Dec 17: China detains second Canadian, US Senate vote to exit Yemen, and Singapore files UN declaration

North America

  • US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison last week after pleading guilty to making illegal hush-money payments and lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia. Michael Cohen said president Trump knew it was wrong to order election-eve hush money paid to two women who claimed affairs with him. He also challenged Trump’s assertion in a tweet on Thursday that he never told him to break the law.
  • A second Canadian has been detained in China on accusations of harming national security, as tension continues between the two countries. Businessman Michael Spavor was detained, in addition to former diplomat Michael Kovrig. Spavor is known to have close ties with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. China’s foreign ministry addressed the matter and said the “legal rights and interests of these two Canadians have been safeguarded” and that the two cases were being investigated separately.
  • Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina accused in the US of acting as an agent for the Kremlin to infiltrate the National Rifle Association has pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors. She has also agreed to cooperate with investigators. Prosecutors expect the deal will give them information about Russia’s efforts to interfere in US politics. A sentencing hearing has been set for Feb 12.
  • US has accused China and Russia of using “opaque” and “corrupt” practices to expand their influence in Africa. The national security adviser John Bolton said the two nations were “deliberately and aggressively” attempting to gain an economic advantage over the US on the continent. He said the new strategy US has for Africa would focus on trade and countering terrorism, and that it would no longer fund “unproductive” peacekeeping efforts.
  • The US Senate has voted to withdraw US military aid for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen and to blame the kingdom’s crown prince for the murder of a journalist. The historic vote is the first time any chamber of US Congress has agreed to pull US forces from a military conflict under the 1973 War Powers Act. But the resolution is seen as largely symbolic and unlikely to become law.
  • A seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who illegally crossed the Mexico-US border with family died hours after being taken into custody. AP news agency quotes border officials as saying she had not had food or water for several days. A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson sent condolences to the girl’s relatives, saying US Border Patrol border “always takes care of individuals in their custody and does everything in their power to keep them safe”. Tension has been running high on the US-Mexican border since the arrival of almost 7,500 migrants in recent weeks.

South America

  • In an attempt to curb corruption, Peru has make it mandatory for all to vote for a referendum which include measures that would prohibit legislators from immediate re-election, create stricter campaign finance rules and reform a scandal-tainted council charged with selecting judges. But it must be noted that the referendum is not an end-all fix that can reverse decades of deeply entrenched political misconduct.
  • Despite a high rate of abstention, Venezuela’s ruling party on Sunday emerged victorious in the local elections. Only 27 per cent of about 20.7 million eligible voters cast their ballot, handing President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela a massive victory. In the run-up to polling, analysts had predicted a record low turnout, citing mistrust in the electoral process, the banning of opposition parties and widespread exhaustion amid the ongoing socioeconomic crisis.
  • Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has accused the US of plotting to kill him and topple his government. He told reporters that US National Security Adviser John Bolton was personally involved in the plot, but did not produce any evidence. The Venezuelan people were prepared to fight back, with the help of “friendly countries,” he added. Earlier this week the US criticised the arrival of two Russian bombers in Venezuela. The Russian Tupolev Tu-160 bombers are capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
  • German reporter, Billy Six, who is being held in Venezuela has been charged with espionage and rebellion. Mr Six was in Venezuela “a investigating drug trafficking activities, smuggling of fuel and strategic goods, human trafficking and even the exodus of Venezuelans” Gerardo Morón of Venezuelan rights group Espacio Público said. The Venezuelan government has not yet officially commented on Mr Six’s detention. Diplomatic officials have reportedly not been allowed to see him.


  • South Korean workers might have to go on leave if US and South Korea continues to fail to agree on a bigger South Korean share of the cost of maintaining US troops. Despite 10 rounds of negotiations since March, the two sides struggled to reach an agreement after the United States demanded a sharp increase, from 960 billion won to about US 1.2 billion.
  • Six members of parliament from Malaysia’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) have quit the party. Among the six MPs to resign, Larut MP Hamzah Zainuddin said that party president Zahid Hamidi had “failed to establish a clear direction for the party in the current scenario” and calls for his resignation. In a Twitter post last week, Mr Zahid called for UMNO members to not panic, describing the situation as “temporary”.
  • Singapore has filed a declaration under Article 298 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to settle a maritime dispute with Malaysia since October. It believes that “maritime boundary delimitation disputes are best resolved through negotiations, in order to reach an amicable settlement acceptable to all of the parties”. Johor Crown Prince has commented and hopes that both nations can find a “win-win” solution amid disputes over airspace and territorial waters.
  • India’s ruling party lost power in three key states on Tuesday, dealing Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014 and boosting the opposition ahead of general elections next year. The results could force the federal government run by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to raise spending in the countryside, where more than two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people live. Political analysts said the defeat underscores rural dismay with the government and could help unite the opposition led by the Congress party.
  • Two people have been killed in pre-election violence in Bangladesh, as clashes between armed rivals left dozens injured. More than 100 people have been hurt in violence on the campaign trail since Monday, when candidates from the two major parties began campaigning ahead of the December 30 poll. Mobs armed with knives and batons faced off at a rally in Noakhali, a southern district, where a pro-government demonstrator was seriously injured.
  • Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has ruled President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament and hold snap elections was unconstitutional, dealing a major blow to the embattled leader in his feud with a deposed prime minister.  A seven-judge bench unanimously ruled on Thursday that Sirisena cannot sack the 225-member House before four-and-a-half years have passed since its election. The court’s final verdict last Thursday raises the possibility of Wickremesinghe being reinstated as prime minister.
  • China has bought US soybeans for the first time since the trade war between the two countries started in July. The country’s finance ministry also confirmed it would temporarily reduce tariffs on US car imports from 40 per cent to 15 per cent, beginning on 1 January. In announcing the tariff suspension, China said it hoped the two sides would speed negotiations.


  • Russia has rejected US criticism of the deployment to Venezuela of two Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to Monday’s arrival of a pair of Tu-160 aircraft by tweeting: “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.” Russia has dismissed the comments as “undiplomatic” and “inappropriate”.
  • French “yellow vests” protestors took to the streets on Saturdays in the fifth weekend of demonstrations against Macron’s government. The president announced a series of concessions on Monday to defuse the movement, which sprang up last month. He was hopeful that the package of tax and minimum wage measures, coupled with bitter winter weather, will help end the violent clashes and disruptions. It has been noted that the numbers are dramatically down compared with the week before.
  • The European Central Bank (ECB) has confirmed it is ending its huge net asset purchase programme to stimulate the eurozone economy this month. It has stopped its bond-buying scheme, worth €30bn a month, despite a recent slowdown in the bloc’s recovery. It is a big step towards unwinding the policies brought in to stabilise the eurozone in the wake of the financial crisis. The bank said this has countered deflation and staved off a deeper economic crisis, but it has long signalled it would gradually wind the programme down.
  • Protests broke out in Hungary after the parliament passed new labour laws, which have been labelled “slave labour” by opponents. New rules mean companies can demand up to 400 hours of overtime a year and delay payment for it for three years. Chaos ensued as crowds gathered in front of the parliament building last week. They were also angry over a second vote to create a new system of administrative courts controlled by the minister of justice. The government argued that the labour reform will benefit workers as well as companies who need to fill a labour shortage.
  • Kosovo’s MPs have voted to turn their lightly-armed emergency response force into their own 5,000-strong professional military. This decision has run counter to warnings, threats and pleas from both the European Union and Nato. Neighbouring Serbia views a Pristina-controlled military force as a threat to Kosovo’s 120,000-strong ethnic-Serb minority. It also does not recognise Kosovo, which declared independence 10 years ago.
  • British prime minister Theresa May has failed to make her Brexit deal more negotiable after European Union (EU) leaders said it was “not open for re-negotiation” but there could be clarifications. May wanted legal assurances on the Irish backstop and had warned the deal itself was “at risk” over the issue. Labour says MPs must vote on the deal next week and it was “unacceptable” for it to be pushed back to January.
  • Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote with a majority of 83, with 63 per cent of Conservative MPs backing her and 37 per cent voting against her. She is now immune from a leadership challenge for a year. Speaking in Downing Street, she vowed to deliver the Brexit “people voted for” but said she had listened to the concerns of MPs who voted against her.

Middle East

  • The 39th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit has come to an end in Saudi Arabia without any major breakthroughs to resolve the air, land and sea blockade on Qatar since last year. While the crisis was not explicitly mentioned during the meeting, a call for unity was issued at the end of the gathering in a joint communique.The closing declaration announced that the council would continue to support the Palestinian cause and a political solution to the war in Yemen.
  • The Arab League has warned Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro that moving Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would be a setback on relations with Arab countries. The move would be a sharp turn in Brazilian foreign policy, which has traditionally backed a two-state-solution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Brazil would become the second major country after the United States if it happens.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will start a military operation east of the Euphrates river in northern Syria. The operation could further complicate already strained relations with the United States, which has troops stationed in the area currently controlled by Kurdish forces. We will start the operation to clear the east of the Euphrates from separatist terrorists in a few days. Our target is never US soldiers,” Erdogan said in a speech televised live. “This step will allow for the path to a political solution to be opened and for healthier cooperation.”
  • Saudi Arabia is seeking an alliance with countries such as Egypt, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Jordan bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden against regional rivals like  Iran, Turkey and Qatar. It is a strategic area vital to global shipping and increasingly an arena of contention. Saudi Arabia said it is part of the kingdom’s efforts to protect its interests and those of its neighbours and  to stabilise the region that we live in and to try to create synergies between the various countries.
  • Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Saad Hariri says he is “pretty sure” of a new national unity government by the end of the year after seven months of wrangling over the allocation of ministerial posts. Heavily indebted and with a stagnant economy, it desperately needs a new government to implement economic reforms to put its public finances on a more sustainable footing and unlock foreign aid.
  • Hundreds of Jordanians have protested in the capital Amman against the government’s planned tax increases and high unemployment rates. Demonstrators on Thursday evening were met with riot police who fired several rounds of tear gas near Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz’s office. The gathering was the first major one since Jordanians took to the streets in June. Unlike the summer protests, which were largely led by unions, the renewed demonstrations have no clear leadership and many of those participating come from provincial towns hard hit by the economic downturn.
  • Warring parties in Yemen have agreed to a ceasefire for the port city of Hudaydah, principal lifeline for two-thirds of the country. They reached agreement at talks in Sweden brokered by the United Nations. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he hoped this would be the starting point to bring nearly four years of civil war to a close. The UN would then play a “leading role” in monitoring the ports and would help distribute aid to civilians, he added.


  • An electoral commission depot in Democratic Republic of Congo has been attacked and more than two-thirds of the electronic voting machines allocated for Kinshasa had been destroyed, in the violent run-up to a presidential vote. The president’s mandate ended in 2016, but elections have been repeatedly delayed. The government has accused supporters of an opposition candidate, business tycoon Martin Fayulu, of instigating the election violence. Mr Fayulu’s campaign has rejected the charge.
  • A former al-Shabab commander, Mukhtar Robow, who is set to contest in Somalia’s regional elections has been arrested. The arrest took place amid clashes between gunmen and security forces in the town of Baidoa. So far it is not clear why Mr Robow was seized. At least 11 people, including soldiers and civilians, died in Baidoa during clashes involving supporters of Mr Robow.
  • The South Africa court has ruled that its former President Jacob Zuma must pay back the money provided for his legal fees. It is estimated that the state has paid between $1m (£792,000) and $2.2m in legal costs for him. Mr Zuma has been fighting multiple allegations of corruption for more than a decade and has incurred millions of dollars in legal fees. The court’s decision marks the end of a grim year for Mr Zuma, who was forced out of office in February.
  • Zimbabwe’s ruling party approved President Emmerson Mnangagwa as its candidate in 2023, just five months after a bitterly disputed election. The Zanu-PF at its party conference passed a resolution making its preference for the 76-year-old Mnangagwa official. His administration has rejected the idea of forming a government of national unity with the main opposition party led by Nelson Chamisa, who contested the July election after results showed he narrowly lost. It also dismissed an alleged rift between Mnangagwa and one of his deputies, Constantino Chiwenga, an ambitious former general who orchestrated the fall of former leader Robert Mugabe and the new president’s ascendancy.
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