- Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the House of Congress back from its summer recess for a vote on legislation to block changes at the United States Postal Service. This follows cuts to funding for the service, amid concerns of the upcoming Presidential election in November, where many citizens intend to vote by mail due to the ongoing pandemic. Trump has criticized mail voting as vulnerable to fraud, while Democrats have raised concerns that the funding cuts could disenfranchise Americans.
- The United States Congress has approved legislation that would reverse previous changes made to the US Postal Service. The House has approved an injection of USD 25 billion to the Postal service. Several republicans broke ranks with their party in order to vote in support of the bill, with a vote that passed 257-150.
- The Democratic Party has officially nominated Joseph Biden Jr for the presidency, following a virtual roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Cindy McCain, appeared to support Biden. Kamala Harris has also been nominated as Biden’s running mate, the first African American and first Asian American to be selected as the vice-presidential nominee for a major party.
- Stephen Bannon, a former advisor to Trump, was charged with fraud last Thursday (Aug 20). The prosecution is charging Mr Bannon with defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort to support the construction of the wall on the US-Mexican border. Mr Bannon has pled not guilty to the charges, and countered that the charges are political, intended to “stop people who want to build the wall”
- Following an ethics scandal, Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigned last Monday (Aug 17). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to succeed Moreneau as Finance Minister. Opposition leaders have criticised Trudeau’s cabinet changes as attempts to distract from the scandal, and risking the country’s recovery from the pandemic.
- Colombia requested the extradition of the notorious paramilitary warlord, Salvatore Mancuso, who is wanted for gross violations of human rights in his home country. Colombia’s president, Ivan Duque, tweeted on Thursday (Aug 20), “Salvatore Mancuso has serious outstanding debts with Colombian justice and for that, I reason I have requested his extradition. His crimes will not continue to be met with impunity.” Mancuso was released in March after serving 12 years in a US prison for drug trafficking offences. He was also convicted in Colombia of over 1,500 murders and forced disappearances and has confessed to participation in a string of heinous crimes. Mancuso’s lawyers argued that he should instead be deported to Italy, where he holds citizenship, citing threats to his life.
- Mexico’s political establishment has been rocked by claims that three former presidents were involved in alleged acts of corruption, according to leaked deposition documents of the former head of Mexico’s state oil firm Pemex. Emilio Lozoya, the ex-chief of Pemex, was extradited from Spain in July to face corruption charges and has implicated Enrique Pena Nieto, Felipe Calderon and Carlos Salinas for “acts possibly constituting crimes”. Accusations of multimillion-dollar bribes and illegal campaign financing have been levelled against the latter trio. The rapidly unfolding scandal is seen as a boost for current president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who self-portrays himself as an anti-corruption crusader. However, some political observers have likened the anti-corruption drive to China’s Xi Jinping’s campaign, which has allowed for the removal of political rivals.
- Over a hundred women in the eastern Brazillian city of Recife came out to defend a ten-year-old girl being harassed by religious extremists for seeking an abortion after being raped. The child, who was allegedly raped by her uncle, had flown over 1,400km from her hometown of Sao Mateus after being denied treatment but was met by far-right anti-abortion activists and politicians who had barred the entrance to the hospital where she was to receive the termination procedure. The location of the hospital was kept secret but was discovered by a hardcore supporter of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. The case has reignited the controversial debate of legalising and decriminalising abortion in the deeply religious Catholic country.
- Cuba has allowed the use of the US dollar to purchase goods at special shops as the ongoing pandemic has left the island state with little revenue since the halt of tourism. The communist government has been left with little choice as it faces a cash crisis with the hardening of US sanctions against Cuba by the Trump administration, and with the protracted coronavirus pandemic that has caused a fall in tourism in the past four months. The island has opened 72 new “dollar stores” that sell anything from produce to power tools, in exchange for hard cash. The move has been seen as a desperate measure by the government to shore up foreign currency to continue the purchase of food and medicine, but also an implicit admission that the Cuban peso is worth less than the official 1:1 peg to its US counterpart.
- Following the discovery of a new cluster centred on Sarang Jeil Church, South Korean President Moon Jae In announced a ban on all religious gatherings in churches in Seoul. The move prompted immediate resistance from conservative religious groups. The government has also said that it would seek damages against the church and its pastor for wasting administrative resources and money. Sarang Jeil Church has also stated that it will file criminal complaints against the government for spreading false information and defamation.
- The United States has formally withdrawn from three bilateral treaties with Hong Kong. The agreements cover issues such as extradition and tax exemptions, and the withdrawals were implemented in protest of Beijing’s decision to implement the National Security Law in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government has strongly criticised the move as a move to create trouble in the China-US relationship.
- Facebook has stated that it enforces its policies on hate speech and content inciting violence globally, without regard to any persons’ political position. This follows reports and allegations that Facebook has refused to censor hate speeches by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
- Two Chinese Air Force J-20 Stealth Jets have been deployed to Hotan airbase, in the Uighur autonomous region of Xinjiang, signalling Chinese resolve in its conflict with India over the disputed region of the Himalayas. The airbase is around 200 miles from the Line of Actual Control, the border agreed after the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
- China’s Pinduoduo has clashed with Tesla after it sold the US group’s electric vehicles at a hefty discount, highlighting the e-commerce platform’s controversial use of big subsidies.
- As tensions between China and Australia grow, coal production is increasing in Pakistan’s largest coal mine, the Thar Block-I coalfield. The project is expected to provide China with an alternative fuel source, and is wholly owned by China, and is part of the China’s Belt and Road initiative.
- Goldman Sachs and Malaysia have signed an agreement finalising a 3.9 billion USD settlement over the 1MDB scandal. In exchange for the settlement amount, the Malaysian government has agreed to cease all criminal proceedings against the bank. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for his links to the scandal, though the mastermind Jho Low is still at large and denies any wrongdoing.
- Singapore carried out a sentence of caning on a British national last week, drawing condemnation from the United Kingdom. The Briton was serving a 20-year sentence for drug offences, and the British foreign secretary had previously appealed for leniency to the Singapore government.
- Belarussian Chief Prosecutor Alexander Konyuk has launched a criminal case against opposition leaders, accusing them of trying to seize power and harming national security. This follows mass protests against President Lukashenko, disputing the integrity of national elections in early August, and the creation of a Coordination Council by the opposition to ensure a transfer of power. Konyuk has stated that the creation of the council is unconstitutional.
- The European Union has rejected the results of the Belorussian election and has stated that it will impose sanctions on key figures within the Belorussian government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated that she wishes to speak to President Lukashenko, as have Belarussian opposition figures.
- Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is in a coma, after falling ill during a flight. Navalny had recently criticised President Vladimir Putin and the constitutional reforms that would allow Putin to serve another two terms in office. Navalny’s team has expressed suspicions that he was poisoned, as have various European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
- Brussels has rejected British demands to allow British truckers wide-ranging access to the EU, in the latest round of negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. While the EU has stated it would like to have a deal agreed upon by October, the UK has also stated that it will not extend the transition period if no deal is reached by the end of the year.
- A Romanian court rejected a request to extradite Bosnian war crimes suspect Zoran Stojcic. The reason given was that there were insufficient guarantees that Stojcic would not face capital punishment.
- Following a push by Washington to extend UN-imposed arms embargoes against Iran, Iran unveiled two new missiles last Thursday (Aug 20), amongst other technological innovations intended to bolster its defence forces. Washington’s initiative was defeated 13-2 last week, with only the Dominican Republic supporting the extension of sanctions. All other Security Council Members have rejected the US position.
- Female Iraqi activist Reham Yacoub has been killed in Basra by unidentified gunmen who opened fire on the car she was in. Yacoub was known for organising women’s marches and had previously received threats on her life. She is the latest victim in a string of assassinations and forced disappearances of activists and journalists.
- Saudi Arabia says it will not follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel until it has signed an internationally-recognised peace accord with the Palestinians. This follows a historic accord signed between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalise relations, and pressure from the United States for Saudi Arabia to follow suit. Saudi Arabia continues to demand an end to Israeli annexations and settlements in Palestinian territory and a commitment to the two-state solution.
- Protests erupted in Gaza last Wednesday (Aug 19) against the deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalise relations. Protesters also voiced support for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for his rejection of President Trump’s Middle East Plan.
- Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned last Wednesday (Aug 19), following a military coup to avoid “bloodshed”. The president, as well as prime minister Boubou Cisse, has been detained by the military faction who had led the takeover. The coup was met with international criticisms, calling for the return to civilian rule and the release of the captive ousted leaders. A delegation of other West African nations is to be sent to Mali to negotiate for the reversal of the coup, while the opposition coalition has joined the junta in denouncing foreign interference. The leaders of the coup have pledged a political transition and fresh elections within a “reasonable time”.
- Libya’s UN-backed government and its rival parliament have both called for a ceasefire in separate statements last Friday (Aug 21). These statements came amid fears of an escalation in the ongoing conflict that has plagued the oil-rich country for more than nine years. Both parties have sought the end of hostilities and are seeking to end an oil blockade imposed by the renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar since the beginning of the year. The two rival authorities also called for the demilitarisation of the city of Sirte and Jufra region, and for a joint police force to ensure security in those areas. The UN and regional leaders have welcomed the positive initiatives by both camps.
- Mauritius arrested the captain of the Japanese bulk carrier that ran aground off its coast, causing an oil spill, last Tuesday (Aug 18). The MV Wakashio had struck a coral reef on 25 July and began spilling oil as it started breaking up on 6 August in one of the most pristine marine environments. Tracking data showed that the vessel had deviated from the approved shipping lane, while reports have surfaced that the crew of the ship had failed to respond to the Mauritius coastguard’s warning that their planned course was dangerous. Whilst the full impact of the spill remains to be seen, scientists have dubbed the incident as the country’s worst ecological disaster.
- Uganda court rules that the government must prioritise maternal health in a landmark unanimous decision by a panel of five judges on Wednesday (Aug 19). The ruling would require the government to increase its health budget to ensure women receive decent maternal healthcare services, and was met with warm welcome from health rights activists. This also marks the end of a lawsuit filed in 2011 after two women died during childbirth at a public healthcare facility. Uganda presently spends approximately US$733 million, or about 6 per cent of its total national budget, on healthcare. This is despite being a signatory to the Abuja declaration that requires governments to spend at least 15 per cent of their annual budget on health.
- The US has imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions on four Ugandan officials following an investigation into an Uganda to US adoption scam. Judges Moses Mukiibi and Wilson Musalu Musene, and lawyers Dorah Mirembe and Patrick Ecobu had “engaged in corruption to arrange the adoption of Ugandan children by unwitting parents in the United States,” according to a statement by the US State Department. The international adoption scam involved more than 30 children, and was facilitated through the use of bribery and fraud.