North America and Canada
- US President Donald Trump became the third president to be impeached in US history last Wednesday (Dec 18) as the US House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment. The Democrats-majority House voted mostly along party lines, passing the article on the abuse of power by 230-197 votes and 229-198 for obstruction of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, has remained ambiguous on sending the articles for a Senate trial, where Republicans hold a majority. Meanwhile, President Trump lashed out, accusing the Democrats of having a “deep hatred” for the American voter.
- The US and China to sign phase one trade pact in early January next year, said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last Thursday (Dec 19). He added that the deal is done and is not subject to renegotiation, calling for US farm product exports to China to roughly double over the next couple of years. This has been considered a positive step forward in the ongoing US-China trade war. However, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called on the US not to sign the deal until the two detained Canadians have been released.
- Goldman Sachs is in talks with the US government and a state regulator to pay up to US$2 billion and admit guilt to resolve investigations into its role in the 1MDB Malaysian corruption scandal. The US-based investment bank’s Asia subsidiary would plead guilty to violating US bribery laws. The 1MDB fund was set up by former Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009, after which some US$4.5 billion was misappropriated and saw Goldman Sachs pocketing some US$600 million in fees for its work with the fund.
- The US will now have a space force after officially launching it last Friday (Dec 20) as President Donald Trump signed the 2020 National Defense Authorisation Act. The President described space as a “new war-fighting domain” and said that “among grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital.” The launch of the US space force is seen as a victory for Trump after a week focused on his impeachment.
- The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his support for Arsenal Football Club’s Mesut Ozil’s criticism of China’s treatment of Uyghurs in a tweet last Tuesday (Dec 17), saying “China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor Mesut Ozil and Arsenal’s games all season long, but the truth will prevail.” The Muslim German midfielder of Turkish origin took to social media last week to criticise the Chinese crackdown on the Muslim ethnic minority and the silence of Muslims on the plight of the Uyghurs, prompting a heavy response from the Chinese censors and Beijing.
- Netflix show – The First Temptation of Christ – which portrayed Jesus as gay has sparked widespread anger in Brazil with a petition signed by two million calling for its removal from the streaming service. The holiday special comedy was created by Brazilian YouTube comedy group Porta dos Fundos who issued a statement in defence of their work, saying it “values artistic freedom and humour through satire … and believes that freedom of expression is an essential construction for a democratic country.” Brazil is a deeply religious country with strong Catholic and Evangelical following.
- All McDonald’s outlets in Peru were closed last Wednesday (Dec 18) for two days after protests and anger erupted following the deaths of two of its young employees in Lima. The two staff were electrocuted when operating a faulty machine. Labour conditions in the South American country have been seen as exploitative and dangerous, with 70 per cent of the country’s workforce toiling in unregulated conditions.
- Prosecutors in Bolivia have issued an arrest warrant for its former president, Evo Morales, last Wednesday (Dec 18), accusing him of sedition and terrorism. Morales resigned on Nov 10 following massive unrest as he attempted to run for a fourth term as the country’s leader, claiming a coup d’état. He currently resides in Argentina and said he would campaign for his party’s candidate for the upcoming elections.
- Homes of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s associates as well as addresses linked to his ex-wife and son, Flavio Bolsonaro, were raided last Wednesday (Dec 18) as part of an ongoing anti-corruption investigation. The inquiry centred around one of three president’s son, Flavio, on grounds of embezzlement and money-laundering during his term as Rio de Janeiro congressman. The corruption investigations into the Bolsonaro family has been widely seen as politically damaging to the president.
- Cuba appointed Manuel Marrero as prime minister last Saturday (Dec 21), a post last held by Fidel Castro in 1976 until a constitutional change abolished the position and changed his title to the president. The resurrection of the post was part of a process of decentralisation and generational change from the revolutionary old guard, with the aim to extend and protect the Communist Party rule. PM Marrero was tourism minister for 16 years and supervised the boom in tourist arrival.
- As found in a report released last Sunday (Dec 22), the late founder of Mexico’s Legionnaires of Christ Catholic order was reported to have abused at least 60 boys. Father Marcial Maciel, who died in 2008, may have been the Church’s most notorious paedophile and was even reported to have abused the children he secretly fathered. This comes as Pope Francis seeks to reform the Catholic Church after decades of alleged abuses and coverups.
- Australia experienced its hottest day on record with nationwide average temperatures soared to 40.9 degrees Celcius last Tuesday (Dec 17), as massive bushfires raged on. Australian bush firefighters have been battling bush fires across the nation, which have put Sydney in a shroud of thick haze. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government have been accused of lacklustre environmental policies.
- India Prime Minister Narendra defended his new citizenship law last Sunday (Dec 22) at a rally for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), despite massive nationwide protest against it. The Citizenship Amendment Act was approved in parliament on December 11, and will give Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Critics described the law as discriminatory against Muslims while thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in cities across India, who have been met by riot police. At least 21 have died during clashes with authorities.
- Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death for high treason last Tuesday (Dec 17). The former military leader was tried in absentia for attempting to subvert the country’s constitution in 2007 when he tried to hold on to power by enacting emergency powers. Musharraf came into the country’s highest office during a military coup in 1999 that toppled Nawaz Sharif. The former leader currently resides in Dubai and had condemned to trial, with support within the military ranks.
- Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that “Muslims caused fear of Islam” during his opening address last Thursday (Dec 19) at the Kuala Lumpur Summit. “We may claim to be performing jihad but the result is more oppression of Muslims everywhere,” he added during the highly anticipated summit of Islamic countries. Dr Mahathir also lamented that Muslims were not only facing Islamophobia and violence but poor governance as well. The summit had been shunned by Saudi Arabia in fear that it may undermine the influence of the Riyadh-dominated Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
- More than 56,000 guns and 194,000 parts were handed over as a buyback scheme in New Zealand expired at midnight last Friday (Dec 20). The scheme was an initiative by local authorities after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlawed the ownership of semi-automatic firearms following the massacre of 51 Muslims when a gunman rampaged through two mosques in Christchurch earlier in March this year. Almost NZ$100 million was compensated to gun owners.
- France’s pension chief Jean-Paul Delevoye quits his posts last Monday (Dec 16) over undeclared payments during a recent asset declaration, as a protest over the pensions reform he was tasked to handle entered its 12th day. Delevoye failed to disclose payments from the private sector that he should have forfeited because of his ministerial position. This comes as a major setback for President Emmanuel Macron who now faces an uphill battle to fulfil his pledge to reform France’s pension system, while French labour unions call for his plans to be scrapped.
- Pope Francis abolished the rule of “pontifical secrecy” last Tuesday (Dec 17) in a sweeping change in how the Roman Catholic Church deals with sexual abuse of minors. Two documents by the Pope backed practices already in place in some countries, such as reporting of suspicion of sex abuse to civil authorities where required by law. The Pope’s latest effort to crackdown such abuses has been described as “an epochal decision”, preventing Church officials from hiding behind archaic laws and forcing their cooperation in investigations.
- Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon seeks a new independence referendum in an announcement last Thursday (Dec 19), saying there was now a clear “constitutional and democratic case” for a fresh vote. This plan comes after an overwhelming victory by the Scottish National Party (SNP) during the December 12 general elections, which saw the SNP securing 48 of the 59 seats in Scotland. The Scots voted to remain in the European Union (EU) during the 2016 Brexit referendum and are opposed to Prime Minister’s Boris Johnson’s plan to remove the United Kingdom from the EU.
- EU ministers voted to continue overfishing last Tuesday (Dec 17), despite deadlines to meet sustainability quotas by 2020. Quotas for the fishing of certain species were raised by as much as 23 per cent, prompting condemnation from experts who have accused governments of “betrayal”. Fish population in the waters of Europe have hit critical levels, with experts warning of population collapse if countries fail to meet sustainable targets.
- Italian lawmakers push to ban Huawei and other Chinese equipment suppliers from the country’s 5G mobile networks amidst security concerns. An intelligence and security committee report cited security vulnerabilities in equipment previously supplied by the Chinese tech giant, and Beijing’s power to interfere. This follows the trend of European governments who are also mulling possible ban on Huawei’s involvement in their own 5G networks amid fears of possible Chinese intelligence spying.
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed the second reading in Parliament last Friday (Dec 20), putting the UK on track to leave the EU on January 31 next year. Lawmakers voted 358 to 234 to pass the bill, with final approval expected by January 9. This was a major victory after the PM’s Conservative Party made massive gains in the December 12 general elections and can now move unopposed in parliament on his Brexit plans.
- A UK court has given British spies the license to kill, kidnap and torture after it ruled in favour of the government. Human rights groups had called for an injunction on what it deemed as “unlawful conduct” after the secretive policy of MI5, the British domestic intelligence agency, was revealed last year. The government defended the policy, arguing that it would be impossible to gather intelligence or prevent terrorist attacks without allowing some criminality.
- The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced that it will be investigating alleged Israeli and Palestinian war crimes committed in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, in an announcement last Friday (Dec 20). The ICC found sufficient evidence of war crimes after years of preliminary investigations and said: “no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the ICC’s action as a “baseless and scandalous decision”, while Palestinian authorities welcomed it.
- Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last Tuesday (Dec 17) that some 371,000 Syrian refugees have chosen to leave his country for Turkey-controlled Syria “Safe Zones” and expected a further 600,000 to follow soon. However, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have disputed those figures and have alleged that few have done so voluntarily. The NGOs added that there have been instances of “violations such as looting and arbitrary arrests, the repeat of thuggish behaviours”.
- Twitter announced last Friday (Dec 20) that it has blocked some 88,000 accounts linked to a manipulation effort originating from Saudi Arabia. This was part of the social media giant’s latest effort to crack down on state-sponsored propaganda operations. Twitter said that the Saudi-backed accounts were in Arabic and aimed at “amplifying messages favourable to Saudi authorities”, while some English language content was targeted at “Western audiences”. Some tweets dating back to 2016 appeared to be supportive of President Donald Trump or his presidential campaign.
- President Ashraf Ghani won a slim majority of 50.64 per cent to secure a second term as Afghanistan’s head-of-state last Sunday (Dec 22). His top rival Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah only secured 39.52 per cent of the votes, enough for President Ghani to avoid a second-round run-off. The country went to the polls in September, but results were repeatedly delayed due to technical issues and allegations of fraud. Candidates have three days to file any complaints before results are officially released.
- At least 20 have died in Guinea after several months of protest against president Alpha Condé’s intention to run for a third five-year term. The West African nation’s present constitution has a two-term limit for presidents, but Condé and his allies have expressed intent to amend the country’s constitution to allow him to stand for elections again. Hundreds of thousands have since taken to the streets in opposition, but have been met with live rounds and arrests by the military and paramilitary forces.
- Somalia and neighbouring Ethiopia have been hit by its worst desert locust invasion in 70 years, destroying more than 70,000 hectares of farmland and threatening starvation and food supplies in the region. The “ideal control measure” of spraying pesticides by airplane, as recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has been rendered impossible due to ongoing conflict in Somalia. Farmers have called on their governments and international communities to aid their plight.
- Ethiopia launched its first satellite into space last Friday (Dec 20), which will be used for weather forecast and crop monitoring. The satellite was designed by Ethiopian and Chinese engineers, with the Chinese government paying for US$6 million of the over US$7 million production cost. This launch comes as more sub-Saharan African nations seek to develop their own space programmes, as part of a space development policy adopted by the African Union in 2017.
- The UN-backed Libyan government has activated a military cooperation agreement with Turkey this week, potentially allowing for Turkish troops to help defend the capital Tripoli from assault by forces supported by Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely to tread carefully as he seeks to strengthen his relationship with Russia. Libya has been in political turmoil since its former dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was removed during a civil war in 2011.
- Five was arrested on suspicion of burning down four mosques in Ethiopia’s Amhara region last Saturday (Dec 21), according to a statement by a government spokesperson. The attacks come amid rising inter-communal and ethnic violence threaten to derail political reforms initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who recently received the Nobel Peace Prize for peacemaking efforts with long-time enemy Eritrea. PM Abiy has condemned the actions and called on citizens to reject hateful agendas. Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group think-tank warned that in May 2020, there would be rising tensions to the upcoming elections.