismissal of a parliament speaker if he refuses to step aside. Opposition groups condemned the action and said it “did no honour for the deputies, for parliament or the image of the country”.
  • South Africa’s parliament has approved a report endorsing a constitutional amendment that would allow expropriation of land without compensation in the public interest. But the main opposition, Democratic Alliance (DA), and some rights groups are critical of the government’s plans, saying it will jeopardise property rights and scare off investors.
  • A Congolese colonel who failed to disclose that he had met with two UN experts just two days before they were brutally murdered had been arrested. Democratic Republic of Congo has blamed the killings on the Kamwina Nsapu militia active in the central Kasai provinces. However, critics note that the experts had been investigating alleged human rights abuses and have said security forces may have been involved, which the government denies.
  • Equatorial Guinea’s army chief-of-staff, who was only appointed to the post in Oct, has been sacked by president Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Colonel Ruslan Hermes Nguema Oyana was fired due to “irregularities committed in the exercise of his functions”. Obiang had fired four senior regime officials, including his grandson, on suspicion of collusion with a foiled December 2017 “coup”. Several other officers promoted in Oct have now also been demoted.
  • Burundi has asked the United Nations human rights office to leave. Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani in Geneva confirms that they received a letter on Wednesday “requesting us to close the office. We of course regret this decision and we would like to continue our cooperation with Burundi.”
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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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