Fri. Dec 13th, 2019

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales on the plane to Mexico, on 11 November 2019. | Photo from: Twitter via REUTERS

Former President Evo Morales flees to Mexico, Hong Kong enters its first recession, and Amazon files appeal for Pentagon snub

North America and Canada

  • US President Donald Trump’s advisor Roger Stone has been convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. In response to the verdict last Friday (Nov 15), Mr Trump claimed that Mr Stone had been the victim of “a double standard”, in which the likes of Mrs Clinton whom he has spared has also lied. Mr Stone is the sixth Trump advisor to be convicted in a criminal case following Mr Mueller’s concluded investigation.
  • Two students, aged 16 and 14, have been killed and three others were injured by a gunman who opened fire at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita last Thursday (Nov 14). The suspect then proceeded to shoot himself in the head and died several hours later. Police have not been able to ascertain the motives of the attack thus far. News of the attack also emerged during a Senate debate on gun control legislation. 
  • Amazon has filed an intention to appeal the US Department of Defence’s decision to give a major contract to Microsoft. Also known as the ‘Jedi’ contract, the US$10bn cloud-computing contract is aimed at making the US defence department more technologically agile. It has been said that the decision to snub Amazon arose out of political pressure where Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, who has been critical of the Trump Administration, has been previously attacked by Mr Trump himself.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged more than 150 points to a new all-time high last Friday (Nov 15) as trade war talks progress. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow has said that both the US and China are “getting close” to reaching a trade deal.
  • For the second consecutive year, Canada has refused visas to researchers – most of them from Africa – who were hoping to attend an artificial intelligence conference in Vancouver. A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada said that they had been working with conference organisers since May to try and make the visa application process as smooth as possible. In addition, the ministry of immigration has also said that applicants must also demonstrate that they will “leave Canada once their visas expire”. Other factors taken into account include the applicant’s ties to their home country, the purpose of the visit, and the overall economic and political stability of their home country.

Latin America

  • Following contested presidential elections in Bolivia that triggered three weeks of street protests, President Evo Morales has resigned from his post upon requests from the military and police. Mr Evo Morales, alongside with vice-president Álvaro García Linera, left on the same plane to seek asylum in Mexico last Monday (Nov 11). The deputy leader of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez, has stepped forward as interim president. In accordance with Bolivia’s Constitution, Ms Ańez now has 90 days to call fresh elections. The prospects of calm returning to the streets, however, remains elusive given the current political polarisation.
  • Hugo Carvajal, a former Venezuelan intelligence chief, disappeared after a court in Spain ruled that he should be extradited to the US where he is accused of drug trafficking. Mr Carvajal previously served as head of military counter-intelligence for the Maduro administration. In 2011, US prosecutors accused him of coordinating shipments of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico. After turning against the Maduro administration in February 2019, he fled Venezuela on a boat to the Dominican Republic and on to Spain – only to be arrested in April at the request of US authorities.
  • Chile has announced that it will hold a referendum to replace the Pinochet-era constitution with a new one – conceding to a key demand of protesters after nearly a month of violent civil unrest. Legislators in Chile’s National Congress have come to an agreement last Friday (Nov 15) that the plebiscite will be held in April 2020. Demonstrators have been demanding social reforms in light of sluggish wages, high costs for education and healthcare, and widening income inequality.

Asia-Pacific

  • The first election since a deadly terror attack in April, Sri Lanka’s former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential election that has split the country along ethnic lines. Official results showed Mr Rajapaksa took 52.25 per cent of the vote. Analysts say Mr Rajapaksa was the clear victor in Sinhalese majority areas while Mr Premadasa scored better in the Tamil-dominated north. The turnout was 83.7 per cent and his supporters now want him to restore stability after the attacks.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of India’s most prestigious universities, has partially rolled back a hostel fee hike after clashes between protesting students and the police over the issue. The row escalated earlier last week when thousands of students gathered outside an auditorium where a graduation ceremony was taking place.
  • Hong Kong has confirmed it has entered its first recession for a decade as it continues to be grippled by protests. Its economy has shrunk by 3.2 per cent in the July to September period in comparison with the prior quarter, implying that the economy has contracted for two quarters in a row, which is the usual definition of a recession. In addition, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index led losses in the region as it fell by 1.82 per cent last Wednesday (Nov 13).
  • China has condemned what it called an “appalling attack” by protesters on Hong Kong’s justice secretary in London last Thursday (Nov 14). The justice secretary, Teresa Cheng, had been in Camden, north London, to promote Hong Kong as a dispute resolution and deal-making hub when she was accosted by a group of protesters. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has also condemned the protesters in the UK, saying “the savage act breached the bottom line of any civilised society”. 
  • Anti-government protests in Hong Kong last week have left one dead, two in critical condition, and several injured. In the latest clashes, police were seen firing tear gas and rubber bullets at masked protesters, who in turn started fires and throwing petrol bombs, bows, and arrows. All schools were also closed last Thursday (Nov 14) due to safety reasons while the  Chinese University of Hong Kong will be shortening the academic term and will not resume classes until Jan next year. Scottish universities have also recalled their exchange students to be brought back to  Scotland amid the increasing civil unrest. In a statement, China’s liaison office in the territory said Hong Kong was “sliding into the abyss of terrorism”, and urged the government to toughen its crackdown.
  • The Australian government has set new guidelines for universities to combat the foreign interference. Institutions are now required to share cyber-intelligence with national security agencies, identify foreign research partners and disclose financial dealings with other countries. These regulations came after local universities hosting Confucius Institutes reportedly signed agreements which gave China decision-making authority over teaching at the facilities.

Europe

  • Russia has taken part in a carefully coordinated spy swap with Norway and Lithuania, in a deal that requires Lithuania to change its laws. The three countries have been working on the operation for weeks. The swap involved two Russians, two Lithuanians, and a Norwegian. The best known of the five men is Frode Berg, a Norwegian ex-border guard arrested in Moscow in 2017 after he was found with naval documents handed to him by former Russian policemen. The two Lithuanians were also returned to their families. 
  • The European Commission has accused the UK of breaching EU rules by not putting forward a new commissioner. In response, the UK has said that it cannot put forward a name due to rules governing December’s general elections. The Commission argues that EU members cannot use domestic laws to avoid compliance with EU treaties, which are deemed to be of higher status. The Commission may have to eventually escalate this to the European Court of Justice.
  • In response to expectations of yellow vests protests to mark the movement’s anniversary, Paris police closed 23 Paris Metro and RER stations last Saturday (Nov 16). Standing as a tough challenge for the government, French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to roll back on planned fuel tax, cut pension taxes, and increase the minimum wage in order to conciliate the protesters.
  • At least 200,000 people have protested against the Czech government in the capital, Prague. Demonstrators are calling for Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to resign over allegations of fraud. It is alleged that Mr Babis used European Union subsidies for his private business – something he denies.
  • Fifteen countries, including the US, India and New Zealand, have been setting out Brexit concerns at a World Trade Organisation meeting in Geneva. The main issue relates to a system known as “tariff-rate quotas” which allows countries easier access to the European Union market, including the UK, for limited quantities of their exports. Brexit has implications for how the UK and the EU have to divide these quotas of which Brexit delays are already hitting countries such as Australia.
  • Germany narrowly avoids recession with a growth rate of 0.1 per cent in the third quarter. The German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said that while the numbers show the country avoided a technical recession in the third quarter, economic development in the region is still fragile. The poor economic performance could be attributed to factors such as declining worldwide demand for capital goods as well as structural changes in the automotive industry.

Middle East

  • Protests have erupted across Iran after the government unexpectedly announced it was rationing petrol and increasing its price. Prices went up by at least 50 per cent last Friday (Nov 15). The authorities have tried to curtail the impact of US sanctions by reducing its heavy subsidies on petrol prices. Following the reinstating of US sanctions last year, the Iranian economy has experienced a sharp downturn, and the value of its currency has been driven to record lows.
  • Amidst protests that are calling for the end of a political system that has existed in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq’s top Shia cleric has expressed support for the protests. Protests largely center around the call to end mass unemployment and corruption. Specifically, Iraqis are unhappy by the fact that government appointments are made on the basis of ethnic quotas, and not merit, which some feel allow the abuse of public funds.
  • Saudi Arabia has apologised for a video that labelled feminism as extremism. The promotional video categorised feminism, homosexuality and atheism as dangerous ideas, and urged Saudis to be vigilant against them. In addition, the Saudi Human Rights Commission has also released a statement saying that feminism is not a crime. Despite a ban on women driving in 2018, women in Saudi Arabia continue to face numerous restrictions on their lives.
  • Israel’s military has said that it will be investigating “harm caused to civilians” from an airstrike it launched in Gaza. The attack in Deir al-Balah last Thursday (Nov 14) was one of the deadliest. Early last Saturday, Israeli air raids struck Hamas targets for the first time in the latest violence. Fighting first flared up after Israel killed a Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander last Tuesday (Nov 12).
  • Turkey pressures Australia to accept Islamic State fighters as repatriation push begins. The former has so far sent up to 10 fighters back to Britain, the US and Germany, saying it cannot continue to house them even as the governments have rejected taking their fighters back and have cancelled passports. 

Africa

  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged the national carrier South Africa Airways to resolve an industrial dispute with its workers that has led to the grounding of all its planes. President Ramaphosa said that the strikes are a “labour relations” issue that should not cause panic. The strike started last Friday (Nov 15) and it began as a result of a restructuring process that could lead to the loss of more than 900 jobs. 
  • A journalist is being held by Nigeria’s security forces despite being granted bail twice. Omoyele Sowore was arrested in August by the country’s intelligence agency, the Department of State Services (DSS), on grounds of treason felony for organising the Revolution Now protest. Amidst protests calling for Mr Sowore’s freedom outside the agency’s office in Nigeria’s capital last Tuesday (Nov 12), DSS operatives also allegedly opened fire to disperse the protesters. 
  • The US is removing Cameroon from a trade pact over allegations of human rights abuse. In a letter addressed to Congress last Thursday (Nov 14), President Donald Trump cited accusations of torture and extrajudicial killings of citizens by the country’s military as reasons for removing Cameroon from the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Cameroon is currently caught in the middle of an Anglophone revolt that began in 2016 after residents complained of being marginalised by the predominantly Francophone government.
  • Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi named a little-known technocrat, Youssef Chahed, as prime minister last Wednesday (Nov 13) after parliament ousted Habib Essid in a vote of no-confidence over his handling of economic reforms and security. Chahed has 30 days to name a new government. But he will be under pressure to deliver on reforms demanded by the country’s multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
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