Wed. Sep 18th, 2019

Jan 21: Trump-Kim summit 2.0 slated for Feb, Maduro plans 300% minimum wage hike, May survives no-confidence vote

North America & Canada

  • US President Donald Trump has hit back at Buzzfeed news for alleging that he directed his then personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress, accusing Cohen of lying to “reduce his jail time”. Trump had allegedly instructed Cohen to lie about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The office of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller also disputed the report. Democrats said they will investigate the news outlet’s allegations.
  • Electric carmaker Tesla has said it will cut its workforce by seven per cent after the “most challenging” year in its history. It employs more than 45,000 people, indicating it will cut about 3,000. Founder Elon Musk said that growth had been strong but it was difficult to make Teslas with their new and developing technology.
  • One of North Korea’s top negotiators’ Kim Yong-chol was in Washington to meet US officials ahead of a possible second summit between the two countries’ leaders. Speculation is mounting that a second meeting between Mr Kim and Mr Trump could be held in Vietnam.
  • According to a new US health department report, thousands more migrant children may have been separated from their families at the southern border than previously thought. The practice began months before the Trump administration announced its migrant separation policy. Nearly 3,000 children were taken under the “zero tolerance” policy last summer. But the total number of separated migrant children is unknown due to a lack of coordination among government agencies.
  • President Trump has postponed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s upcoming trip to Brussels and Afghanistan, asking her to stay to negotiate an end to the partial US government shutdown. The cancellation came less than an hour Pelosi was scheduled to leave. Previously, she had urged Trump to postpone his State of the Union address, amid political deadlock.
  • Nancy Pelosi accused President Trump of putting American troops and civilians working in Afghanistan in danger by publicising a planned congressional trip to the war-torn country, as tensions between the leaders spiked on the 28th day of a partial government shutdown. The White House rejected Pelosi’s charge of endangering troops and civilians.
  • US Vice-President Mike Pence has called criticism of his wife’s decision to resume teaching at an anti-LGBT school “deeply offensive”. Pence said it amounted to an “attack” on religious education. The school that Mrs Pence chose bars staff from engaging in or condoning “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity” and “transgender identity”.
  • Canada threw cold water at China on long-sought free trade between the two nations as an ugly diplomat spat over the former’s detention of a top Chinese tech executive drags on. While Canadian businesses want to press on with growing the trade relationship, exploratory talks on free trade that started in 2016 are now dead and unlikely to be revived in the forseeable future. Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler went further, accusing China in an email to The Canadian Press of “hostage diplomacy.”
  • A bipartisan group of legislators in the US has introduced bills that would prohibit the sale of US chips or other components to Chinese telecommunications companies that violate Washington’s sanctions or export control laws. This came after the indictment of Huawei and coming soon are allegations are that the global smartphone maker stole a mobile technology from T-Mobile and used by the government as a spy. The company refused the claims and said it refuses to disclose secrets about its customers and their communication networks.
  • American civil rights groups have condemned the appointment of Charles M Kupperman as deputy national security advisor after he served on the board of an anti-Muslim group for nearly a decade. In the White House press release, John Bolton was quoted as saying that Kupperman’s extensive expertise in defence, arms control and aerospace will help further President Trump’s national security agenda.”
  • The United States State Department has called the sudden move to award the death sentence to a Canadian man by a Chinese court in a drug trafficking case “politically motivated”. Canada had arrested the daughter of Huawei’s founder at the request of the US, which wants her extradited to face charges related to the company’s business dealings in Iran. A former US ambassador to Canada calls for Washington and other allies need to take a stronger public stance supporting Canada.
  • US soldiers have been killed in an apparent suicide bombing in northern Syria claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, the US military has said. Last month, President Donald Trump announced that the US would begin pulling out all its 2,000 troops from Syria because IS had been “defeated”. Opponents of the withdrawal stressed that although IS now controlled only 1% of the territory they overran five years ago, the group had not disappeared entirely.

Latin America

  • Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto accepted a $100m (£77m) bribe from drug cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Mr Peña Nieto served as the president of Mexico from 2012 to 2018. Guzmán has been on trial in the US after he was extradited from Mexico to face charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs. The trial in the Federal District Court is a security circus – with guards everywhere and metal detectors set up in different areas of the building, leading to the courtroom on the eighth floor. Part of the street is also blocked off.
  • Colombia has blamed the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group for a car bomb attack that killed 21 people and dozens more injured in the capital, Bogotá. President Ivan Duque put peace talks with the ELN on hold when he took power in 2018. Any restart to the negotiations is unlikely following the attack, the deadliest in the country in many years.
  • Several hundred migrants from Honduras who left the northern city of San Pedro Sula early last week are now crossing Guatemala on their way to the US. President Donald Trump has repeatedly taken to Twitter to demand funding for the construction of a border wall to keep migrants out. In his latest tweet on the issue, he said that similar walls had shown to be “close to 100% successful” but failed to offer any evidence or examples.
  • Mexican legislators have overwhelmingly voted for the creation of a new 60,000-member national guard, a proposal embraced by leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as a crucial tool in the fight against organised crimes. The proposal was approved by about three-quarters of the lower house of Congress. But critics of the new guard fear it could further militarise crime fighting and lead to human rights abuses.
  • Brazil has signed a decree relaxing gun ownership laws, believing that arming the population will decrease crime. But the decision may have had a negative effect with accusations of human rights violations and the rate of homicides rising by five percent over the same period in 2017.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday pledged the creation of a “new monetary system” in defiance of what he called “the criminal dollar”, and also announced a 300 percent increase in the minimum wage. The new monetary system will be based on Venezuela’s cryptocurrency, the petro, and will focus on strengthening and protecting the bolivar currency. But analysts are not confident that the new measures will make a difference as they are too limited to have a significant effect.
  • Ivan Velasquez, head of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has offered to step down if the Guatemalan government keeps in place the beleaguered commission it shut down last week. The fate of CICIG has been at the heart of a months-long constitutional crisis pitting Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, much of the private sector, and government-allied members of Congress against the commission, the Constitutional Court, social movements and opposition politicians.

Asia

  • Former presidential candidate and member of Singapore’s ruling party Tan Cheng Bock announced that he has applied to set up a new party, in a bid to return to politics ahead of an election that is expected to take place as soon as this year. His re-entry into politics could provide a boost to Singapore’s weak opposition, as the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) prepares for the retirement of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong within the next three years.
  • Singapore and Malaysia officials will meet “in the coming weeks” to discuss ongoing disputes about airspace and maritime issues. The two countries have been embroiled in a dispute over Singapore’s introduction of new ILS procedures for Seletar Airport and another was sparked by Malaysia’s unilateral decision to extend the Johor Bahru port limits in October, and the subsequent intrusion of Malaysian government vessels in Singapore waters. The former had postponed a joint ministerial committee talks with Malaysia due to an “unauthorised visit” by Johor Chief Minister Osman Sapian to Malaysian government vessel Pedoman, which was anchored in Singapore waters.
  • New trade numbers by China’s customs administration showed that it is feeling the effects of the US-China trade war that started in April last year after exports fell by 4.4 per cent in December, while imports were at the lowest since 2016. But despite the trade war with the US, China announced it had recorded a trade surplus with the US of $323bn in 2018. China’s trade surplus with the US grew by 17 per cent, the highest rate recorded by Beijing in more than 10 years.
  • The founder of Chinese tech giant Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, said his company would refuse to disclose secrets about its customers and their communication networks, trying to lay to rest concerns the company might spy for Beijing. His comments came after his daughter was arrested last Dec in Canada after being found to have possibly violated trade sanctions in Iran.
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has criticised as “too slow” Myanmar’s efforts to allow the return of Rohingya Muslim refugees, describing the lack of progress as a source of “enormous frustration.” While the country has agreed to take back some of the refugees in a deal reached with Bangladesh, it has postponed a planned visit by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi who was due to travel to Rakhine.
  • The space agencies of the United States and China are coordinating efforts on moon exploration, NASA said, as it navigates a strict legal framework aimed at protecting national security and preventing technology transfer to China. It hopes to explore the possibility of observing a signature of the landing plume of their lunar lander, Chang’e 4, using NASA’s spacecraft instrument. But it must convince Congress and the FBI that such activity would “pose no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications to China or a Chinese-owned company.”
  • Malaysia has filed a lawsuit against opposition Islamic party PAS for infringing on an indigenous tribe’s land rights by handing out licences to plantation companies to cut down timber, the first such action by a sitting government. The move could be seen as political but activists welcomed it as a first step.
  • Malaysia’s foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah has announced that the country will not host any events in the future involving Israel to reflect the government’s firm stance over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No Israeli delegates can enter Malaysia for sporting or other events. Calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Malaysia denounced the move as “premature” and “a humiliation to the Palestinians and their struggle for the right to self-determination.”
  • Taiwan will not bow to Chinese pressure, a presidential spokesperson has said, as the self-ruled island held live-fire military drills aimed at showing its ability to defend itself from Beijing’s threats. This came after China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, has been pressing companies around the world to change the way they refer to the island amid renewed threats to use force to gain control over it.
  • Indonesian president Joko Widodo has traded barbs with election rival Prabowo Subianto over issues including corruption and law enforcement in their first televised debate three months before the world’s third-biggest democracy goes to the polls. Prabowo repeatedly questioned the country’s legal system and the management of the economy while Widodo offered optimism over human rights, corruption and terrorism.

Europe

  • Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected by Parliament in a humiliating defeat. The House of Commons voted 432- 202 against the divorce she painstakingly brokered with the EU over 18 months. But she survived a no-confidence vote amid the chaos and is scheduled to present a plan to Parliament today, where members are already working on plans to take control of the process.  
  • Leading German figures have written to the UK asking it to stay in the EU. The letter, published in the Times, is signed by 31 people, including the leader of the Christian Democratic Union – and likely successor to Angela Merkel – Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. The signatories said that they “respect the choice” of British people who want to leave the EU and, if the country wants to leave for good, “it will always have friends in Germany and Europe”.
  • Spain had reached a deal with Britain allowing citizens living in both countries to keep voting in local elections as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms. The local polls in Britain and Spain, on May 2 and May 26 respectively, will be held after Britain’s planned exit from the European Union on Mar 29. “This agreement will prevent these rights from disappearing for British people who live in our country and for Spanish people living in the United Kingdom,” Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa told reporters.
  • A Czech man set himself on fire in central Prague where the student activist Jan Palach self-immolated 50 years ago to protest the Soviet-led occupation of the then Czechoslovakia. Police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulova told reporters “there is no evidence the act had been a protest or politically motivated.”
  • Sweden’s parliament has elected Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to a second four-year term ending more than four months of political deadlock. The Social Democratic leader is set to form a minority government with the Greens. His government will be one of the weakest in Sweden in 70 years with just 32.7 percent of voters casting ballots for the two parties.
  • The European Commission has reinstated duties on rice from Cambodia and Myanmar for three years after determining that imports were causing economic damage to European producers. In a probe launched last March, the EU’s executive arm found that Indica rice imports have increased by 89 per cent in the past five seasons. The surge in cheaper imports had caused European producers to see their market share in the 28-member bloc plummet from 61 per cent to 29 per cent.
  • The EU could snub an international conference on the Middle East scheduled to take place in Poland next month over concerns it is part of a US drive to ramp up pressure on Iran. Diplomats raised questions about the real agenda of the conference, saying it was organised at very short notice and noting that Iran did not appear to be invited. One European diplomat said the bloc will not be “joining an anti-Iran coalition”.
  • Poland’s security services say a Chinese businessman and a Polish man, both employed in telecoms, have been arrested for spying. The Chinese national, Wang Weijing, works for Huawei, according to a source with knowledge of the case.
  • Germany is considering ways to block Huawei from its next generation mobile phone network and is exploring stricter security requirements which may prevent Huawei products being used in its 5G network.
  • Austria must compensate an ex-policeman who was sacked in 1976 for sexual indecency with minors and who lost 25 per cent of his police pension, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled. The ECJ did not challenge that penalty, but said he was owed his lost pension, when Austria implemented an EU anti-discrimination directive in 2003. The ruling – binding on Austria – is another victory for campaigners who have fought for decades against homophobic laws.
  • Appalling injuries caused by French police riot guns during the yellow-vest protests have triggered anger and calls for the weapon to be banned. The LBD launchers known by protesters as “flash-balls” have left 40 people severely wounded, reports say. The European Court of Human Rights rejected a temporary ban on flash-balls last month.
  • The wife of Meng Hongwei, the Interpol president held in China since September, has sought asylum in France for herself and her twin children. Mr Meng disappeared during a visit to China. In October the Chinese authorities said he was being investigated over suspected bribe-taking. Since his disappearance, no details have emerged about his prison conditions or the charges against him.

Middle East

  • Five suspects have appeared in court in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in connection with last week’s deadly hotel attack. The siege, which lasted more than 18 hours and was claimed by the armed group, al-Shabab, left at least 21 people dead. The al-Qaeda-linked group said it carried out the attack in response to Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
  • Yemen’s Houthi rebels are holding dozens of women without trial and often torturing the detainees and blackmailing their families, activists and a human rights lawyer said. The rebel-run Interior Ministry responded to the allegations saying they were rumours from the “mouthpieces of the mercenaries” that are “tarnishing the image of security apparatus”. It also denied the existence of secret prisons and illegal and arbitrary detentions and vowed to prosecute those behind the reports.
  • Iran has called on the US to release one of its journalists who, it says, was illegally arrested by the FBI while making a family visit. American-born reporter Marzieh Hashemi was reportedly taken into custody upon landing in St Louis on Sunday and subjected to “inhumane” conditions. US media have been unable to verify Ms Hashemi’s situation with any local jails. The US and Iran do not maintain diplomatic relations, and communications between the two nations are passed along by Swiss diplomats.

Africa

  • Democratic Republic of Congo opposition leader Martin Fayulu has called on his supporters to organise protests after the constitutional court rejected his challenge to the official presidential election results. Rival opposition candidate Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner of the 30 December poll. Mr Tshisekedi allegedly made a power-sharing deal with the outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, but he denies this. The African Union (AU) said on Friday that there were “serious doubts” about the outcome of elections. The court said Mr Fayulu had failed to prove that the election commission had announced false results.
  • Algeria is set to hold the presidential election on April 18, the North African country’s presidency announced. It is unclear whether Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s frail 81-year-old president who has been in power since 1999, will stand for a fifth consecutive term. More than 40 percent of Algeria’s 41 million population is under 25 and many of them know no leader other than Bouteflika.
  • Hundreds of Zimbabweans arrested during anti-government protests were detained on public order charges, as the United Nations urged an end to a brutal security crackdown and an internet blackout. Three people died during the unrest that broke out on Monday after President Emmerson Mnangagwa raised fuel prices by 150 per cent. Authorities have yet to respond to the allegations of a crackdown, but many Zimbabweans believe Mnangagwa – a former Mugabe ally – is falling back on his predecessor’s tactics by using intimidation to crush dissent.
  • International Criminal Court appeals judges have delayed the release of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, ordering that he should be held for at least two more weeks despite being acquitted on charges of atrocities. The appeals chamber backed the prosecution arguments that Gbagbo might not return for future court hearings if he were set free. Prosecutors noted that his wife, who is also the subject of an ICC arrest warrant, has been living openly in Ivory Coast, and that the authorities there had made clear they would not “send more Ivorians to the ICC”.
  • A doctor and a 16-year-old have been killed in Sudan amid demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir. Both were shot in the head by state forces who were firing directly on demonstrators, a member of the Sudan Doctors Syndicate told the BBC. It marks the fifth week of anti-government protests.
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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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