A sculpture with a face mask attached to it, at the Carlo Alberto square, after the government decree to close cinemas, schools and urge people to work from home and not stand closer than one metre to each other, in Turin, Italy. | Photo credits: livemint/Reuters

Mar 10: Biden dominates Super Tuesday, Death toll in Italy rises, and Russia and Turkey brokers ceasefire

North America

  • Former vice-president Joe Biden made remarkable strides on his Super Tuesday victories by winning the most delegates on the presidential primary calendar’s biggest night. Mr Biden consolidated his lead last Tuesday (Mar 3) with wins of large margins in Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia, followed by a narrow victory in Texas. Following the events last week, Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren have also announced their intention to drop out of the presidential race.
  • US President Donald Trump has replaced his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. North Carolina lawmaker Mark Meadows has been tipped to take over the job. Mr Mulvaney was perceived to have implicated the president in a rare White House press conference last October, with his remarks over an alleged corrupt deal with Ukraine by saying: “We do that all the time.” This act apparently incurred the acrimony of Mr Trump.
  • In a video posted last Friday (Mar 6), US Representative Ken Buck wielded an AR-15 rifle in his office and dared former vice-president Joe Biden and former representative Beto O’Rourke to “come and take it”. Calling Biden and O’Rourke as the “gun-grabbing duo”, the video was a response to O’Rourke’s stance against civilian possession of high-powered assault rifles as well as Biden’s remarks that he would tap upon O’Rourke to help him “take care of the gun problem”. 
  • Last Friday (Mar 6), US President Donald Trump signed a US$8.3 billion (S$11.4 billion) coronavirus spending bill that seeks to aid prevention efforts and research in hopes of quickly producing a vaccine for the deadly disease. On the very same day the bill was signed, worldwide cases surpassed 100,000. 
  • Investors are expecting the US Federal Reserve to undertake more efforts to rescue the global economy from a downturn caused by the ongoing coronavirus. The Fed’s target rate currently lies between 1 per cent and 1.25 per cent. However, some economists and strategists have opined that interest rates alone are not going to do much to help the global economy weather the shock. Instead, the current economic climate gives a bigger role for expansionary fiscal policies.
  • The outbreak of the new coronavirus has greatly hampered Canada’s tourism industry, a senior government official said last Friday (Mar 6), following the dwindling numbers of Chinese visitors and the cancelling of a major technology convention. There have been at least 45 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, according to the federal government, but no virus-related deaths so far.

Latin America

  • Argentina’s central bank lowered its interest rates from 40 per cent to 38 per cent last Thursday (Mar 5), the eighth cut since the middle of December when the new Peronist government came into power with an electoral pledge to stimulate economic growth. The bank said the cut was premised upon signs of disinflation and is aimed at driving the economy as Latin America’s third-largest economy seeks to fulfil its debt obligations. 
  • Ecuador’s sovereign bonds plunged to a record following concerns of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s delay on the disbursement of the next tranche of a US$4.2 billion (S$5.79 billion) loan. Coupled with the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, the delay in disbursements further complicates the government’s financing outlook. The finance ministry has issued a statement that the government is currently working closely with officials from the IMF to ensure scheduled disbursements.
  • Former Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho and his brother were arrested in Paraguay last Friday (Mar 6) for allegedly using fake passports to enter the country. Prosecutors say they were given the false documents when the duo landed in the capital Asuncion last Wednesday (Mar 4). The footballer was on his way to Paraguay to promote a book and a campaign for underprivileged children.
  • Chile’s annual inflation has edged towards the upper limit of the central bank’s target range in February, between 2 and 4 per cent, overshooting market forecasts, as mining companies and the government work on coronavirus contingency measures. This could be largely attributed to the weakening of the peso stemming from the coronavirus outbreak coupled with social unrest.
  • The US and other countries say they are concerned by “credible allegations” of fraud in Guyana’s election. President David Granger was defending a narrow parliamentary majority against Irfaan Ali of the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP). While Mr Granger declared victory, observers have voiced concerns about the credibility of official results for a key region. On the other hand, opposition leaders asserted that the elections commission altered the area’s results to give Mr Granger’s Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change coalition a victory over the opposition PPP. 

Asia-Pacific

  • Two teenagers have been arrested on suspicion of a racially motivated attack. Johnathan Mok, a 23-year-old Singaporean, was assaulted whilst walking down Oxford Street. He was beaten up when a group of four males began shouting, and confronting him afterwards. 
  • Despite Scott Morrison’s pandemic plan drawing praises, Australia’s coronavirus cases have risen. A sudden spike in cases has impelled authorities to tighten border controls and galvanised people towards fear-driven responses such as stockpiling toilet papers and hand sanitisers. The sudden rise in infections comes after health officials in the state last Monday (Mar 2) confirmed the first case of community transmission in Australia. Nearly half the cases have been recorded in the state of New South Wales.
  • Last Friday (Mar 6), Thailand outlined a US$3.2 billion (S$4.41 billion) stimulus package to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak – against the backdrop of a slowing economy. The Thai economy has been hit hard by the slump in tourism. The package, approved by the economic cabinet, includes cash handouts, soft loans and tax benefits. Thailand’s economy grew only by 2.4 per cent last year, the weakest in five years. Kasikornbank’s research centre has lowered growth forecast to just 0.5 per cent – the lowest since 2009.
  • As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Samsung Electronics will shift parts of its domestic production to Vietnam. Last Friday (Mar 6), Samsung closed its smartphone plant in Gumi as the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the factory rose to six. The Gumi plant is situated near Daegu, the heart of the virus outbreak in South Korea. South Korean technology companies are facing the increasing prospect of damaging disruption to their supply chain.
  • Last Friday (Mar 6), the Trump administration blocked a Chinese company’s attempt to acquire a hotel software company. The administration said there was “credible evidence” that Beijing Shiji Information Technology and its Hong Kong subsidiary might “take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” This is an example of how American officials have been more stringent in policing Chinese investments.
  • Taiwan’s largest China-friendly political party is poised to abandon the policy that has underpinned its close relationship with Beijing. Also known as the 1992 Consensus, this agreement allows envoys from Beijing and Taipei to have their own interpretation of “One China”. Following a heavy defeat in January’s presidential elections because of its pro-China stance, candidates running in the election to be the Kuomintang’s chairman said the agreement was no longer fit for purpose.
  • The Hong Kong government has warned the city’s residents to consider deferring all non-essential travel outside of the territory. Hong Kong has reported 106 cases of coronavirus and two deaths in the past six weeks. 

Europe

  • A US judge has ordered the deportation of a former Nazi camp guard to Germany, who is still receiving a pension for “wartime service” as a citizen. Friedrich Karl Berger, now 94, previously served in a camp where atrocities towards prisoners were conducted. Mr Berger has been living in the US since 1959. Immigration judge Rebecca Holt ordered the deportation last Thursday (Mar 5) after a two-day trial. Judge Holt has ruled that Mr Berger’s willing service as an armed guard constitutes assistance in Nazi persecution.
  • The National Audit Office has said that preparations for leaving the European Union could cost the government more than four billion pounds. This figure includes spending on staff, external advice and advertising. Government departments have also reported £92 million (S$165.51 million) in losses relating to Brexit – this includes £50 million (S$89.95 million) paid to ferry companies and £33 million (S$59.37 million) to Eurotunnel. This has consequently raised concerns of the need for transparency of the government’s spending priorities. 
  • The death toll from the new coronavirus in Italy has reached 366 since the outbreak began. Outside of China, Italy now has the highest death toll. Analysts say the crisis will push Italy’s fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years. Last Friday (Mar 6), credit ratings agency Moody’s revised its growth forecast downwards for the country to -0.5 per cent.
  • Talks between the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies collapsed last Friday (Mar 6) as the meeting in Vienna resulted in a bitter row between Russia and the cartel. OPEC has reportedly been trying to get Russia to reduce its oil output so as to cushion the impacts of a dented demand due to the virus outbreak. Moscow has however refused to comply. The Kremlin said that President Vladimir Putin had no plans to talk to the Saudi leadership, dashing hopes that a deal could be salvaged at the very top. 
  • European stocks closed lower last week, continuing a week of market volatility amidst fears over the coronavirus outbreak. The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed around 1.4 per cent lower provisionally. Markets were initially buoyed by the International Monetary Fund’s announcement of a $US50 billion (S$68.93 billion) aid package last Wednesday (Mar 4) to cushion the impact of the outbreak. However, the negative sentiments on the disruptions to markets prevailed.

Middle East

  • A ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey has come into effect in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib. Last Thursday (Mar 5), Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan signed the deal in Moscow. This comes after weeks of intense fighting between Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian forces supported by Russia. However, the agreement failed to address issues such as the creation of a safe zone where displaced Syrians could take shelter.
  • Three senior members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, including the king’s brother, have been arrested for unexplained reasons, US media report. According to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the detentions took place early last Friday (Mar 6). The three men reported to have been arrested are the king’s younger brother Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and a royal cousin, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc appears to have failed to secure a parliamentary majority in last Monday’s general election (Mar 2). With 99 per cent of the votes counted, Mr Netanyahu’s bloc was on track to win 58 seats. This would leave them three short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Mr Netanyahu’s Likud is therefore encouraging defections from the rival centrist Blue and White alliance, which is poised to win 33 seats.
  • A minister with Yemen’s UN-recognised government has called on the US to designate its rival, the Houthi movement, as a terrorist organisation because of its alleged links to Iran. In a series of tweets last Tuesday (Mar 3), Yemen’s minister of information, Moammar al-Eryani, has also accused Iranian forces of targeting neighbouring countries. Prior considerations have been made for such a designation. However, such a designation also risks further isolating the rebels, and exacerbating the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
  • Last Wednesday (Mar 4), the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen foiled an “imminent terrorist attack” on an oil tanker off Yemen’s coast on the Arabian Sea. In a statement, coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki said that the tanker was approached by four boats; with one of the remotely controlled vessels attempting to explode it. The statement did not specify the perpetrator of the attack. 

Africa

  • France has granted permission to extradite François Compaoré – the brother of a former president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré – who is wanted at home over the murder of a journalist in 1998. François Compaoré is accused of involvement in the 1998 killing of Norbert Zongo who was investigating the death of Mr Compaoré’s driver and the charred remains of three other people.
  • Hundreds of residents of Mandera in north-eastern Kenya near Somalia have fled the area in the aftermath of clashes between warring troops across the border. A day before the clash, the Kenyan and Somali presidents spoke by phone and agreed to resolve the escalating tensions between the two countries after allegations of an unwarranted attack on Kenyan territory. The two countries have also been locked in a long-running dispute over the sovereignty of an oil-rich area in the Indian Ocean.
  • Zambia’s president Edgar Lungu has said some church officials and traditional leaders are to blame for a recent spate of mob attacks that have left at least 50 people dead. Prior to this, a series of assaults with chemical spray has left many Zambians injured and sometimes unconscious – leading to speculations that the assailants are trying to use the victims’ blood for witchcraft.
  • Last Thursday (Mar 5), Zimbabwe said that it was dismayed by the White House’s “baffling” decision to extend sanctions against members of the southern African country’s government over rights abuses. Sanctions were first imposed against then-President Robert Mugabe in 2003. Following Mugabe’s removal, the White House believes that Zimbabwe has had the opportunity to embark on reforms, but deeply regrets the lack of political will on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s part.
  • The Angolan stock and debt exchange have announced plans to promote, in partnership with the London Stock Exchange, a programme to prepare companies for the stock market. Known as “Investor Readiness”, the agreement was originally signed earlier this year with the London Stock Exchange. It aims to prepare companies to comply with the criteria of requirements of investors operating on the international market.
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