North America and Canada
- A day after his impeachment acquittal, US President Donald Trump celebrated his victory and blasted his rivals. Mr Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress but was acquitted last Wednesday (Feb 5) after a two-week trial in the Republican-controlled Senate. A united front within the Republican Party prevented the threshold vote for conviction, 67 out of 100 votes, from being met.
- Last Monday (Feb 3), results from voting in Iowa, the first round in the contest to pick a Democratic candidate to face President Donald Trump, was plunged into chaos by apparent technology issue. This came as the application created for caucus organisers to report their results malfunctioned. The final results was also a major setback for White House hopeful Joe Biden who came fourth; with Pete Buttigieg in the lead. The race is set to move on to the state of New Hampshire subsequently.
- Democratic presidential hopefuls gathered in Manchester for their eighth debate before their presidential primary in New Hampshire last week. Proving himself to be the most popular candidate, Pete Buttigieg has been prying supporters from Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. This was followed by retaliatory remarks, made last Friday (Feb 7), from presidential hopefuls Amy Klobuchar and Mr Biden that impugned on Mr Buttigieg’s suitability for the White House.
- US President Donald Trump has dismissed two senior officials who testified against him at his impeachment trial. The US envoy to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, has mentioned that Mr Trump intends to recall him with immediate effect. A top expert on Ukraine, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, has also been escorted from the White House. Mr Trump is said to desire a staff shake-up after senators cleared him in the impeachment case last Wednesday (Feb 5).
- The former head of a top US investment firm has been sentenced to nine months in prison for his role in the US universities admissions scandal. Retired Pacific Investment Management Company chief Douglas Hodge paid nearly US$1mn in bribes to get four of his children into top US colleges. His defence team had argued the ex-CEO deserves a reduced sentence in light of his history of philanthropy.
- Airbnb will no longer allow people under the age of 25 in Canada to book whole properties in their local area so as to prevent potentially violent house parties. The rules ensued after a recent shooting at a Toronto Airbnb booking in which three people were killed.
- Canadian parliamentarians have condemned a parole board decision that allowed a man with a history of violence against women to be released on day parole. Eustachio Gallese faces accusations of murdering Marylène Lévesque in a hotel in the Quebec town of Sainte-Foy. He was allowed to see women meet his “sexual needs” while on parole. The tragedy sparked widespread indignation about whether Gallese’s “sexual needs” were given priority over the safety of women in the community.
- Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest doubled in January compared with a year ago, reaching a five-year record for the month, officials say. Usually, destruction at this time of the year tends to slow down as the rainy season hinders access to forested areas more difficult. Official data have however suggested otherwise. Critics have opined that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies encouraged deforestation.
- Russia has pledged to boost military and economic cooperation with Venezuela to help the South American nation deal with growing US pressure. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any attempts to remove Mr Maduro’s government by force were unacceptable. Last Friday (Feb 6), the US imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-run airline Conviasa, saying the company was being used to “shuttle corrupt officials around the world”.
- A notorious murderer who worked for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar has died of stomach cancer, Colombian officials say. Jhon Jairo Velásquez, who boasted of killing 300 people for Escobar, was 57. Also known as “Popeye”, he was released from prison in 2014 after more than 20 years and launched a YouTube channel, attracting more than a million followers. He was a close associate of Pablo Escobar, who ran a drug trafficking empire from the Colombian city of Medellín.
- Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has confirmed that he will have a raffle to cover the cost of his predecessor’s luxury plane and raise funds for state-run hospitals. Citing the plane as a symbol of government excess, Mr López Obrador hopes to raise about US$160mn from ticket sales and use the remaining money to purchase medical equipment for hospitals.
- In a statement last Wednesday (Feb 5), Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandra Hill Tinoco said that El Salvador is not ready to accept asylum seekers from the United States and will not accept them until they can be offered the necessary protections and support. El Salvador is one of the three Central American governments that signed bilateral agreements with the US government last year that would allow the US to send asylum seekers from its southwest border.
- Hong Kong has begun a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from mainland China, in a fresh effort to contain the deadly new coronavirus. Anyone caught flouting the new rules faces a fine and a prison sentence. Meanwhile, 908 deaths were recorded in mainland China, including one American. A Japanese man also died with symptoms consistent with the virus.
- At least 12 people have been shot dead and many injured by a Thai soldier in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima (also known as Korat), police say. Jakraphanth Thomma, a junior officer, attacked his commanding officer and proceeded to steal a gun and ammunition from a military camp. He then opened fire at a Buddhist temple and a shopping centre in the city, north-east of Bangkok. The suspect has been shot dead by Thai security forces after an overnight standoff.
- At least eight people have died and dozens have been injured in reported ethnic clashes in Kazakhstan last Friday (Feb 7). It was reported that ethnic Kazakhs clashed with members of the Dungan minority group and Hui Muslims, a group that migrated from China in the nineteenth century. Information Minister Dauren Abayev claimed the incident had been sparked by an “everyday confrontation”.
- Singapore raised its risk alert to SARS level as coronavirus cases rose to 43 last Sunday (Feb 9). Keith Tan, chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, will now focus on reaching out to other markets in attracting a “good share of non-China markets”. Authorities have also stopped issuing visas to those with a Chinese passport.
- Two former chief ministers of Indian-administered Kashmir have had their house arrest extended under a controversial detention law. The controversial Public Safety Act allows for detention without charge for up to two years. Rights group Amnesty India condemned the move.
- China plans to halve tariffs on 1,717 goods it imports from the US as the country faces the fresh challenge of the coronavirus. Chinese officials said tariffs on some goods would be cut to 5 per cent from 10 per cent, and on others from 5 per cent to 2.5 per cent. The US will also roll back some tariffs on Chinese goods as part of the agreement. Both Hong Kong’s Hang Seng and Japan’s Nikkei 225 both rose by 2.6 per cent following the announcement.
- Hundreds of thousands of bats have invaded the town of Ingham in Queensland, Australia. However, the bats are protected by law and cannot be culled. Local authorities now say they are trying to “persuade” the bats to move back to their habitat.
- Senior Conservatives have written to Tory MPs to raise concerns about the government’s decision to allow Huawei to play a role in the UK’s 5G network. The UK government has however said that restrictions would be imposed upon Huawei’s role in the 5G network. US Vice-President Mike Pence has expressed disappointment with the decision by the UK.
- Last Saturday (Feb 8), polls were opened for the Republic of Ireland’s general election. Traditionally, islanders have voted ahead of the rest of the country to ensure that bad weather does not hamper the return of ballot boxes to the mainland in time for the count, which will commence the following day. The election uses proportional representation with a single transferable vote.
- A well-known Russian journalist and a lawyer were beaten up by a gang in a hotel in the Chechen capital, Grozny. Yelena Milashina, who exposed the kidnap and torture of gay Chechen men, was in Grozny with Marina Dubrovina for the trial of a local blogger. She said the pair were set upon by a gang of men and women in the lobby of the Kontinent hotel. Human rights activists and the monitoring organisation Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called on the authorities swiftly to investigate the attack.
- The leader of the German state of Thuringia, Thomas Kemmerich, who was controversially elected with far-right Alternative für Deutschland party’s help, has said he will not resign immediately. A liberal Free Democratic Party politician, his resignation came last Thursday (Feb 6) amidst a wave of criticism.
- Fiat Chrysler said the impact of the coronavirus epidemic could halt production at one of its European car plants within four weeks. Home to many major car firms and suppliers, Wuhan currently houses the major facilities of major automobile companies such as Nissan and General Motors in the province of Hubei as well as the city. Supply chain issues could disrupt factory production.
- Five British nationals including a child have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in France, after staying in the same ski chalet and coming into contact with a person who had been in Singapore. The total number of people infected with the virus in Europe has now reached 36.
- Last Sunday (Feb 9), voters in Switzerland went to the polls to vote on a proposal to criminalise discrimination on grounds of sexuality. Prior to this, discrimination on the basis of race and religion has been made punishable by law. Now, members of Switzerland’s LGBT community hope they too will get legal protection. While this marks a progressive move forward for Switzerland, critics have voiced concerns that the new law could restrict free speech.
- The United States has killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Qasim al-Raymi, who has led the jihadist group since 2015, was killed in a US operation in Yemen, the White House said. The jihadist leader had been linked to a series of attacks on Western interests in the 2000s. Rumours of Raymi’s death began circulating in late January. The statement from the White House confirmed Raymi’s death but it did not say when he was killed.
- In light of Donald Trump’s peace plan, there has been a flare-up in violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Three Palestinians were killed during clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank while twelve Israeli soldiers were meanwhile hurt in Jerusalem in what the army said was a Palestinian car-ramming attack. Last Wednesday (Feb 6), the military said 13 rockets had been fired from Gaza in a week.
- Syrian government troops have retaken parts of the strategic town of Saraqeb in the last rebel-held province, Idlib. Weeks of aerial bombardment coupled with a ground offensive have allowed the Syrian Army to advance. Thousands of civilians have fled as a result. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said those battling for control of Idlib show little concern for the protection of civilians. The Turkish government, which backs the Syrian opposition and fears a massive influx of refugees, has called on Russia to bring an end to the advance.
- Iran’s top court has confirmed a death sentence for a man convicted of spying for the US Central Intelligence Agency. Amir Rahimpour “earned a lot of money” to pass on information about Iran’s nuclear programme to the US. There was no immediate comment from the US government or the CIA.
- Israeli warplanes have fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus. A monitoring group said Syrian army positions and those of Iran-backed militias were hit, killing 23 people. Israel did not comment, but it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years to stop Iranian “military entrenchment”. Iran and its proxies, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, are supporting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.
- Kenyans mourned the death of the country’s longest-serving president, Daniel arap Moi, as it lies in state in the capital, Nairobi. Mr Moi, who led the country from 1978 to 2002, died last Tuesday (Feb 4) at 95. However, Mr Moi’s leadership left behind a mixed legacy. On one hand, critics saw him as an authoritarian ruler, whereas allies credited him for maintaining stability. While he was accused of overseeing a programme of torture and killings, he was also credited for bringing about a peaceful transition to multi-party politics.
- Rwanda’s economy will remain strong throughout 2020, with a predicted gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 8.1 per cent, the country’s central bank said last Friday (Feb 7). Rwanda’s real GDP grew by 10.9 per cent on average in the first three quarters of 2019, higher than the 8.3 per cent registered in the same period of 2018. John Rwangombwa, governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, attributed the good performance to construction and service industries, conference tourism, and support by financial institutions.
- Tanzanian officials have said that they were not notified of the United States’ decision to add Tanzania to their latest travel ban. Citing global security concerns, the Trump administration confirmed an extended travel ban on six additional countries which included Tanzania. According to US intelligence, Tanzania does not comply with “established identity-management and information-sharing criteria”. Tanzania’s inclusion in the latest US travel ban speaks to the intensifying diplomatic strain between the two countries.
- At least 20 miners have been trapped underground after a shaft collapsed in central Zimbabwe. As of last Thursday (Feb 6), the police said at least two bodies had been recovered as rescue efforts continued. Mining is often carried out by ill-equipped artisanal miners who sometimes invade abandoned mines. They are often trapped underground. Mining remains a major source of foreign currency for Zimbabwe, a country grappling with a major economic crisis.