North America and Canada
- The US House Judiciary Committee has approved two impeachment charges against President Donald Trump, moving the process towards a full house vote. The articles, backed by both Democrats and Republicans, were passed by 23 votes to 17 on a hearing last Friday (Dec 13). The impeachment charges are predicated on the basis of power abuse and Congress obstruction. In response, Mr Trump has accused the Democrats of ‘trivialising’ the impeachment process.
- US President Donald Trump has halted new tariffs in the US-China trade war as both parties announce a preliminary trade agreement. This agreement entails the removal or delay of billions of dollars in tariffs. As a form of reciprocity, China has promised to buy large quantities of American soybeans, poultry and other agricultural products. Mr Trump has also mentioned in a tweet that negotiations on the next phase of the trade deal will commence with immediate effect.
- Last Friday (Dec 13), Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg unveiled a climate plan to slash US carbon emissions by 50 per cent in ten years by imposing more stringent pollution standards on new gas-fired power plants and replacing coal with cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. Mr Bloomberg announced his candidacy last month, making him among 15 Democrats vying to take on President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
- The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear President Donald Trump’s appeals in three cases to prevent his financial records, including tax returns from being handed over to Democratic-led House of Representatives committees and a New York prosecutor. Investigations by various Democratic-led House of Representatives committees on corruption or foreign meddling in the US elections process are currently ongoing. In addition, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, is seeking Trump’s tax returns in a criminal investigation of the president, the Trump Organisation and his family real estate business.
- The head of Canada’s main opposition party, Andrew Scheer, quit last Thursday (Dec 12) after losing an October election to incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Mr Scheer was under pressure over his failure to beat Mr Trudeau, who opinion polls showed was vulnerable after a string of scandals – especially the blackface scandal that emerged during the campaign. It is unclear when the party will elect another leader.
- The UN has accused the Chilean police and armed forces of committing serious human rights violations in their response towards the recent mass demonstration. UN investigators said that they have verified four cases of unlawful deaths involving state agents. Members of the law enforcement agencies have documented 113 specific cases of torture and ill-treatment, and 24 cases of sexual violence against women, men and adolescents thus far.
- A former Mexican security minister has been arrested in the US and charged with accepting bribes from a drug cartel. Genaro Garciá Luna faces allegations of allowing the Sinaloan cartel of “El Chapo” Guzman to operate in Mexico in exchange for millions of dollars. An important figure of the Calderón administration, Mr Luna previously served as Mexico’s secretary of public security. If proven guilty, Mr Luna faces approximately 10 years in jail.
- France is preparing to deport an Argentine former policeman, Maria Sandoval, accused of torture and crimes against humanity during the reign of Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 to 1983. Mr Sandoval is accused in some 500 cases. Despite the denial of the charges, a top French court has given a final ruling, rejecting his appeal. Mr Sandoval fled to France after the fall of the military regime and obtained French citizenship in 1997. He can be extradited because the alleged crimes were committed before he became French.
- At the COP25, Latin American countries reiterated their commitment to climate action. Countries such as Chile, Honduras and Costa Rica officially declared their commitment to a collective regional objective of 70 per cent of renewable energy by 2030. OLADE, the Latin American Energy Organisation, is set to coordinate the initiative and provide data and a platform for countries to develop a work plan to implement the target.
- The 13th China – Latin America and the Carribean Business Summit kicked off last Monday (Dec 9) to further bolster trade ties and corporate investments. Approximately 1000 companies took part in the three-day summit. Currently, China is the leading supplier of merchandise distributed throughout the Americas via Panama’s Colon Free Trade Zone. It is believed that the summit could generate as much as 190 million US dollars in business deals, according to organisers.
- The head of TikTok, who is facing scrutiny over its ties with China, postponed meetings with US lawmakers that were originally expected to take place last week. In a statement last Monday (Dec 9), it was cited that addressing the questions and concerns of Congress transparently is an utmost priority and that ensuring the productivity of these conversations can only be possible if they were to take place after the holidays. TikTok currently faces allegations of how user data could be accessed by the Chinese government.
- North Korea has conducted a ‘crucial test’ at a satellite launch site last Friday (Dec 13) to boost its nuclear deterrent. This is the second test to take place at the same site in less than a week. Talks between the US and North Korea about its nuclear programme remain stalled with President Trump’s refusal to lift sanctions unless North Korea fully abandons its nuclear programme. The test came amidst heightening tensions in the region. The UN Security Council met last Wednesday (Dec 11) at the request of the US to discuss North Korea’s weapons programme – a move North Korea called a “serious provocation”.
- Protests have been ongoing in Assam, a north-eastern state of India, following the introduction of controversial new citizenship law that would make it easier for non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries to seek Indian citizenship. As one of India’s most complex and multi-ethnic states, Assam often experiences fragmentation with residents clashing over linguistic identities and citizenship.
- Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi urged judges last Thursday (Dec 12) to throw out a genocide case filed by Gambia against Myanmar, warning it risked reigniting the Rohingya crisis. Ms Suu Kyi further asserted that allowing Gambia’s case to proceed could ultimately “undermine reconciliation”. Speaking about the military “clearance operations” in 2017, Ms Suu Kyi has dismissed the accusation as an “incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation.”
- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his opponents have been facing a backlash over their climate amid ongoing bushfires. Despite pledging an additional AUD$11 million towards aerial fighting, Mr Morrison has often been accused of downplaying the severity of the crisis. More recently, he has acknowledged climate change as one of “many other factors” in fuelling the bushfires. Aside from frustration on existing efforts to combat climate change, the public is also unhappy with the government’s support for coal-fired power plants.
- Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson won a sweeping victory, handing him a clear mandate to “get Brexit done”. With that, Mr Johnson’s list of promises include leaving the European Union on Jan 31 with a trade deal, meeting the resource needs of the National Health Service, and the prompt reforming of the immigration system. The reformation was inspired by the Australian-style-points-based system which ranks migrants according to their skills and abilities.
- European Union leaders in Brussels have agreed to make its bloc, with the exception of Poland, carbon neutral by 2050. Poland remained opposed as a result of its heavy reliance on coal. European Council President Charles Michel has said that the EU would continue to work to convince Poland to support the deal. Last Thursday (Dec 12), the EU’s new executive unveiled a US$110bn European Green Deal for the net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target. Climate neutrality involves balancing emissions by removing warming gases from the atmosphere.
- Italy’s Sardines movement, a silent rebellion against rightist leader Matteo Salvini, rallied in a backlash against populism in Roman Square last Saturday (Dec 14). The protest began a month ago as a flash mob in the northern city of Bologna against Mr Salvini who aims to win a regional election there next month. Bologna has long been a leftist stronghold.
- A Finnish minister has apologised for an Instagram post which asked readers whether children should be repatriated with their mothers from a Syrian camp housing Islamic State-linked people. Newly appointed Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni posted a poll which asked people to vote either “children only” or “children and mothers”. Andrew Stroehlein, European media director at Human Rights Watch, voiced outrage over Ms Kulmuni’s poll.
- The prime minister and former prime minister of Spain will be called to give evidence in the case of an academic facing extradition to Spain. Clara Ponsati faces a charge of sedition over her role in Catalonia’s unsanctioned 2017 independence referendum. The St Andrews University professor has denied all wrongdoing. Prof Ponsati’s lawyer, Gordon Jackson QC, said they would call senior figures from Spain’s judiciary and political world – including the likes of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, former prime minister Mariano Rajoy and former foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo – to give evidence. Prof Ponsati faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
- Nine people have been arrested in Albania on suspicion of murder and abuse of power over the collapse of buildings in last month’s earthquake. Two of those arrested on murder charges owned hotels that collapsed in the city of Durres. Illegal construction has been rife in Albania since the demise of communism. In total, prosecutors issued 17 arrest warrants for builders, engineers and officials suspected of breaching safety standards.
- Israel will hold an unprecedented third general election in less than a year after politicians again failed to form a majority coalition in parliament. Following September’s inconclusive election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, were unable to secure majorities. In addition, the two leaders also could not agree on a power-sharing arrangement. Being indicted on corruption charges last month, Mr Netanyahu’s legal problems were big obstacles to negotiations as well. It is not clear as to whether another election will break the deadlock.
- The United Nations (UN) has reportedly so far been unable to ascertain whether Iran was involved in drone and cruise missile attacks on two key Saudi oil facilities in September. Saudi Arabia alleged that Iran was responsible for the attacks which hindered half of the Kingdom’s ability for crude production. Last Tuesday (Dec 10), UN Secretary General António Guterres presented a report to the Security Council that summarised the experts’ initial findings. It was noted that the UN was unable to corroborate that the drones and missiles were of Iranian origin
- Saudi Aramco’s stock rose sharply last Wednesday (Dec 11) as the world’s biggest share listing got underway in Riyadh, rising 10 per cent above the initial public offering price. This came after the oil giant raised US$25.6bn. The rise gave Aramco a market valuation of around US$1.88tn, making it the world’s most valuable listed company. The Kingdom’s crown prince – Muhammed bin Salman, who is spearheading the economic strategy – wants to use the IPO proceeds to part-fund some key initiatives announced under a programme called ‘Vision 2030’ that aims to modernise Saudi Arabia’s economy by investing in new industries and multi-billion dollar projects.
- Clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters in Beirut last Saturday (Dec 14) have left dozens of people wounded. The violence intensified as demonstrators who were attacked by counter-protesters during a sit-in, tried to move into a square near parliament. Riot police and security forces were subsequently deployed in large numbers. Demonstrators are upset with the government’s inability to deal with a stagnant economy, rising inflation, high unemployment and corruption.
- Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of the Algerian capital, Algiers, in protest at the results of last Thursday’s presidential election (Dec 12). Protesters were chanting slogans against the winner, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former loyalist of ousted leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Despite Mr Bouteflika stepping down, protests have relented. Protesters raised up the concerns of their votes being rigged, calling for people to boycott the election. Protesters say that new faces must be brought in to organise elections that are legitimate and transparent in a country where the winner of presidential elections has always been easy to guess.
- Sudan’s former president Omar al-Bashir has been sentenced to two years in a social reform facility for corruption. The corruption case was linked to a US$25 million cash payment he received from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of which Mr Bashir claimed was part of Sudan’s strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, and not for private interests. Last Saturday’s verdict (Dec 14) also prompted massive demonstrations. Mr Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide in Darfur, but it remains unclear as to whether he would be extradited.
- Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed last Friday (Dec 13) not to use the United States dollar despite a fall of the country’s new local currency against the dollar. The government ended dollarisation in June in an effort to defend its interim sovereign currency. Economists have however argued that this move actually drove hyperinflation, eroding wages and savings. Mr Mnangagwa has also pinned the blame of economic troubles upon the opposition and called for unity of his party.
- Over 9 million are currently facing food shortages in African Sahel. The number of people requiring urgent food aid in 16 countries across Africa’s Sahel region has more than doubled this year amid an increase in violence and insecurity. Three countries – Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso – are facing crisis conditions, at phase three of five on the scale used by the Food Crisis Prevention Network, which includes government and United Nations representatives as well as NGOs. At least 9.4 million people are estimated to be in immediate need of assistance between October to December 2019 in the 16 countries analysed (excluding Liberia), including 4 million in Nigeria, 1.5 million in Niger and 1.2 million in Burkina Faso.
- A Botswana ruling party member has claimed to have taken part in vote-rigging during the October election that allowed President Mokgweetsi Masisi to win a five-year term. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won 38 out of 57 seats in the October 23 parliamentary elections. BDP member Emmanuel Mohalodi alleges a 15 million Pula slush fund (around $1.4m) was used to finance the vote-rigging exercise, claiming the fund was coordinated by Botswana’s intelligence services. A panel of High Court judges – hearing the opposition’s petitions against the outcome of the polls last month – is set to rule within 90 days of their submission.
- At the UN climate conference in Madrid, Mohamed Nasr, Chair of the Africa Group, made it known that Africa is caught in a dilemma between climate change and growth. Mr Nasr brought up concerns such as socioeconomic development and debt levels, saying that the financing of green projects risks the incurrence of higher debts. He has also mentioned that the ambitious commitment to reduce emission levels is not tenable when the United States as one of the biggest greenhouse gases emitting countries are leaving the Paris Agreement.
- Namibia is currently making efforts to change the status-quo of white-farm ownership. Prior to this, a major imbalance of farm ownership between the blacks and the whites exist. Despite the adoption of a “willing-buyer, willing-seller” approach to land reform after independence from South Africa in 1990, this policy has yielded negligent results. This has prompted President Hage Geingob to demand constitutional amendments to allow for the forceful expropriation of white-owned commercial farms with “fair compensation”.