North America and Canada
- Canada’s government seeks to broaden access to assisted dying, which will include people who are not in immediate risk of dying. The proposed expansion of the 2016 law on medically assisted death came after a court in Quebec deemed it unconstitutional due to the law’s limited scope. Justice minister David Lametti said the changes would “remove the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order to be eligible for medical assistance in dying.”
- Former US vice-president Joe Biden won the South Carolina Democratic primary last Saturday (Feb 29), reigniting his presidential campaign. The victory for the 77-year-old was a clear win, with Mr Biden sweeping up almost half the votes while runner-up Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders trailed at only 20 per cent. The win was the former vice-president’s first in his 2020 campaign and may prove to be the momentum he needs going into the primary on Tuesday (Mar 3) where 14 states will vote on their Demcratic candidate for the US presidency.
- US President Donald Trump’s administration requested for a US$2.5 billion (S$3.47 billion) budget to help combat the Covid-19 outbreak last Monday (Feb 24), appointing vice-president Mike Pence to lead efforts later in the same week. The US has about 70 reported cases and two deaths as of today (March 1). President Trump said that travellers to the US from countries at high risk of coronavirus would be screened before boarding and upon arrival, without specifying which countries. The government had also contracted 3M Co to produce an extra 35 million respiratory masks a month. Meanwhile, US stock markets felt investors’ jitters as stocks tumbled and wiped nearly US$3 trillion (S$4.17 billion) from the American equities.
- Harvey Weinstein, a former Hollywood mogul, found guilty of sexual assault and rape last Monday (Feb 24) in a milestone verdict for the #MeToo movement. The ex-film producer was convicted of sexually assaulting a former production assistant and raping a once aspiring actress, but acquitted on the most serious charges of predatory assault and first-degree rape. Mr Weinstein, who was accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women over decades, faces up to 25 years in prison in the state of New York and still faces sexual assault charges in California.
- US President Donald Trump poured scorn on US supreme court judges Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor last Monday (Feb 24), accusing them of biasness and should be recused of “Trump-related” cases. The verbal offensive comes as the US highest court prepares to hear a case on Mr Trump’s need to release his tax returns in March, calling for the left-leaning judges to step aside from trials related to him. This is the latest in a slew of the former property mogul’s assault on key figures of democratic institutions he deemed as challenges to his presidency.
- Haiti is currently facing a “warlike” situation as police and army forces exchanged gunfire in an escalation of a police strike over pay and poor working conditions last week. Government officials cancelled what was to be a raucous three-day Carnival celebration in the capital “to avoid a bloodbath”. Two servicemen were killed in the shootout after the police protesters opened fire on the army headquarters in the nation’s capital Port-au-Prince, in what was a violent escalation of a year-long protest by the police in a country already plagued by a failing economy.
- Criticism befalls the World Bank over its US$55 million (S$76.4 million) to aid Guyana in fossil fuel extraction, in contradiction with its 2017 environmental policy. The development financial institution won praise from environmental groups in 2017 when it pledged to “no longer finance upstream oil and gas” after 2019, but its promise to finance Guyanese oil and gas production has been seen as reneging on the policy. Recent oil-field discoveries project the country to be one of the world’s largest oil producers, delivering up to eight billion barrels of oil. The World Bank has denied the allegations, while critics said it was “pushing Guyana down a financially disastrous development path.”
- Murder rate soar in north-eastern Brazilian state on Ceará after military police went on strike to demand a pay rise. At least 147 people have been murdered since the police began their strike on Feb 19, with the state seeing a five-fold increase in homicide rate. This is despite the deployment of army units to patrol the streets. Police officers are banned from going on strike under Brazilian law, with a court ruling that those who defy the ban could be jailed. More than 200 officers have been suspended while ministers declared that the situation was “under control”.
- The first case of Covid-19 was reported in Brazil last Wednesday (Feb 26), marking a milestone as the virus makes landfall in every continent except for Antarctica. The 61-year-old patient had recently travelled to Italy. Meanwhile, 6,000 people are currently held on board a cruise ship docked in Mexico after being rejected by several other countries. Mexican health officials are conducting tests to rule out the presence of the disease before permitting passengers to disembark.
- Malaysia got its eighth prime minister last Sunday (Mar 1) after a whirlwind week of political wrangling, as former interior minister Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in by the king. Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah interviewed all 222 members of parliament after the resignation of the previous prime minister Mahathir Mohamad had resigned and concluded that Tan Sri Muhyiddin held the majority support to hold the nation’s top job. The 94-year-old statesman Mahathir has disputed the ruling on grounds that the newly minted leader did not have legitimate popular support in parliament.
- Coronavirus outbreak worsened in Asia last week, as the number of cases rose sharply and more Asian countries reported infections and deaths. South Korea became the country with the most reported cases outside of China, largely originating from a local religious sect, while Japan discovered additional infections in people they have cleared to disembark from the Diamond Princess. Criticisms of government mishandling the crisis have surfaced in Japan and South Korea, while other states have been accused of not taking the issue seriously.
- Death toll from the Delhi riots in India rose to 24 last Wednesday (Feb 26), amidst the worst religious violence in decades. More than 200 people have been admitted to hospitals for injuries ranging from gunshot wounds to stoning. The violence began last Sunday (Feb 23) and continued through the week with deadly clashes between Hindu and Muslim groups. There have been incidences of Hindu mob attacks that have burned down a mosque and forced Muslims to flee their homes.
- Human Rights lawyer Amal Clooney is set to pursue Rohingya case at The Hague, where Myanmar faces accusations of genocide. Mrs Clooney, in a statement released last week, will represent the Maldives in seeking justice for Rohingya Muslims at the International Court of Justice. Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi had defended her country’s military crackdown late last year at the United Nations’ highest court, but her defence was rejected unanimously. The Myanmar army crackdown on Rakhine state in 2017 forced more than 700,000 people to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
- China transferred at least 80,000 Uighurs, some directly from detention centres, to factories used by global brands, according to a report. The Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which published the report, alleged that the Chinese have been putting labourers from re-education centres in Xinjiang in conditions that “strongly suggest forced labour”. The factories were part of supply chains which provided goods for 83 global brands including Apple, Nike and Volkswagen.
- New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern lashed out at her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison last Thursday (Feb 27) over deportations to New Zealand. PM Ardern said that the Australian leader was “testing” the relationship between the two close neighbours, and accused Australia of using “unfair” policies to deport New Zealand citizens, regardless of time spent in Australia if they had committed a crime. In reference to New Zealanders who became naturalised Australians, PM Arden said, “do not deport your people and your problems.”
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) raised the global spread risk of Covid-19 to “very high” last Friday (Feb 28) after a week that saw the virus reach all the inhabited continents. To date, more than 60 countries have reported cases of the disease with more than 3,000 deaths and nearly 90,000 confirmed infections. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, addressing reporters from WHO headquarters in Geneva, said that the issue was “clearly of concern” but stopped short of describing the outbreak as a “pandemic”.
- Huawei announced that it will build its first European 5G factory in France last Thursday (Feb 27) in a bid to allay spying concerns. The Chinese telecoms giant has been facing strong headwinds with Western powers as the US sought to convince its allies to ban all Chinese telecoms over fears of espionage. Huawei has repeatedly denied allegations that its equipment posed a security risk during this period when European countries are seeking to build their next generation 5G mobile network, promising a huge leap in communications speed and capacity. The new plant will see an initial investment of US$217 million (S$156 million) and create some 500 jobs.
- The French government will force through the much-contested pension reforms by decree, bypassing parliament. The surprise move came after opposition parties filed more than 41,000 amendments in an attempt to stall its introduction. The French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe defended the actions and said that it was “not to put an end to debate, but to end this period of non-debate.” The pension reforms have plagued President Emmanuel Macron’s time in the office and have led to numerous strikes.
- Greek protesters on the Aegean Islands clashed with riot police last week over plans to create migrant detention camps. Despite rising tensions, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ centre-right government vowed to press ahead with the plans. Mistrust between the federal government and locals grows as the latter criticised officials of mismanagement of the crisis and failing to decongest the islands. Greece has seen more arrivals of migrants in recent months than when in the height of the Syrian conflict in 2016.
- Europe grapples with the Covid-19 outbreak as Italy becomes the region’s viral epicentre. Health authorities throughout Europe scrambled to contain further spread of the coronavirus as several European countries reported their first cases of the infection, restricted border movement, closed schools and cancelled large scale events. Italy has more than 1,000 cases and nearly 30 deaths from the disease and has become Europe’s litmus test on its ability to contain the outbreak.
- Saudi Arabia halts travel to Islam’s holiest site in a bid to stem the spread of Covid-19 last Thursday (Feb 27). Amid fears of a viral epidemic spreading in the region just months before the annual haj pilgrimage is scheduled to begin in late July, Saudi Arabian authorities stopped foreigners from entering Mecca as well as Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina. While no cases of the Covid-19 have been reported in the oil-rich nation, concerns of how the haj pilgrimage will be impacted mounts.
- The coronavirus death toll rose to nearly 50 in Iran while the number of Covid-19 cases increased to almost 600 at the end of last week, as the country struggles to contain the outbreak. Fears of a mass contagion occurring in the Middle East region as neighbouring countries reported their first cases of the disease, which could be traced to the Shiite holy city of Qom in Iran. As countries around the world close its borders to the Islamic Republic, experts warn that sanctions-hit Iran may lack resources needed to combat the viral outbreak.
- Turkey opened its western borders last Friday (Feb 28) which allowed for a huge influx of refugees to reach the borders of Greece and Bulgaria, as Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan followed through on threats to Europe. The Turkish leader had earlier threatened to allow refugees to reach European borders unless fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies provided military support for Turkey’s campaign in Syria. The threat came after Turkish forces suffered its largest single-day loss of 33 troops, following airstrikes by the Syrian government. The incident had raised tensions between Turkey and Russia, which supports the Syrian government.
- The US and the Taliban signed a historic deal to end the war in Afghanistan last Saturday (Feb 29), a step toward ending the 18-year American-led campaign in the country. The agreement was signed in the Qatari capital, Doha, by representatives of both sides, and witnessed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The deal paves the way for an initial drawdown of more than 4,000 US troops within the coming weeks and the complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces over the next 14 months, given that the Taliban adhere to their pledge to reduce violence. The Afghan people have viewed the deal with cautious optimism, while the local government has yet to be involved in any negotiations.
- Hosni Mubarak, former Egyptian leader, died last Tuesday (Feb 25) at the age of 91. In his 30-year rule, he was the darling of the US and its Western allies as the bulwark against Islamic militancy but a brutal autocratic ruler who enacted draconian policies to stay in power. The late Mr Mubarak came into power in 1981 following the assassination of then-president Anwar Sadat but was finally ousted in 2011 during the Arab spring revolution that swept the region. Weeks of mass protests after years of corruption, cronyism, and lavish living had forced the military, which had once helped install him into power, to remove him.
- Togo President Faure Gnassingbe extended his family’s 53-year dynastic rule after it was declared that he won a fourth term in power last Monday (Feb 24). He took 72 per cent of the vote share, while his closest rival former prime minister Agbeyome Kodjo scored only 18 per cent. Political rivals of the incumbent president have accused authorities of organised electoral fraud, with allegations of ballot stuffing and fake polling stations. President Gnassingbe had supervised a constitutional change that could potentially allow him to stay in power of the poor African nation until the end of the decade.
- Nigeria and Algeria reported their first cases of Covid-19 last week, both of which originated from Italy. The WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said: “The window of opportunity the continent has had to prepare for coronavirus is closing. All countries must ramp up their preparedness activities.” Health ministers across Africa held an emergency meeting to discuss the best strategy to prevent the virus from spreading further in the continent, whilst officials seek to reassure the people that their countries are prepared.
- Guinea’s president Alpha Condé postponed a controversial referendum on changing the constitution, which was due to happen on Sunday (Mar 1), following months of violent demonstrations and mounting international concerns of fairness. Allegations of tampering with the electoral register surfaced after the International Organisation of La Francophonie had problems identifying some 2.5 million names listed on the electoral roll. If passed, the change would allow for president Condé to seek a third term as the leader of the African state.
- South Africa forced dozens of pregnant HIV patients to be sterilised without consent, according to a report released last Monday (Feb 24). An inquiry launched by South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality in 2015 found 48 documented cases of coerced sterilisation, all of whom were black women who were mostly HIV positive. The women were made to sign forms, which later learnt were consent forms that permitted the hospital to sterilise them, prior to giving birth. There were threats of denying medical attention should they not agree to sign the paperwork.