US and Taliban negotiators wrapped up their eight round of peace talks with some progress | Photo Credit: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera

Sept 14: Convicts in Florida must repay debt to vote, China highlights its ‘dual circulation’ strategy, Afghanistan and the Taliban start first-ever peace talks

North America

  • President Donald Trump headed to Nevada, a key state for the United States presidential elections, last Saturday (Sept 13), to erode the support for Joe Biden. Nevada has not supported a Republican for president since 2004 but opinion polls indicate that Trump is gaining support there, mostly from Latinos and white non-college voters.
  • The US Federal Court ruled that citizens of Florida with felony convictions have to repay all outstanding debts before they can be eligible to vote at the polls. This legislation, however, does not mandate convicts to announce how much they owe. The ruling is said to have huge consequences on hundreds of thousands of voters in the state’s performance during the upcoming presidential elections.
  • WE Charity announced on Friday (Sept 10) that it was shutting its operations in Canada. This came two months after Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, was called for a criminal investigation after reports surfaced that his family members were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for appearances by WE charity to whom they awarded a substantial contract. The charity was initially founded to provide direct charitable donations to children in developing countries. Now, it runs operations all around the world and has extensive ties to powerful figures in the government. 
  • California Governor Gavin Newsom said that climate change is the cause of the wildfires in the Western US, where wildfires had been raging in the states of California, Oregon and Washington for three weeks. In Oregon, dozens remain missing and homes have been completely wiped out. Experts say the reason behind the spread of these massive and more explosive fires is the underlying heating of the climate from human activities. In California, the fire killed at least 86 and the death toll continues to rise. 

Latin America 

  • An incident where two militants who were shot dead in a raid by Paraguayan security forces on Sept 2 was later revealed to be two young Argentinian girls. The United Nations has called for an inquiry last Sunday (Sept 6) and urged the Paraguayan government to investigate “impartially and without delay”. Relatives accused the Paraguayan military of hurriedly burying the bodies to cover up what had happened. Argentina has also demanded an explanation behind the killing of the two girls. 
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has prevented law enforcement officers from going out into the Amazon Rainforest to monitor missions, opening the door for more land invasions and forest clearance. The Brazilian government brought in some early measures to curb the number of fires by imposing a 120-day ban on fires and deployed the army to badly-hit areas. However, President Bolsonaro continued to declare the fires a hoax. According to Brazil’s space agency, National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the number of fires in the Amazon jumped 28 per cent in July from a year ago. Large fires have begun spreading into untouched areas. 
  • Latin America is emerging as a green powerhouse, with some of the strongest renewable capacity growth expected globally in the coming years. Renewable energy auctions have recently become a popular policy tool in Latin America as governments are able to issue a call for tenders to install a certain capacity of renewable energy-based electricity. Rystad Energy expects the region’s 49 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity to skyrocket to 123 GW by 2025, with the biggest increases coming from Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Argentina. This boom in renewable energy could potentially power up to an estimate of 86.1 million homes per year. 
  • Police in Peru raided the homes of key government officials in Lima last Saturday (Sept 12) as part of an investigation into allegations that President Martín Vizcarra obstructed a graft probe that will see him face impeachment proceedings this week. Meanwhile, President Vizcarra’s cabinet accused the head of Congress, Manuel Merino, of trying to involve the country’s military to oust him. The Peruvian Congress voted last Friday (Sept 11) to open impeachment proceedings against President Vizcarra for “moral incapacity” over accusations he incited aides to lie to investigators.

Asia-Pacific

  • China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has urged Chinese citizens to spend more and manufacturers to be more innovative. Mr Xi has made recent trips to a corn farm, a steel plant and a tech innovation centre to highlight a new economic strategy, also known as the ‘dual circulation’ strategy. According to official media comments, the pressing issue at hand is for China to be ready for sustained acrimony with the United States (US), undermining the country’s access to the American market.
  • President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines pardoned US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton last Monday (Sept 7), who was convicted of killing a transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, in 2014. The decision to release the Marine angered both nationalist groups that oppose the country’s military agreements with the United States (US) and advocates for gay and transgender rights. They considered President Duterte’s decision too lenient towards hate crime. According to the Philippines’ Immigration Bureau, Pemberton has been officially blacklisted and deported on Sunday (Sept 13). 
  • Tensions along the India-China border took an alarming turn last Tuesday (Sept 8) after Chinese and Indian officials accused each other of firing warning shots. It was the first time in decades that guns had been used aggressively along the disputed frontier. While it remains unclear who initiated the firings, the dispute on the Himalayan border steadily deteriorates. The foreign ministries of China and India agreed in a joint statement last Friday (Sept 11) that their troops must quickly disengage from a months-long standoff along the disputed Himalayan border. However, while both foreign ministries agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side, reports of skirmishes are set to continue with heavy military deployment. 
  • Two Burmese soldiers publicly confessed to rape, executions and mass burials during the genocidal campaign against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority. These men could be the first perpetrators and insider witnesses from Myanmar to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The soldiers’ detailed testimony confirmed the acts of violence against the Rohingya that could amount to genocide. This is a monumental revelation for the Rohingya and the people of Myanmar in their ongoing struggle for justice. 
  • The escalating tensions between China and the United States (US) had Asia-Pacific foreign ministers voice their fears about the security environment in the region during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual meeting. The virtual meeting was hosted in Hanoi, Vietnam last Saturday (Sept 5) via a video-link. Issues discussed ranged from the South China Sea dispute to the North Korean nuclear issue. Matters such as China’s military activities in the nearby waters and human rights were also brought up after the US urged diplomats from Southeast Asia to cut ties with Chinese companies who are helping to build islands in the South China Sea.

Europe

  • The UK announced its Internal Market Bill that would allow the UK government to provide financial assistance to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with new powers to spend taxpayers’ money previously administered by the EU. Lawyers have raised concerns over how the bill explicitly violates the UK’s international treaty obligations. Prime Minister Boris Johnson now faces protests on this controversial legislation on top of current disapproval on how he handled the pandemic. This bill, however, would have to pass the House of Lords, where the Conservative Party does not have a majority, for it to come into effect.
  • For the first time since leaving the European Union, Britain signed a free trade deal with the world’s third-biggest economy, Japan. This deal is estimated to boost the UK economy by 0.1 per cent of its current gross domestic product. Although the gains seem small, the deal mattered more for its symbolism of securing an independent trade policy than its direct economic effects. Independent trade policies with countries may serve Britain well as it allows the country to focus on its strong sectors, such as financial services. Businesses are happy about the deal but would prefer if a deal was secured with Brussels. 
  • Russian voters headed to the polls to elect their regional governors and local assemblies across three days between Sept 11 and 13. Local elections were brought forward due to the coronavirus outbreak. The elections were also held just weeks after the country’s opposition leader, Alexei Navalny was poisoned. According to the polls, President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings remained high but saw the ratings of United Russia, the country’s ruling political party, drop due to a stagnant Russian economy and corruption. Mr Navalny’s team urged Russians to vote strategically to defeat United Russia. 
  • A devastating fire destroyed the largest refugee camp for migrants in Greece, Moria, on the island on Lesbos, forcing about 13,000 people to evacuate without shelter in sight. The Greek government scrambled to provide relief efforts but was met with severe opposition from local officials to remove the Moria facility altogether. Moria was first designed to hold no more than 3,000 asylum seekers but the centre was soon overcrowded up to 10 times its capacity. 
  • Peaceful female protestors in central Minsk, Belarus, were detained by riot police before being thrown into vans last Saturday (Sept 12). This protest was in objection to the abduction of the Belarusian opposition leader, Maria Kolesnikova. Ukraine had tried to expel Kolesnikova but she tore her passport in resistance and ended up in jail this week. Demonstrations had been unprecedented ever since Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus, claimed to have won the re-election on Aug 9 with over 80 per cent of the votes.  

Middle East 

  • Navid Afkari, 27, an Iranian wrestler was executed over the murder of a security guard during a wave of anti-government protests in 2018. Despite pleas from wrestlers worldwide and politicians including US President Donald Trump, the Iranian authorities prevented Afkari from seeing his family for the last time before being executed by hanging. In a leaked audio recording, it was heard that Afkari had been tortured into making a confession despite repeated claims that he was innocent. 
  • After pressure from the US, Bahrain agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Israel and will join the United Arab Emirates in signing an agreement at the White House on Tuesday (Sept 15). The agreement, also known as a “peace deal”, is part of Trump’s Middle East Plan he presented in January, aimed at resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
  • Another huge fire was reported to have broken out at Beirut’s port when a cloud of black smoke was seen billowing from the port last Thursday (Sept 10), inciting a familiar panic in people again. This came just one month after the devastating Beirut explosion that killed more than 190 people, injured about 6,500 and damaged thousands of buildings in the capital. It was also the second mysterious blast that exploded this week, inciting accusations of politicians trying to deliberately destroy circumstantial evidence at the port. The latest fire was reportedly caused by burning tyres and oil although it remains a speculation. 
  • A Saudi court overturned five death sentences over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who was often critical of the Saudi government. He was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The court’s final ruling only jailed eight defendants for between seven and 20 years. However, none of the defendants were named and the ruling garnered criticism from Khashoggi’s fiancée and the international community.  
  • Mohammed Al-Hadrami, Yemen’s Foreign Minister, said the Iranian regime and the Iran-backed Houthi militias posed a grave threat to the stability and security in the Arab world. The Yemeni government accused Iran of undermining security in Yemen as Iran continues to supply arms and funds to its allied militias. The country has also asked the international community to impose harsher sanctions on the Iranian regime to curb its military support to militias in the region, including the Houthis. 
  • The Afghan government called for a humanitarian ceasefire with the Taliban, as the first-ever direct peace talks between the two sides took place in Qatar. Afghanistan has seen four decades of conflict, leaving tens of thousands of civilians killed. The historic talks began on Saturday (Sept 10), a day after the 19th anniversary of the deadly 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks in New York, which sparked the US military operations in Afghanistan. Stakeholders acknowledged that the peace talk would be a challenging task for both parties. 

Africa 

  • Heavy downpour across the Sahel regions of West and Central Africa in the past weeks, causing devastating floods that displaced people and destroyed vital farmlands in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The record rainfall stretched the resources of governments and aid workers who are already struggling with the Covid-19 outbreak, regional conflicts and other health-related emergencies. Aid agencies such as the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) distributed hundreds of tonnes of food and relief materials, but demands in the region remain high. 
  • South Africa is facing a precipitous economic and political collapse by 2030 unless it changes its economic model and implements growth-friendly policies, according to a report. The report was filed by Eunomix Business & Economics, a Johannesburg-based political and economic risk consultancy, which blamed a structure created during the White-minority apartheid era that was designed to exclude the Black majority, creating one of the world’s most unequal societies.
  • George Bizo, a South African human rights lawyer who famously defended Nelson Mandela, died aged 92 last Thursday (Sept 10). He represented Mandela at the 1963 Rivonia Trial when Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of seeking to overthrow the apartheid government. Mr Bizos also defended numerous political activists, including apartheid icon, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and the families of the Black Consciousness Movement. Mr Bizos was best known for his political activism during the apartheid years and became one of the architects of South Africa’s new constitution. 
  • Lawmakers in Nigeria’s Kaduna State approved surgical castration as punishment for those convicted of raping children under the age of 14. The move follows a public outrage over a series of rapes that prompted the nation’s state governors to declare a state of emergency. Surgical castration of convicted rapists was previously mooted in Nigeria, especially when rape cases spiked during the recent Covid-19 lockdown. Many Nigerians have called for tougher laws surrounding rape, such as the death penalty.
  • A gold mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) caved in last Friday (Sept 11) amid torrential rain. Local officials said most of the 50 people presumed dead were young people and called for two days of national mourning. Accidents are common in the DRC’s mining industry, which suffers from poor safety standards. While the DRC enjoys rich reserves of minerals such as cobalt, diamonds, copper and gold, its people remain among the poorest in the world due to years of conflict and mismanagement of safety standards in unregulated artisanal mines. 
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