- US President Donald Trump has denied an explosive exposé over his tax history, which was reported by the New York Times on Sept 27. The report found that Mr Trump did not pay taxes in 11 of the 18 years the Times looked at and was only billed US$750 (S$1,020) after becoming president. The report also revealed heavy losses in his business ventures, massive tax avoidance and possible serious conflicts of interests with foreign powers. Mr Trump has dismissed the report as “fake news”.
- US President Donald Trump announced that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive for the coronavirus last Friday (Oct 2). Mr Trump was tested for the virus after one of his closest aides Hope Hicks exhibited symptoms and later tested positive. The 74-year-old president was admitted into Walter Reed Medical Center after also showing “worrying” symptoms, while Melania remains in quarantine in the White House. Mr Trump’s diagnosis has thrown the Republican presidential campaign into disarray and discussions of succession have surfaced. Several of his inner circle members as well as Republican senators have tested positive after being in close contact with the president.
- The US presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic hopeful Joe Biden last Tuesday (Sept 29) descended into chaos when moderator Chris Wallace failed to reign in the former. Mr Trump constantly interrupted his rival whilst perpetuating falsehoods. Observers said that former Vice President Biden spoke to the American people, while Mr Trump targeted his base supporters. However, both lacked serious discussions on policies.
- A video circulating on social media showing hospital staff in Canada taunting an Indigenous woman has sparked renewed outcries over systemic racism. Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old native Atikamekw, had checked herself into the hospital for stomach pains and informed the staff that she had suffered similar issues previously and had a heart condition. The nurses had called her “stupid” amongst other insults. Assembly of First Nations chief, Perry Bellegarde, have called for discrimination against First Nations people to stop.
- JP Morgan Chase agreed to pay more than US$920 million (S$1.25 billion) and admit wrongdoing to end federal investigations into its manipulation of trading metals futures and Treasury securities last Tuesday (Sept 29). The bank was being charged for manipulative practices to create false illusions of demand, also known as “spoofing”. JP Morgan has said that those involved in the crime were no longer with the firm.
- The Brazilian government of President Jair Bolsonaro has revoked regulations that protect tropical mangroves and other fragile coastal ecosystems. President Bolsonaro’s policies and rhetoric on the environment have caused widespread alarm, and the far-right leader has been accused of encouraging illegal activity. Since President Bolsonaro took over in January 2019, Brazil has been hit by environmental crises including an escalation of deforestation and wildfires.
- The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently declared that a La Nina climate pattern has developed and is likely to persist through February 2021. La Nina tends to result in dry weather for Argentina and Southern Brazil, which could negate the forecasted production gains.
- The United Nations (UN) reports a surge in mass killings in various regions of Colombia in recent months. Colombia has recorded at least 42 massacres since the start of the year, the highest number since the peace agreement with former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters in 2016. The UN has also noted an increase in violence this year against human rights activists and civil society leaders, with 48 killings, including nine people from ethnic minorities and five women.
- Last Friday (Oct 2), Mexico ordered the military to deploy along its southern border to block a migrant caravan that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador suggested was linked to the United States (US) election. The caravan held mainly Honduran young men, along with several young families who were seeking to pass through Guatemala and Mexico to reach the US borders. The individuals were trying to seek for a better life and escape poverty which had been worsened by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Brazilian Amazon is experiencing its worst rash of fires since 2010. The Amazon is currently experiencing a more severe dry season than last year, which could be attributed to warming in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean, pulling moisture away from South America.
- China’s National Day on Oct 1 brought protestors to the streets of Hong Kong. Despite the number of protestors being smaller than in 2019, they were smothered by thousands of police officers. Hong Kong authorities have used social distancing rules, an overwhelming police presence and a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by Beijing at the end of June to silence pro-democracy rallies. While the police have banned protests, citing Covid-19 concerns, activists still look for creative ways to skirt the restrictions.
- New Zealand refuses quarantine-free trips from Australia as the Australian Capital Territory joins Australia’s travel bubble with the country. Last Saturday (Oct 3), New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the country would stand strong on its pledge to not open up until Australia, or specific states and territories, recorded a month without community transmission of Covid-19.
- The Covid-19 pandemic has not only brought the Indonesian economy to its knees but also reversed decades of progress in Southeast Asia’s largest economy. Close to five million Indonesians may fall below the poverty line by the end of 2020. Indonesian President Joko Widodo had said Indonesia’s COVID-19 cases would peak in September and then fall. For many of the poor who have doubts about their future, all they can do is hope.
- A Hong Kong murder suspect, Chan Tong-kai, whose case led the government to attempt to pass an extradition bill last year that sparked massive protests in Hong Kong, is expected to return to Taiwan this month to answer the charges of killing his girlfriend. The Hong Kong government cited Mr Chan’s case in introducing the extradition bill, which was later met with widespread opposition as it would allow for the transfer of suspects from Hong Kong to mainland China as well. The bill was later withdrawn after months of violent protests.
- Last Saturday (Oct 3) marked the 30th anniversary of establishing bilateral relations between Singapore and China. According to Chinese President Xi Jinping, “the cooperation between the two countries goes beyond the bilateral scope and exerts an exemplary effect at the regional and international levels”. Despite all that has been going on, China is willing to work with Singapore to deepen practical cooperation.
- After two and a half weeks into his tenure as Prime Minister, controversy has already threatened to hurt Mr Yoshihide Suga’s sky-high approval ratings. The PM is tasked with appointing scholars to the Japan Science Council, which is set up within the government but makes policy recommendations independent from it. However, Mr Suga’s rejection of six names has sparked unhappiness on the note of curtailing academic freedoms.
- The South Korean government has banned more than 100 demonstrations planned last Saturday’s (Oct 3) National Foundation Day. Measures have been put in place to prevent protestors from entering protest venues. This move drew some scepticism, with opposition politicians calling the lockdown of the square an “excessive response” aimed at silencing voices critical of the Government.
- Five senior police officers have been suspended over the handling of an investigation into the alleged gang rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit woman. This has sparked outrage across the country and triggered days of protests. The policemen have faced criticisms for destroying evidence by cremating the woman’s body in the middle of the night, against the wishes of her family and religious custom.
- German politician Christian Lueth was fired from the far-right political party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) following remarks that suggested migrants could be killed. The prominent official was previously suspended after he described himself as a “fascist”. The AfD has been campaigning against immigration and saw a surge in support in 2015 when hundreds of thousands of refugees were allowed into Germany. The party has been under the scrutiny of the domestic intelligence agency amidst concern of extremist affiliations.
- Europe’s trade union leaders have called for the European Commission to investigate Amazon for “potentially illegal” efforts to spy on its workers for union activities. Union leaders, who represent more than 12 million workers across Europe, said that the tech firm had plans to “ramp up surveillance on workers”. Amazon put up job listings last month for “intelligence analysts” to track “labour organising threats against the company”, but was taken down after backlashes. The company has been hostile towards union formation attempts, especially in the US.
- Separatist Catalan leader Quim Torra was banned from holding office by Spain’s supreme court last Monday (Sept 28). The judges upheld a decision by a lower court that found the regional leader to be guilty of disobedience for displaying pro-independence symbols during last year’s general election campaign. Mr Torra pursued an independence agenda of his predecessor Carles Puigdemont, who is currently in exile in Belgium and has vowed to continue his campaign.
- The European Union (EU) cleared the way for sanctions to be imposed on Belarus over the Aug 9 presidential elections which the bloc described as “neither free nor fair”. President Alexander Lukashenko, who was inaugurated in a secret ceremony last month, was spared but 40 officials were sanctioned on grounds of electoral fraud. Western leaders have not recognised the results of the disputed elections, while the EU said that further sanctions are also on the table.
- The ongoing clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region have reported hundreds of fatalities, including civilians. International calls for a ceasefire have not yet been heeded and threatens to grow into a full-blown conflict. The fighting began on Sept 27 and risks dragging major players Turkey and Russia into the dispute. The predominantly Christian Armenia has expressed willingness for mediation but Muslim-majority Azerbaijan has called for the withdrawal of Armenian forces before a ceasefire can be brokered.
- A Turkish court ordered the pretrial detention of 17 people, including senior pro-Kurdish opposition members, for their role in violent protests. The protesters mainly accused Turkey’s army of standing by as members of the ISIL armed group besieged Kobane in plain view just across the Syrian border in October 2014. The protests led to the deaths of 37 people.
- Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt arrested exiled Uighur Muslims and deported them to China in collaboration with Beijing. Since 2014, the Chinese government has embarked on a campaign against the Uighur group in the country’s north-western province. It has been under Chinese control since 1949.
- Plans for the Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) canal has triggered a major dispute between Egypt and the UAE. Egypt views the canal as a threat to its Suez Canal, which is geopolitically strategic, as it is one of the primary sources of income for the Egyptian economy.
- Thousands of Israelis across the country have protested for the 15th week in a row, flouting a new law meant to curb anti-government demonstrations during a Covid-19 lockdown. New laws have been put in place to ban Israelis from holding demonstrations more than one kilometre from their homes and forced stricter social distancing to curb Covid-19 infections. However, critics have called it a blow to freedom of speech.
- Last Saturday (Oct 3), Sudan’s transitional government and several rebel groups have signed a peace agreement aimed at resolving years of war, which has resulted in thousands of lives lost and millions displaced. Guarantors of the deal from Chad, Qatar, Egypt, the African Union (AU), European Union (EU) and the United Nations also put their names to the agreement.
- Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to release hundreds of people that were arrested during the anti-government protests in September. According to the London-based rights watchdog, at least 496 individuals have been, and are currently imprisoned.
- Last Saturday (Oct 3), a suicide car bomb attack that was supposedly targeting a government building in the eastern Afghan province in Nangarhar, resulted in 15 casualties and more than 40 wounded. There is currently no immediate claim of responsibility for that blast.
- More than 50 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo said they were sexually exploited and abused by the World Health Organisation (WHO) aid workers during efforts to combat Ebola. The women said they were coerced or forced to have sex with them or risk having their employment contracts terminated if they refused. The claims of the women were backed by local NGO workers. The WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “outraged” after reading the reports and promised investigations into allegations.
- The Sudan government and major rebel groups formalised a peace agreement last Saturday (Oct 3), which aimed to end decades of conflict that have seen millions displaced and hundreds of thousands dead in the country. The deal will see the integration of the rebel forces in the military, US$7.5 billion (S$10.2 billion) in repatriation over the next 10 years to the southern and western regions, and guaranteed return of those displaced. The US and regional leaders have welcomed the agreement.
- Tunisia president Kais Saied called for the return of the death penalty after the brutal killing of a young woman. The body of 29-year-old Rahma Lahmar found to have been raped and badly beaten had led to a public outcry for her killer to be executed. Human rights activists have said that reinstating capital punishment would be a “huge step backwards” on the decades-old moratorium.
- Togo named a new government that will see a record 30 per cent of the positions filled by women last Thursday (Oct 1). The country’s first female prime minister, Victoire Tomegah-Dogbe, was also appointed earlier last week following the resignation of the previous government. However, some see this move as a strategy to shore up public opinion for President Faure Gnassingbe’s 15-year rule that is currently plagued by dissatisfaction with his leadership.
- UN rights experts have urged Nigeria to release a 22-year-old singer who has been sentenced to death over an allegedly blasphemous song. Yahaya Aminu Sharif was sentenced in a sharia court in the largely Muslim nation last month after his performance of the song was circulated on WhatsApp. The UN rights experts said in a joint statement that “music is not a crime”, and called for the man’s death sentence to be overturned and his safety to be guaranteed while he files an appeal.
- Former Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane was named interim prime minister of Mali in an effort to lift sanctions imposed on the country following a military coup last month. The West African regional bloc had demanded that a civilian leadership helm the state as part of conditions to lift the sanctions. Coup-leader Colonel Assimi Goita had also installed himself as vice president and retired Colonel Bah Ndaw as president. The US welcomed the move, whilst some within the regional bloc says Mali has yet to meet the demands.
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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).