Photo Credit : Reuters

Sept 7: North Carolina officials warn voting twice is illegal, China’s largest banks report big profit declines, Brazilian court annuls one criminal case against Lula Da Silva

North America

  • A federal appeals court ruled last Monday (Aug 31) that the House Judiciary Committee has no legal power to sue President Donald Trump’s former White House counsel, Don McGahn, for refusing to testify about actions by Trump that Mueller’s report said could constitute obstruction of justice. McGahn was described by the committee as “the most important witness, other than the President, to the key events that are the focus of the Judiciary Committee’s investigation”. However, the lawsuit was tossed out by a three-judge panel of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in a 2-1 vote. This is a victory for the Trump administration in its fight with Congress over access to current and former administration officials. 
  • At least a dozen groups in the United States are planning a large-scale, bipartisan public relations campaign to shore up trust in the integrity of the November election. One organisation, the National Task Force on Election Crises, is contacting leading politicians from both major parties, military figures, star athletes, faith leaders and business executives, asking them to reassure voters about the integrity of the election result if chaos ensues after the Nov 3 contest. Separately, a loose coalition of mostly bipartisan civic groups is in early talks about how to encourage voters to be patient while all ballots are counted and to ensure a secure transition of power if President Donald Trump loses to Biden.
  • Facebook said last Thursday (Sept 3) that it would roll out a sweeping set of changes to reduce voter misinformation and interference from President Trump and other politicians. Acknowledging its powerful effect on public discourse, Facebook plans to bar any new political ads on its site in the week before Election Day, strengthen measures against posts that try to dissuade people from voting, as well as quash any attempts by candidates to claim false victories post-election. 
  • North Carolina officials issued a notice last Thursday (Sept 3) warning voters that voting twice in the upcoming contest for the White House is illegal, as President Donald Trump urges residents of the state to do so. Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said in the memo to voters that the board also discouraged people from showing up at polling sites on Election Day to check whether their absentee ballot had been counted.
  • The Lincoln Project, a group led by anti-Trump Republicans, would be launching a new initiative on Friday (Sept 4), the Lincoln Project Digital Coalition. The plan is to have thousands of Lincoln Project Facebook members reach out to Republican voters who have previously backed Trump to try to persuade them to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden. So far, the political action committee (PAC) has spent at least US$13 million (S$17.7 million) attacking Trump.
  • A new report from the Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence says Canada is only on track to reduce methane emissions by 29 per cent by 2025, not 40 to 45 per cent as set out in a 2016 target. Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is open to imposing tougher regulations to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector if that is what it takes to achieve the goal. 
  • The Trump administration and the United States Congress have agreed to pass a bill to avoid a near-term government shutdown without tying funding to separate measures such as a coronavirus relief, Vice President Mike Pence said last Friday (Sept 4). “The agreement reached this week by the Treasury secretary and our negotiation team to have a continuing resolution to continue to fund the government when the fiscal year runs out at the end of this month means that now we can focus just on another (coronavirus) relief bill,” Mr Pence told CNBC. Congress faces a Sept 30 deadline to fund the government or face a shutdown of many of its operations.
  • After an outcry from US lawmakers, President Donald Trump said last Friday (Sept 4)  his administration would not be shutting down the Stars and Stripes military newspaper as announced by the Pentagon earlier this year. It had been expected to stop publishing at the end of September after the Pentagon announced in February that it would be cutting its funding. 
  • Police in Portland, Oregon made multiple arrests overnight on Friday (Sept 4) as the city nears 100 days of sometimes violent demonstrations against racism and police brutality. Police arrested 27 people, mostly on charges of interfering with law enforcement or disorderly conduct after not complying with orders to clear the area where they assembled and throwing items at officers. Portland has become the epicentre of demonstrations, with protests taking place nightly over the last three months calling for policing and social justice reforms. 
  • Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Saturday (Sept 5) adds former Democratic primary rival, Pete Buttigieg, along with senior officials who served under former President Barack Obama, to an expanded White House transition team. “We are preparing for this transition amid the backdrop of a global health crisis and a struggling economy,” said Ted Kaufman, Biden’s longtime ally and leader of the team. “This is a transition like no other, and the team being assembled will help Joe Biden meet the urgent challenges facing our country on day one.”

Latin America 

  • Following massive cash handouts due to the coronavirus, Brazil’s poverty and wealth inequality levels are nearing a historic low. However, Brazil’s Central Bank President Roberto Campos Neto has stated that while the subsidies have been effective, they must soon be halted rather than turned into a new policy. Neto also noted that while its citizens have enjoyed the subsidies, investors have begun massive selloffs of Brazilian assets and Brazil is headed to its largest primary deficit ever. In addition, Brazil has officially entered a recession.
  • Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has consistently downplayed the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, reiterated last Thursday (Sept 3) that Covid-19 vaccinations will not be obligatory when they become available.
  • Brazil’s Senate passed a bill last Wednesday (Sept 2) that tightens the safety rules and inspection for dams in the mining industry, setting fines of up to R$1 billion (S$253 million) for failure to comply. The legislation reinforces the prohibition of the use of upstream dams for tailings ponds, like one that burst in January 2019 killing 270 people at the Brumadinho mine owned by the world’s largest iron ore miner Vale SA in the state of Minas Gerais.
  • A Brazilian court annulled one of nine criminal cases opened for alleged corruption against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva because there was “insufficient evidence” to continue the process. The decision issued last Tuesday (Sept 1) referred to accusations of alleged corruption, influence peddling, money laundering and illicit associations. Da Silva was accused of engineering a bribery scheme with Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, in relation to contracts in Angola. Odebrecht is being investigated for bribing presidents, former presidents and other government officials from 12 countries to obtain construction contracts.
  • Talks between a Venezuelan opposition faction and the government of President Nicolas Maduro are deadlocked over whether to delay upcoming congressional elections, according to five people with knowledge of the matter. Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and his allies are calling for the delay to allow monitors from the European Union to attend.
  • Nicolas Maduro has pardoned more than 100 lawmakers and associates of opposition leader Juan Guaido, in an attempt to promote national reconciliation. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticised the move as an attempt to make the elections only seem free and fair, without actually being so. Pompeo’s comments drew rebukes from Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza. Arreaza tweeted that Pompeo had no right to criticise Venezuela when US President Trump had called for his supporters to engage in mail vote fraud just days before.
  • The Chilean Parliament abolished a 19th-century law that requires divorced women to wait nine months before remarrying.
  • In its quarterly report, the Chilean Central Bank has softened its 2020 recession projection. The report notes signs of recovery, as well as a more optimistic outlook on the price of copper, the export of which contributes a significant amount to the Chilean economy.
  • Argentina has successfully restructured almost all of its US$65 billion (S$88.7 billion) debt with private creditors in a major milestone that will enable the country to put an end to its ninth sovereign debt default. Martin Guzmán, Argentina’s economy minister, announced last Monday (Aug 31) that 99 per cent of creditors had accepted his government’s offer, which extended maturities on the debt and lowered interest rate payments from an average of 7 per cent to about 3 per cent.

Asia-Pacific

  • In an attempt to curb the number of imported cases, Malaysia has banned entry for long-term pass holders from India, Indonesia and the Philippines. In addition, Malaysia has also extended its Recovery Movement Control Order until the end of the year.
  • Democratic Action Party Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng was temporarily barred from entering Sabah last Tuesday (Sept 1). After arriving in Kota Kinabalu International Airport, immigration officials informed him that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had ordered the ban. Lim, who is part of the opposition, has questioned if the MACC has such powers and if there is a double standard, as former Prime Minister Najib Razak and UMNO chief Zahid Hamidi were able to enter Sabah without incident. Razak has recently been convicted of corruption charges, while Hamidi is on trial for similar charges.
  • Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has stated that there is no place for religious fanaticism in Malaysia, as the ideology will be disruptive to unity. His comments came after Member of Parliament Nik Muhammad Zawawi said that the Bible was distorted or changed during a debate on the Road Transport (Amendment) Bill 2020. Zawawi claims that the Bible promotes drunkenness and has been altered to allow Christians to consume alcohol.
  • Ethnic Mongolians protested a new education policy in Inner Mongolia last Tuesday (Sept 1). Protesters stopped their children from going to school as a statement against the Chinese government after it implemented a policy that would gradually make Mandarin Chinese the language of instruction for history, politics, as well as language and literature. The ethnic Mongolian protesters viewed the move as a stepping stone to the erosion of their cultural identity. Protests against the policy also broke out in neighbouring Mongolia. 
  • Last Monday (Aug 31), India accused China of provocative military actions along its border and of violating previous agreements. China responded that it has respected the Line of Actual Control, which serves as the de facto border between the two countries, and that skirmishes had occurred after Indian troops crossed the border, which then provoked a Chinese response.
  • Chinese investors have begun showing interest in purchasing property in Hong Kong after property prices dropped 30 per cent. The pickup in demand coincides with the imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and is in stark contrast to the actions of foreign investors, who are still fleeing or staying away.
  • China’s five largest banks reported their biggest profit declines in at least a decade as they brace for further increases in bad loans in an economy weakened by the coronavirus pandemic. The five lenders — Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China and Bank of Communications — released their latest financial report cards last week. All five posted at least 10 per cent year-on-year declines in profit for the first half of 2020 as they set aside more funds for potential loan losses in the coming months, much like many banks around the world.
  • David Stilwel, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific for the US, claimed that China’s manipulation of the Mekong River’s water flow posed an immediate challenge for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Mekong River flows through the territory of five ASEAN states and has been a consistent point of conflict between the upstream riparian states of China and Myanmar, against Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, which rely on the river but are downstream.
  • Singapore Exchange Ltd. is creating two new cryptocurrency indexes with the goal of setting the pricing standard for Bitcoin and Ethereum in Asia. SGX’s iEdge Bitcoin Index and iEdge Ethereum Index will use inputs from exchanges determined by CryptoCompare, according to the methodology. The aim is for the gauges to become reference points for trading in those cryptocurrencies during Asian hours, according to SGX’s Head of Index Services Simon Karaban.

Europe

  • European Union Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has accused Britain of bad faith in Brexit negotiations and slammed their position. Barnier called the British position “benefits without obligations” and alleged that the British were unwilling to reach agreement on a host of issues.
  • The European Union has accused Russia of poisoning Alexei Navalny, a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Novichok, a Soviet-era chemical nerve agent. The EU warned that they might impose sanctions on Russia and demanded that Russia cooperate with the investigation into Navalny’s poisoning.
  • Part of the Croatian parliamentary opposition strongly criticised an ‘aliens bill’ that would eliminate quotas on foreigners entering the country on work permits. This follows trends of increasing migration into Croatia and an exodus of the native Croat workforce. 
  • Croatian National Bank Governor Boris Vujcic announced last Thursday (Sept 3) that Croatia would adopt the euro on Jan 1, 2023. The governor noted that the Croatian National Bank is working closely with the government on a plan which will regulate the process of the euro adoption. It would deal with different issues such as the conversion of deposits and loans, adjustment of interest rates and recalculation of prices. The plan, he said, should be presented soon and implemented in the autumn.
  • The Bosnian State Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Mirko Vrucinic, who was on trial for committing crimes against humanity in 1992 in Sanski Most, and has requested that Interpol issue a red notice for the former police chief.

Middle East

  • Hamas, the Palestinian group running the besieged Gaza Strip, announced last Monday (Aug 31) that it has reached a Qatari-mediated deal to end the latest escalation of violence with Israel. The Israeli army has carried out attacks on Gaza almost daily since Aug 6. What Hamas says about the agreement is that it will stop incendiary balloon launches and its night-time confusion operations, while it says that Israel is undertaking to go back to the pre-escalation situation, that is, easing the blockade and resuming fuel supplies to Gaza’s only power station.
  • Turkish authorities announced last Tuesday (Sept 1) that the Turkish police have arrested Mahmut Ozden, a top Islamic State figure in Turkey. They suspect the militant group planned to carry out attacks and kidnappings in the country. Suleyman Soylu, Turkey’s interior minister, said the operation to capture the suspect was launched after security forces recently detected an increase in activity by the jihadist militants, based in neighbouring Syria and Iraq. Intelligence and counter-terror police caught the suspect in an operation in the southern city of Adana following the arrest of another Islamic State suspect in Istanbul last week believed to have been carrying out reconnaissance for a potential attack, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency. 
  • French President Emmanuel Macron offers to help provide Lebanon with vital aid aimed at rebuilding Beirut after the devastating explosion last month and halting the country’s economic crisis. However, this aid is conditional on whether the country’s fractious leaders could unite around change. Macron said Lebanese leaders had pledged to form a government within 15 days, which must then implement a set of reforms within one to three months. 
  • Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani told the United States President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner last Wednesday (Sept 2) that Doha supports a two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, to end the conflict with Israel. Following a US-brokered accord last month for the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalise ties, Sheikh Tamim told Kushner that Qatar remained committed to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which Arab nations offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel privately condoned a plan for the Trump administration to sell advanced weapons to the United Arab Emirates, despite publicly saying later that he opposed the arms deal, according to officials familiar with the negotiations. Netanyahu chose not to try to block the deal as he took part in a broader effort in recent months to secure a diplomatic breakthrough normalising relations between Israel and the Emirates. 
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned Greece last Saturday (Sept 5) to enter talks over disputed Mediterranean Sea claims or face the consequences. The two NATO allies have been locked in a tense standoff for weeks in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is prospecting the seabed for energy reserves in an area Greece claims as its continental shelf. NATO said last week Greek and Turkish leaders had agreed to take part in technical talks to avoid accidents between their navies, but Greece later said it had not agreed to the talks, leading to accusations from Turkey that it was shunning dialogue.
  • Thousands of Israeli protested outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday (Sept 5) night and into early Sunday (Sept 6), pressing ahead with a monthslong campaign demanding that the Israeli leader resign. The protests, now in their 11th week, came as Israel is coping with record levels of coronavirus infections. Demonstrators have been protesting Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus crisis which has led to soaring unemployment, and they say he should step down while on trial for corruption charges.

Africa

  • The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) announced last Monday (Aug 31) they had arrested Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the 1994 genocide and became a fierce critic of President Paul Kagame, who has been in power since 1994 when his forces overthrew the genocidal regime. Rusesabagina has been accused of financing and creating terror groups operating in East Africa and overseas, which his daughter has denied as false allegations. Rusesabagina, who sought asylum with his wife and children in Belgium, had been detained “through international cooperation”, according to the RIB, refusing to detail how the arrest occurred or the extent of the involvement of international authorities. 
  • Zimbabwe has offered to return the land to foreign white farmers whose farms were seized under a controversial government programme launched by former President Robert Mugabe between 2000 and 2001. The seizures were meant to redress colonial-era land grabs but contributed to the country’s economic decline and ruined relations with the West. A separate compensation scheme has been launched for local white farmers. The United States has said compensating farmers is one of the requirements for it to lift decades of economic sanctions. 
  • Zimbabwean opposition politician, Jacob Ngarivhume, was granted bail by the High Court last Wednesday (Aug 2) after calling for anti-government protests in July over corruption and the worst economic crisis in more than a decade. The leader of a small opposition party, Transform Zimbabwe, was arrested along with prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on charges of inciting citizens to “participate in public violence”. Chin’ono, who was previously denied bail three times following his arrest in July, has also been granted bail. These came amid growing reports of alleged human rights violations in Zimbabwe that prompted the campaign #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, which garnered international attention.
  • The United States has suspended a portion of its financial aid to Ethiopia due to the latter’s failure to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan about a massive dam it is constructing on the Blue Nile River. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has begun filling-in July, as Ethiopia considers the hydropower dam essential for its electrification and development. However, downstream Egypt and Sudan view it as a serious threat to vital water supplies. According to a US Department of State spokesperson, the decision of the US to “temporarily pause” some aid to a key regional security ally reflects “concerns about Ethiopia’s unilateral decision to begin to fill the dam before an agreement and all necessary dam safety measures were in place”. 
  • Sudan’s transitional government has agreed to separate religion from the state, ending 30 years of Islamic rule in the country. Leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North rebel group Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu and Sudanese Prime minister Abdalla Hamdok signed the declaration in Addis Ababa on Thursday (Sept 3). This comes less than a week after the government signed a peace deal with rebel forces, raising hopes of an end to the violence that had crippled the Darfur region and other parts of Sudan under ousted president Omar al-Bashir.
  • Two French soldiers with the anti-jihadist Barkhane force in Mali were killed on Saturday (Sept 5) when their armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, the French presidency said. A third soldier was wounded in the explosion in the Tessalit province of the north-eastern region of Kidal. French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to the two dead soldiers while repeating his call for a swift transition to civilian rule by the military junta that seized power last month.
  • South Africans across the country participated in a mass demonstration organised by Move One Million on Saturday (Sept 5) to raise awareness about fraud, corruption, gender-based violence and racism. “Since March 2020, our leaders have been patronising us, instead of protecting us. What began as a reasonable approach to keeping South Africa safe under lockdown has turned into a looting frenzy, in which billions of rands have gone missing,” said Move One Million founder Jarette Petzer in a statement.
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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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