North America and Canada
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scraped a narrow victory in the Canadian national elections last Tuesday (Oct 22) for a second term, with his Liberal Party only being able to form a minority government. Trudeau faced backlash during his reelection campaign over his mishandling of a corruption inquiry and a blackface scandal. The smaller win means that the Liberal Party will now have to negotiate and compromise with smaller parties to govern.
- Softbank buys out WeWork in a deal that will see the Japanese tech giant drop US$3 billion to purchase shares from existing investors and an additional US$5 billion in debt financing. The buyout deal also saw WeWork founder Adam Neumann walk away to the tune of US$1.7billion, which left a bitter taste on employees as they face the possibility of retrenchment in the commercial real estate firm’s restructuring exercise.
- Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg stumbled through Washington in a slew of missteps that highlighted a deep mistrust in him and his social network. The week saw Zuckerberg facing an announcement of an antitrust investigation which grilled on Facebook’s use of fake news and political ads as well as criticised on his cryptocurrency project, Libra. His attempts to mend ties with the press following the unveiling of Facebook’s News Tab feature immediately drew ire from the media as it included known hate sites like Breitbart.
- The acting US ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified last Tuesday (Oct 22) in the Trump impeachment hearings, saying that the President withheld military aid to Ukraine to leverage an investigation into his political opponent Joe Biden. The career US diplomat said that “our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular channel of US policymaking…for domestic political reasons.”
- A group of US Republicans loyal to President Trump “stormed” into a closed-door hearing of the impeachment inquiry last Wednesday (Oct 23), chanting “let us in”. The participants of the incident sought to protest the inquiry on procedural grounds, object the private nature of the hearings, and demand complete access to testimonies.
- US federal judge Beryl Howell granted Democrats full and uncensored access to Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections. This comes as the Democrats seek to gather evidence to impeach the President. The report was previously released with heavy redactions of what Democrats believe to be crucial information that were found during the investigations.
- Bolivia’s President Evo Morales won a controversial fourth term last Friday (Oct 25), narrowly avoiding a second-round run-off against his closest opposition candidate Carlos Mesa. The elections in the South American nation has been plagued by accusations of voter fraud, with mass protests going on since the electoral process commenced. Protests are expected to continue after the announcement of Morales’ victory.
- President Sebastián Piñera issued a public apology and announced a slew of social and economic measures as he faced mounting pressure from tens of thousands of protesters. The Chilean leader announced that he will scrap the planned public transport fare hike, raise pensions, increase minimum wage, and impose higher taxes on the rich. The promise of reforms have failed to quell public anger and protests as the country’s capital comes to a standstill. While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, bouts of violent clashes have resulted in at least 18 deaths.
- Brazilians unite to clean up beaches affected by a mysterious oil spill in the north-east of Brazil as the federal government does little to none. While President Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right government are facing public outrage for inaction in handling the ecological crisis, Mr Bolsonaro has instead attributed attempted sabotage of major oil tenders as the cause of the spill.
- The Hong Kong government formally withdrew the extradition bill last Wednesday (Oct 23), which was one of the five main demands by the pro-democracy camp. The introduction of the controversial bill sparked months of demonstrations and clashes with authorities with no end in sight. The same day also saw the release of the murder suspect, Chan Tong-kai, at the centre of the political crisis who is also wanted in Taiwan.
- The final report on the Boeing 737 Max plane flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air puts the blame on “design, maintenance and pilot error”. The report mentioned that the plane’s manufacturer failed to detect potential issues with its design. In addition, maintenance crew were negligent in testing flight systems before signing it off, and one of the pilots was unfamiliar with flight procedures of the aircraft. The crash in October last year killed all 189 onboard, with a similar crash in March this year that left 159 dead on the doomed Ethiopian Airlines.
- President Joko Widodo began his second term in office with appointments of both new and familiar faces into his cabinet. He retained his finance minister Sri Mulyani, a former World Bank managing director, but also tapped on his election rival Prabowo Subianto to head his defence ministry. Rights group Amnesty International have decried Subianto’s posting as “a dark day for human rights”. Amongst the new faces was Nadiem Makarim, co-founder of ride-hailing start-up Gojek, who stepped down from the company to be the education and culture minister.
- China and Japan held joint maritime drills earlier this month, the first of such in years, which is seen as a sign of improving ties. The two countries have had testy relations since the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands territorial disputes, but experts say such joint military cooperation indicated Beijing’s openness to mending ties in light of recent domestic economic slowdown stemming from the prolonged trade disputes with the US.
- Japanese emperor Naruhito formally proclaimed ascendancy to the Chrysanthemum Throne last Tuesday (Oct 22) in a coronation ceremony with dignitaries from over 180 nations, marking the beginning of the Reiwa era. He acceded to the throne after his father, Akihito, abdicated due to concerns of his advanced age. The celebrations were muted, and a planned procession had to be postponed in wake of Typhoon Hagibis.
- Newspapers across Australia put out heavily redacted front pages last Monday (Oct 21) in a united protest against increasing crackdown on local press freedom. This comes after the conducting of police raids earlier this year and journalists facing criminal charges when embarrassing stories of the government came to light. The Australian government has come under heavy criticism from the media, who have adopted the slogan “When government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up?”
- A massive fire broke out last Tuesday (Oct 22) at the SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland, New Zealand, where the 2021 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is to be held. Hundreds were evacuated from the building that was under construction, as well as from the surrounding structures. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that New Zealand will still host the APEC meeting despite the setback.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced setback in parliament last week, despite Members of Parliament (MPs) giving their preliminary approval for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. While the deal that PM Johnson reached with his European Union counterparts was endorsed in principle by MPs, they disagreed to rushing the bill through just to meet the Oct 31 deadline. The Conservative leader intends to call for elections on Dec 12, as part of his strategy to break the Brexit impasse.
- The Paris 2024 Olympic logo was revealed last Monday (Oct 21), which was designed to incorporate the Olympic flame as well as the lips and outline of Marianne – the personification of the French Republic since 1789. However, the logo drew mockery from netizens, who made parallels to the Tinder dating app logo and stereotypes of ‘seductive’ Parisian women or “the girl your mother warned you about.”
- Thirty-nine found dead in the back of a refrigerated truck last Wednesday (Oct 23) in an industrial estate in the UK. The driver was arrested and will be charged with manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Four further arrests have been made in connection to the case. The victims are believed to be from Vietnam and China, who were discovered frozen to death after being locked in an enclosed environment for more than 10 hours in temperatures as low as -25 deg C.
- Francisco Franco was finally exhumed last Thursday (Oct 24) from the Valley of the Fallen and laid to rest next to his wife – an act seen as a reconciliatory effort to heal the wounds of the Francoist era. The former Spanish dictator ruled Spain for four decades after a bloody civil war which saw more than 500,000 killed. His dictatorship came to an end upon his death in 1975, and his body was interred at the national monument where thousands of victims of the Spanish Civil War was also buried. Many saw this as an insult to the victims of the war.
- As many as 350,000 demonstrators poured into the streets of Barcelona last Saturday (Oct 26), as part of continued protests against the jailing of nine Catalonian separatist leaders. The rally began peacefully, but as night descended, violent clashes broke out between radicals and the Spanish riot police. A counter-rally took place last Sunday (Oct 27) in a considerably smaller turnout of 80,000 to support Spanish unity.
- Major parties agreed to a reform package proposed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, amidst continuing mass protests across Lebanon. Protesters have been demanding basic services, an end to corruption, and changes to the political class.
- Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement cautioned that continued protests could cause a power vacuum, leading to chaos and civil war in the country. Its leader has called for Hezbollah’s supporters to avoid the nationwide demonstrations in efforts to bring calm to the political unrest.
- ‘Baby Shark’, popular children’s song, becomes a rallying cry for demonstrators in Lebanon. The catchy tune was used by dissenters to soothe a toddler stuck in the middle of the country’s largest demonstrations in 15 years. A video of the incident went viral after it was posted on Twitter.
- Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladir Putin brokered a deal to remove Kurds from Northern Syria, and extended the ceasefire. The deal will see Russian forces conduct joint patrols with the Turkish military, and “facilitate the removal” of Kurdish forces within Turkey’s designated “safe zone”. Putin said this would help “resolve the rather acute situation that has developed on the Syrian-Turkish border.”
- At least 55 killed and scores injured during a wave of unrest in Iraq last weekend (Oct 26 & 27), as local security forces used tear gas and an Iranian-backed militia opened fire in attempts to quell protests against prolonged poor economic performance and corruption. This is the second major violent clash in a month in which the previous one saw 157 dead and 6,000 wounded. Some analysts have said that the rising civil dissent in Iraq signaled Iran’s waning influence in the region.
- Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form government last Monday (Oct 21), plunging the country into further political uncertainty. The responsibility now falls onto Netanyahu’s political rival Benny Gantz to form a coalition sufficient enough to be a majority government. Failure to do so may force Israel to head to the polls again.
- US special forces conducted an operation targeting Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last Saturday (Oct 26). US President Trump announced that the operation was successful and confirmed the death of the caliphate head, who led a bloody territorial grab in large parts of Iraq and Syria, and encouraged acts of terror in Europe and the US.
- Protests against Ethiopia’s Nobel peace prize winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed turned deadly as 67 die during clashes with authorities. Demonstrations began when local activist Jawar Mohammed claimed that police orchestrated an attack against him which officials have denied. The activist has accused the Nobel laureate of behaving like a dictator, and plans to challenge him in next year’s elections.
- Egyptian authorities have engaged in a string of arrests as demonstrations against alleged corruption of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi took place. The government crackdown on dissidents saw more than 4,000 arrested over the past two months after calls for demonstrations from an exiled government contractor, Mohamed Ali. He claimed Mr Sisi and members of his regime have misused public funds to build an ornate presidential palace, government facilities and hotels with “open ended budgets”.
- Uganda arrested 16 LGBT activists on grounds that they had engaged in gay sex last Monday (Oct 21), and could face life imprisonment. This comes during a time of rising hostilities against sexual minorities, where an LGBT rights activist was bludgeoned to death earlier this month. A minister also proposed introducing the death penalty for gay sex.
- The Central African Republic mulls hosting a Russian military base, as President Vladamir Putin seeks to increase Russia’s influence in Africa. The comments came during the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, which was part of Russia’s strategy to improve trade and diplomatic relations.