Trump salutes from the Balcony upon his return to the White House. | Photo Credit: The Straits Times

Oct 12: Trump returns to the White House, Taiwan calls for meaningful dialogue with China, increased tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia

North America

  • Alongside US President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, a growing number of White House staff and senior Republicans have tested positive for Covid-19. President Trump was back at the White House three days after being hospitalised with Covid-19 last Monday (Oct 5), despite concerns of whether he was contagious whilst resuming his campaign rallies. 
  • The US Justice Department arrested the anti-virus software pioneer John McAfee on Oct 6 in Spain. He was arrested on charges of tax evasion as per an indictment from June, which alleged that from 2014 to 2018, McAfee dodged his taxes by funnelling payments through bank accounts set up by other people, not disclosing that he was being paid to promote cryptocurrencies and buying assets under other people’s names.
  • Facebook has taken actions to ban all accounts associated with the conspiracy theory group QAnon from its platforms on Oct 6, labelling it as a “militarised social movement”. While Twitter removed about 7,000 accounts in July, a reported 93,000 remain. President Trump has openly praised the group as patriotic, despite its far-reaching, far-right theories having been branded as cultish.
  • The former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was charged with murdering George Floyd, was released from a correctional facility after posting a US$1 million (S$1.36 million) bond last Wednesday (Oct 7). His release has sparked protests in the southern part of Minneapolis, and 51 people were arrested.
  • During the US vice-presidential debate on Oct 7, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris faced off and touched upon issues including the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, economic recession, climate change and China.
  • US President Donald Trump announced last Thursday (Oct 8) that he would not participate in a virtual presidential debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden, rather favouring a public rally that was held last Saturday (Oct 10). Joe Biden has since responded that he will follow the recommendations of the debate commission.
  • Thirteen men were arrested and charged in court last Thursday (Oct 8) in a failed plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home. The FBI and State Police thwarted the kidnapping attempt, which was plotted in reaction to the Governor’s “uncontrolled power”, according to a federal complaint. 
  • Guatemala sent back almost 3,500 Honduran migrants from a caravan that was heading to the US before they reached the Mexican border last Monday (Oct 5), citing concerns of the potential spread of Covid-19. In recent times, Guatemalan and Mexican authorities have erected highway checkpoints and enforced extra regulations to curb the influx of migrants.

South America

  • The Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro won the UK appeal concerning the US$1 billion (S$ 1.36 billion) worth of Venezuelan gold bullion deposited at the Bank of England (BoE). The British Appeals Court ruled in favour of the Maduro-backed Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) by overturning an earlier High Court judgement, in which the BCV had sued the BoE to recover control of the gold but was refused on grounds that Maduro was not recognised as the legitimate president of Venezuela by the UK government.
  • With the country having passed five million total infections last week, Brazil’s coronavirus death toll has passed 150,000, thus being the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world after the US. 
  • Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe, who was placed under house arrest following the charges of witness tampering in August, has been freed following a court ruling. Many Colombians continue to view Uribe as a national hero as his hard-line stance ended the guerilla movement that plagued the country for decades.
  • Peruvian state prosecutors have stated their intentions to open a corruption investigation into Peru President Martin Vizcarra when his term ends in July next year. This came after the impeachment vote in Congress in which the Peruvian leader survived last month.
  • Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro said last Wednesday (Oct 7) that he would end the country’s long-running Carwash probe, which was launched six years ago as a corruption investigation which sent dozens of company executives and politicians to jail for taking bribes. The president’s reasoning for ending the probe was that “there is no more corruption in the government”.
  • The hyperinflation and weakening currency has led Venezuela to import banknote paper and consider plans to print bills with larger denominations, with the country having bought 71 tons of security paper this year from an Italian printer.

Asia Pacific

  • An Australian writer and democracy activist, Dr Yang Hengjun, was officially charged with espionage by Chinese authorities last Saturday (Oct 10), after being detained in China for more than 20 months. Despite denying all allegations that he is a spy, he is now subjected to penalties that will range from facing three years of imprisonment to execution. He was officially indicted for five crimes, but his lawyer claimed that he was unable to reveal any details due to confidential reasons. 
  • Vietnamese authorities arrested Pham Doan Trang, one of Vietnam’s most prominent independent journalists. This came shortly after the country completed talks with the US on human rights. Trang wrote numerous books on environment issues, LGBT rights as well as land rights of civilians over the course of her career. Her advocacy work for human rights and democracy was peaceful, but the state indicted her to 20 years imprisonment last Wednesday (Oct 7) as her work was aimed at opposing the state. 
  • Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo defended the Omnibus Law, stating that demonstrations against the job creation law were largely fueled by disinformation. Critics say that the newly passed law undermines labour rights and weakens protection over the environment and may not be the right method to restart economic vibrancy in the country. Indonesian Muslims, student union groups and individual protestors burned tyres and vandalised public property in a demonstration against the law. 
  • Pakistan banned Chinese video-sharing social app, Tik Tok, last Friday (Oct 9). The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said the ban was imposed due to Tik Tok’s failure to comply with the country’s instructions and policies, citing that the content on the application was “immoral, obscene and vulgar”. Although campaigners criticised this as a move to further limit freedom of speech, the application is also facing controversy worldwide over how the company collects and uses data. 
  • Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called for “meaningful dialogue” with China last Saturday (Oct 10). This came as a response after the country has come under increasing pressure from Beijing over the tense situation in the Taiwan Strait. China has been increasing its air force activity near Taiwan, violating Taiwan Strait’s sensitive midline. Tsai reinforced the country’s sovereignty and democratic values during her speech to the media while remaining open to improving cross-strait relations with China.
  • Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbai Jeenbekov said last Friday (Oct 9) he was ready to step down once a new Cabinet was appointed. The country has been trapped in a political impasse ever since Jeenbekov demanded the cabinet to resign and the results of the country’s parliamentary elections held on Oct 4 to be annulled. The parliamentary election was said to be fraudulent due to vote-buying practices. Protests prompted Russia’s Putin to describe Kyrgyzstan’s situation as chaos. 

Europe

  • A criminal complaint submitted by a group of NGOs to German authorities has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government of deploying chemical weapons against its own citizens during the country’s long-running war.  The two-year investigation focuses on the use of sarin gas on the Damascus suburb of al-Ghouta in 2013, which killed more than 1,500 people, and the northwest village of Khan Sheikhun in 2017, which killed around 100. It also identifies the Syrian officials who were responsible for carrying out the attacks. 
  • When Russian President Vladimir Putin turned 68 last Thursday (Oct 8), acts of protests were executed by the Russian activist group Pussy Riot where they hung LGBTQ+ flags at five government buildings. Two of the leading members were detained by the Russian police. Acts of self-immolation were also reported, where an unnamed protestor who was identified as a 71-year-old businessman set himself on fire on a street in St Petersburg.
  • Despite a ceasefire announced between Azerbaijan and Armenia last Friday (Oct 9), both countries traded accusations of new attacks less than 24 hours later. The ceasefire was to be implemented from noon on Saturday (Oct 10), but seven loud explosions were heard in the main city of Nagorno-Karabakh later on in the day. Although Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan under international law, ethnic Armenians of the country never viewed the law as legitimate and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict persists until today. 
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held an unexpected four-and-a-half-hour meeting to discuss the country’s constitutional reform with 11 political opponents that are currently detained in jail last week, where details of the dialogue were kept secret. This came after a violent crackdown and a series of arrests of dissenters after Mr Lukashenko claimed a landslide win for the August presidential elections.
  • Telecommunication operators Orange Belgium and Proximus have decided to progressively replace all Huawei-made mobile equipment with Nokia in Belgium and Luxembourg. Nokia will take full rein for the deployment of 5G technology in a shared network partnership, proving a setback to Huawei as other European countries continue to take up precautions against the Shenzhen-based company.

Middle East

  • A fuel tank exploded inside a Beirut building in the western neighbourhood of Tariq al-Jadida, killing four people and injuring many others, including three children. The blaze allegedly emerged from a bakery inside the building and the authorities are still unclear as to what ignited the explosion. Memories of the Beirut port explosion triggered municipalities to carry out inspections for places that could potentially pose danger to residential areas. This blast was the latest in a series of unfortunate events that happened in a country that is lacking in the most basic public infrastructure.
  • The deepening involvement of Russia in the talks of a Libyan ceasefire is said to complicate efforts of the diplomats from 15 countries to form an interim government for Libya. The long-running conflict in Libya is said to be complex as the country has become a place for a power proxy between geopolitical actors on top of an internal power struggle within the country. Turkey’s engagement in Libya is part of its foreign policy strategy to shift the Libyan conflict to its favour. With Russian-backed mercenaries supporting and strengthening the military force of rival groups, it seems that the formation of an interim government is nowhere near in sight.
  • Mr Crispin Blunt, UK’s member of parliament and the chairperson of a panel investigating the detention of two high-profile Saudi princes, submitted a request to the Saudi embassy in London to organise a visit to the country to uncover the fate of the princes. Since March this year, the former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, and Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz have disappeared without a trace and were allegedly isolated and denied legal advice and medical care. The two princes were considered rivals to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader. The kingdom’s power struggle has been long known and this investigation may reveal critical findings if approved.
  • Flight data and satellite images show that Turkey and the UAE have been supplying armed forces and fighters to troops in Libya, fuelling a proxy war. These acts have been in violation of the UN arms embargo on Libya relating to the supply of arms and military equipment to the country as it interferes with efforts to come to political solutions. Turkey and the UAE both attended the Berlin International Conference on Libya last January to stop the flows of foreign weapons, troops and money into Libya.
  • The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reported that it still sees global oil demand rising in the next few years but will hit a plateau in the 2030s, followed by a decline. However, OPEC remains concerned that the coronavirus pandemic could have affected oil demand permanently as people around the globe may increasingly adapt to working from home and teleconferencing over traditional commuting. Green hydrogen projects that are gaining traction in Japan and Korea, as well as increasing demand for electric cars also pose a threat to the oil market in the coming decades.

Africa

  • Rare and powerful images that emerged in South Africa reflected the level of corruption that remains rampant in the country. The images included a bright red FF F151 Ferrari that was confiscated by South Africa’s Asset Forfeiture Unit, along with a Bentley convertible and two opulent villas. Under the revived National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), eight people have been charged with corruption charges that involved looting and the collapse of the VBS savings bank. 
  • Several protests took place in Nigeria over the highly-criticised Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars). Sars has been accused of frequently targeting “young men with dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, flashy cars or expensive gadgets”. Protestors who marched to the police headquarters in Abuja were reportedly attacked by the police with tear gas. The Nigerian police have a reputation for its corrupt practices, brutal and unlawful arrests of civilians.
  • The news of a Swiss woman who was held hostage in Mali, a country in West Africa, since 2016 and killed by a Malian armed group affiliated to al-Qaeda last month was just released last Saturday (Oct 10). The Islamist terrorist organisation that carried out the act was the Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam Muslimeen (JNIM). Four other foreign hostages are still held by the JNIM and its associates. 
  • The World Food Programme (WFP) stated that it needed US$15.3 million (£11.8 million) to provide sufficient rations to refugees living in Uganda settlements until the end of the year. In April, WFP had announced a reduction in food rations and cash transfers by 30 per cent. But, due to the double hit of Covid-19, more than 90,000 refugees now face extreme hunger with another 400,000 hit by the food crisis in the country. Movement restrictions have also prevented refugees from finding work and livelihood opportunities for themselves.
  • Sophie Petronin, a French aid worker who was held hostage by Islamic extremists in Mali, was finally freed last Friday (Oct 9). Despite the ordeal, the 75-year-old French aid worker wanted to immediately return to her work targeting malnourished children. Petronin was released alongside Cissé, a prominent Malian politician, and Italian hostages the Rev Pierluigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio.
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