North America and Canada
- Boeing released hundreds of pages of internal correspondence to US congressional investigators last Thursday (Jan 9), revealing chaos and incompetence over the 737 Max scandal. Some messages appear to mock the Federal Aviation Administration, the US flight regulator, while one alleged that the plane was “designed by clowns”. Boeing also changed its position on flight simulators, recommending 737 Max pilots undergo simulator training before flying. The 737 Max planes were involved in two crashes in as many years.
- US approved the sale of a dozen F-35B stealth fighter jets to Singapore last Friday (Jan 10), a deal worth US$2.75 billion. The island state is looking to replace its ageing fleet of F-16 fighters and has made Lockheed Martin Corp’s jets the top consideration. The deal is seen as a prize gem for the defence firm as Singapore is one of the biggest spenders of high-tech military arms. The deal is now awaiting congressional approval.
- Last Saturday (Jan 11), US reported that it will be expelling a dozen Saudi military trainees, on grounds of extremist links and possession of child abuse images. This comes after an FBI probe into Saudi cadets, triggered by a shooting rampage of a Saudi officer last December. The shooting resulted in four deaths, including the shooter, and eight others wounded.
- US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that she will be making preparations to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial last Sunday (Jan 12), sending President Donald Trump fuming. Speaker Pelosi had delayed sending the impeachment articles to the Senate while Democrats negotiated the terms of the trial with Republicans who hold the majority in the upper chamber. President Trump will be the third US president to be impeached in US history.
- Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a grief-stricken Iran crash vigil that he will “pursue justice and accountability” last Sunday (Jan 12). The statement came after Iran admitted to accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian airliner in its airspace, killing all 176 onboard. The flight had 57 Canadians, representing one of the biggest single losses of life Canada has suffered in four decades. PM Trudeau told mourners that “we will not rest until there are answers”.
- Brazil’s supreme court ruled that Netflix’s satirical gay Jesus film can be allowed to be shown in the country last Thursday (Jan 9), reaffirming Brazillian’s right to free speech. The First Temptation of Christ depicted Jesus as a homosexual, drawing the ire of many in the deeply Catholic nation. The film’s creators received death threats and had their headquarters firebombed. The supreme court president, José Antonio Dias Toffoli, in his decision, wrote: “It is not to be assumed that a humorous satire has the magic power to undermine the values of the Christian faith, whose existence goes back more than two thousand years.”
- Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó stormed the country’s parliament together with fellow opposition members last Tuesday (Jan 7), pushing past security forces loyal to President Nicolás Maduro. Mr Guaido was sworn in for second term as the country’s interim caretaker despite having power cut to the compound. Mr Maduro had attempted to hijack the parliament two days before, using his troops to prevent the opposition from entering the national assembly grounds and “illegally” replacing a Mr Guaido with a loyalist.
- Nearly 62,000 missing since the beginning of Mexico’s war on drugs in 2006, a revised figure announced by the government last Monday (Jan 6). The new numbers was a jump from 40,000 previously reported in 2018. The campaign against the drug cartels was initiated by then President Felipe Calderón, but has seen little progress. Current Mexican leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador had vowed to pacify the country, but 30,000 more have perished since he took office, calling into question his strategy to cut crime but targeting its social roots.
- Rocked by two large earthquakes last week, the already power-strapped Puerto Rico plunged into a further crisis as its electricity goes out. The first quake hit last Tuesday (Jan 7) with a magnitude of 6.4, the worst in a century of the island, while the second magnitude of 6.0 hit last Saturday (Jan 11). Numerous buildings have collapsed, resulting in three deaths so far and thousands in shelters. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans continue to experience the devastation of Hurricane Maria from 2017.
- Tsai Ing-Wen won a second term as Taiwan’s president last Saturday (Jan 11) in a landslide victory seen as a rebuke to China. President Tsai secured 8.2 million votes – 57 per cent of the ballot – overwhelming her closest rival Han Kuo-yu, who took a more pro-Beijing stance and touted closer ties with China as being beneficial to the economy. Ms Tsai has taken a more secessionist stance against China, which drew the ire of Beijing but resounded with most Taiwanese. In her victory speech, Ms Tsai called for China to abandon its threats to take back the island by force.
- India’s supreme court ordered a review of the internet shutdown in Kashmir last Friday (Jan 10), calling the blackout in the region an infringement of freedom of speech and expression. The judges ordered that all restrictions be reviewed within a week, and said that the suspension amounted to an abuse of power. The Indian government revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir last August, and enacted draconian measures including curfews and cutting of communications.
- Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak had sought help from the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) crown prince to cover up evidence of money laundering, as revealed in recordings released last Wednesday (Jan 8). The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission played nine audio clips of phone recordings to the media which included calls between the UAE crown prince and the former Malaysian leader. Other clips also unveiled that Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, had directed him on what to do in some instances. This comes as a major blow to the former premier’s legal defence in the 1MDB multi-billion-dollar scandal.
- A viral pneumonia outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan took its first victim last Thursday (Jan 9), sparking concerns from health authorities around the world. Local authorities have reported that 41 have been infected by the “Sars-like” virus so far, but no further cases detected since Jan 3. Seven are still in critical condition, two have been released while the rest remained warded but are in stable condition. Preliminary studies suggested that it may be a new strain of coronavirus, the same family as the one responsible for the 2003 Sars outbreak.
- Prince Harry and Meghan announced that they will be taking a “step back as ‘senior’ members of the royal family” last Wednesday (Jan 8). The statement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex caught the royal family on the back foot as it was reportedly done without consulting the Queen. The shock announcement came after months of tension within the royal family, as well as accusations of “bullying” and excessive scrutiny from the media. The pair are seeking to “work to become financially independent” and “carve out a progressive new role within this institution”.
- Spain’s parliament confirmed Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez as the country’s new prime minister last Tuesday (Jan 7), ending 10 months of political gridlock. PM Sanchez took office by a narrow margin of 167 votes to 165 against, in a 350-seat assembly, and will form Spain’s first coalition government since the 1930s. The PM partnered with far-left party Unidas Podemos to secure a hard-won victory, drawing much ire from mainly the conservative opposition.
- British prime minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal was approved by lawmakers in parliament last Thursday (Jan 9), allowing Britain to leave the European Union (EU) by the end of the month. The deal was ratified by the House of Commons by 330 to 231 votes, sending the chambers into cheers and putting an end to years of painful arguments that have split the nation. This sets the stage for Britain to be the first country to leave the EU.
- Malta got a new prime minister last Saturday (Jan 11), replacing disgraced former PM Joseph Muscat. Robert Abela was elected as the new leader of the ruling Labour Party, automatically making him the new premier of the country, and is seen as representing continuity of the nation’s leadership and policies. Mr Muscat was forced to step down after daily protests over the perceived efforts of the former PM to protect those involved in the 2017 assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who had exposed corruption at the highest level.
- British prosecutors’ request to extradite US diplomat’s wife, over the crash that killed a British teenager in August last year, was rejected by the US State Department last Friday (Jan 10). Anne Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road when she collided with Harry Dunn, 19, which resulted in his death. Mrs Sacoolas was given diplomatic immunity and left the UK soon after the accident. British prime minister Boris Johnson has said that Mrs Sacoolas was wrong in using diplomatic immunity to flee and has urged his US counterpart President Donald Trump to reconsider the US position.
- More than 50 mourners died after being crushed during the massive burial procession of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in his hometown of Kerman last Tuesday (Jan 7). The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards external operations force was killed by a US drone strike in Iraq on the Friday before (Jan 3). His funeral drew hundreds of thousands who wept for a “national hero”. Leaders of Iran were also seen weeping in a televised broadcast of the funeral, who also called for “severe revenge” against the US.
- Iran launched a missile strike against two Iraq bases hosting US troops last Tuesday (Jan 7) evening, in retaliation for the killing of General Qassem Suleimani. More than a dozen missiles were shot from Iran, causing structural damage and destruction of equipment on the bases but no reported casualties. Analysts and intelligence reports have suggested that Iran intentionally avoided casualties in choosing its targets. Oil prices also rocketed 4 per cent immediately after reports of the strike happened.
- An Ukrainian airliner burst into flames and crashed in Iranian airspace just moments after taking-off last Wednesday morning (Jan 8). The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 was headed to Kiev, Ukraine, from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, carrying 176 onboard. Local authorities have classified the incident as an “accident”, citing eyewitnesses who saw that the plane was still flying when it was on fire and was attempting to return to the airport. The crash happened not long after Iran launched a missile strike at Iraq bases hosting US forces.
- Iran admitted to unintentionally shooting down a Ukrainian airliner last Saturday (Jan 11), after days of denying Western intelligence reports that suggested Tehran’s responsibility. The downing happened just hours after Iran’s missile strike on Iraq bases hosting US troops, when the country’s air defences were put on high alert in response to possible US counter-attacks. The Iranian military has described the incident as an “unforgivable mistake” and blamed “human error”, while the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an apology and expressed his condolences. The admission sparked international calls for a full investigation and accountability. Locally, mass protests against Iranian leaders have sprung up in anger over the shooting down of the passenger plane.
- Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said died last Friday (Jan 10) at the age of 79, after a long battle with what some believe was colon cancer. The late Sultan was the longest-serving leader in the Arab world, and his policy of neutrality and playing the role of mediator in a turbulent region has made Oman the “Switzerland of the Middle East”. Sultan Qaboos came into war by deposing his father in a coup in 1970, with the aid of the Arab state’s former colonial power Britain. His cousin, culture minister Haitham bin Tariq, will take over the reigns as the former leader left no apparent heir.
- For the second year running, Yemen topped the list of countries facing the worst humanitarian disasters in 2020. An analysis by the International Rescue Committee found that more than 24 million Yemenis – about 80 per cent of the population – will be in need of humanitarian relief this year, as a result of the prolonged conflict, economic collapse and weak governance. The watchlist also showed that the top 10 countries attributed to more than half of those in need of humanitarian assistance in 2019, but was underfunded by nearly 40 per cent.
- Ethiopia passed the Firearm Administration and Control act into law last Thursday (Jan 9) in an effort to curb insecurity in the country. The new law limits the number of guns an individual can possess, and prohibits the transfer or sale of a weapon to a third party. Ethiopians have a year to register and license their guns or face up to three years for the illegal possession of one. Ownership of guns is commonplace in communities in the country, but have recently seen a rise in ethnic and religious violence.
- Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan ended talks over the disputed construction of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam after failing to come to an agreement last Thursday (Jan 9). The dam sits on Blue Nile, and when fully completed, will generate some 6,000 megawatts of electrical power to feed the growing demand for energy in Ethiopia, where 65 per cent of the country is still not connected to the grid. However, Egypt raised serious concerns about its construction, fearing that it will adversely affect water and food supply as it is heavily reliant on The Nile. The water and foreign ministers of the three countries will head to Washington in an attempt to resolve the matter.
- Libyan coastal territory of Sirte fell into rebel hands last Monday (Jan 6), sparking fears that the UN-backed Libyan government may be overrun militarily. The Libyan National Army (LNA) rebel forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, backed primarily by Russia and UAE, is now just a city away from the nation’s capital Tripoli. The recent gains by the LNA have led to Turkey sending troops in to aid government forces to “ensure a ceasefire” as claimed by Ankara. European countries involved in Libya – France, Germany, Italy and the UK – convened in Brussels in an emergency session to discuss the ongoing conflict.