Tue. Jul 23rd, 2019

Feb 4: May heads to ‘battle’ in Brussels, Maduro remains defiant, China hails US trade talks

North America

  • The former CEO of coffee chain Starbucks has said he is “seriously considering” running for president. Howard Schultz, who stepped down as the firm’s boss last year, says he is considering running as a centrist independent candidate in 2020. In a series of tweets, he said the current two political parties in the US were “more divided than ever”.
  • The US Justice Department has filed a host of criminal charges against Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou. The charges against the world’s second largest smartphone maker include bank fraud, obstruction of justice and theft of technology. The case could ratchet up tensions between China and the US, and impact the firm’s global expansion efforts.
  • US President Donald Trump says he is sceptical a deal can be reached on border security before government funding expires again on 15 February. He spoke to the Wall Street Journal as 800,000 federal employees returned to work after the longest ever closure of federal agencies, lasting 35 days. The Republican president said he doubts he would lower the sum he is prepared to accept for a US-Mexico border wall.
  • President Donald Trump has called US intelligence agencies “naive” on Iran and also dismissed their assessment of the threat posed by North Korea. “Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Mr Trump tweeted. The testy response came after a US intelligence report said Iran was not making nuclear weapons. It also said that North Korea remained “unlikely to give up” its weapons stockpiles and production abilities.
  • Six migrants on hunger strike at an immigration detention centre in Texas are being force-fed, officials say. Immigration officials are using plastic nasal tubes to feed four men, which family members say are causing severe nosebleeds and vomiting. The detainees are refusing food in protest against conditions at El Paso Processing Center. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says a federal judge authorised the force-feeding this month.
  • US President Donald Trump has dismissed the federal investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 election and talks about a proposed border wall. His lawyers had been reassured he was not a target in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, he said. Talks in Congress about wall funding – the issue behind the recent government shutdown – were a “waste of time”.
  • US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has announced their largest ever seizure of the synthetic opioid drug fentanyl. Agents on Saturday found 254 lbs (114kg) of fentanyl, as well as 395 lbs of methamphetamine in a lorry at an official US-Mexico border crossing. The lorry’s Mexican driver has been arrested and charged with drug dealing. The cargo of fentanyl had an approximate black market value of $3.5m (£2.6m) and is considered so deadly that even a few salt-sized grains of it could kill a person.
  • Democrat Cory Booker says he will run for president in the 2020 election, joining a crowded field of candidates seeking the party’s nomination. The New Jersey senator, 49, was elected in 2013 after serving as mayor of the state’s largest city, Newark. He has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, slamming his administration’s policies on issues such as immigration and climate change. Mr Booker has long been touted as a rising star of the Democratic Party.
  • Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren has apologised to the Cherokee Nation for taking a DNA test in October to prove her Native American ancestry. The presidential hopeful called the Cherokee Nation’s chief on Thursday to make amends for causing confusion, according to a tribe official. She has never claimed tribal membership but took the DNA test after a challenge from President Donald Trump. Ms Warren had previously defended her decision to publicise the DNA results.

Latin America

  • The US has warned Venezuela that any threats against American diplomats or opposition leader Juan Guaidó will be met with “a significant response”. National Security Adviser John Bolton said any such “intimidation” would be “a grave assault on the rule of law”. His warning comes days after the US and more than 20 other countries recognised Mr Guaidó as interim president.
  • The US has imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm PDVSA and urged the country’s military to accept a peaceful transfer of power. National Security Adviser John Bolton said President Nicolás Maduro and his allies could “no longer loot the assets of the Venezuelan people”.
  • Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has dismissed calls for new presidential elections amid fresh protests against his leadership. In a show of defiance, he insisted his victory in polls last spring had been legitimate. In an interview with a Russian news agency, Mr Maduro said he was prepared to hold talks with the opposition.
  • Venezuela’s self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó has said his family has been threatened, amid the country’s continuing political crisis. In a speech at Venezuela’s Central University, he said police had visited his family home looking for his wife.
  • Venezuela’s Supreme Court has banned opposition leader Juan Guaidó from leaving the country and frozen his bank accounts. The move comes amid an escalating power struggle, after Mr Guaidó declared himself interim president last week.
  • Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Venezuela’s capital Caracas in support of President Nicolás Maduro – and his self-proclaimed interim successor Juan Guaidó. Mr Guaidó said the country’s opposition movement would “carry on in the streets”. Mr Maduro told supporters he was the only president of Venezuela.
  • Anti-government demonstrators in Honduras have clashed with riot police during protest marking the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Juan Orlando Hernández. Thousands of people took the streets in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and across the country, demanding his resignation. Mr Hernández, a conservative pro-US politician, won re-election in 2017 by a narrow margin.

Asia

  • China has sentenced prominent human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang to four and a half years in prison for state subversion. Wang, 42, had defended political campaigners and victims of land seizures, as well as followers of the banned spiritual Falun Gong movement. He was one of several lawyers and activists arrested in a 2015 crackdown, and the last to go on trial.
  • Confidential data about more than 14,000 people diagnosed with HIV, including foreign visitors, has been stolen in Singapore and leaked online. Authorities revealed details about the 2016 health data breach on Monday. They believe an HIV-positive American whose partner was a senior Singaporean doctor is behind the leak.
  • China’s trade delegation says it made “important progress” in the latest round of talks with the US, China’s state media reports. At the end of a two-day meeting in Washington, no deal was reached but China pledged to buy more US soybeans. US President Donald Trump touted the promise as proof that the two sides were making progress. They are pushing to reach a deal by 1 March to avert an escalation in tariffs.
  • North Korea has pledged to destroy all its nuclear material enrichment facilities, according to the US special envoy for the country, Stephen Biegun. He said the promise had been made to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he visited North Korea in October. However Pyongyang has not confirmed making any such pledge.
  • Chinese factory activity contracted for a second straight month in January, the official Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) showed. The index ticked up to 49.5, but remained below the 50-point level that separates growth from contraction. China reported its weakest economic expansion in 28 years in 2018, and growth is expected to slow further.
  • Chinese telecoms giant Huawei has denied any wrongdoing after US prosecutors filed a host of criminal charges against the firm. Huawei has also rejected criminal claims against its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Canada last month.

Europe

  • The Trump administration has lifted sanctions on three firms linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, an ally of President Vladimir Putin. Curbs on aluminium giant US Rusal, En+ Group and JSC EuroSibEnergo were lifted after Mr Deripaska ceded control. The oligarch has been linked to the probe into alleged Russian interference in US elections, and Democrats wanted the sanctions to continue.
  • A group calling itself the red scarves has held a march in Paris to counter weeks of anti-government protests by the yellow-vest movement. The “foulards rouges” are demanding an end to the violence witnessed at yellow-vest (gilets jaunes) rallies. The gilets jaunes movement grew out of fuel tax protests in November.
  • The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier says the Irish backstop is “part and parcel” of the UK’s Brexit deal and will not be renegotiated. Speaking at the European Parliament, Mr Barnier said it was a “realistic solution” to preventing a hard border. British MPs voted earlier this month against the deal agreed by the UK and EU during 18 months of negotiations. Instead, last Tuesday, they voted for PM Theresa May to seek “alternative arrangements” to the backstop.
  • Theresa May has said she is “determined” to deliver Brexit on time, ahead of talks on the Irish backstop. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the prime minister said she would return to Brussels with a “fresh mandate, new ideas and a renewed determination”. MPs have voted to seek an “alternative arrangement” to guarantee the Northern Ireland border stays open after Brexit.
  • Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has accused Leo Varadkar of leaking and misrepresenting a conversation he had with Ireland’s foreign minister. The conversation took place at a dinner in October last year and an account was reported in the Daily Telegraph. It said that Mr Raab had demanded the right to pull the UK out of the backstop after just three months.
  • Italy’s economy tipped into recession at the end of last year, according to latest figures. In the final three months of 2018, the economy shrank by 0.2%, following a 0.1% decline in the third quarter, the statistics office said. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the contraction was likely to continue into 2019.
  • For a fourth week, tens of thousands of children have skipped school in Belgium to join protests demanding tougher action against climate change. Ahead of the marches in Brussels, Liège and Leuven, dozens of children protested outside the home of Belgium’s environment minister. New impetus came in an open letter from 3,450 Belgian scientists saying “the activists are absolutely right”.
  • The UK, Germany and France have created a new payments system to allow European businesses to trade with Iran without falling foul of US sanctions. All three opposed last year’s decision by President Donald Trump to abandon a 2015 deal under which international sanctions on Iran were lifted. Some of the US sanctions make it difficult for European banks to make direct payments to Iran. Many other existing payment channels have links to the US, which means making payments to Iran is difficult
  • The Turkish government is coming under renewed pressure to stop buying gold from Venezuela, the BBC has learned. A senior Western diplomatic source told the BBC that Turkey was now considered the main concern among the countries engaging in the trade. They added that there are growing suspicions that gold exported to Turkey was ending up in Iran, which would violate US sanctions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backs Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who is facing a growing political challenge.
  • Russia has suspended its involvement in the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) following a similar decision by the US. President Vladimir Putin said Russia would start developing new missiles. Last Friday, the US, which has long accused Russia of violating the treaty, formally announced it was suspending its obligations under the agreement. Signed in 1987 by the US and USSR, it banned the use of short and medium-range missiles by both countries.

Middle East

  • US and Taliban negotiators have agreed on a draft framework for a peace deal seeking to put an end to the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan, Washington’s top negotiator has said. US negotiators held six days of talks with the Taliban in Qatar last month.
  • Saudi Arabia has ended an anti-corruption drive launched in November 2017 that saw senior princes, ministers and prominent businessmen rounded up. The Royal Court said a committee led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had recovered $107bn (£81bn) in settlements including property, companies and cash. A total of 381 individuals were summoned by the commission.
  • The Palestinian Authority has condemned Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of a foreign observer force in the divided West Bank city of Hebron. The Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) has deployed unarmed civilians for more than 20 years to report on human rights violations. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the observers of “acting against” his country. Palestinians said Israel was showing contempt for international agreements.
  • The US has confirmed it stopped all aid to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, in a step linked to new anti-terrorism legislation. More than $60m (£46m) in annual funds for the Palestinian security services has now ended, and – while Israel has backed some previous cuts in US aid for Palestinians – officials have expressed concern about this move. It is thought that co-operation with Israeli forces, which helps keep relative calm in the West Bank, could be affected.
  • Lebanese factions have agreed to form a new government of national unity, ending nearly nine months of wrangling. “We must turn the page and start working,” said Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who is now in his third term. The 30-member cabinet has four women, including the interior minister – a first for Lebanon. The most pressing challenge for the cabinet is to revive Lebanon’s economic fortunes and cut the national debt, which stands at about 150% of GDP.

Africa

  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) has set the terms of release of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo. He will be freed on the condition that he is accepted by a country willing to co-operate in enforcing any future decisions made by the ICC. So it is not clear if the politician, who was acquitted by the war crimes court, can go home after his seven years behind bars.
  • An average of six migrants died crossing the Mediterranean every day last year, a UN report says. Italy had earlier highlighted the lower overall number of deaths last year, due to fewer people making the crossing. But the rate of deaths from Libya rose to one for every 14 arrivals in 2018 – from one in 38 the year before.
  • Professors and lecturers at the University of Khartoum, Sudan’s oldest and most-respected educational establishment, have held a sit-in protest on campus against President Omar al-Bashir’s government. “More than 300 professors and lecturers of the university held a sit-in today inside the campus,” Mamduh al-Hassan, the group’s spokesman told AFP news agency. He said that 531 university staff members had signed and listed several demands including that a transitional government be formed.
  • The US has imposed visa restrictions on Ghana for refusing to accept the return of 7,000 Ghanaian nationals that it wants to deport. The US embassy in Accra will limit the awarding of visas to certain applicants, such as the domestic staff of diplomats posted to America. The sanctions could be expanded to include other categories if the issue was not resolved, US officials warned.
  • A peace deal between the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and 14 rebel groups has been struck after talks in Sudan, officials say. The deal was announced by the UN mission in CAR, known as Minusca, and the African Union (AU), which both sponsored the talks in Khartoum. Details of the agreement have not been released and analysts caution that previous peace deals have all collapsed.

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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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