Freight lorries parked near Ramsgate. Retailers say vehicles need to begin moving within 24 hours to avoid shortages. | Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Dec 28: Mexico deadliest place for journalists, freight held up at the Channel, Russian and Chinese bombers over S Korea

North America

  • Mexico was the deadliest country in the world for the media in 2020, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Nine journalists were killed this year, accounting for nearly a third of the total global fatalities in 2020. It also brought the death toll in Mexico to at least 120 since 2000. This year’s figures also mean that Mexican journalists are now more likely to be killed than those covering wars. There were hopes that there would be greater press freedom and protection after the election of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2018, who vowed to tackle violence against journalists, but the media have faced increased hostility. Mexico has long held the reputation of being a dangerous place for journalists outside of a war zone, especially those looking into organised crime and corrupt officials.
  • Nicaragua passed a law last Monday (Dec 21), that will sideline opposition to President Daniel Ortega in the country’s 2021 general elections. The Law in Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace was supported by 70 votes from Ortega’s ruling Sandinistas in the 92-seat National Assembly. Critics condemned the law as an attempt to muzzle opposition to the Central American strongman, who is seeking a third consecutive term in office. The law was ambiguous on how the ineligibility of candidates will be determined. Ortega is facing mounting international pressure from the US, the European Union and the Organisation of American States to make the electoral system more open and transparent.
  • Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party criticised the government’s draft of fuel standards after a government impact analysis found lower- and middle-income households to be hit hardest by the higher fuel costs. The Clean Fuel Standard is a key part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government’s plan to cut annual emissions by more than 20 megatons by 2030. The government report found that households will see an increase in liquid fuel cost on average between C$69 (S$71.22) and C$208 (S$214.68). The opposition party said that the plan was “irresponsible and self-defeating”.
  • Panama welcomed 220 Cuban doctors last Thursday (Dec 24), in a boost for the Central American nation’s healthcare system and fight against the ongoing pandemic. The local health ministry also called on private healthcare workers to join the national system to help battle Covid-19. The government sought to reimpose tighter movement restrictions as cases and deaths surged.
  • US President Donald Trump went on a Christmas-week executive clemency blitz, pardoning 41 and commuting eight sentences of his loyalists. Those pardoned included his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, longtime adviser Roger Stone, and Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Four former Blackwater private military contractors convicted of indiscriminate killing of civilians in Iraq were also pardoned. Trump’s critics have denounced his use of the presidential power as “rotten to the core”. In the waning days of Trump’s presidency, he is expected to issue more pardons.
    US President Donald Trump went on a Christmas-week executive clemency blitz, pardoning 41 and commuting eight sentences of his loyalists.
  • US President Donald Trump tossed the bipartisan Covid relief bill back to Congress last week, demanding that lawmakers raise the stimulus checks to US$2,000 (S$2,657.60). The US Congress had initially agreed on a US$600 (S$797.28) stimulus check to most Americans after months of wrangling. Trump’s refusal to sign has sent Congress scrambling to save the bill, failure to agree on the bill could deny millions of Americans currently living on the brink. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been in talks to salvage the bill, while the outgoing president has been seen golfing at his Florida golf club.
  • US President-elect Joe Biden received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine live on television last Monday (Dec 21). This was part of an ongoing effort by public officials to show Americans the safety of the vaccines. He thanked scientists and medical workers, saying their efforts were “just amazing”. In rare praise of the White House, he said that the administration “deserves some credit” for the vaccination campaign. Other public officials who have received the vaccine include Vice President Mike Pence, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and top infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci.

South America

  • Rio de Janeiro’s outgoing Mayor Marcelo Crivella was arrested last Tuesday (Dec 22) on allegations of graft. The mayor was accused of being involved in money laundering and a contract kickback scheme. This has become an embarrassment for his ideological ally, right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who had supported Crivella in his failed re-election bid for mayor of the city. The former evangelical pastor and nephew of billionaire preacher Edir Macedo has denied wrongdoing, and labelled the arrest as “political persecution”.
  • Colombia’s President Iván Duque announced last Monday (Dec 21) that undocumented Venezuelans will be denied access to the coronavirus vaccine. He added that only Venezuelans with dual nationality or formal migratory status will be eligible. The move will mean that hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees residing within Colombia’s borders will not be vaccinated. Public health experts and humanitarian groups expressed disbelief and strong condemnation of the president’s actions.
  • Peruvian farm workers resumed road blockades last Monday (Dec 21) after Congress failed to agree on reforms to the sector. Hundreds of workers of agricultural export companies had blocked the Pan-American Highway over poor pay. The blockade has stalled the flow of passenger and food exports. Lawmakers were unable to reach a consensus on a clause to raise base salaries for workers. The Association of Agricultural Producers Guilds of Peru (AGAP), which brings together companies in the farming sector, lamented that an increase in base salary would drive up costs and would force them to “re-evaluate” their investments. Agro-exports is Peru’s second-biggest generator of foreign exchange.
  • A record 22 candidates are vying for Peru’s top job in the country’s April 2021 presidential election. The current frontrunner is former national football team goalkeeper George Forsyth, who has 18 per cent support in the opinion polls. Other candidates include former nationalist President Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori leader of a right-wing party and daughter of former strongman Alberto Fujimori.
    A record 22 candidates are vying for Peru’s top job in the country’s April 2021 presidential election.
  • China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. coronavirus vaccine showed an efficacy rate of between 50 to 90 per cent, according to a Brazilian health official. Jean Gorinchteyn, Sao Paulo’s state health secretary, added that the full results of the vaccine trials will be released by Jan 7, 2021. Sinovac had requested for Sao Paulo’s health department to delay the release of the full results, raising questions about transparency. This is the third such delay and is seen as a blow to China in the race to produce a Covid-19 vaccine. The delays have fanned growing scepticism towards the Chinese vaccine in Brazil.
  • Colombia confirmed last Tuesday (Dec 22) that two Russian diplomats, accused of espionage by local media outlets, have left the country and cannot return. Local authorities refused to specify the reason for their exit, but cited “potential security risks”. Local news reports accused the two Russian diplomats of being tasked to obtain military intelligence and information about the energy industry and mineral commodities. In a tit-for-tat move, Russia declared two Colombian diplomats personae non gratae and expelled them from the country.

Asia Pacific

  • Singapore has confirmed its first case of the new Covid-19 variant found in the United Kingdom (UK) – the British B117 strain. The patient with the new variant is a 17-year-old female who had been studying in the UK since August 2020. Currently, there has been no evidence that the B117 strain is circulating within the Singapore community. 
  • More than 50 Australian coal ships have been stranded for more than four weeks off China’s coast due to a Chinese government import ban. Coal ships from other countries have already delivered their load and departed within the four weeks. China is currently facing one of its worst power blackouts as it experiences coal shortages.
  • The US Congress has reaffirmed the rights of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, last Tuesday (Dec 22). This move has been welcomed by the political head of Tibetans that is currently in exile. While this is a victory for the Tibetan freedom struggle, it has infuriated China who accused the US of interfering in its domestic affairs. China has seized control of Tibet since its troops entered the region in 1950, making Tibet one of the most restricted and sensitive areas in the country.
  • Indonesia could unlock billions of dollars in additional US financing if it joins President Donald Trump’s push for Muslim countries to establish ties with Israel. US and Israeli leaders are expecting more countries to join the wave of normalisation agreements with Israel, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
  • South Korean fighter jets scramble in response when Russian and Chinese strategic bombers flew together last Tuesday (Dec 22) over the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. This is the second in what seems to be a planned series of Sino-Russian manoeuvres that began last year. The area of sea between Japan, Russia, and the Korean Peninsula has become a scene of a potential flashpoint between these regional powers. The Russian Ministry of Defence justified this move as an act in strict accordance with the provisions of international law and does not violate foreign airspace. 
  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte condemned the recent police brutality last Sunday (Dec 20) which resulted in the death of a mother and son. While President Duterte had previously sworn to protect law enforcers from prosecution, he has distanced himself from this case as he swore to ensure the suspect will be prosecuted accordingly.
  • The world’s biggest maker of medical gloves, Top Glove Corporation in Malaysia, announced last Wednesday (Dec 23) that it will not fire whistleblowers. This news came after a 27-year-old Nepali worker, Yubaraj Khadka, was sacked after raising concerns about the lack of social distancing at the factories. Top Glove became the site of Malaysia’s biggest virus cluster in December after more than five thousand workers had been infected.
  • An aircraft carrier group led by China’s newest carrier has raised alarms as it sailed through the Taiwan Strait while making its way to routine drills in the South China Sea last Monday (Dec 21). This occurred one day after a US warship passed through the same stretch of sea. This move comes amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a part of its territory.

Europe

  • At least 40 countries have imposed a travel ban or restrictions on arrivals from the United Kingdom (UK), over fears of a new and more infectious Covid-19 strain detected in the country. Some member nations of the European Union (EU), including France, Germany and Ireland, maintained their travel restrictions despite the EU Commission urging the lifting of bans to minimise trade disruptions. Other countries who have also implemented travel restrictions on UK travels include the US, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Tunisia.
  • Facebook to wind up the Irish holding companies that it has used to channel hundreds of billions of profits to avoid paying taxes in the US, UK and other countries. The tech firm’s main Irish subsidiary paid US$101 million (S$134.21 million) in tax while recording profits in excess of US$15 billion (S$19.93 billion) in 2018. The company also announced that it will be repatriating its intellectual property to the US. The decision came shortly after US tax authorities claimed it owed US$9 billion (S$11.96 billion) in unpaid tax as a result of the social media giant’s decision to move its profits to Ireland.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill last Tuesday (Dec 22), that will grant former presidents of Russia lifetime immunity after they leave the office. A former president could still be stripped of immunity if found guilty of treason or other grave crimes. However, the new bill will additionally grant former presidents a lifetime seat in the federation council or senate, which assures immunity from prosecution upon leaving the presidency. The legislation will also protect their families from prosecution for crimes committed during their lifetime, and be exempted from questioning, searches or arrests by the police or investigators.
  • Thousands of freight lorry drivers are held up at the Channel crossing between France and the UK after the former announced a 48-hour ban on passengers and freight entering the UK, last Monday (Dec 21). The entry restrictions were imposed over fears of a new, more infectious strain of Covid-19 being detected in the UK. France eased the restrictions last Wednesday (Dec 23), but the movement of goods between the UK and Europe remains at a crawl. Concerns over food shortages have forced some supermarkets to airlift fresh produce into the UK. Frustrated lorry drivers were forced to spend Christmas in traffic gridlock, describing it as a “kidnapping”.
  • The UK and EU finally agreed on a Brexit trade deal on Christmas Eve (Dec 24), The 2,000-page long trade agreement encompassed a broad and detailed range from civil nuclear cooperation to fishing. The deal will ensure tariff-free trade between the UK and EU, and close police and judicial cooperation. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s team were in a celebratory mood, whilst EU leaders welcomed the deal as “least-worst outcome”. However, UK fishing chiefs denounced the deal as a “betrayal” by Johnson. UK lawmakers were also alarmed at plans to rush the deal through parliament in just one day.
  • The EU officially launched its Covid-19 mass vaccination programme last Sunday (Dec 27). The goal is to inoculate all adults in Europe by the end of 2021. The region of 450 million people has secured contracts with a range of suppliers for over two billion vaccine doses. The sheer unprecedented scale of the programme meant that some countries have called on retired medical workers to aid in the effort. However, high levels of hesitancy towards the vaccine threaten to derail reopening of the region. In response, EU leaders have promoted vaccination as “the last way out of the pandemic”.

Middle East

  • At least 11 climbers have been killed after heavy snow and winds in mountains north of Iran’s capital Tehran. Several climbers remain unaccounted for since last Friday (Dec 25) when two deaths were reported. The number of missing people continues to increase as concerned families contact the authorities. 
  • Seven crew members of an Iranian transport vessel have been missing after storms in the Gulf. The vessel had capsized in rough Gulf waters last Friday (Dec 25). Iran’s regional maritime body is still searching to find those missing by mobilising their facilities and forces, and informing passing vessels and the naval search and rescue centres of Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.
  • A Syrian refugee camp in northern Lebanon was set on fire last Saturday night (Dec 26) following a fight between members of the camp and a local Lebanese family. While the UNHCR has reported that those injured had been taken to the hospital, they did not provide an exact number.
    A Syrian refugee camp in northern Lebanon was set on fire last Saturday (Dec 26) after a fight between members of the camp and a local Lebanese family.
  • The Israeli military has carried out air raids last Saturday (Dec 26), targeting Hamas positions in the besieged Gaza Strip, injuring two people and causing damage. The attacks caused power cuts in the eastern parts and caused some damage to a children’s hospital, a centre for disabled people, and shattered the windows of some residential buildings. Attacks between the two regions still continue despite reaching an agreement to cease hostilities at the end of September. 
  • Libya’s rivals have kicked off an UN-brokered prisoner exchange last Friday (Dec 25) in the southwestern village of Al-Shwayrif. This was part of a ceasefire agreement that was inked more than two months ago in Geneva by the United Nations. The agreement included an exchange of all war prisoners.
  • At least 20 migrants and refugees died when their boat capsized off Tunisia’s coast last Thursday (Dec 24). This occurred on their way to the Italian island of Lampedusa while trying to cross the Mediterranean. Currently, five have been rescued, twenty bodies were recovered and the rest still missing.
  • United States President Donald Trump has blamed Iran for a rocket attack on the US embassy in Baghdad, threatening a military response should any Americans be killed. This attack sparked fears of renewed unrest. 
  • The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to end the joint African Union-UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, Sudan last Tuesday (Dec 22), after the mission’s mandate runs out on Dec 31. The remaining UN presence will be in the form of a political mission with no mandate to provide physical protection. The full details of the mission’s responsibilities are still being worked out.
  • The first Israel-Morocco direct commercial flight has landed in Rabat, Morocco, to mark the latest US-brokered normalisation deal between the two nations. Israeli envoys arrived last Tuesday (Dec 22) to meet the Moroccan king and hammer out the upgrade in ties. Morocco became the third Arab state this year, after the UAE and Bahrain to normalise ties with Israel under US-brokered deals, while Sudan has pledged to follow suit. However, Palestinians are not happy and condemned these deals for betraying a longstanding demand that Israel first meets their statehood demand. 
  • A 17-year-old Palestinian that had been accused of firing at soldiers was shot dead by Israeli forces in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem last Monday night (Dec 21). He was shot multiple times by the police after being chased and surrounded.
  • Lebanon’s Parliament has endorsed a landmark law criminalising sexual harassment last Monday (Dec 21). Perpetrators could spend up to four years in prison and be fined up to fifty times the minimum wage. The harassment can occur through words, actions, signals, or sexual and/or pornographic hints. The Lebanese Parliament also endorsed amendments to its 2014 domestic violence law to broaden its scope which would include violence related to, but not necessarily committed during marriage. 

Africa

  • The search for bodies has been called off after a boat capsized last Wednesday (Dec 23) on Lake Albert. The search was called off because there are no more claims. The region’s police suspect that the capsizing of the boat was due to the failure to adhere to safety measures and fast-changing weather patterns.
  • After 13 years of seeking justice, a Kenyan court has finally ruled in favour of four victims of sexual assault during the 2007 post-election violence. This judgement was a watershed moment for justice in Kenya as it is the first time that the government has been held responsible for its failure to investigate crimes of sexual violence. It also marked the first time ever that the government was ordered to compensate survivors for the harms they suffered. 
  • Three UN peacekeepers from Burundi in the Central African Republic (CAR) were killed, and two wounded by unidentified ‘armed combatants’ last Friday (Dec 25). This occurred hours after a rebel coalition fighting the government called off a unilateral truce and reiterated calls from the suspension of a general election which was scheduled to happen last Sunday (Dec 27). 
  • Ethiopia’s military has killed 42 armed men last Thursday (Dec 24) who have been accused of being involved in a massacre in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region. According to a Red Cross volunteer, the death toll from last Wednesday’s (Dec 23) attack has risen to 207 people. Meanwhile, nearly 40,000 people have fled their homes due to fighting. 
  • The hundreds of schoolboys that were abducted in northwestern Nigeria have been freed last Thursday (Dec 24). The boys were supposedly kidnapped by bandits masquerading as the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram. However, more concrete evidence is still required before confirming if Boko Haram was indeed involved. 
  • Bambari, Central African Republic’s (CAR) fourth-largest town that had been seized by rebel fighters last Tuesday (Dec 22) is currently in the hands of United Nations peacekeepers and national security forces. The attack followed the government’s accusations during the weekend that former president Francois Bozize was seeking to mount a coup with armed groups before upcoming elections. The attack resulted in a two-hour gunfight with CAR troops and the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA.
  • A new, potentially more infectious variant of the novel Covid-19 has been found in the UK in cases linked to South Africa. The new genetic mutation of the virus was discovered in South Africa, which could be responsible for South Africa’s second wave. The new variant from South Africa is highly concerning as it is more transmissible and has mutated further than the new variant in the UK. Another new variant of the new Covid-19 has emerged in Nigeria. This discovery could add to new alarm in the pandemic after similar variants of the virus that appear to be more contagious were announced in the UK and South Africa.
  • Sudan and Ethiopia have started their talks last Tuesday (Dec 22) in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to demarcate their border. The talks came a week after Ethiopian forces reportedly ambushed Sudanese troops along the border, killing four and wounding more than twenty.
  • The Malian defence and security forces have been accused of committing war crimes, and fighters and other armed groups perpetrated crimes against humanity. This report was revealed last Tuesday (Dec 22) by the International Commission of Inquiry for Mali regarding their investigation on the violence in Mali from 2012 to 2018. While the report has not yet been made public, it was obtained by the Agence France-Presse (AFC). The findings of this commission could likely provide a legal basis for future trials. 
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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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