- The US Republican Party nominated Donald Trump for re-election last Monday (Aug 24) for the coming 2020 US presidential race, with Mike Pence to be his running mate again. The four-day Republican national convention saw a host of Trump loyalists, including many of his immediate family members, come out to air their support for the current president, whilst engaging in fear-mongering speeches on the perils of a Joe Biden presidency. Speakers also peddled falsehoods on the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, and Trump accused the Democrats of attempting to “steal” the election.
- White House adviser Kellyanne Conway announced that she will be leaving the Trump administration at the end of August, citing the need to focus on her family. She was Donald Trump’s campaign manager during his successful 2016 president election. Her husband George Conway also said he would be stepping down from his role at the Lincoln Project, which was started to prevent the re-election of Trump. The announcements came a day after their 15-year-old daughter Claudia took to Twitter to express her intention to seek “emancipation”. She has been outspoken against her parents’ political views.
- TikTok to sue the Trump administration over its executive order to ban transactions with the Chinese company in the US. The video-sharing app announced last Monday (Aug 24) that it strongly disagreed with the White House’s position that the company was a threat to national security and that it had “taken extraordinary measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok’s US user data”. TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, has been in talks with several US tech firms over the sale of its US operations that oversees about 100 million US users. The Trump administration has been clamping down harder on Chinese tech firms in recent months, which critics see as political posturing for the coming US presidential elections.
- The US state of Wisconsin deployed its national guard last Monday (Aug 24) to help quell protests over the police shooting of an unarmed black man. A video that was circulated on social media had depicted police officers shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back as he leaned into his vehicle, which had left Blake paralysed from the waist down. The state governor, Tony Evers, has since promised police reforms to curb law enforcement misconduct. Three protesters were also shot by a gunman, resulting in two fatalities. The 17-year-old suspect, with ties to a white militia group, has since been arrested and charged with murder.
- Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne warned China that “coercive diplomacy” will not secure the release of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last Thursday (Aug 27). The pair discussed the detainment of the Huawei executive, who is facing extradition to the US for bank fraud and flouting US sanctions against Iran. China subsequently arrested two Canadians on suspicion of spying. Both parties called for the release of their detainees in an effort to mend ties between the two nations.
- White supremacist groups have infiltrated US law enforcement agencies across the US over the past 20 years, according to a report. The findings were published by a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent, Michael German, in a study on the ties between police and far-right groups. The analysis uncovered hundreds of police officers have been caught posting racist and bigoted social media content. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have identified white supremacists as the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat in the US. Former special agent German told the Guardian that “the most violent elements within these far-right militant groups believe that their conduct is sanctioned by the government. And therefore they’re much more willing to come out and engage in acts of violence against protesters.”
- The indigenous Achuar tribal people living in the heartland of Ecuadorian rainforest who are largely isolated geographically from the modern world, have fallen victim to the pandemic approximately three months ago. Ecuador has been a hotspot of the coronavirus in Latin America, recording more than 110,000 cases reported. Now, the Achuar will face more difficulties due to the lack of access to public services such as tests and medication as well as protective equipment to fight the outbreak. The president of the tribe promised to protect their people, as the loss of the Achuar tribe would also mean danger for the Amazon rainforest.
- Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, is seizing the chance during the pandemic to round up and persecute dissenters, human rights activists and journalists. Maduro had been fighting for his political survival since January 2019 when countries in the region and international stage started recognising Juan Guaidó, a Venezuelan politician, as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader. However, as Guaidó struggles to remain politically relevant, the country faces a steep uphill fight against the pandemic and a government that acts with impunity.
- Tropical Storm Marco strengthened into a hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico and is forecast to hit Louisiana on Monday (Aug 31). The second Tropical Storm Laura which hit the Dominican Republic on Sunday (Aug 30), will be expected to be over Hispaniola and Cuba and strengthen into a hurricane before striking the US on Thursday (Sep 3). The two storms battered the Caribbean and have posed worries about the spread of Covid-19 during evacuations.
- Columbia saw 46 massacres this year and at least 39 people had been killed in the recent spate of unrest. The latest incident found the bodies of three young men late on Tuesday (Aug 25) near a road outside Ocaña, a city near the country’s eastern border with Venezuela. The community is living in a state of constant fear, as the 2016 peace deal with the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) falls apart. FARC factions are fighting for territorial control with a rival leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, drug cartels and the Colombian military.
- Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced that he will resign due to his declining health last Friday (Aug 28). Abe has been battling ulcerative colitis since his teenage years but his condition has gotten worse since the middle of last month. As Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe has managed to centralise decision-making, established a national security council and shifted power away from its bureaucracy. However, he leaves office with relations between Japan and South Korea in tatters after failing to resolve historical disputes.
- The US blacklisted 24 Chinese companies and levied economic sanctions against Chinese entities and individuals due to military behaviour in the South China Sea for the first time. On Wednesday (Aug 26), China launched four medium-range ballistic missiles that landed in the South China Sea between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands as a response to the US latest sanctions.
- Covid-19 cases are soaring in Guam and threaten to overwhelm the island’s healthcare system. Infections are also spreading rapidly across Papua New Guinea and new clusters have been identified in French Polynesia following the resumption of tourism. Although the Pacific region remains the least infected in the world, its weak healthcare systems are not well-equipped to handle large surges of infections. Guam’s governor, Lou Leon Guerrero, has made public pleas for help.
- More than 10,000 protesters flocked to the Democracy Monument in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok on a Sunday (Aug 16). These protests that began in February, were led by student unions and youth groups to demand a new constitution and an end to the harassment of opposition campaigners. The government made plans to hold a forum to discuss and negotiate matters with students to prevent the end of its current leadership altogether.
- After a North Korean defector who returned from South Korea was found to be the first infected patient with the Covid-19 virus entered North Korea, the country tightened its border control and trade ceased. The hermit state has also suffered one of the longest and wettest rainy seasons, hitting its domestic rice production badly. Despite all these hardships and heavy sanctions, the country rejected offers of foreign help and remains even more isolated.
- Tests have indicated that Russia’s opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was the victim of poisoning and he is currently being treated with the antidote, Atropine. Navalny was Putin’s vociferous critic and an anti-corruption activist. In response to Navalny’s poisoning case, demonstrators in Belarus have been protesting in greater numbers. Belarus has always been used as a template for many of Russia’s Putin’s tactics to achieve and maintain his power, but these protests now show a unique significance to his current and future legitimacy.
- Far-right extremists in Germany tried to storm into the German parliament building on Saturday (Aug 29) after a protest against the country’s pandemic restrictions. Protestors were opposing a wide range of issues from vaccinations to the German government as a whole. However, opinion polls have shown overwhelming support for the prevention measures imposed by authorities, such as the requirement to wear masks at public places.
- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM) said more than 200 rescued refugees and migrants needed to get off the nonprofit search-and-rescue ship Louise Michel immediately, as it was far beyond its safe capacity. The United Nation (UN) refugee agency urged European nations to open their borders to hundreds of migrants rescued from the Mediterranean. So far in 2020, more than 500 refugees and migrants are known to have died in the Mediterranean sea.
- More than 300 rioters hit the streets in the Southern Swedish city of Malmö after a video of the followers of far-right Danish politician Rasmus Paludan were recorded burning a copy of the Qur’an near one of the city’s mosques. Many Muslims and Arabs amongst the spectators openly opposed the riot saying that all religions, including Islam, are peace-promoting and such acts should be condoned. No members of the public were injured and the police force moved swiftly to arrest and contain the riots.
- Iran granted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to two key sites last Wednesday (Aug 26), after months of diplomatic standoff. The two sites near Karaj and Isfahan have been suspected to hold nuclear materials or activities by US and Israeli intelligence services. The Islamic Republic’s allowance of the UN nuclear watchdog would shore up European support of the 2015 nuclear deal, as free access to sites is considered the crux of the agreement.
- Kuwait relaxed book censorship laws after banning almost 5,000 books over the past seven years, which was much welcomed by writers and free speech proponents. Previously, a 12-person committee would convene twice a month to approve or blacklist books for offences such as insulting Islam or immorality. The new regulations would mean that importers and publishers need only provide the government with book titles and author names, only an official complaint from the public will warrant legal action against the book and the ban can only be imposed by the courts. Books that were banned included Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
- The first-ever commercial flight between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been scheduled for this week, in an announcement by US officials last Tuesday (Aug 25). The flight will carry a US delegation led by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as an Israeli delegation, from Israel to the UAE. This is the first known direct flight by Israel’s state airline to a Gulf Arab country and is part of an effort toward warming ties between the two nations.
- Gaza entered lockdown last Tuesday (Aug 25) as the first community Covid-19 cases emerged, with fears of a “catastrophic” collapse of its already fragile healthcare system. Some two million Palestinians were ordered to stay home as local authorities announced a cluster of four from the same family were tested positive for the virus, and streets were left empty as the government sought to detect other infections. The Muslim-majority enclave was initially relatively untouched as the pandemic raged around the globe, as it shut itself off over concerns that it could not cope with an outbreak. The emergence of the cases has now compounded the problems of the Israeli-blockaded territory, leaving the residences highly vulnerable.
- The UN security council rejected the US attempt to extend economic sanctions on Iran last Tuesday (Aug 25), in what was seen as a diplomatic setback for America. Indonesia, which currently holds the council’s rotating presidency, said that the US request could not see further actions taken as there was no consensus from the 15-nation body. The decision was met with an angry response from the US envoy to the UN, Kelly Craft, who said that the Trump administration “has no fear in standing in limited company on this matter”. The US had accused Iran of being in non-compliance of the 2015 nuclear deal and intends to enact a “snapback” clause on economic sanctions to be reimposed on the Middle Eastern state. European leaders have however argued that the US had withdrawn from the deal in 2018 and can thus no longer pursue such a course.
- The US proposed removing Sudan from a list of states that sponsor terrorism in exchange for a US$330 million compensation to victims of al-Qaida, during US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s visit last Tuesday (Aug 25). The proposal had struck nerves in the impoverished nation, as many felt that it was unfair that they have to pay for the mistakes of the regime they helped overthrow. American courts had found Sudan guilty of providing essential support to the extremist organisation when Osama bin Laden was based in the country during the period of 1991 to 1996.
- The government of Zimbabwe summoned the Vatican’s representative to the country for dialogue after a letter containing scathing accusations of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime of human rights abuses. The open letter was sent by the local Catholic clergy on 14 August, which claimed that the government’s “crackdown on dissent is unprecedented… Our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country: that is an abuse.” The government expressed that it was offended by the letter and described it as “inappropriately prescriptive and grossly disrespectful”.
- At least 40 dolphins have been found dead in an area of Mauritius affected by an oil spill from a Japanese vessel, which ran aground in July. Environmentalists have called on the local government to launch an “urgent investigation” into the cause of deaths and any links to the MV Wakashio oil spill. Meanwhile, a team of environmental experts conducted a survey of the surrounding mangroves and have expressed concerns for its ecological health. They explained that heavy oil pollution can “suffocate mangroves”, while the toxic substances can also be extremely harmful.
- Coup leaders in Mali released ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last Thursday (Aug 27), in what was seen as a sign of good faith ahead of a regional meeting on the country’s political future. President Keita resigned after a faction of military officers detained him at gunpoint on 18 August. The 15-nation regional bloc, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that Mali is a member of, announced the following day that the transitional government in the country should last no more than a year. However, the junta is seeking at least three years in power before returning to civilian rule.
- Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara applied to run for a third term last Monday (Aug 24), amid protests to his intent. Members of the opposition cited the two-term limit stated in the country’s constitution, but Ouattara argued that his initial two terms do not count under the new constitution adopted in 2016. The nation’s constitutional court will make the final ruling on his candidacy. The West African state has been plagued by tensions and ethnic violence leading up to the coming elections, while the regional bloc ECOWAS has expressed its concerns and called for “all Ivorian political actors to avoid violence and turn to dialogue”.