- Republican Senator Lindsey Graham changed track and announced that he will back President Trump in appointing a new Supreme Court Justice. This and Senator Mitt Romney’s approval of a quick appointment are the latest signs that Republicans have rallied behind President Trump, following the death of Justice Ginsburg two weeks ago. The US Supreme Court currently comprises a majority of Republican-appointed justices, and if Trump is successful, the Court will have six Republican-appointed justices and only three Democrat-appointed justices.
- Democrats have accused the Republicans of hypocrisy in appointing judges, pointing to the Republican Party’s refusal to consider Judge Merrick B. Garland as Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement in 2016 because it was an election year. Republicans, however, countered that in 2016, the US Senate and Congress were held by opposite parties, and Republican stances on the timing of judicial appointments to the Supreme Court are not unequivocal.
- President Trump has introduced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, presenting her as a champion of conservative judicial principles. Trump argued that she would make decisions based on the text of the constitution as it was written, just as her mentor Justice Antonin Scalia had done before his death in 2016.
- President Trump has again questioned the integrity of the upcoming presidential election, this time in Pennsylvania. He suggested that the only way Democrats can win is to “cheat on the ballots”, and raising the prospects that a disputed election could be decided by the US Congress.
- Planned rallies and counter-rallies led Oregon’s governor Kate Brown to declare a state of emergency and deploy law enforcement officers in Portland. A rally organised by right-wing group Proud Boys led to a counter-rally by Black Lives Matter and another rally by Antifa, with police separating the groups and making several arrests.
- China embassies in Suriname and Guyana accused US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of spreading rumours that China’s investments in Latin America have hidden political costs during a joint appearance with the newly-elected Surinamese President Chan Santokhi. China has been accused of taking advantage of these oil- and resource-rich countries by using their investments to secure resource trade deals.
- France has threatened to derail the free trade agreement between the EU and South America due to the severe deforestation in the region. They want the countries in the Mercosur free trade bloc, comprising Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, to respect the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change. As the draft agreement had no clause for disciplinary action against excessive deforestation, France opposes the draft agreement.
- China has been accused of irresponsible fishing practices in the Pacific. Peru and Ecuador expressed their concerns on food security and the sovereignty of coastal countries due to more than 300 Chinese fishing ships overfishing in the international waters bordering Peru. These actions are feared to threaten the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO heritage site and home to many unique species.
- Rio de Janeiro’s world famous Carnival parade has been postponed due to the ongoing pandemic. Originally set for February 2021, Jorge Castanheira, president of the Independent League of Rio de Janeiro Samba Schools (LIESA), expressed that the samba schools would not have sufficient time, funds and organisation to be ready for a parade in February. LIESA is the group that organises the annual prades.
- The poor maintenance of the Venezuelan oil facilities has led to an oil spill, which raises environmental concerns. The government is hurriedly trying to repair and restart its fuel-processing capacity. The ruptured pipelines, rusting tankers and rickety refineries resulting in the ecological disaster are due to the years of mismanagement, corruption, falling prices and a US embargo imposed in 2019.
- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued an apology to South Korea’s presidential Blue House over the killing of a South Korean official. The apology was sent by the Unification Division and Comrade Chairman Kim Jong Un alongside wishes to keep mutual trust and respect between the two countries. The rare apology followed the South’s reports that the North had shot and burned the body of the official, fuelling anti-North sentiments.
- Despite protests from opposition parties and allies of the governing party, India passed farm bills said to make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to institutional buyers and large retailers. The new laws will reform antiquated legislation and remove middlemen from the agriculture trade. The bills are opposed due to the notion of making agriculture “pro-corporate” and making farmers “slaves” to the capitalists.
- A plaque installed by protesters in Bangkok near the Grand Palace has been removed overnight. After a rally where the people called for reforms to the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the plaque, which declared that Thailand belongs to the people and not the king, was cemented. The protesters who installed it may face charges. The plaque is currently with the authorities and the government’s fine arts department.
- Indonesian President Joko Widodo, former vice president, religious groups and experts have urged authorities to delay regional elections. The polls, set to be held on Dec 9, are seen to be of high-risk due to the Covid-19 contagion threat.
- Academics suggested that the newly-appointed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga should continue maintaining the region’s economic and maritime cooperation, instead of focusing on security. Despite the rapid development of missile technology by China and Russia, Suga is advised not to seek a strike capability nor create a NATO-like military alliance in the Indo-Pacific.
- Taiwan said that it has the right to self-defence and counter attack amid harassment and threats by China. Tensions have spiked due to China conducting large-scale drills near Taiwan and Chinese jets crossing the midline of the Taiwan Strait into the island’s air defence identification zone in the past month. Taiwan has increased budgets for the maintenance of aircrafts and its Air Force is on constant alert to intercept any Chinese jets.
- Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is struggling to protect his majority in the federal parliament as opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim launched a bid to topple him as prime minister using the second largest state, Sabah.
- Rights campaigners in China have accused President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party for using corruption cases against Ren Zhiqiang as a way to silence dissent. The Chinese real estate tycoon and outspoken critic of President Xi disappeared in March this year after writing an essay criticising Xi’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Ren has been sentenced to 18 years in jail for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds.
- The People’s Liberation Army Air Force in China released a video of nuclear-capable H-6 bombers carrying out a simulated attack on what appears to be the Anderson Air Force base on the US Pacific Island of Guam.
- China retorted that the extensiveness of Covid-19 does not rest solely on its shoulders at a United Nations Security Council meeting last Thursday (Sept 24), after the US President Donald Trump used his annual address to the UN General Assembly to attack China for the coronavirus spread. China said it has taken enough blame and that American politicians themselves should be held accountable for causing a higher number of infected cases than that of China.
- Hong Kong residents went on a spending spree after the easing of anti-pandemic measures. The measures aimed to help the retail and food and beverage sectors which have been hit the worst due to the pandemic.
- United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions to be implemented in order to combat the coronavirus pandemic, marking a policy reversal of the UK government. The new restrictions include mandatory closing times for pubs and restaurants, as well as fines on people not wearing masks.
- Mass protests continued in Belarus last week, as the conflict over the presidency continued. The latest round of protests was triggered by Lukashenko’s secret inauguration as prime minister, despite many disputes over the legitimacy of his victory in the Aug 9 election this year.
- Cyprus blocked an EU plan to impose sanctions on Belarus, arguing that if the EU sanctions Belarus, they must also sanction Turkey for drilling activities off the Cypriot coast. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius called the veto “lamentable”, and argued that the drilling activities were not linked to the Belarusian presidency. Lithuania and the other Baltic States have already imposed their own sanctions on Belarus.
- Two aid organisations, Oxfam and WeMove Europe, asked the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Greece for violations of Europe’s asylum law. The groups cited a recently-passed Greek law that allowed Greek authorities to reject applications if asylum-seekers did not show up for an interview or pick up their registration. Senior Greek officials instead claimed that the new laws are within the bounds of the EU Asylum Directive, as asylum-seekers can still submit new applications even if rejected.
- Fitch Ratings has confirmed Serbia’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating at ‘BB+’ with a stable outlook. The credit rating agency cited Serbia’s low inflation, macroeconomic stability and a muted impact from the coronavirus pandemic.
- Aleksa Becic, leader of the Democratic Montenegro Party, has been elected as the new Speaker of Parliament in Montenegro. His election was supported by Members of Parliament from the Bosniak and Albanian communities. This comes amid concerns of minority representation and following a watershed election in August. If negotiations for a grand coalition are successful between the opposition coalitions, of which Becic’s Democratic Montenegro Party is a part, it could see the Democratic Party of Socialists become part of the opposition for the first time in 30 years.
- An international tribunal investigating war crimes committed during Kosovo’s 1998-99 independence war has arrested its first suspect, a former commander of separatist fighters. The Kosovo Specialist Chambers, based in The Hague, said the former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Salih Mustafa was arrested based on a “warrant, transfer order and confirmed indictment issued by a pre-trial judge”. The court’s statement did not identify the charges on which he was indicted.
- Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud attacked Iran at its first appearance at the annual United Nations meeting of world leaders. The king said that the collective efforts of the international community are required to prevent Riyadh’s rival from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
- Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah reaffirmed Kuwait’s support for the Palestinian people to obtain their legitimate rights at the UN General Assembly. He called for the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. He urged all parties in the Libyan conflict to exercise restraint and allow peaceful solutions based on dialogue.
- A.S. Watson partnered with the Al-Futtaim group to venture into Dubai. They plan to establish 100 Watsons stores by 2025, starting with the first in Dubai before venturing into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2021.
- Egypt signed the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) Charter, which “makes the most of the excellent relations and cooperation between East Mediterranean countries”. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke with United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed about regional developments and how they can work towards building stability in the region.
- Egyptians protested in Giza Governorate and in Beni Suef against the increased costs of living in recent months. On Sept 23, a video depicting armed security forces shooting at protesting civilians was sent to Egyptian human rights activist Hisham Mahmoud. The protests were started by former army contractor Mohamed Ali on Sept 20. Authorities have increased security presence in Cairo, imposed curfews and detained more than 200 people across Egypt on charges for joining a terrorist group.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to impose emergency regulations to prevent anti-Netanyahu protests. The ruling party criticised the opposition for not approving the changes to the coronavirus law, which would have restricted demonstrations. They accused the opposition for allowing their obsession with demonstration blind them from the current priority: public health.
- Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Lecsin has instructed Philippine ambassadors in the Middle East to let the law of the host countries take its course when dealing with the convicted Filipino drug dealers. Manila will not seek pardon for them.
- South African Prime Minister Cyril Ramaphosa has called for greater representation at the United Nations Security Council. Speaking as chairperson of the African Union, Ramaphosa stated that African countries are continuing to silence the guns through conflict resolution and peace-building, referring to the conflicts ongoing in Africa. Ramaphosa also called for an end to the occupation of Palestine and Western Sahara, and the lifting of economic embargo on Cuba.
- Mali’s former defence minister Bah Ndaw was named as the president of the country’s new transition government last Monday (Sept 21), with Colonel Assimi Goita, Mali’s military government chief as vice president. Goita has also demanded an end to sanctions imposed on Mali after last month’s coup, and urged support for French and UN troops in the country. Ndaw’s appointment appears to be an attempt to comply with the demands of the Economic Community of West African States, who imposed the sanctions.
- Felix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, held a rare meeting with his predecessor Joseph Kabila last week to discuss the future of their coalition. Tshisekedi’s parliamentary majority depends on Kabila’s support, but tensions have been rising due to accusations of abuse of power on both sides.
- Leading Ethiopian opposition figure Jawar Mohammed told a court that he is “proud” to have been charged with terrorism. While pleading not guilty to the charge, Mohammed instead accused the government of targeting opposition figures like him.
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Jan 17: The US Coast Guard pulled 176 Haitians from an overloaded, unseaworthy boat approaching Florida’s coast last Monday (Jan 10). A former Syrian colonel was sentenced to life in prison by a German court last Thursday (Jan 14) for atrocities committed in Syria under the Assad regime. Uganda reopened its schools last Monday (Jan 10) after 83-week closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dec 20: The French flag in Mali’s military base was lowered last Tuesday (Dec 14) after their forces left the city of Timbuktu after nine years, Two police officers and a suspected attacker were killed in bomb blasts at Colombia’s airport, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party suffered a massive loss during the recent by-election last Friday (Dec 17).