President Donald Trump bids farewell to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the South Portico of the White House in Washington, D.C., on 13 February 2019. | Photo from: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Dec 9: Trump calls Trudeau two-faced after Nato meeting, Citizens fight against rape crisis in India, and Iran’s nuclear deal avoids sanction blows

North America and Canada

  • Michael Bloomberg – one of the world’s richest men and a candidate to take on President Donald Trump next year – has denied trying to buy the White House despite his rivals accusing him of doing so. Despite his late entry to the race and with one of the largest political ad buys ever, he is currently polling fifth on 4 per cent out of 15 candidates. Mr Bloomberg’s net worth is $52bn, according to Forbes – 17 times more than that of Mr Trump.
  • US President Donald Trump has said he will place tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from Brazil and Argentina. He justified the move saying those countries’ weak currencies had made it harder for US food exports to compete. But Argentina and Brazil are not happy with the devaluation and both central banks have been intervening to prop up their sliding currencies. Both countries are keen for further discussions on the issue with their US counterparts.
  • The US economy added the largest number of jobs for 10 months in November, confounding economists’ expectations of a slowdown. Official data showed employers added 266,000 jobs last month, while the jobless rate dipped to 3.5 per cent from 3.6 per cent. The growth was helped by striking General Motors workers returning to work and a big rise in healthcare posts. Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the jobs numbers were “astonishing”, but could be revised down at some point.
  • Uber said it received almost 6,000 reports of sexual assault in the United States in 2017 and 2018. While the number of cases rose in 2018, the rate of incidents dropped by 16 per cent, as the number of journeys was higher. Passengers – as opposed to drivers – accounted for nearly half of those accused of sexual assault. The head of the US National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Karen Baker, welcomed the report, saying it “provides an opportunity to shed light on how this information-sharing emboldens our work for a safer future”.
  • The US House of Representatives has passed a bill to counter what it calls the “arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment” of Uighur Muslims in China. While the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act 2019 bill was passed by 407 to 1, it still needs approval from the Senate and President Donald Trump. It calls for “targeted sanctions” on members of the Chinese government. China called it a “gross interference”. This came days after Trump signed into law a bill that supports pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong – also leading to condemnation from China.
  • US President Donald Trump has called Justin Trudeau “two-faced” over a video in which the Canadian leader appears to mock him at a meeting of Nato leaders. Footage showed Mr Trudeau, UK PM Boris Johnson and French leader Emmanuel Macron discussing an impromptu press conference held by Mr Trump. None of them appeared to realise they were being recorded. Mr Trump decided to cancel a press conference planned for after the summit.
  • The US and China are “close” to a phase one trade deal, and President Donald Trump is happy with the progress of the talks, said White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow. The two sides are in discussions “almost around the clock”.
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House of Representatives will file impeachment charges against US President Donald Trump for alleged abuse of power. Mr Trump said Democrats have “gone crazy” and urged them to move quickly if they were going to impeach him.
  • US President Donald Trump has announced that it will hold off on designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organisations at the request of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. There was no immediate confirmation from the Mexican government.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has formally unveiled his government’s legislative agenda for the coming parliamentary session – an early test for his minority government. The six priorities are national unity, economy and the middle class, environment, healthcare, reconciliation, and gun control. His Liberals were re-elected in October but are 13 seats shy of a majority in the House of Commons, meaning they will have to rely on the support of other parties to enact their agenda if they want to hold on to power.

Latin America

  • Fifteen countries have banned 29 Venezuelans – including the country’s President Nicolás Maduro and his close allies – from travelling within their borders as part of diplomatic efforts to push him to step down last Tuesday (Dec 3). The countries include Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Chile and Peru. They are all signatories of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, an accord that promises mutual defence among members of the Organisation of American States. Some 500 people linked to Maduro have already been targeted by various sanctions.
  • A series of videos have surfaced in Mexico showing men and male teenagers appearing to mock a Chilean feminist anthem, sparking criticism across the media and among women’s rights activists and allies. The anthem, A Rapist in Your Path, has become an international phenomenon, with activists staging public performances to denounce violence and human rights abuses against women. The videos that went viral last week were seen by many as macho, disrespectful or at best tone-deaf in a country where killings of women are a rising phenomenon that has gone largely unpunished.
  • Trade unions, students and indigenous groups are marching in Colombia’s major cities to increase the pressure on the government of President Iván Duque. The protests started almost two weeks ago with hundreds of thousands of people taking part in rallies. The demands of those demonstrating are wide-ranging and include improving access to education. The committee representing the protesters has handed President Duque a list of 13 demands.
  • An independent international audit of Bolivia’s disputed election in October has detailed “deliberate” and “malicious” efforts to rig the vote in favour of then-President Evo Morales. The Organisation of American States said the measures included hidden servers and falsified signatures. Mr Morales fled to Mexico after the army urged him to quit. He has not commented on the report. The interim president has pledged new elections but no date has yet been set.

Asia-Pacific

  • An Indian woman who was set on fire on her way to testify against her alleged rapists has died of her injuries. The 23-year-old, who had 90 per cent burns, died late last Friday (Dec 6) after suffering cardiac arrest at a Delhi hospital. Rape and sexual violence against women have been in focus in India since the December 2012 gang-rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in the capital, Delhi. According to government figures, police registered 33,658 cases of rape in India in 2017, an average of 92 rapes every day. Separately, on the same day, Indian police shot dead four men suspected of raping and killing a young female vet in the southern city of Hyderabad.
  • Talks with US President Donald Trump have not gone to plan for North Korea and they may be returning to square one since the talks between the two countries broke down earlier in Vietnam this year. The latter has also renewed its verbal attacks on Mr Trump after he threatened military action. In addition, strict economic sanctions remain in place and it appears Washington is not going to budge despite Pyongyang’s insistence that they come up with another deal to resolve the nuclear issue by the end of the year. It said denuclearisation is off the negotiating table with the US and lengthy talks with Washington are not needed, the starkest statement yet emphasising the gulf between the two sides ahead of a year-end deadline.
  • North Korea says it has carried out a “very important test” at a satellite-launching site. Its state news agency said the results would be used to upgrade the country’s strategic status. It provided no further details. Analysts believe it could be a ground-based test of an engine to power a satellite launcher or an intercontinental ballistic missile. 
  • From championing democracy to defending Myanmar against genocide charges, the shock decision by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to face the UN’s top court risks further damaging her image overseas and deepening the siege mentality at home. Observers are divided over why Suu Kyi is now throwing herself into the spotlight to defend the military. Aye Lwin from Yangon’s Islamic Centre of Myanmar said he thought Suu Kyi was doing the right thing by personally assuming responsibility and going to The Hague, where the full breadth of atrocities committed will be laid bare.
  • Hong Kong police conducted raids ahead of a major rally yesterday (Dec 8) and found weapons including a pistol and ammunition, the first firearm seizure linked to the protests. Today marks the six month anniversary of the movement which has become increasingly violent as Beijing refuses concessions.

Europe

  • Greece has said it will expel the Libyan ambassador to the country, angered at an accord signed on Nov 27 between Libya and Turkey mapping out a sea boundary between the two countries close to Crete. The Libyan-Turkish agreement could complicate Ankara’s disputes over offshore energy exploration in the Mediterranean with nations including Greece, which sees the move as infringing its sovereign rights. Greece and Turkey are at odds over various decades-old issues ranging from mineral rights in the Aegean Sea to ethnically-split Cyprus.
  • The “reckless” behaviour of Nato leaders have raised concerns among many newspapers internationally after the summit, despite efforts to end the acrimony. Alliance chiefs agreed to appoint a group of experts to conduct a strategic review over two years to prepare the Western alliance for the future but the meeting also saw several bitter rows. Various leaders – Trump, Macron, Erdogan, and Trudeau – have been called out by German, Turkish and Canadian papers for “pursuing their own paths, creating uncertainty in the alliance”. But Spain’s El Mundo suggests challenges posed by China may help unite the fractured alliance.
  • France’s trade unions called for mass protests and strikes over pension reform that have brought much of the country to a halt to carry on this week, piling more pressure on President Emmanuel Macron. Public transport, schools and hospitals have been affected by the action. Workers are angry about the prospect of retiring later or facing reduced payouts. Union leaders said public workers should maintain their industrial action until Tuesday when they urged members to flood the streets once again.
  • Thousands of activists from around the world including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg hit the streets of Madrid last Friday (Dec 6) to demand urgent action on the climate crisis from world leaders attending the COP25 summit in the Spanish capital. The COP25 summit opened last Monday (Dec 2) with a stark warning from the UN about the “utterly inadequate” efforts of the world’s major economies to curb carbon pollution.
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany has an unending responsibility to remember the Nazis’ war crimes, as she made her first trip while in the office to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. Her visit comes amid a rise in German anti-Semitism and ahead of the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. The Nazi regime murdered an estimated 1.1 million people, the vast majority of them Jewish, at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Middle East

  • The United States is preparing further sanctions over the killing of anti-government protesters in Iraq. Last Friday (Dec 6), the US blacklisted three Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders over their alleged role in killings of anti-government protesters in Iraq. These are the latest sanctions to target Iraqi individuals or armed groups with close links to Tehran as Washington ramps up economic pressure to try to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East. Iran-backed armed groups and politicians have dominated Iraq’s state institutions since a US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
  • European parties to the 2015 nuclear deal have demanded that Iran stop taking steps away from the accord but stopped short of triggering a mechanism that could renew United Nations sanctions, during a rare meeting between the pact’s remaining signatories. Iranian officials have accused the European parties who are working to salvage the accord – the UK, France, and Germany – of not doing enough to protect Tehran from the sanctions, which officials have said justify their non-compliance. The latter says Iran tested a Shahab-3 missile variant “equipped with a manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle” that could deliver a nuclear weapon. Such activity is “inconsistent” with a resolution endorsing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it argues. Iran has denied the allegation.
  • Iranian state TV has said that security forces killed what it called “thugs and rioters” during last month’s mass protests against a petrol price rise. Activists have accused the authorities of deliberately covering up the scale of the crackdown on the four days of unrest in more than 100 locations. Amnesty International has said at least 208 people were killed, but others have put the death toll at close to 400. A judiciary spokesman has dismissed such reports as “utter lies”. The authorities have not yet released any overall casualty figures.
  • Saudi Arabia’s King Salman condemned a gun attack at a US naval base by a Saudi student as “barbaric”, President Donald Trump said. He tweeted that the monarch had called him to offer “sincere condolences”. The gunman, an aviation student, killed three people and injured at least eight at the base in Pensacola, Florida, before being shot dead. Florida governor Ron DeSantis said the Saudi government was “going to owe a debt” to the victims. The FBI is yet to declare a motive but is believed to be investigating for links to terrorism.
  • State-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco has raised a record US$25.6bn in its initial public offering (IPO) in Riyadh. The share sale was the biggest to date, surpassing that of China’s Alibaba which raised $25bn in 2014 in New York. Aramco relied on domestic and regional investors to sell a 1.5 per cent stake after lukewarm interest from abroad. The IPO will value it at $1.7tn when trading begins – short of its $2tn target, but making it the most valuable listed company in the world.

Africa

  • Protesters have rallied in Algeria on the final Friday (Dec 6) before a contentious presidential election which many perceive as an attempt by the ruling elite to cling to power despite months of demonstrations seeking an overhaul of the country’s political system. With the poll scheduled to be held on Dec 12, thousands who have been rallying every week have long demanded the departure of the political class linked to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika – who quit in April following mass protests – before any vote takes place.
  • Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has said the war in Yemen, which the United Nations calls one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, has no military solution and peace there could only be achieved through a political solution. The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by Houthi rebels, who have now taken control of much of the country’s north.
  • Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will not attend the traditional press conference when he collects his Nobel Peace Prize this week. The move has been heavily criticised and the committee found Mr Abiy’s decision to be problematic. But his spokesperson said it is culturally unacceptable for Ethiopians to show off. Mr Abiy’s peace deal with Eritrea ended a 20-year military stalemate following their 1998-2000 border war.
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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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