A nun prays in front of candles and flowers left in tribute to the victims of a deadly knife attack at the Notre Dame church in Nice, France, October 30, 2020. | Photo Credit: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Nov 2: UK enters second lockdown, New Zealand approves euthanasia, Muslim anger against Macron grows

North America

  • United States (US) officials claimed that some Iranian hackers have successfully accessed voter data last Friday (Oct 30). According to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), these were the same group responsible for voter intimidation emails and election-related disinformation in mid-October. 
  • US President Donald Trump has continued to downplay the threat of Covid-19 as he continues to hold huge campaign events just days before the 2020 US presidential elections. According to a report released last Friday (Oct 30) by Stanford’s economics department, Trump’s rallies have “ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 incremental confirmed cases of Covid-19 and likely led to more than 700 deaths”.
  • Tensions gripped the streets of Philadelphia, US, following yet another death caused by police violence last Monday (Oct 26) against a Black man, Walter Wallace Jr., who was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Wallace suffered from bipolar disorder, and his psychological difficulties were relayed by his wife to the officers who encountered him before the shooting. Demonstrators demanded racial justice through peaceful rallies on the same day which turned into violent unrest and looting as darkness fell. Mayor Jim Kenney has since placed the city under curfew last Wednesday (Oct 28).
  • Two wildfires raged across Southern California, US, last Tuesday (Oct 27), nearly doubling in size overnight, forcing thousands more to evict from their homes. The record-breaking 2020 fire season has seen enormous wildfires tear across California and other states in the West. Experts have linked the worsening fire season to climate change, as emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels have led to warmer and drier conditions. More than five million acres have been burned across the US this year. 
  • The Trump administration lifted environmental protection in the largest forest in the US, opening up more than three million hectares in Tongass National Forest to logging despite opposition from environmental groups and Indigenous leaders. The Tongass has often been referred to as ‘America’s Amazon’, and is considered the largest contiguous temperate rainforest in the world. This move will vastly endanger the diverse ecosystem and is viewed as a rollback of environmental protections in the country.
  • With only five days left till the 2020 US presidential election, the Trump administration is reinforcing its litany of sanctions aimed at isolating Iran. US officials revealed last Thursday (Oct 29) that they had seized Iranian missiles bound for Yemen and sold US$1.1 million (S$ 1.5 million) barrels of previously-seized Iranian oil bound for Venezuela. This move by the Trump Administration is making it tougher for a potential Biden administration to unwind. 
  • In a ruling last Thursday (Oct 29), Chinese tech giant Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Meng Wanzhou, has gained a staged victory in her latest battle against extradition to the US. The Canadian judge allowed Ms Meng’s lawyers to pursue their claims that the US misled Canada on the basics of the case, agreeing to the introduction of new evidence. Ms Meng was arrested in December 2018 by Canadian authorities at the request of the US for allegedly violating US law. The US Justice Department announced in January 2019 that it would formally seek the extradition of Ms Meng to the US. Ms Meng is charged with fraud in the US on allegations that she lied to the British bank HSBC concerning Huawei’s relationship with its former subsidiary Skycom in Iran, which was accused of violating US sanctions on Iran. 

South America

  • Chileans poured by the thousands into the country’s main squares on Sunday (Oct 25) night, in celebration of a ringing endorsement to change the constitution. Exit polls showed that more than 78 per cent of votes casted were in favour of replacing a Pinochet-era constitution. The plebiscite was called in response to street protests in 2019. President Sebastian Pinera warned that this was the start of a very long process, and added that any new draft must incorporate “the legacy of past generations, the will of present generations and the hopes of generations to come”.
  • A Bolivian judge annulled the arrest warrant for ex-President Evo Morales last week, paving the way for his return to the country. The annulment follows in the wake of his Mas party’s resounding victory in the re-run of the 2019 presidential election on Oct 18. The warrant was annulled as it was ruled that due process was not adhered, but the criminal charges of sedition and terrorism against him still stand. Morales fled to Argentina last year, following mass protests over allegations of vote-rigging during the 2019 election.
  • The bodies of at least 59 people were found in the central Mexico state of Guanajuato over the last week. They were found in 52 pits at a property in the town of Salvatierra. Local officials believed that residents were aware that bodies were being disposed of there. The state has the largest number of homicides of any in Mexico, with heavy presence of organised crime. The region is also the scene of a bloody turf war between two rival cartels.
  • Brazil is to extend its military deployment in the Amazon by five months, to fight the destruction of the rainforest. Vice President Hamilton Mourao announced last Monday (Oct 26) that President Jair Bolsonaro would sign a decree that will lengthen the military’s operation through April 2021 to protect the world’s largest rainforest. President Bolsonaro’s right-wing government has come under heavy international pressure over heightened levels of deforestation and forest fires since he took office in January 2019. Global investment funds have also threatened to divest from Brazil, while a trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur bloc hinges on Amazon’s deforestation.
  • The Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) new head Mauricio Claver-Carone launched an early push for a capital increase, leveraging on concerns of Chinese lending. Claver-Carone began lobbying US lawmakers months before any action from the bank’s board, for support to boost Latin America’s main financing institution’s yearly lending capacity to US$20 billion (S$27.3 billion). He said his outreach was “unorthodox”, but with the intention to smooth the way for approval. Concerns over the lack of transparency in Chinese lending, especially in developing countries, is a “huge selling point”, according to the bank chief. He added that most countries in the region would prefer to borrow from the IDB under better financial terms.
  • Venezuela charged detained opposition activist Roland Carreno for alleged “terrorist financing” last Wednesday (Oct 28). The country’s chief prosecutor Tarek Saab also indicted Carreno for conspiracy to destabilise the country. Carreno, the coordinator of opposition party Popular Will, was arrested earlier in the week after the party leader Leopoldo Lopez fled the country for Spain. Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido dismissed the arrest as an act of political persecution by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
  • Russia completed the preliminary submission documents to Brazil’s health regulator, for its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine. This process is a necessary step for the Russian vaccine to be used in Brazil. ANVISA, the health regulator, said that the submission was sent with a request to make a “prior analysis” before formal submission of the research request. Several Brazilian states have entered into agreements to conduct Phase III trials of Sputnik V, as well as plans to purchase the vaccine.

Asia Pacific

  • China announced that it will impose sanctions on major US defence companies last Monday (Oct 26), in response to US arms sales to Taiwan. Lockheed Martin and Boeing Defense were among those targeted by the sanctions. The multi-billion-dollar arms deal included the sale of 66 F-16 fighter jets and a slew of reconnaissance sensors, missiles and rockets. The sale has drawn the ire of China, calling for the US to cease selling weapons and cut military ties with Taiwan. The Chinese military has also increased its activities around the self-governing territory.
  • Two same-sex couples married in the Taiwanese army’s annual mass wedding last Friday (Oct 30). The military endorsed the unions in a statement, which said: “the ministry gives its blessings to same-sex servicemen who are getting married”. Positive comments were also written on the couples’ posted photos on Facebook. Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, became the first region in Asian to legalise same-sex marriage in May 2019.
  • Taiwan marked a record 200 days without domestic Covid-19 infection last Thursday (Oct 29), despite a resurgence of cases globally. The success of the island has been a gold-standard for the world, stemming from early actions by local authorities to stem the spread of the virus. Taiwan implemented strict control measures, including a two-week quarantine for anyone coming into the island, and pouring resources into testing and tracing. The island recorded 553 cases of Covid-19 and seven deaths. Meanwhile, infection cases and deaths have begun to rise again in parts of Europe and the US.
  • New Zealand voted to legalise euthanasia in a referendum, allowing for those suffering from extreme pain to be given a choice to bring their life to a close. Preliminary results announced last Friday (Oct 30) showed more than 65 per cent support to legalise euthanasia. Newly re-elected Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government will have until Nov 2021 to implement the act, and the assisted dying will be administered by the Ministry of Health.  The referendum question appeared on the Oct 17 general election ballot paper. A referendum on the legalisation of cannabis also took place simultaneously but failed to win support with 53.1 per cent rejecting it.
  • Pakistan’s government vowed to “vehemently” oppose India’s application for the EU’s recognition of basmati rice. India had submitted a bid for the long-grain aromatic rice to be recognised by the EU as being grown exclusively in specific areas of India. The application raised concerns in Pakistan, as a successful bid by India would end the zero tariffs privilege Pakistan enjoys from the EU on its export of basmati rice. Pakistan’s exports of basmati rice to the EU more than doubled over the past three year, to 300,000 tons, whereas India’s exports fell due to failure to meet EU’s strict standards on pesticide use.
  • Thousands of Thai royalists gathered at Bangkok’s Grand Palace in a show of support for the embattled king last Sunday (Nov 1). Decked in yellow – the royal colour – royalists thronged to the palace to catch a glimpse of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and challenge the growing pro-democracy movement. The Thai monarchy has been marred by months of protests, mainly from students, calling for reforms to the monarchy, changing the constitution and the stepping down of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha.
  • Typhoon Goni struck the eastern Philippines last Sunday (Nov 1), killing at least 10. The typhoon has been registered as the world’s strongest storm in 2020, with winds up to 265km/h. The storm made landfall on the main island of Luzon, home to the country’s capital of Manila, while officials had ordered pre-emptive evacuations of coastal and low-lying areas. The country was still reeling from Typhoon Molave, which swept through the islands and killed 22 people the week before. The storms have put a major strain on emergency services as the nation grapples with the pandemic. The Philippines has the second-highest number of  Covid-19 cases, after
    Indonesia.
  • Seven pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong were arrested last Sunday (Nov 1), over the violent clashes during a May parliamentary hearing. The arrests were made following a report filed by the Legislative Council (LegCo) secretariat on the day of the meeting and a subsequent police investigation. The seven were suspected of contempt and interference with LegCo officers. Police said that they have been detained for further enquiries, adding that “further arrests may be made”. The arrests come amid a widespread crackdown on opposition dissent in Hong Kong.

Europe

  • While the preliminary results last Saturday (Oct 31) shows that the governing Georgian Dream party is leading Georgia’s parliamentary election with a vote share of just over 50 per cent, the opposition has rejected the results and planned to protest. 
  • United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered for a four-week national lockdown of England for the second time after the UK passed the milestone of one million Covid-19 cases and the second wave of infections threatened to overwhelm the health service. In some of the most onerous restrictions in the UK’s peacetime history, people will only be allowed to leave home for specific reasons such as education, work, exercise, shopping for essentials and medicines or caring for the vulnerable. 
  • A Greek Orthodox priest, Nikolaos Kakavelaki, has been critically injured in a shooting outside his church in the French city of Lyon last Saturday afternoon (Oct 31). The reason for the attack was unclear. This shooting comes two days after a knife attack at a Catholic church in the French city of Nice that killed three people. 
  • A powerful earthquake last Friday (Oct 30) struck Turkey’s Aegean coast and the north of a Greek island of Samos, resulting in more than 800 people injured, 39 casualties and many still missing. The earthquake not only toppled buildings in Turkey’s third-largest city, Izmir but also resulted in a small tsunami in the district of Seferihisar and Samos. 
  • Russian police in Tatarstan fatally shot a teenager last Friday (Oct 30) after he stabbed an officer three times. While it was not immediately clear what the teenager’s motive for such an attack was, this incident has been considered an attempted “terrorist” attack by the authorities. The teenager had also previously attempted to set fire to a police station when the officers intervened. 
  • Three people have died in a knife attack at the Notre-Dame Basilica in the southern city of Nice, France last Thursday (Oct 29). This was amid tensions about a French newspaper’s publication of caricatures mocking the Prophet Muhammad. One of the elderly victims was “virtually beheaded”. The suspect was a 21-year-old Tunisian male national who spoke of “Islamo-fascism” as he repeatedly chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest). Anti-terror prosecutors have opened an investigation into the attack and France has raised its national security alert to its highest level. This has been the third attack in France since 2020. 
  • The UN migration agency announced last Thursday (Oct 29) that at least 140 Europe-bound migrants drowned off the coast of Senegal after their boat caught fire and capsized. While the Senegalese and Spanish navies and fishermen managed to rescue 60 people, at least 140 people drowned. This marks the deadliest shipwreck recorded this year. 
  • Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of using cluster munitions in two days of attacks, killing at least 25 people and wounding dozens in Barda, eastern Azerbaijan, near Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has denied carrying out the attacks last Tuesday (Oct 27) and Wednesday (Oct 28), resulting in a total of 28 casualties. Wednesday’s strike marked the deadliest reported attack on civilians in a month of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh. The attacks came despite a US-brokered truce agreed the previous weekend, the third ceasefire attempt in a row to collapse just minutes after it took effect. 
  • Despite tight Covid-19 restrictions, the Polish decided to hit the streets last Wednesday (Oct 28) as a sign of protest over a court ruling to impose a near-total abortion ban. Terminations will only be allowed for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest and/or when a woman’s life is at risk. The ruling cannot be appealed but only comes into force if it is published in the journal of laws. It is still uncertain when this will happen, or if there will be more protests to come. 
  • A deadly Russian airstrike that killed at least 35 of Turkish-backed rebel fighters and wounded more than 50 in northwest Syria last Monday (Oct 26) has marked a significant escalation between Russia and Turkey. 

Middle East

  • The Qatar government said that the invasive searches of women at its airport were “illegal”. The government statement added that those responsible have been “referred to the Public Prosecution Office”. The incident happened on Oct 2 at Doha’s Hamad International Airport, where 13 women on Qatar Airways flight bound for Sydney were ordered to disembark and subjected to a strip search and a medical examination. Australia, UK and New Zealand nationals were involved, whose governments have issued strongly-worded statements dismissing the violations. Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani has expressed the nation’s “sincerest apology for what some female travellers went through”.
  • The US State Department has approved the sale of 50 F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a deal that could be worth US$10 billion (S$13.7 billion). The US Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees could potentially block the deal over concerns of UAE’s involvement in civilian deaths in Yemen. Israel had initially opposed the arms deal but rescinded after the US guaranteed the preservation of Israel’s military superiority. The F-35 jets are the US’ latest multi-role fighters, boasting stealth capabilities.
  • A Jerusalem-born American teen was first to be issued a US passport that listed ‘Israel’ as the birthplace instead of the city. The US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, presented the document to 18-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky last Friday (Oct 30). US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the passport change last Thursday (Oct 29) to reflect the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel capital in 2017. Previous US governments had declined to recognise any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem, while the State Department policy was to list only the city as a birthplace.
  • A strong earthquake struck the Aegean Sea last Friday (Oct 30), killing at 60 in Turkey and the Greek islands. The 7.0 earthquake brought buildings down and set off tidal waves that slammed into the coastal areas. Towns were deluged by the sudden rise in sea level. Emergency services in Turkey were still pulling out survivors last Sunday (Nov 1).
  • Trilateral talks on the Blue Nile dam between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan resumed last Tuesday (Oct 27). This was the first talk in two months since Egypt left the negotiation table over the controversial multi-billion dollar dam on the Blue Nile. The three nations have been embroiled in a bitter dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam over concerns that it could severely affect the economies of Sudan and Egypt. The latter obtains 90% of its freshwater from the Nile.
  • Resentment towards France’s President Emmanuel Macron grew in the Muslim world after he promised France would not “renounce the caricatures” of the Prophet Muhammad. Macron’s statement came after the beheading of a French school teacher over the showing of the cartoon. Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan supported a boycott of French goods, while Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution urging its government to recall its envoy from Paris. Tens of thousands of demonstrators also took the streets in Pakistan, Lebanon and Turkey to protest against Macron. Leaders of other Muslim-majority have also dismissed the French leader’s statements.
  • The US imposed fresh sanctions on Iran’s oil sector last Monday (Oct 26). The Treasury Department’s sanctioned targets included the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company as well as other individuals and entities. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Iran “uses the petroleum sector to fund the destabilising activities” of the Quds Force, the elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The move will see freezes of any US assets of those blacklisted and would ban Americans from dealing with them.

Africa

  • Sudan and the US have signed an agreement to restore the African country’s sovereign immunity. This agreement will settle cases brought against Sudan in US courts, including for the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, for which Sudan has agreed to pay a US$335 million (S$458 million) compensation to victims. The US President Donald Trump announced that Sudan would be taken off the list which the US designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993. This removal has been a top priority for Sudan’s transitional government which has been in power since August 2019, following the military removal of longtime President al-Bashir in the face of months-long protests against his rule.
  • Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara is seeking to secure a controversial third term in a tense presidential election held amid opposition. While Mr Ouattara was supposed to step aside after his second term to make way for a younger generation, the sudden death of his chosen successor forced a change in plan. This has called for a boycott and a civil disobedience campaign as opposition leaders say a third mandate is unconstitutional as it could make a fair and transparent vote impossible. At least 30 people have been killed in pre-election violence in Ivory Coast, evoking memories of a 2010-2011 crisis that killed around 3,000 people.
  • The clear lead that Tanzanian President John Magufuli and his Chama Cha Mapenduzi (CCM) party has in the current presidential election, has rendered the US suspicious of the election’s credibility. According to the US embassy, “the vote was marred by allegations of repeat voting, pre-filling ballots, detentions of candidates and protestors, restrictions on political parties’ representatives to access polling stations and blocking of social media platforms.”
  • The Cameroon national flag was flown at half-mast last Saturday (Oct 31) as Cameroon’s President Paul Biya declared a day of national mourning to pay homage to victims of a deadly shooting on Oct 24 at a school in Kumba that killed at least seven children, between the ages of 12 and 14. While no one has claimed responsibility yet, the government blamed separatists who had ordered that schools in the area be closed in September. This attack is a disturbing reminder of the exacting heavy toll on civilians, including children, many of whom, have been deprived of their right to education. Any attack on education facilities is seen as a grave violation of children’s rights.
  • A court in Kenya sentenced two men to 18 years in prison for helping al-Shabab gunmen in a 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall which resulted in 67 casualties. One of the men was given an additional 15-year jail sentence for possession of materials promoting “terrorism”. The attack happened two years after Kenya sent troops into Somalia following a series of kidnappings and raids on Kenyan soil by the armed group al-Shabab.
  • An attack on a village in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last Friday (Oct 30) has resulted in more than 20 civilian lives lost. While the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) did not claim responsibility for the attacks, they have been accused by DRC authorities for attacking a rival group of Congolese militia members before killing the civilians.
  • Two men were found guilty and sentenced to capital punishment in Mali last Wednesday (Oct 28) for killing more than two dozen people in attacks targeting foreigners in 2015. The two men attacked in revenge for cartoons of Prophet Muhammad by France’s Charlie Hebdo magazine.
  • Local authorities, residents and Ibuka, an umbrella organisation of genocide survivors associations, are jointly exhuming a mass grave believed to contain remains of about 5,000 victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in Gatsibo District, eastern Rwanda. According to the mayor of Gatsibo District, Richard Gasana, the exhumation of the mass grave recently discovered in the Kiziguro sector started last Tuesday (Oct 27) and could take about three weeks. Remains of the genocide victims are still being discovered in many parts of Rwanda even after 26 years.
  • A US citizen, Philipe Nathan Walton, who had been abducted in Niger last week has been rescued in a US military operation in neighbouring Nigeria. Mr Walton was taken from his farm in Massalata village in southern Niger last Tuesday (Oct 27) by armed men who demanded ransom for his father. The perpetrators appear to be from the Fulani ethnic group. While Niger faces a growing number of attack by armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, this kidnapping incident has no solid indications that Walton’s kidnapping was terrorism-related. Instead, it was “trending toward a kidnapping for ransom”.
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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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