Sat. Feb 22nd, 2020

Medical staff carry a box as they walk at the Jinyintan hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, Hubei province. | Photo by: Reuters

Wuhan virus spreads to 12 countries abroad, East Africa suffers from major locust outbreak, and Trump’s lawyers admonish impeachment trial

North America and Canada

  • Donald Trump has become the first US president to attend America’s largest annual anti-abortion rally. He addressed thousands of protesters at the March for Life near the US Capitol where his impeachment trial is ongoing. The annual demonstration first began in 1974 – a year after the US Supreme Court legalised abortion in Roe vs Wade. Voters who support limiting abortion make up a key constituency for Mr Trump, who is seeking their support at the polls again in the 2020 election.
  • The Pentagon has said that 34 US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries following an Iranian attack on their base in Iraq. Seventeen troops are still under medical observation. President Donald Trump had said no Americans were injured in the 8 January strike, which came in retaliation for the US killing of an Iranian general. TBIs are common in warzones, according to the US military. The Iraqi parliament has urged all foreign fighters – including from the US – to leave.
  • President Trump’s lawyers have begun defending him at his impeachment trial last Saturday (Jan 25), accusing Democrats of seeking to overturn the result of the 2016 election. Mr Trump’s defence will last three days and follows the Democrats’ prosecution case which ended last Friday (Jan 24). The president faces two charges linked to his dealings with Ukraine. The charges, or articles of impeachment, accuse him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In a video made public on the same day, the president can be heard ordering the removal of the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, because of her disloyalty. There is also the disputed issue over the president’s ability to block witnesses from testifying and turning over documents that had been subpoenaed, which the Democrats are seeking to overturn. Meanwhile, the president has dismissed all accusations as a witch-hunt.
  • US President Donald Trump is expected to release his long-awaited Middle East peace plan tomorrow (Jan 28) before Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival in upcoming Israeli elections, Benny Gantz – more than two years after his administration began drafting its vision for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The policy proposal has been delayed multiple times and has been kept largely under wraps. The Palestinian leadership, which has rejected the proposal before it is even released, was not invited to the Washington talks.
  • Wall Street fell in a broad selloff last Friday (Jan 24), with investors fleeing stocks amid growing concerns over the scope of the coronavirus outbreak, with the S&P 500 clocking in with its worst week in six months. All three major United States stock indexes turned sharply negative, with the S&P 500 seeing its biggest one-day percentage drop in over three months after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the second case of the virus on US soil, this time in Chicago.
  • Last Wednesday (Jan 22), at the opening statements of his rape trial, prosecutors portrayed former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a serial predator who used his power to manipulate and sexually assault young women, while the defence argued that his accusers engaged in consensual sex that they later reframed as attacks. The trial is a watershed moment for the #MeToo movement, in which women have gone public with allegations against powerful men in business and politics.

Latin America

  • Venezuelan secret service agents have raided the offices of opposition leader Juan Guaidó while he is on a visit to the UK. Footage showed hooded and armed officers from the Sebin service outside the building in Caracas. Mr Guaidó is recognised by more than 50 countries, including the UK and the US, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. However, President Nicolás Maduro, who enjoys the support of the Venezuelan military, has managed to remain in power.
  • Hundreds of migrants who waded across a river on Mexico’s southern border have been stopped from entering the country on their way to the US. The migrants, mainly from Honduras, took to the water after being refused permission to cross a nearby bridge. The security forces fired tear gas to force the migrants back and rounded up those who managed to make it across. Those who tried to cross the river last Monday (Jan 20) were part of a 2,000 to 3,500-strong group dubbed “2020 Caravan”, evoking previous attempts to cross Mexico en masse to reach the US border. Mexico has cut off migration routes to the US under pressure from President Donald Trump.
  • Brazilian authorities are seeking to bring charges against Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who published Edward Snowden’s intelligence agency leaks. Mr Greenwald has been accused of “helping guiding and encouraging” a criminal group that hacked into the phones of Brazilian officials. At this point, federal public prosecutors have proposed the charges. However, a judge still needs to decide whether to formally indict him.
  • About 20 children have been recruited for an indigenous community police force in western Mexico following a deadly attack blamed on a drug cartel. Some of the children, aged between eight and 14, were handed rifles while others paraded with sticks on a road in the town of Chilapa in Guerrero state. Last week, 10 indigenous musicians were killed in an ambush as they returned from a party. The area is rife with gang violence and many villagers create their own police.

Asia-Pacific

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping has held a special government meeting on Lunar New Year (Jan 25) to warn that the spread of a deadly new virus is “accelerating”. The coronavirus has killed more than 80 people and infected more than 2,700 since its discovery in the city of Wuhan. Travel restrictions have already hit several affected cities. Yesterday (Jan 26), private vehicles were banned from the central districts of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak. On top of that, officials have also banned the sale of all wildlife in China. Wuhan is building a second emergency hospital which will be finished in half a month to handle 1,300 new patients. It is the second such rapid construction project and work on another 1,000-bed hospital has already begun. Specialist military medical teams have also been flown into Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.
  • Countries around the world have also stepped up their screening measures by checking the body temperatures of arriving airline passengers and adopting precautionary quarantine procedures. In the US, its Center for Disease Control has developed a test to detect the new coronavirus and plans to share the tool with domestic and international partners. While in Singapore, individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days of the onset of symptoms will be isolated in a hospital as a precautionary measure and investigated. Other measures include disinfecting the airport twice a day and requiring passengers to fill in health forms.
  • The World Health Organisation has not classed the Novel Coronavirus as an “international emergency”, partly because of the low number of overseas cases. However, it has since spread abroad to at least 12 countries – Australia, USA, France, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea and Nepal.
  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned the United States last Thursday (Jan 23) that he would cancel an agreement on the deployment of American troops and equipment for exercises, if Washington did not reinstate the visa of a political ally,  Ronaldo dela Rosa, who oversaw his deadly war on drugs. The US is the Philippines’s biggest defence ally and millions of Filipinos have relatives who are American citizens.
  • In response to an international court’s decision ordering Myanmar to take emergency measures to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya, the country’s government responded by saying that there has been “no genocide in Rakhine” – the state from which most of the Muslim-minority group hails. Rights groups and members of the Rohingya minority have celebrated last Thursday (Jan 23)’s ruling from International Court of Justice (ICJ) judges. While Myanmar has acknowledges that “war crimes had occurred”, “there has been no genocide in Rakhine.” The ICJ’s orders are legally binding.

Europe

  • The heads of the European Commission and Council – Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel – have signed the Withdrawal Agreement, ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU this Friday (Jan 31). The Queen approved it and the European Parliament is expected to vote for it this week. The UK has agreed to abide by EU rules during a transition period until the end of the year. By 2021, the UK aims to have agreed a deal on future ties. Brexit ends 46 years in the EU club.
  • The UK will not implement the EU Copyright Directive after the country leaves the bloc. Several companies have criticised the law, which would hold them accountable for not removing copyrighted content uploaded by users, if it is passed. EU member states have until June 7 to implement the new reforms, but the UK will have left the EU by then. The EU Copyright Directive that covers how “online content-sharing services” should deal with copyright-protected content, such as television programmes and movies.
  • At least 36 people have been killed and more than 1,600 injured in a powerful earthquake in eastern Turkey last Friday (Jan 24). The magnitude-6.8 quake, centred on the town of Sivrice in Elazig province, caused buildings to collapse and sent residents rushing into the street. Forty-five people have been rescued so far, with more than 20 feared to remain trapped. Earthquakes are common in Turkey – about 17,000 people died in a quake in the western city of Izmit in 1999. Tremors were also felt in neighbouring Syria, Lebanon and Iran.
  • Mini nuclear reactors could be generating power in the UK by the end of the decade. Manufacturer Rolls-Royce said that it plans to install and operate factory-built power stations by 2029. Mini nuclear stations can be mass manufactured and delivered in chunks on the back of a lorry, which makes costs more predictable. But opponents say the UK should quit nuclear power altogether. They say the country should concentrate on cheaper renewable energy instead.
  • Content moderators are being asked to sign forms stating they understand the job could cause post-traumatic stress disorder. Moderators for Facebook and YouTube, hired by the contractor Accenture, were sent the documents. Moderators monitor objectionable materials and often view hundreds of disturbing images in a day’s work. The company said the wellbeing of workers was a “top priority”.

Middle East

  • Iraqi security forces have moved against the main anti-government protest site in central Baghdad. Several people, who have camped in the capital, are reported to have been injured in last Saturday’s (Jan 25) clashes. Protesters have for months held anti-government demonstrations, demanding reforms and an overhaul of the country’s political system. The violence comes a day after a separate massive rally in Baghdad against the presence of US forces in the country.
  • Up to 40 Syrian soldiers have been killed in an assault by hundreds of militants in north-western Syria, according to Russia’s defence ministry. The ministry, which supports Syria’s government, said there were several attacks in which the militants seized two settlements in Idlib province. Syrian state media said members of a jihadist alliance had set off car bombs and used heavy fire as they targeted positions in the Maarat al-Numan area. But they did not mention casualties. Idlib is the last stronghold of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad and home to three million people, of whom 76 per cent are women and children.
  • Houthi rebels have gained ground east of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, in what the defence minister acknowledged as a “tactical withdrawal” by government loyalists. Renewed fighting, which entered its ninth day last Saturday (Jan 25), allowed the rebels to retake loyalist positions. The rebel advance came despite extensive air support for government forces from its allies in a Saudi-led coalition. The government accused the rebels of killing 116 people in a Jan 18 missile attack on a loyalist military camp in Marib province, east of Nihm. The Houthis neither claimed nor denied they were behind that attack, which came a day after fighting between the two sides resumed, breaking months of relative calm.

Africa

  • The United Nations (UN) has called for international help to fight huge swarms of desert locusts sweeping through east Africa. A spokesman for the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, called for aid to “avert any threats to food security, livelihoods, malnutrition”. Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are all struggling with “unprecedented” and “devastating” swarms of the food-devouring insects. The agency fears locust numbers could grow 500 times by June.
  • Isabel dos Santos has been named as a suspect in an investigation over alleged mismanagement during her time as chairwoman of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company, a position she was appointed to by her father, ex-President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Four others were also named and one of the suspects, the director of private banking at Lisbon-based lender EuroBic, Nuno, was found dead at his home in Portugal last Wednesday (Jan 22). This came after a series of documents revealed how Africa’s richest woman built a multibillion-dollar business empire via mostly questionable deals involving state assets. A court has also froze her assets and bank accounts. She has previously denied wrongdoing.
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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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