Tue. Jul 23rd, 2019

Trump signed a bill ensuring funding until February 15 | Evan Vucci, AP Photo

Jan 28: Trump ends shutdown, Maduro’s support wanes, Malaysia elects new King

North America & Canada

  • US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has attracted scorn for suggesting workers affected by the ongoing government shutdown should take out bank loans. President Trump defended his commerce secretary, in remarks which also drew criticism. While telling reporters he had not heard Mr Ross’s words, and suggesting he maybe “should have said it differently”, Trump said people should try to “work along” with banks and grocery stores during the shutdown.
  • Florida’s Secretary of State Michael Ertel has resigned after photos emerged of him in blackface dressed as a victim of Hurricane Katrina. The images, printed by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, were allegedly taken at a Halloween party in 2005.
  • Staff shortages linked to the federal government shutdown caused significant flight delays and risked public safety at north-eastern US airports on Friday. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, took to Twitter to blame the president for the disruption. Hours later, Trump announced a deal to fund the government and lift the shutdown temporarily.
  • President Donald Trump has yielded to political pressure to end the longest US government shutdown in history. After 35 days, he backed a deal to fund federal agencies for three weeks, but it includes none of the money he has demanded for a US-Mexico border wall. Trump accepted the deal after hearing of the shutdown’s strain on law enforcement agencies.
  • Political strategist Roger Stone, a long-time ally of President Trump, has been arrested in Florida, charged with seven counts in the Mueller probe. The charges are linked to an alleged Russian-led hack into the emails of Democratic Party officials. The information contained in the emails was released by Wikileaks during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
  • The “new abnormal” the world is facing from risks like nuclear war and climate change has led the symbolic Doomsday Clock to be frozen at the closest it has ever been to midnight. The clock, created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) in 1947, intends to warn of impending disasters. Its 2019 setting was announced on Thursday – staying in the same perilous position it was set at last year. The BAS has warned we are “normalising a very dangerous world”.
  • Migrant shelters in a northern Mexican border city are overflowing with people as they cope with the influx of asylum seekers set to be returned to the city from the US. Officials at shelters located in Tijuana, currently filled to the brim with Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence, say they are unable to cope with the asylum seekers expected to be returned starting last Friday.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is planning to unify the underlying messaging infrastructure of the WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger services and incorporate end-to-end encryption into these apps. The three services will, however, continue as stand-alone apps. Integrating the messaging services could make it harder for antitrust regulators to break up Facebook by undoing its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram. Former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos said he hoped Facebook would get public input from terrorism experts, child safety officers, privacy advocates and others and be transparent in its reasoning when it makes decisions on the details.
  • The union representing auto-workers at General Motors’ Oshawa, Ontario plant called on Canadian and U.S. consumers on Friday to stop buying GM cars made in Mexico, the latest tactic in its campaign to get the automaker back to the bargaining table. The closure, which GM said will affect 2,973 assembly-line jobs in Oshawa, is part of a broad restructuring aimed at cutting the automaker’s costs as investments increase in electric and self-driving vehicles.
  • The United States has announced new sanctions on two Iran-backed militias fighting in Syria in a move aimed at raising pressure on Tehran and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as Washington prepares for a military withdrawal from the war-torn country. In a post on social media, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of “preying” on refugees and using them as “cannon fodder in Syria”.

Latin America

  • Leader of the Venezuelan opposition-held National Assembly Juan Guaidó has declared that he will formally assume the national executive powers as acting president. Minutes later, US President Donald Trump recognised the 35-year-old as the country’s interim leader. He declared President Nicolás Maduro’s government “illegitimate” and encouraged other countries to back the opposition politician. Guaidó has called on the army to withdraw their support for Mr Maduro, promising an amnesty for those soldiers who do so.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has rejected an offer of talks from President Nicolás Maduro amid an ongoing power struggle between the two. Mr Maduro accused him of mounting a coup and cut off diplomatic ties with the US in response.
  • Spain, France, Germany and Britain have given embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro an ultimatum, saying the nations would recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as president unless he calls elections within eight days.
  • A man identifying himself as Venezuela’s military attache in Washington has broken with Nicolas Maduro and says he now will report to an opposition leader trying to wrest control of the government. In a video published Saturday, Col. Jose Luis Silva called on other members of the military to join him in defecting from Maduro’s government, saying they need to avoid “attacking” protesters whose only aim is to feed themselves.
  • A gay Brazilian politician has said he will not return to the country after receiving death threats. Jean Wyllys, one of the country’s few openly gay congressmen, told a newspaper he had been powerless as his reputation was “destroyed by lies”. Bolsonaro has vowed to tackle corruption and crime but has also made racist and homophobic remarks. However in his inauguration speech earlier this month he promised to build a “society without discrimination or division”.
  • Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán personally tortured and murdered his rivals, his former bodyguard has said at a trial in New York. In the most gruesome testimony to date, Isaias Valdez Rios described seeing “El Chapo” brutally beat at least three men before shooting them. Guzmán denies charges including trafficking and money laundering. If guilty, he could be jailed for life.
  • Argentina’s president has joined calls for the search for missing Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala to resume. In a statement, the president’s office said: “President Mauricio Macri instructed foreign minister Jorge Faurie to make a formal request to the governments of Great Britain and France to ask them to maintain the search efforts.”

Asia

  • India has launched what it says is the world’s lightest satellite ever to be put into orbit. It will help ham radio operators and “inspire schoolchildren to become the scientists and engineers of the future”, India’s space agency says. The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) launched the satellite from its Sriharikota space centre. It is also the first to be built by a private Indian firm and launched by Isro.
  • Microsoft has confirmed that access to its Bing search engine in China has been restored after an outage. The firm did not offer any explanation for why the search engine had been inaccessible. The outage caused concern that the service might have been blocked by the Chinese authorities. But China-based censorship monitoring group GreatFire says the outage was unlikely to be government-related.
  • One of China’s leading news apps has been singled out for criticism by the country’s internet watchdog. Tencent-owned Tiantian Kuaibao – which means “fast daily news” – was accused of spreading “vulgar, negative and harmful information, which damaged the online environment”. The Cyberspace Administration of China added that it had “cleaned up” nearly 9,382 apps and closed 733 websites over the past six months.
  • Despite the international political controversy Huawei faces, it is business as usual for them as they launch their 5G network technology in Beijing last week. Executives lined up in front of the big screen to trot out sets of impressive results – consumer business revenue up 50 percent on last year – for example, and ambitious forecasts. The message was clear; it is business as usual and any concern about the security of its 5G networks – and their vulnerability to Chinese state espionage – is a sideshow.
  • Violent protests are continuing in India’s north-eastern states over a proposed amendment to the country’s citizenship law. The protests have been particularly vocal in the state of Assam, which recently saw four million residents left off a citizens’ register. The bill attempts to grant citizenship to immigrants who are not Muslim.
  • British technology firm Dyson has been hit by a public backlash over its decision to move its headquarters to Singapore, with many in Britain labelling its billionaire founder James Dyson a hypocrite. Mr Dyson was one of the prominent voices from the business world who supported the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. Many noted that the move comes in the wake of Singapore signing a free trade deal with the EU, whereas Britain’s post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU remains unclear.
  • China says it is investigating a Chinese-Australian writer for alleged “involvement in criminal activities endangering China’s national security”. Australian authorities have urged China to handle the matter “transparently and fairly”. Mr Yang was being held in “residential surveillance” in Beijing, Australian officials said.
  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says more than 45,000 members of the country’s security forces have been killed since he became leader in 2014. The figure is far higher than previously thought, with Mr Ghani saying late last year that 28,000 had been killed since 2015. “The number of international casualties is less than 72,” he said on Friday. “It shows who is doing the fighting.” His comments come amid top-level talks between US and Taliban representatives.
  • Talks between US and Taliban officials in Qatar have now gone on for days with the two sides trying to establish a mechanism for a ceasefire in the 17-year war in Afghanistan and open dialogue with the Afghan government. US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meeting with Taliban representatives was originally slated to run over two days and its unexpected extension was a positive sign, according to two senior Taliban leaders in Afghanistan who have been kept informed of the progress made in Qatar.
  • For the first time this year, the United States has sent two warships through the strategic Taiwan Strait, according to the Taiwanese government. The move risks further heightening tensions with China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control. Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement late on Thursday the US ships were moving in a northerly direction and that their voyage was in accordance with regulations. There was no immediate comment from the Chinese government.
  • Myanmar’s army chief should be prosecuted for “genocide” against the Rohingya, a United Nations’ human rights investigator has said. Lee, who is barred from Myanmar, was speaking on Friday during a trip to Thailand and Bangladesh, where she met officials and Rohingya driven out of western Rakhine state after an army crackdown in 2017. It was the first time Lee had publicly called for the Myanmar army chief to be prosecuted for genocide.
  • Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn has issued a decree announcing the holding of the country’s long-delayed general election, the first since the military took power almost five years ago. The decree means election campaigning can officially start, although an array of new parties – including some aligned to the military, others to the still powerful Shinawatra clan – have already begun meetings and recruitment.
  • Thailand is expected to soon pas a new cybersecurity law which will create a government agency with sweeping powers of search and seizure, triggering concerns for freedom of expression and data security among civil society and business groups as elections loom. But experts involved in drafting the bill say they have taken their worries into consideration. The National Cybersecurity Committee will be established once the legislation is passed – expected as soon as this month.
  • Priyanka Gandhi, the charismatic sister of Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, has formally joined politics months ahead of general elections in India. Ms Gandhi has been appointed the party general secretary for the eastern part of the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. Analysts say she will infuse fresh energy into the Congress campaign.
  • Tonga’s ability to communicate with the rest of the world has severely been restricted after a submarine cable broke, cutting off the Pacific island kingdom from almost all mobile phone and Internet services. The country, which consists of some 170 islands divided into three main island groups and has a population of 110,000, relies heavily on international links for daily supplies and vital tourist earnings. Officials said it could take up to two weeks to fix the problem.
  • Singapore’s military has said it will reduce the length, intensity and frequency of its training programmes after an actor in the reserves died from injuries sustained during an exercise overseas, the fifth serviceman to die during training in the last 18 months. Chief of Defence Force Melvyn Ong said the Singapore Armed Forces would modify its training programmes with a focus on the safety of all personnel whether reservists or full-time recruits.
  • Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah of central Pahang state has been named Malaysia’s new king, replacing Sultan Muhammad V who abdicated unexpectedly after just two years on the throne. A keen athlete who holds a string of positions on sporting bodies, including at the world football governing body FIFA, was elected as the new king last Thursday during a special meeting of Malaysia’s Islamic royalty.
  • Police in India’s northeastern state of Tripura have arrested 31 Muslim Rohingya who were fleeing a recent crackdown by India’s Hindu nationalist government. India regards the Muslim-majority Rohingya as illegal aliens and a security risk and has ordered that tens of thousands of them who live in scattered settlements and slums around the country be identified and repatriated to Myanmar.
  • A prominent Pashtun rights activist has been presented in a Pakistani court after being arrested on charges of rioting and inciting hatred at a protest demonstration, rights activists say. Alamzeb Mehsud, 26, was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, on Monday evening, video footage taken by activists from the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) showed.
  • A predominantly Muslim area of the southern Philippines has returned a resounding “Yes” in this week’s referendum on greater autonomy, boosting hopes for peace in one of Asia’s most conflict-torn regions. The plan to create a self-administered area for the Muslim-dominated parts of Mindanao was backed by 85 per cent of voters, the election, paving the way for a three-year transition toward elections for a legislature that will choose an executive.
  • Malaysia’s economics minister said last Saturday the country will cancel the US$20 billion (S$27 billion) East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project with contractor China Communications Construction Co. Azmin Ali said at a media event that the cost of the project was too great, while giving an assurance that Malaysia would welcome all forms of investment from China on a case-by-case basis. “We cannot afford to bear this, so this project needs to be terminated without affecting our good relationship with China.”
  • Russian president Vladimir Putin is set to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for talks expected to be dominated by a territorial issue over a disputed island chain that has long prevented the two countries from concluding a peace treaty to formally end World War II.
  • Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has said a scholar linked to the 2002 Bali bombings would only be freed from imprisonment if he pledged loyalty to the state and its secular ideology, after news he would be released unconditionally was met criticism at home and abroad. Convicts eligible for early release are required to pledge loyalty to the state and its secular ideology, known as Pancasila, and not to repeat their crimes.

Europe

  • A Turkish court has ordered the release of a Kurdish MP who has been on hunger strike for nearly 80 days. The court in Diyarbakir said Leyla Guven, 55, would be monitored. She has been in jail for a year following critical remarks about Turkey’s military operation in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria and went on hunger strike over the prison conditions of the militant Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
  • Troops could return to the border in the event of a botched Brexit, the Irish prime minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, has warned. He added that Ireland had been “victimised” by the Brexit process. An Irish government spokesperson later said clarified his comments and said the government is determined to avoid a no deal scenario and the consequent risk of a hard border.
  • The EU could be ready to drop some of its “red lines” from the Brexit deal it struck with the UK to “help” save it, Chancellor Philip Hammond has said. He did not believe the EU would scrap the backstop plan to keep the border open between Northern Ireland and Ireland. But some EU leaders were “looking at what they can do” to change it.
  • Justice Secretary David Gauke has become the second cabinet minister to suggest Parliament could be given free votes on some Brexit-related issues. He said MPs should be able to vote according to their personal views when the next Brexit motion is debated on Tuesday, “to resolve things”. Mr Gauke also reiterated he would consider his position if the government opted for a no deal EU withdrawal. On Tuesday, the House of Commons will see MPs vote on Mrs May’s next steps for Brexit.
  • Thousands of schoolchildren are marching through Berlin to urge tougher measures against global warming. Smaller protests have been organised in Switzerland, inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She is in Davos, urging the World Economic Forum to ensure a greener future. Last Thursday, 35,000 teenagers marched in Brussels against global warming. Thousands of school pupils went on strike in Switzerland a week ago to demand climate action.
  • Greece’s parliament has voted narrowly to back a historic agreement ending a 27-year dispute over its northern neighbour’s name. Parliament in Athens agreed by 153 votes to 146 to approve the name Republic of North Macedonia, despite widespread opposition from the public. Greece has rejected Macedonia’s name since its independence in 1991, as there is a Greek region of that name.

Middle East

  • Qatar’s preparations for hosting the 2022 football World Cup are not hindered by a blockade imposed on it by some of its Gulf neighbours amid a major diplomatic crisis, according to the head of the tournament’s organising committee. “I think it’s a testimony to the resilience of the state of Qatar and the people of Qatar in terms of being able to overcome such an obstacle,” he said.
  • Five foreign demining experts have been killed in an accidental explosion in Yemen, a Saudi-funded charity has said.
  • Saudi Arabia has announced ambitious new plans for its growing state-backed entertainment sector, including a bull run like that of Pamplona in Spain. The conservative Gulf kingdom also hopes to open a waxworks museum and host the superstar rapper Jay Z. The attempt to turn Saudi Arabia into a regional entertainment hub is backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • A prominent American-born Iranian journalist who was held in the US as a witness has been released from detention. Marzieh Hashemi was freed in Washington DC after being detained for 10 days as material witness in a criminal case, an attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said. Her detention came after Iran had arrested four Americans.
  • Pink Floyd star Roger Waters says he hopes to carry out more rescue missions after chartering a jet to bring two stranded foreign boys out of Syria and reuniting them with their mother. Waters flew a human rights lawyer and the boys’ mother to northern Iraq to pick up the pair, aged seven and 11. Waters has been an outspoken critic of Western intervention in Syria and elsewhere.
  • Amnesty International says Iran arrested 7,000 people last year in a “shameless campaign of repression”. The crackdown was a response to unrest over poverty, corruption and the lack of political and social freedoms. Hundreds were sentenced to prison or flogging. At least 26 protesters were killed and nine others died in custody.

Africa

  • Security forces have clashed with demonstrators in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, as anti-government protests take place across the country. Riot police have used tear gas to try to break up the large rallies. They began last month over the economy, but are now focused on removing President Omar al-Bashir from office.
  • Parliament in Angola has abolished a law widely interpreted to be a ban on homosexuality. It is the latest former Portuguese colony to repeal laws outlawing same-sex conduct, following Sao Tome and Cape Verde. There have been no known prosecutions under the now expunged law.
  • The new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, has been sworn into office. He told supporters at a ceremony at the presidential palace in Kinshasa he wanted to build a “reconciled Congo”. He is taking over from Joseph Kabila in the first peaceful transfer of power in the country in nearly 60 years, though many still dispute his victory in last month’s presidential election.
  • The US and UK governments have threatened to impose visa bans against anyone found guilty of either instigating violence or plotting to rig the elections in Nigeria. It pledged their commitment to ensuring the 16 February elections would be free and fair. The British government says it will particularly monitor social media accounts encouraging violence during the elections.
  • A top South African university has dropped Afrikaans as its official language in favour of English. The University of Pretoria told the BBC it needed to “transform the culture” to make it “truly South African”. English is the preferred language of instruction for many in South Africa.
  • Nearly $1m (£914,000) in cash was stolen from a briefcase belonging to Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe. It is unclear if he was at home while the theft took place.

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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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