- Some of the United States’ (US) biggest and closest allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia have congratulated President-elect Joe Biden despite incumbent Donald Trump’s refusal to concede. China only congratulated Biden last Friday (Nov 13) after initially being cautious, for fear of antagonising Trump. Russia, however, has yet to offer well wishes, although Russian leader Vladimir Putin was among the first to congratulate Trump on his election victory in 2016.
- Scientists said last Monday (Nov 9) that initial trial results for Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine far outpaced their expectations for protection against a completely new disease. However, many questions remain unanswered, including whether the vaccine can prevent severe disease or complications, how long it will protect against infection and how well it will work on the elderly.
- President Donald Trump announced on Twitter last Monday (Nov 9) that US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has been “terminated”, following a public falling-out between Trump and Esper in recent weeks. The next day, he moved two Trump loyalists into key Pentagon posts, raising concern among Democrats about whether US national security policy may become unsettled as Trump exits office. Acting Pentagon chief Chris Miller, who replaced Esper, said in his first message to US military forces that it was time to end America’s conflicts in the Middle East.
- A group of US federal, state and local officials working with a Department of Homeland Security agency directly contradicted President Donald Trump’s claim that a voting machine system “deleted 2.7 million Trump votes nationwide”. The election officials issued a statement last Thursday (Nov 12) declaring flatly that the election “was the most secure in American history” and that “there is no evidence” any voting systems were compromised.
- President Donald Trump appeared to acknowledge publicly for the first time yesterday (Nov 15) that Democrat Joe Biden won the US presidential election. However, he asserted that it was “rigged”, reiterating his false claims of widespread voting fraud. He had previously come close to acknowledging for the first time that the next US administration may not be led by him, although he stopped short of a formal concession. Leading US Republicans rallied last Monday (Nov 9) around President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election, declining to challenge the false narrative that it was stolen from him or to recognise Biden’s victory. However, a handful of Republican senators on Thursday (Nov 12) urged the Trump administration to allow Biden to receive intelligence briefings, implicitly acknowledging he could eventually occupy the White House.
- President Donald Trump last Thursday (Nov 12) signed an executive order barring Americans from investing in Chinese companies that the White House believes support Beijing’s military. The US contends that these companies enable China’s military evolution through access to advanced technologies and expertise, and as a result, have in part led to Beijing’s aggressive global expansion. The ban will take effect on Jan 11, 2021.
- US President-elect Joe Biden solidified his election victory last Friday (Nov 13) by winning the state of Georgia, after Edison Research projected the previous day that he would win Arizona. Edison Research also projected that North Carolina, the only other battleground state with an outstanding vote count, would go to President Donald Trump. This finalised the electoral vote tally at 306 for Biden to 232 for Trump. Biden’s win in Arizona and Georgia flipped the states that were once Republican strongholds for the first time in almost three decades.
- The Trump campaign’s long-shot efforts to reverse an apparent win for President-elect Joe Biden by challenging votes in courts suffered three big setbacks in Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania last Friday (Nov 13). Trump has refused to concede the race, as his campaign conducts a series of legal challenges in a half-dozen battleground states in an effort to reverse Biden’s lead.
- Brazilian congresswoman and black feminist activist Taliria Petrone fled Rio with her five-month-old daughter after an alleged plot to kill her was uncovered. She was friends with politician Marielle Franco who was shot dead in March 2018 by two now-former policemen. These threats brought to light the increasing power paramilitary gangs have.
- Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa has allowed the resumption of late-stage Brazilian clinical trials for China’s Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine. The study was initially suspended after a subject’s death. President Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime China critic, stated last Wednesday (Nov 11) that his government would purchase any vaccine approved by Anvisa and the health ministry, including the Sinovac vaccine.
- The European Union (EU) imposed a new raft of sanctions on Venezuela, despite President Nicolas Maduro’s warning that the punitive actions will harm his country’s citizens. The EU has followed the path of the US and Britain in efforts described as a total embargo to try to force Maduro from office. However, as former United Nations special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas warned last year, the main impact of these measures would be on ordinary Venezuelans.
- Argentina authorised people to grow marijuana at home for medicinal use last Thursday (Nov 2). A decree issued by President Alberto Fernandez allows pharmacies to sell cannabis-derived oils, creams and other products. The decree also orders public and private insurance systems to cover these medications for patients who obtain a prescription. This is the latest step in softening drug laws in Latin America.
- Manuel Merino was sworn in as Interim President of Peru last Tuesday (Nov 10) following the ousting of President Martin Vizcarra by Congress last Monday. Merino, who was head of Congress, will be in office until July 2021 with elections scheduled for April 2021. Peruvians started protests upon the abrupt removal of President Martin Vizcarra. The protests clashed with riot police on the streets of Lima last Thursday (Nov 12). The clashes and other more peaceful protests increased pressure on Congress and the new government. Ousted President Vizcarra was popular with voters and was removed in an impeachment trial over allegations that he had received bribes.
- Asia-Pacific nations signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) after eight years of negotiations, creating the world’s largest free-trade zone that will encompass a third of the global economy. The RCEP includes China, but not the US. The deal was finalised on Nov 11 and signed on Nov 15 on the final day of the 37th ASEAN Summit. This will unite the 10 ASEAN nations along with Japan, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
- Myanmar’s ruling party leader Aung San Suu Kyi claimed victory last Monday (Nov 9) after the general elections. The spokesman for the National League for Democracy Party (NLD) said their unofficial vote count showed they had won 322 seats, which was what was needed to form a new government. The results from the elections committee had not been released at the time. Their main opposition in the elections was the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which did poorly. Despite NLD’s win, the army will still remain a dominant force.
- Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition leaders said that they would resign last Wednesday (Nov 11). Their action is in protest against the dismissal of four of their colleagues from the city assembly following the resolution by the Chinese government, allowing city executives to expel lawmakers deemed to advocate Hong Kong’s independence, collude with foreign forces or threaten national security, without having to go through court.
- Australia is considering opening its border to Asian countries, including parts of China. While PM Scott Morrison has ruled out the entry from the US or Europe, he expressed Canberra’s interest in welcoming people from low-risk places such as Japan and Singapore. Canberra seeks to revive tourism and the economy after recording three days without locally acquired cases of Covid-19.
- Australia has scrapped plans to allow foreign students to return to continue their studies. Canberra cited the lack of quarantine facilities as the reason behind their decision. Canberra will be prioritising the return of locals who have been stuck overseas, as relayed by PM Scott Morrison last Friday (Nov 13). However, this continuous ban deepens the financial loss Australian education providers are facing, estimated to be between A$3.10 billion (S$3.04 billion) and A$4.80 billion (S$4.70 billion).
- Singapore and Hong Kong are to start ‘travel bubble’ flights on Nov 22. This ‘bubble’ will allow quarantine-free leisure travel between the two countries. Singapore’s Minister of Transport has labelled the agreement as the “first of its kind”. Agreement on the ‘bubble’ had only been possible due to the positive virus situation in both city-states. On Nov 11, flights from Singapore to Hong Kong for Nov 22 were sold out.
- Twenty-one people from the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony were arrested in Singapore last Wednesday (Nov 11). After the group’s entities in Singapore were dissolved, nine men and 12 women were caught engaging in activities connected to the church. The members are being investigated for potential offences under the Societies Act and if found guilty, may be jailed up to three years, be fined S$5000, or both.
- The German government released a statement that they had no reliable evidence that King Maha Vajiralongkorn had done anything illegal while living there. Protesters in Thailand submitted a letter to the German embassy in Bangkok, asking the authorities to investigate whether the king had exercised his royal authority during his time in Germany. This act is in violation of the country’s law.
- Typhoon Vamco, the third storm in three weeks in the Philippines hit last Wednesday (Nov 11). After Typhoon Goni, the most powerful typhoon this year, many are still without power and telecommunication. Many were deserted and homeless while losing loved ones. Last Friday (Nov 13), dams overflowed, causing entire homes to be completely submerged, while people waited anxiously for authorities to rescue them. The death toll for this storm alone rose to 67 as of Nov 15. Vietnam braced for Typhoon Vamco to hit them after passing the Philippines.
- Turkey and Russia signed an agreement last Wednesday (Nov 11) to establish a joint centre to coordinate efforts for monitoring a ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, President Tayyip Erdogan said. This follows the deployment of Russian peacekeeping troops to Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday (Nov 10) as part of the ceasefire deal agreed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Under the deal, Azerbaijan will get to keep all of its territorial gains, and ethnic Armenian forces must hand over control of a slew of other territories between now and Dec 1. Meanwhile, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had come under pressure in recent days, with thousands of demonstrators protesting since Tuesday (Nov 10) and demanding he step down over the ceasefire deal. An assassination attempt on the prime minister and the seizure of power by a group of former officials were also prevented, Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) has said.
- World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed efforts last Monday (Nov 9) to strengthen the Geneva-based body through reform and said that it was looking forward to working closely with the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden. US President Donald Trump has frozen US funding to the WHO and begun a process that would see the US withdraw from the body next July, drawing wide international criticism amid the Covid-19 crisis.
- Dominic Cummings, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most powerful adviser who masterminded the 2016 Brexit referendum vote and Johnson’s 2019 landslide election win, will step down by year-end. Cummings’ exit will curb the influence of Brexiteers advocating a hard line towards the EU. Johnson is currently trying to clinch a last-minute deal with the EU, though he is under pressure from Conservative lawmakers to recast his administration when Brexit is completed. Britain said last Monday (Nov 9) that it was open to a “sensible” compromise on fishing and that there was goodwill on both sides to progress towards a Brexit trade deal.
- Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci appeared before a judge for the first time to face war crime charges in The Hague last Monday (Nov 9). Thaci, who had been president since 2016, stepped down to face allegations at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers of responsibility for detaining, torturing and killing wartime opponents to gain political control of the contested region. Thaci led the fight against Serbian forces in 1998-1999 as a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army and oversaw the country’s declaration of independence 12 years ago.
- The European Commission said last Tuesday (Nov 10) that Amazon breached European antitrust rules by using independent sellers’ data to benefit its own retail business. It also announced a second formal investigation into Amazon’s e-commerce processes. Amazon said it disagreed with the commission’s assertions and “will continue to make every effort to ensure it has an accurate understanding of the facts”.
- Pope Francis, in his first public comment after the release of an explosive report on the Vatican’s mishandling of the case of ex-US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, again vowed to put an end to sexual abuse in the Church. The report, published last Tuesday (Nov 10), highlighted the failings by successive popes, Vatican officials and US clerics, allowing McCarrick to rise through church ranks despite multiple allegations of abuse.
- Britain has expelled two Belarusian diplomats in response to the removal of two UK envoys from the former Soviet bloc country. The British diplomats were ordered home on Nov 9 after Belarus objected to their observation of street protests in Minsk on Nov 8. British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the expulsions ran counter to diplomatic norms since the two diplomats had been carrying out legitimate duties.
- Hungary cannot accept a link between access to EU funds and meeting rule-of-law criteria as this would be akin to the EU operating like the former Soviet Union, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last Friday (Nov 13). The conditionality was a key concern for the European Parliament and several north European countries, such as the Netherlands, which wanted even stricter conditions. While Hungary has the power to veto the long-term budget and prevent any member state from getting EU funding, this would also harm the country, which is a big net beneficiary of the budget.
- Amnesty International urged authorities in Tunisia to stop using “largely outdated, overly broad and repressive laws” to crackdown on freedom of expression online. The UK-based rights group last Monday (Nov 9) reported that 40 people faced criminal prosecution for online posts critical of local authorities, the police or other state officials.
- Egypt’s central bank announced last Thursday (Nov 12) that the sale of E£21 billion (S$1.75 billion) worth of treasury bills has been launched to cover the country’s budget deficit. Egypt has been trying to revive the economy which was destroyed by political upheaval during the 2011 revolution.
- Russia pledged US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) to the Syrian regime under President Bashar Al-Assad to support the building of the country’s infrastructure and economy. Russia has also decided to open a trade mission in the capital, Damascus. The support came during the two-day conference on the return of Syrian refugees from Nov 11 to Nov 12.
- Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz reiterated last Thursday (Nov 12) that Saudi Arabia supports Yemeni people in reclaiming their independence and sovereignty. At the opening of the eighth Shura Council session last Wednesday (Nov 11), King Salman denounced the Iranian-backed Houthi militia’s violation of international laws. He also called on the international community to take a firm stance towards Iran.
- The presidential office of Turkey announced plans to build a transit-loan based main container port in the Eastern Mediterranean to operate as a gateway to the Middle East and Central Asia. This action will contribute to the Belt and Road Initiative. Project works are scheduled to be carried out next year, according to the Presidential Annual Plan for 2021.
- The Iranian state blamed the US for vaccine payment problems. The US sanctions on Iran are preventing Iran from making advance payment to the global COVAX facility set up to provide Covid-19 vaccines to poorer countries. Iran is currently experiencing their third wave of the coronavirus with talks on imposing a two-week lockdown underway.
- A likely successor to Al-Qaeda’s Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah was killed in Iran by Israeli operatives. The killing was reported to be at the behest of the US. “Al-Qaeda has not announced his death, the Iranian government covered it up and no government has publicly claimed responsibility,” as reported by Times.
- Egypt’s Transport Minister Kamel al-Wazir announced proposals to construct a railway line to reach Wadi Halfa and to extend a line to Libya. The announcement came as part of Egyptian government efforts to overhaul the country’s transport system. Under President Abdal Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt has been looking to build cross-border railway lines with neighbouring countries.
- At least three rockets were fired at Eritrea’s capital from Ethiopia last Saturday (Nov 14), five regional diplomats said, a major escalation of a conflict between Ethiopian government troops and rebellious local forces in the Tigray region. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had launched a military campaign against Tigray’s leaders after accusing them of attacking federal troops based in the northern region that borders Eritrea and Sudan. Reports of the mass killing of civilians in the Tigray region “would amount to war crimes” if confirmed, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has warned. Sudanese officials said last Wednesday (Nov 11) that the country is bracing for up to 200,000 refugees fleeing the deadly conflict.
- Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara won a third term with 94.27 per cent of the votes, final results showed last Monday (Nov 9), after an election that opposition parties largely boycotted and dismissed as illegal. Main opposition figures are facing criminal charges after denouncing the Oct 31 vote and creating a rival government in protest. Clashes in the run-up to the vote and on election day killed around 35 people, officials said.
- Zambia is squaring up for a bruising encounter with foreign bondholders after saying it can’t pay interest on one of its Eurobonds. A refusal by bond investors last Friday (Nov 13) to grant debt relief to the government sets the tone for tough restructuring negotiations with a diverse range of creditors. This makes the country the first African defaulter since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Millions of men, women and children in war-torn Yemen are facing famine again, top UN officials warned last Wednesday (Nov 11) as they appealed for more money to prevent it. The UN describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80 per cent of the people in need of help.
- Algerians have approved constitutional reforms in a referendum, though with a record low turnout, the country’s constitutional council announced. The referendum held on Nov 1 was widely seen as the government’s manoeuvre to neutralise the Hirak protest movement, which had called for a boycott of the plebiscite. Observers point out that the constitutional changes keep key powers and appointments in the hands of the president.