- United States (US) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican senators that he had warned the White House against striking a pre-election deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a new round of stimulus. This came after Pelosi offered an upbeat assessment of her negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on another round of pandemic aid. President Donald Trump has frequently called for such stimulus to be passed, against the wishes of his own party.
- The US Justice Department accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising, last Tuesday (Oct 20). It is the government’s most significant challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation and could reshape the way that consumers use the internet. The department is pursuing legal action and is accusing Google of locking up deals with giant partners like Apple and throttling competition through exclusive business contracts and agreements.
- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump objected to the chosen debate for last Thursday’s (Oct 22) election debate. The Trump campaign has sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates arguing that there should have been a foreign policy topic in the debate, as foreign policy has traditionally factored prominently in the final debates. The letter also accused the debate organisers of being pro-Biden, arguing that the topics of Covid-19, American families, race, climate change, national security and leadership eluded Trump’s foreign policy successes.
- US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus has welcomed a Russian offer to extend a nuclear pact between the two countries by one year. The offer to extend the 2010 New START agreement would result in continued restrictions on both American and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear warheads and was initially rejected by the US two weeks ago.
- Last Tuesday (Oct 20), US Defence Secretary Mark Esper revealed a new initiative to strengthen and expand US alliances with “like-minded democracies” to counter Russia and China. The initiative, known as the Guidance for Development for Alliances and Partnerships, comes nearly four years after Trump’s efforts to dismantle NATO. Esper has stated that US networks of allies and partners provide America with an asymmetric advantage that cannot be matched by their enemies, and forms the backbone of the international rules-based order.
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau survived a confidence vote, with the help of the opposition New Democratic Party. The vote follows proposals by the opposition to set up a committee to investigate the Trudeau government’s mishandling of coronavirus aid funds.
- Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said last Tuesday (Oct 20) that the government is aware of challenges facing airlines and the travel sector during the coronavirus pandemic and is working on possible aid. The Canadian branch of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has also urged Freeland to consider partially or fully nationalising Air Canada.
- US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe stated that Russia and Iran have obtained some US voting registration information and are attempting to sow unrest in the upcoming election. Ratcliffe accused Iran of sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage Trump.
- Last Monday (Oct 19), the US Department of Justice formally charged Russian hackers known as Sandworm with computer fraud and conspiracy. The Justice Department also confirmed their names, and that they worked in a unit of Russian Intelligence.
- Cuba confirmed that it will be reopening the entire island to tourists, with the exception of its capital Havana.
- In the run-up to a constitutional referendum, Chilean citizens rioted in the capital Santiago. Demonstrators have burned churches and lit monuments on fire to express their dissatisfaction with the government, which has faced criticism for its tolerance of brutality. Chile’s current constitution was drafted during the Pinochet era, and the referendum is meant to decide if a new constitution should be drawn up and if so, how.
- Following his victory, Bolivian President-elect Luis Acre has stated that there is no role for Evo Morales, who remains the head of his party. Morales, for his part, has signalled his intention to return to Bolivia. Acres’ opponents have all conceded defeat, with Carlos Mesa saying that Acre’s 20-point margin was “very forceful and very clear”.
- Argentina approved the planting of genetically-edited wheat, in an attempt to deal with ongoing water stress. The genetically-modified variety is supposed to flourish under dry conditions, providing hope for Latin America’s largest wheat producer.
- Brazil declared that Chinese vaccine developer Sinovac’s vaccine is the safest and most promising. São Paulo Governor João Doria made the comments following extensive and varied exposure to Covid-19 vaccine candidates, and after reviewing preliminary data from five of the 10 trials.
- Brazilian sanitation company Aegea, which has Singapore’s state investor GIC as an investor, won an auction to operate water and sewage services in the city of Cariacica, in the state of Espirito Santo. Aegea must invest R$580 million (S$140.3 million) in the sanitation project over the next 30 years, according to the concession rules. The company offered the lowest fee among its six competitors to provide the services for 423,000 people.
- Brazil’s Minister of Economy Paulo Guedes has announced that the Brazilian Government has plans to launch an IPO for the newly-created digital bank of Caixa Econômica Federal. The digital bank was created to help the government send financial aid to citizens during the pandemic, and is part of Guedes’ privatisation efforts.
- Latin America’s top e-commerce firm Mercado Pago is revving up its digital payments engine as shops shift online amid the coronavirus pandemic, and is looking towards China for inspiration to bring the region’s unbanked and cash-loving savers online. The firm’s market capitalisation has doubled this year alone to US$61.6 billion (S$83.7 billion) by luring savers to invest small sums for higher returns than at banks.
- Mergers and acquisitions in Latin America and the Caribbean plunged 60 per cent by deal value to US$25.6 billion (S$34.7 billion) in the first nine months of the year as Covid-19 cast a cloud over the region’s economies, according to Mergermarket’s third-quarter 2020 M&A report.
- Thailand reopened its borders to 39 tourists last Tuesday (Oct 20), who flew in from Shanghai. They are pioneers of a ‘Special Tourist Visa’ programme. The purpose is to restore a portion of the economy that has contributed to more than 10 per cent of the country’s GDP.
- The newly sworn-in Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that Japan will provide ¥50 billion (S$648 million) in low-interest loans to Indonesia to support the fight against the pandemic. Kyodo News reported last Tuesday (Oct 20) that the offer was made to Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Bogor, near Jakarta. The low-interest loans will be utilised for Indonesia’s protocol measures against natural disasters, which is an addition to the estimated S$414 million in loans Japan gave to Indonesia in February this year.
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government is committed to ensuring that citizens have access to the Covid-19 vaccines once they are available. He urged citizens to continue wearing masks and uphold social distancing to prevent the further spread of the virus before India’s festive season. The country has reported a total of 7.8 million cases, which is the second-highest behind the US.
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first election rally last Friday (Oct 23). The 70-year old emphasised the importance of social distancing yet thousands of supporters stood shoulder to shoulder, ignoring social distancing rules.
- Singapore launched a new training and education programme for migrant workers that is aimed at strengthening safe living measures at the dormitories on Wednesday (Oct 21). The programme will teach dormitory operators and employees to implement good management systems, maximise the compliance of measures, and the corrective actions to be taken should lapse occur. In addition, online training materials and a checklist for self-assessments will be provided.
- Possible production lines of two billion doses of coronavirus vaccines are being set up in China, said Liu Jingzhen, chairman of SinoPharm Group, on Tuesday (Oct 20). The company is testing two vaccines, which are inactivated, non-infectious versions of the virus, in countries like Egypt and Jordan.
- Singapore Airlines (SIA) commented that it will resume its flights to New York last Tuesday (Oct 20). The nonstop thrice-weekly flights between Changi Airport and New York’s John F Kennedy Airport starts on Nov 9.
- The state of emergency that included restriction of political gathering and publication of news, was lifted in Bangkok, Thailand last Thursday (Oct 22). The emergency measures have not been effective in quelling the unrest. Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha revoked the measures as an olive branch to the demonstrators, requesting time for his cabinet to deliberate their demands.
- In the Philippines, the country had mixed reactions about Pope Francis’ endorsement of same-sex civil unions last Thursday (Oct 22). President Rodrigo Duterte is a supporter of same-sex civil unions but added that such a matter needed to be passed through Congress. There were opponents against the endorsement like the retired Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes who “had very serious doubts about the moral correctness” of the Pope’s viewpoint. Arturo and three other bishops expressed their disbelief by commenting that they would verify the Vatican’s official position on the stance of same-sex unions.
- Last Thursday (Oct 22), China threatened to retaliate against the US for selling arms to Taiwan. The Trump administration ramped up support for Taiwan through arms sales and visits, aggravating the tensions between Beijing and Washington. China has been putting pressure on Taiwan to accept China’s sovereignty, which included flying fighter jets across the Taiwan Strait. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian commented that the sales should stop as it heavily “damages China’s sovereignty, security interests and China-US relations, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
- South Korea refused to suspend a seasonal influenza inoculation effort which had been called to halt due to appeals from doctors and at least 25 deaths which resulted from the vaccines. Last Thursday (Oct 22), however, health authorities cannot find the link between the deaths and vaccines. The dead, which included a 17-year old, was part of a campaign to inject 19 million teenagers and senior citizens at no cost, said the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). Domestic firms like GC Pharma, SK Bioscience supply the free programme and paid services that plan to collaboratively achieve vaccinating an estimate of 30 million of a population of 52 million.
- European Union (EU) officials have said that the EU plans to remove Canada, Tunisia and Georgia from its list of countries whose residents should be allowed to visit the bloc. At the same time, the EU plans to reopen its doors to travellers from Singapore, due to the improved virus trends in Singapore. US travellers will remain blacklisted.
- Britain resumed talks with EU officials last Thursday (Oct 22), marking a new push by both sides to protect billions of dollars worth of trade from the beginning of next year. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously said that Britain should begin preparations for a no-deal Brexit, drawing criticism from EU negotiators.
- French authorities said last Tuesday (Oct 20) they would close a Paris mosque as part of a clampdown on radical Islam that has yielded over a dozen arrests following the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.
- About 3,000 retirees rallied in the Belarusian capital of Minsk for a third straight Monday (Oct 19) to demand the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko as mass protests against a disputed election continue to roil the country. Pro-Lukashenko pensioners also rallied in the capital. About 2,000 people — many of the men in military and security-forces uniforms — converged on Minsk’s Independence Square with national flags and banners that said, “For peace, prosperity and traditional values.” Local media reported that some had been bused to the rally in what appeared to be a state-organised effort.
- A group of European climate activists, including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, urged Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last Monday (Oct 19) to take stronger action against climate change. Italy, the EU’s third-largest economy, will chair the 2021 G20 and will assume in partnership with Britain the presidency of the United Nations COP26 climate change conference.
- Devastated by the pandemic, Spain’s all-important tourism sector is expected to incur losses of more than €100 billion (S$161 billion) this year, an industry body warned last Wednesday (Oct 21).
- Last Tuesday (Oct 20), Serbia’s Defence Ministry issued a statement that “legal proceedings” have been launched that would allow an agreement between Russia and Serbia on the opening of a Russian Defence Ministry mission in Belgrade. Russia has since confirmed the statement, adding that the deal would give Russian officials stationed in Belgrade the right to visit Serbian military units armed with Russian weapons, with Serbian approval.
- Bahrain and Israel have signed a historic Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic, Peaceful and Friendly Relations, as well as Memorandums of Understanding regarding economic and trade cooperation, air services, agriculture, telecommunications and postal services, visas, financial services, cooperation between Ministries of Foreign Affairs and cooperation between Chambers of Commerce. The deals were facilitated by the United States, continuing a process of the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
- Israel sent a diplomatic delegation to Sudan last week to discuss normalising relations between the two countries, which are technically at war. The talks have resulted in a peace deal and the normalisation of relations between the two, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced two weeks ago.
- Last Thursday (Oct 22), Turkey’s Foreign Ministry slammed a joint statement by Greece, Cyprus and Egypt that condemns Turkish energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and numerous “provocations” that they maintain are threatening regional peace. The agreement also asked Turkey to accept Cyprus’ invitation to enter negotiations for an agreement on maritime delimitations.
- International pressure on Egypt is mounting after 222 European lawmakers published a letter last Wednesday (Oct 21) calling on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to release activists, journalists, lawyers and other prisoners of conscience held unjustly in unsafe conditions. The letter comes after 56 mainly Democrat US Congress members published a similar letter last Monday (Oct 19). The push amounts to an “unprecedented mobilisation” that “demonstrates the swelling frustration of the international community with rights abuses in Egypt,” the US-based Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said in a statement.
- Officials in Cairo stated that Egypt has become the world’s largest exporter of oranges by volume. Oranges grown in the desert are driving the export boom, though its rivals Spain and South Africa still make much more in revenue from their orange exports. Mohamed Abdel Hady, the head of the Citrus Committee at the Agricultural Export Council, a business association, credits the competitive value of Egyptian pound, which fell steeply against the dollar in 2016 as a condition for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.
- Lebanon and Israel have, under UN auspices with American mediation, begun talks aimed at reaching agreement on a line in the Mediterranean separating their respective exclusive economic zones. At stake is the peaceful, undisputed development of natural gas resources under the seabed. These resources could produce vast revenues which, if they start to flow this decade, could help Lebanon recover from economic collapse.
- Turkey has started relocating besieged military outposts in northwestern Syria. The new positions are intended to help prevent an all-out assault on one of the war’s last front lines and a new exodus of refugees. Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, have closed in on the Turkish facilities in recent weeks as they attempt to take the final major opposition bastion of Idlib after a decade of conflict.
- Tunisia will have discussions with the IMF in the coming weeks and may request more financing facilities, a senior official at the lender said. Tunisia agreed with the fund in April to borrow US$743 million (S$1 billion) to help counter-economic mayhem from the coronavirus pandemic after a previous long-term IMF loan programme had expired. Tunisia expects its economy to shrink by 7 per cent this year and its fiscal deficit to balloon to 14 per cent of GDP. It has received financial support from the EU and the World Bank.
- Last Wednesday (Oct 21), the security forces in Lagos, Nigeria, shot protestors who were demonstrating against police brutality, despite a new curfew going into effect. “The shooting happened at Lekki Toll Plaza following the 24-hour curfew imposed on Lagos,” said Gbenga Omotoso, the Lagos state commissioner for information. The protest began two weeks ago when a video was circulated online, showing a man who had been beaten by police officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). For several years, the squad has been on the list for its torture, killings and widespread abuses by human rights groups.
- Last Friday (Oct 23), the preliminary results showed that Alpha Condé won twice as many votes as the opposition candidate, Mamadou Cellou Dalein Diallo of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), with 37 out of 38 districts counted. The protests resulted in dozens of deaths, including at least 17 in skirmishes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda warned that the Guinea warring factions could be prosecuted. Diallo’s party found evidence of fraud and is going to contest the result in the constitutional court.
- Former Burundian President Pierre Buyoya rejected his sentence to life imprisonment last Wednesday (Oct 21), regarding the murder of his predecessor Melchoir Ndadaye in 1993. Ndadaye was the first democratically elected president. Buyoya claimed that the trial was neither “fair” nor “equitable” as there was an alleged violation of the rights of defence.
- The 84-year old Rwandan genocide suspect, Felicien Kabuga, is to be moved to a detention unit in The Hague, Netherlands, due to health considerations and the pandemic. He has been jailed in France since May. The decision was made by Arusha-based judge Iain Bonomy last Wednesday (Oct 21) who said in a written decision from Arusha that “there are exceptional circumstances and that it would be in the interests of justice”. Kabuga is likely to spend at several months in The Hague and is brought before an international judge for his war crimes, which included genocide.
- The West African coastal nation of Ivory Coast witnessed a high-staked election last Thursday (Oct 22). Activists like Ange Brou, the director of the NGO Youth Space for Peace, called for youths and politicians to have peaceful dialogues. Approximately 77 per cent of the population is under the age of 35, which could greatly influence the elections. There is a generation gap of ideas between the youths and older generations regarding national identity, unemployment and education that are vital for the elections.
- Last Thursday (Oct 22), the lakes of Kenya’s Rift Valley had risen to levels that the country has not seen in the past 50 years. This has caused immense flooding along the chains of fresh and saltwater lakes spanning from the deserts of Turkana to the fertile shores of Naivasha. The Water Resources Authority (WRA) indicated that the lake rose 2.7 metres between April and June, pushing water half a kilometre inland. The ecological balance has also greatly affected, in particular, the mass attraction of pink flamingos.
- The protests in Sudan turned deadly as more than 250 people were killed last Thursday (Oct 22), according to doctors linked to the anti-Bashir protest movement. The demonstrations were a result of the worsening economic situation and the injustice of the hundreds killed during the toppling of President Omar-Al Bashir in 2019.