Dec 31: Saudi FM al-Jubeir demoted, Italy budget finally passes, and Brazil plans looser gun laws

All news extracted from BBC.

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North America

  • US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has made calls to the heads of the country’s six largest banks, in an unusual move aimed at reassuring investors after big falls in US stocks. US stocks recently suffered one of the worst weekly falls in a decade, as an interest rate rise and US-China trade tensions rattled markets.
  • President Donald Trump has lashed out at America’s central bank as a stock market whose gains he once took credit for continued a historic plunge. Mr Trump said the Federal Reserve was “the only problem” of the US economy. Mr Trump’s treasury secretary meanwhile scrambled to calm investors.
  • A partial US government shutdown is likely to continue into the start of the new year amid an impasse over funding for President Trump’s proposed Mexico border wall. Both Congress chambers met for just a few minutes last Thursday but took no steps to end the closure. The House and Senate will now meet again on Monday. Many lawmakers did not return to Washington for the sessions.
  • Former US first lady Michelle Obama has ended Hillary Clinton’s 17-year run as America’s most admired woman. Mrs Clinton, ex-presidential candidate, secretary of state and first lady, came third in the annual Gallup poll, with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in second. The Queen finished in the top 10 for the 50th time, Gallup said.
  • A Canadian citizen who was detained in China amid frosty relations between the two countries has been released and returned to Canada, media reports say. Teacher Sarah McIver, from Alberta, was held earlier this month for “unlawfully working in China”.
  • “Big progress” is being made in US-China relations, Donald Trump has said, at the end of a year that has seen both countries apply tit-for-tat tariffs. Earlier this month, both agreed to suspend new tariffs to allow for talks. Mr Trump said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke last Saturday and that talks were “moving along very well”.
  • Donald Trump has threatened to shut down the border with Mexico over illegal immigration if Congress fails to fund his proposed wall. Confirming the threat to close the border was real, the White House said negotiations with Congress had stalled.
  • The idea of a concrete wall on the US-Mexico border was dropped early on Donald Trump’s presidency, his outgoing chief of staff John Kelly says. Mr Trump made the idea of a solid wall on the border a key pledge from the start of his presidential campaign in 2015.

South America

  • Brazil’s incoming far-right president has said he will seek to issue a decree loosening the country’s gun laws. Jair Bolsonaro, who takes over on 1 January, had made the pledge a key part of his presidential campaign. Brazil currently has strict gun ownership laws, requiring any prospective owners to undergo psychological tests. But Mr Bolsonaro has said more guns would allow “good people” in Brazil help combat violent crime.
  • Colombia has condemned an alleged plot to assassinate its president, and says three Venezuelans have been arrested in connection with the plan. Tensions have risen between Colombia and Venezuela in recent months, with mutual expulsion of officials. Millions have fled Venezuela’s severe economic crisis in recent years, and many of those migrants have crossed into Colombia.


  • Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been sent back to jail after a fresh corruption conviction. The anti-corruption court in Islamabad gave Sharif a seven-year term for investments beyond his declared assets.
  • Afghan officials say 43 people have died in a suicide and gun attack on a government compound in Kabul. It is not immediately clear who carried out the attack. Both the Islamic State group and Taliban have carried similar attacks in the past.
  • Thailand’s parliament has voted to approve cannabis for medical use, with a key lawmaker calling it a “New Year’s gift” to the Thai people. Recreational use will remain illegal. Marijuana was used in Thailand as a traditional medicine, until it was banned in the 1930s.
  • Next year’s presidential election in Afghanistan has been postponed by three months, election authority sources say. It was initially due in April. A new date in mid-July or early August is to be announced on Thursday. Many potential candidates had been unable to meet registration requirements and extreme weather meant their teams could not organise for a spring date.
  • Almost 1,000 North Korean defectors have had their personal data leaked after a computer at a South Korean resettlement centre was hacked, the unification ministry said. A personal computer at the state-run centre was found to have been “infected with a malicious code.” The hackers’ identity and the origin of the cyber-attack is not yet confirmed.
  • At least seven people have been killed in clashes in Bangladesh as the country votes in a general election. The build-up to the poll has already been marred by violence and accusations of a crackdown against the opposition. The authorities ordered the shut-down of high speed internet until after the vote to prevent the spread of “rumours” that might spark unrest.
  • Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured her third consecutive term with a landslide victory. The opposition has condemned what it called a “farcical” election, marred by violence and claims of intimidation and vote rigging.
  • North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has vowed to “frequently” meet South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in next year to discuss denuclearisation. In a rare letter to Seoul, Mr Kim said he wished to pursue peace between the countries and “solve the issue of denuclearising the peninsula together”, a spokesman for Mr Moon said.


  • France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said he deeply regrets President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw all US troops from Syria. “An ally must be dependable,” said Mr Macron, who reportedly called Mr Trump to warn him against the plan. France, a key part of the US-led coalition against IS in Syria and Iraq, said its troops would remain in Syria.
  • French judges have dropped a long-running investigation into the shooting down of a plane carrying the former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana. His death in 1994 was a trigger of the genocide. French prosecutors had recommended in October the charges be dismissed because of insufficient evidence against the suspects.
  • Seven years after Germany scrapped conscription, its defence chief has said employing EU citizens is “an option” to fill expert posts. The armed forces have been beset by years of under-investment. It has also pledged to raise its defence budget from 1.2% to to 1.5% of its gross domestic product by 2024, in the face of criticism from President Donald Trump that it does not meet the Nato target of 2% of GDP.
  • The European Union (EU) has condemned the Democratic Republic of Congo’s decision to expel its ambassador ahead of crucial elections. The order for Bart Ouvry to leave within 48 hours was “completely unjustified”, an EU spokeswoman said. DR Congo said it had taken the decision in retaliation for sanctions imposed on ruling party presidential candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.
  • Russia has finished building a high-tech security fence along annexed Crimea’s border with mainland Ukraine.
  • Italy’s parliament has approved a revised budget for 2019, amid opposition complaints that it was dictated by the EU. The country’s populist government had originally vowed to push through costly campaign promises including a universal basic income. But in October, the European Commission raised concerns about the impact of such spending on Italy’s debt levels.
  • The fence, more than 60km (37 miles) long, is topped with barbed wire and has hundreds of sensors. Russia’s FSB security agency says the fence is necessary to prevent “infiltration attempts by saboteurs”.
  • The UK and France are to step up joint patrols and increase surveillance to tackle a rise in the number of migrants trying to reach Britain in small boats. Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who has cut short a family holiday, agreed a joint action plan with the French interior minister during a phone call.

Middle East

  • Russia has branded as “provocative” an alleged Israeli air strike on Syria late on Tuesday. Reports from Syria said an arms depot in Qatifah, about 40km (25 miles) north-east of Damascus, was hit, injuring three soldiers. Israel has carried out dozens of strikes on Syria in recent years.
  • Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has been demoted in a government reshuffle by the country’s leader, King Salman, in what observers view as a response to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Mr Jubeir will become minister of state for foreign affairs, with Ibrahim al-Assaf taking over as foreign minister.
  • The Syrian army has entered the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years, an army spokesman has said. A US official and a UK-based monitoring group said Syrian troops had deployed in the area around the city. US-backed Kurds withdrew and invited Syrian forces to replace them amid fears that Turkish troops would attack.


  • Police in Sudan have fired tear gas at football fans demanding an end to President Omar al-Bashir’s rule as protests spread across the country. Hundreds of demonstrators blocked a road near a football stadium in the capital, Khartoum, before clashing with riot police.
  • Protesters angry with the postponement of Sunday’s presidential election in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo have attacked a clinic where possible Ebola cases are assessed. The electoral commission has cited the current Ebola outbreak as one of the reasons behind the postponement. But opposition parties have accused the authorities of seeking to rig the vote.

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