Protesters raised a three finger salute, a reference from the “Hunger Games” movies that has become a symbol of anti-government defiance in Thailand. | Photo Credit: Adam Dean/The New York Times

Oct 19: Thais defy protest ban, Boris Johnson tells UK to prepare for no-trade deal Brexit, French teacher beheaded on the street

North America

  • A four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for US President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett began last Monday (Oct 12), a key step before a final full Senate vote on her nomination. Democrats are firmly opposed to Barrett, whose confirmation to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would create a 6-3 conservative majority on the court. During the hearings, Barrett spent most of her time avoiding key questions, such as those on healthcare, election law and abortion rights. 
  • Polls show US President Donald Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by a significant margin nationally. A hectic month that saw Justice Ginsburg’s death, Trump’s debate performance and a White House coronavirus outbreak that infected the president himself seems to have favoured the Democratic challenger. However, there are reasons for Biden to worry, as his lead in several key swing states that could ultimately decide the election is slightly lower than Hillary Clinton’s at this point in the 2016 race.
  • US President Donald Trump began a barrage of rallies in crucial states ahead of the Nov 3 election last Monday (Oct 12), claiming that he no longer had the coronavirus and was now “immune” to it. The president’s schedule sends him to areas friendly to him, suggesting that his campaign is concerned with mobilising his conservative base rather than reaching out to undecided voters. Trump attacked Joe Biden on his environmental and energy policies, accusing him of wanting to ban fracking, while Biden argued that the president views older voters as “expendable”.
  • Triller Inc, a budding competitor to popular short-video app TikTok, is in discussions with blank-check acquisition companies about a merger which would take the US social media company public. The deal would come after the Trump administration ordered TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance to divest the app, citing concerns that the data of US citizens would be accessible to the Chinese government.
  • Stanford University game theorists, Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson, won the 2020 Nobel Economics Prize for their work on auction theory. They have helped in developing formats for the sale of aircraft landing slots, radio spectrums and emissions trading. However, the award was criticised by a charity, Rethinking Economics, which said that economics was out of touch with global problems, including the impact of coronavirus.
  • Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has paused its Covid-19 vaccine trial due to an “unexplained illness” in a participant. The trial, which was meant to yield results early next year, is one of four vaccine trials in the most advanced, phase three-stage, and one of six coronavirus vaccines being tested in the US. 
  • Last Tuesday (Oct 13), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned China that its “coercive diplomacy”, repressive measures in Hong Kong and detention of Uighur Muslims are counterproductive for itself and the rest of the world. This came as he marked the 50th anniversary of Canada’s diplomatic ties with China.
  • US authorities detained the defence minister for former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at Los Angeles airport last Thursday (Oct 15) on a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warrant in the latest high-profile arrest linked to the country’s powerful cartels. As defence minister, General Salvador Cienfuegos was a powerful figure in Mexico’s drug war in which the army battled cartels across the country. Several of Mexico’s former top-ranking ‘drug war’ officials have been implicated in narcotics. 

South America

  • Venezuela released a propaganda video announcing warships armed with new Chinese-made anti-ship missiles. The arms deal should greatly increase the reach and potency of President Nicholas Maduro’s navy. However, the video footage was taken from the Royal Thai Navy, and it is unclear whether it has actually equipped their own ships with the missile, or whether China has supplied the system.
  • The Guatemalan government has announced it would launch a process to verify and analyse a report by a US Senate committee, which alleged that US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel engaged in an “unauthorised” operation in Guatemala. The report, released last Tuesday (Oct 13), alleged the misuse of US government funding and violations of norms and laws during a crackdown on migration through Guatemala in January 2020, targeting a caravan of Honduran migrants seeking to reach the US.
  • Environmentalists slammed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his support for the building of a new Formula One racetrack. The track would replace most of Rio’s last flatland area, which is an island of wildlife and home to many endangered species. If the plans proceed, the country will be looking at the loss of most of the Camboatá Forest and its 180,000 trees, on top of soaring levels of Amazon deforestation and fires seen during Bolsonaro’s presidency.
  • Wildfires in northern and central Argentina which have burned more than 400,000 hectares were reported to be the result of economic interests. The human activity of clearing the land for livestock and farming, coupled with climate factors like high temperature, strong winds and extreme droughts have brought about the rapid spread of fires, affecting 13 of Argentina’s 23 provinces. The first wildfire was registered in February, reached its peak in August and is still ongoing to date.
  • Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez announced that no peso devaluation is coming. This is in spite of reports that bond prices have dropped to distressed levels, equity prices have collapsed and the gap between the official and black market exchange rates is widening. Analysts and investors, however, suggest that with only US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) in liquid reserves, Argentina’s central bank will be forced to tighten restrictions on imports and devalue the peso. 
  • Last Wednesday (Oct 14), the United Nations (UN) envoy for Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, called for improved protection for former combatants who continue to be killed in “alarming numbers”. UN Secretary-General António Guterres had previously reported that the UN political mission in Colombia verified 19 killings of former combatants from the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in the three-month period ending Sept 25.
  • As voters prepared to head to the polls on Sunday (Oct 18), former Bolivian President Carlos Mesa is once again on the threshold of power 15 years after he stepped down. The centrist is seen as the conservatives’ best chance in defeating leftist Luis Arce, the presidential candidate of Evo Morales’ Mas party.
  • Indigenous people across Latin America gathered for an annual protest that marks the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. In Colombia, thousands of Indigenous people demonstrated in the city of Cali demanding an end to violence. Meanwhile, in Chile’s capital Santiago, hundreds converged on a central square for a demonstration dubbed “Mapuche resistance”.

Asia Pacific

  • New Zealand’s Labour Party secured a historic landslide victory, and Jacinda Arden is on track to be re-elected as the Prime Minister after first being elected in 2017. Opponents accepted that it was the people’s way of rewarding her for successfully handling the pandemic.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga revealed that he considered his planned trip to Vietnam and Indonesia to be of great importance in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region, with centrally-located ASEAN playing a key role in the initiative. Japan plans to sign an agreement allowing it to export defence equipment and technology to Vietnam during his visit to the Southeast Asian country. This move aims to bolster the defence capabilities of Indo-Pacific nations to counter Chinese maritime advance in the South China Sea. 
  • China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a diplomatic trip to five Southeast Asian nations in an attempt to repair and strengthen the country’s ties in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and a recent diplomatic offensive by the US. He paid official visits to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.  
  • Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had been summoned by the police to assist investigations into a viral list of federal lawmakers allegedly backing his bid to become prime minister. Last Friday (Oct 16), Malaysia’s Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah called for an end to the country’s power struggles following a meeting with Anwar Ibrahim earlier in the week.
  • Islamic groups and students in Indonesia joined in protests against the omnibus law. Pressure increases for the repeal of the law which is said to undermine labour rights and environmental protections.
  • Thailand’s government has imposed a state of emergency in a bid to end three months of student-led street protests calling for reforms to the monarchy and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, arresting at least 20 activists and two of the movement’s leaders last Thursday (Oct 15). Despite the restrictions imposed, hundreds defied the ruling, which bans gatherings of five or more people and the publication of news or online messages that could harm national security.
  • Last Thursday (Oct 15), Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov resigned after days of unrest following a disputed election, saying he wanted to prevent clashes between security forces and protesters who have demanded his removal from office. Kyrgyzstan, a Russian ally that borders China, has been in turmoil since the Oct 4 parliamentary election, which the opposition rejected after Mr Jeenbekov’s allies were declared the winners.
  • Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam postponed her annual policy address to after her visit to Beijing, where she will discuss with the central government on how it can help with Hong Kong’s economic recovery. 
  • Singapore is set to return to carmaking with Hyundai’s smart plan in Jurong. Construction of Hyundai’s new electric plant has started and Hyundai plans to build a S$400 million innovation centre for future mobility studies in Jurong. 
  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said his government has enough funds to procure coronavirus vaccines but he would need more as he wants to inoculate the country’s entire population. He aims to vaccinate all Filipinos, with the funds prioritising the poor, the police and military personnel. He had also mentioned accepting applications from Russian and Chinese research companies to conduct clinical trials for the inoculations in the Philippines.  
  • Singapore and Hong Kong have reached an agreement to establish a bilateral air travel bubble. This will exempt travellers from quarantine and stay-home notices but will need to test negative on a mutually recognised Covid-19 test.    

Europe

  • European Union (EU) leaders insisted on tough enforcement rules for any trade deal with Britain, warning that United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bid to override the Brexit treaty has shown Britain cannot be trusted. Johnson, however, said last Friday (Oct 16) that it was time to prepare for a no-trade deal Brexit in 10 weeks unless Brussels changed course. A tumultuous “no-deal” finale to the UK’s five-year Brexit crisis would sow chaos through the delicate supply chains that stretch across Britain, the EU and beyond as the economic hit from the coronavirus, pandemic worsens.
  • The European Commission said last Tuesday (Oct 13) it was extending deep into 2021 its more flexible approach towards state aid and recapitalisation to support companies struggling due to coronavirus restrictions. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said last Monday (Oct 12) that he is confident the economy can return to pre-crisis levels by 2022, but only if European leaders work together to achieve that. The European economy is heading for a large contraction in 2020 due to the pandemic.
  • The G20 group of major economies is poised to extend a multi-billion-dollar debt freeze for the world’s poorest countries to help them weather the coronavirus crisis, and may adopt a common approach to dealing with longer-term debt restructurings. Preparatory meetings among G20 deputies involved “intense” discussions as China, Turkey and India had balked at a language that would lock them into future debt write-offs. 
  • Oxfam reported last Tuesday (Oct 13) that the international community’s response to global food insecurity is “dangerously inadequate”. The report was published just days after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the UN’s World Food Programme. The NGO complained that funding for 55 million people facing extreme hunger in seven worst-affected countries — Afghanistan, Somalia, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen — was “abysmally low”.
  • In a joint document, France and the Netherlands have proposed stricter EU rules to control the market position of large technology firms, such as Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon. The EU has intensified talks regarding Big Tech and the competitive landscape over the last 12 months. In addition to pursuing antitrust investigations on some of the largest firms, the European Commission is also working on data protection rules.
  • The resurgent coronavirus disrupted the EU leaders’ summit, only their third face-to-face meeting since the pandemic began, with the EU’s chief executive and Finland’s prime minister dropping out after coming near people who later tested positive.
  • A French teacher who had recently shown students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was beheaded outside his school last Friday (Oct 16), in what President Emmanuel Macron called an “Islamist terrorist attack”. The assailant was shot dead by the police as they tried to arrest him.

Middle East

  • China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed the formation of a new multilateral forum to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East during a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. Both ministers reiterated their commitment to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as well.  
  • A Saudi government-owned newspaper called Independent Arabia promoted the restoration of links with the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad. The Saudi government had initially boycotted Assad and his regime for almost a decade due to their crimes against the Syrian people. 
  • While China and Russia were elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the next three years on Oct 13, Saudi Arabia failed in its bid to win a seat. The only contested region in the 2020 elections was the Asia-Pacific, where China and Saudi Arabia were in a five-way race with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Nepal for four seats. China attracted 139 votes, down from the last time it stood for a seat in 2016 when it gained 180.
  • Spokesman for the Turkish presidency Ibrahim Kalin has revealed Turkey’s willingness to cooperate with Egypt if the latter is willing to act with a positive agenda on regional issues. Despite its disapproval with how Abdel Fattah El-Sisi came to power, Turkey still believes that Egypt plays a pivotal role in the region and the Arab world. Turkey has also stated that it will make a positive and constructive contribution if they can find a common ground regarding issues in Libya, Palestine, the eastern Mediterranean, and others.
  • Israel has stopped issuing visas to UN human rights workers in Palestine, and nine out of 12 officers have left Israel and Palestinian territories for fear of being undocumented there. Israel suspended its ties with the UN agency in February after the agency published a list of more than 100 companies working in illegal settlements in the West Bank. 
  • Russia announced that the start of the human trials of its controversial coronavirus vaccine has begun in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), following a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The leaders also “reaffirmed their mutual disposition to further strengthen the Russian-UAE strategic partnership in various fields”.
  • The Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria has begun the prosecution of 900 suspected Daesh fighters. They are alleged to have fought for or served the terror group. The referral of the suspects to the Kurdish-led court follows a series of changes to the status of the prisoners and their detention.
  • The interior and finance ministries of Cyprus announced that Cyprus will abolish the citizenship through investment programme in its current form on Nov 1. This followed an investigation by Al Jazeera which reported high-ranking politicians issuing passports to convicted criminals through said programme.   

Africa

  • South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa rejected claims by pressure groups representing the country’s white minority that a spike in deadly attacks on farms was “ethnic cleansing”. His appeal came after a group of mainly white farmers stormed a court during the hearing of two Black suspects accused of killing a 22-year-old farm manager the previous week. 
  • Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s government has built up a formidable arsenal of laws to stifle all forms of dissent ahead of this month’s elections, rights group Amnesty International said in a report last Monday (Oct 12). Authorities have effectively clamped down on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, according to the report. The East African country is heading to the polls on Oct 28, as President Magufuli seeks a second five-year term and is being challenged by 14 other candidates.
  • Last week, Tanzanian firefighters battled to contain a fire that broke out on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, the National Parks service (Tanapa) said. Five hundred firefighters were deployed, and the fire was under control on its third day. The cause of the fire is unclear.
  • Over 90 people have been killed in a crackdown on protests against Guinea’s President Alpha Conde’s bid to seek a controversial third term in the Oct 18 elections, a leading opposition group said last Monday (Oct 12). The 82-year-old president pushed through a new constitution in March that critics say was designed to sidestep a two-term limit in the West African country.
  • Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari promised last Monday (Oct 12) that the government would bring police officers responsible for misconduct to justice, after nearly one week of sustained protests against police brutality that led to at least one person killed by police gunfire.
  • Fighters from the Boko Haram jihadist group killed 14 farmers in northeast Nigeria, members of a government-backed militia said last Tuesday (Oct 13). Boko Haram and rival group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) have increasingly targeted loggers, herders and fishermen in their violent campaign, accusing them of spying and passing information to the military and the local militia fighting them. 
  • Six people were killed and 20 others were wounded last Wednesday (Oct 14) in tribal clashes in the Sudanese Red Sea port town of Suakin, medics said. Demonstrators had cut off streets in the two cities in protest at Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s decision to dismiss the governor of the eastern state of Kassala. The appointment of Saleh Ammar, a member of the Beni Amr tribe, as governor of Kassala in July had aroused the anger of the Beja, the other major tribe in the region.
  • Last Thursday (Oct 15), the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that it was setting up a seven-person independent commission to investigate claims of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers during the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An investigation published last month uncovered that more than 50 women had allegedly been sexually abused by WHO aid workers and that leading charities allegedly demanded sex in exchange for jobs.
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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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