Photo Credit: DPA, Istana Negara

Jan 18: Trump becomes the first President to be impeached twice, Malaysia declares state of emergency, Museveni secures another term as Ugandan President.

North America

  • United States (US) House representatives voted 232-197 to impeach sitting president Donald Trump for “incitement of insurrection” on Thursday (Jan 14) after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol while congress assembled to verify electoral college votes. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has since rejected Democrats’ request to reconvene congress before their next scheduled meeting on Jan 19.
  • In response to comments made online and at a rally that led to the breach of the Capitol by violent pro-Trump mobs, technology giants have moved to ban President Donald Trump on their platforms permanently or indefinitely. The non-exhaustive list includes Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Discord, Pinterest, and Stripe. Additionally, Parler, a social media application used by right-wingers and conservatives as an alternative to regular social media, has been removed from the App Store, Google Play Store, and Amazon’s AWS cloud. This came after complaints that it had been used to plan the siege on the Capitol.
  • Millions of users have moved from messaging application WhatsApp to privacy-centred messaging applications. Telegram logged (Jan 14) 25 million new users, while Signal reported (Jan 12) to have 7.5 million new downloads. Observers have deemed this app migration as a result of the backlash from WhatsApp’s new (Jan 4) privacy policy.
  • President-elect Joe Biden plans to enact a policy that will provide Americans with Post Office bank accounts, a US$1.9 trillion (S$2.52 trillion) stimulus plan, along with US$1,400 (S$1,850) stimulus checks for most Americans. These moves are seen to be far more progressive than his predecessors. 
  • The number of workers reporting to be absent from illness is approaching an all-time high as it jumps to 1.9 million workers in December according to new data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. The company that represents conglomerates like Procter & Gamble and Kellogg have stated that absenteeism rates have ranged from 10 per cent to 25 per cent just between November and December. 
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a state emergency and stay-home order after projections that the infection rates from Covid-19 will not flatten unless drastic measures are taken. Late in November, modelling indicated that the Canadian province would average 2,000 cases in December — that number was crossed on Dec 17, before the festive season. Since then, it has almost doubled.

South America

  • Ex-Bolivian President Evo Morales has been diagnosed with Covid-19. He has since received offers for treatment from allies Argentina, Venezuela, and Cuba as Bolivia’s critical care wards have been filled up after the end-of-year festivities. 
  • Cosmetics giant Natura CEO, João Paulo Ferreira, said on Thursday (Jan 14) that Brazilian authorities are not doing enough to combat illegal deforestation. Amazon deforestation climbed to a 12-year high in 2020, government data showed, with an area 15 times the size of Singapore being cleared.
  • Brazil reported a new Covid-19 variant on Friday (Jan 15) just weeks after new separate mutant strains were found in the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa earlier this year. This came after Japan reported on Monday (Jan 11) that travellers from Brazil tested positive for a new strain of the coronavirus.
  • Peruvian police are found to have used excessive force in November protests according to a new report released by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office on Tuesday (Jan 12). These protests were in retaliation to what was seen by leftists and supporters as a coup against then-president Martín Vizcarra. The protests are now known to be the largest in Peru in the last 20 years.
  • Venezuela is close to dollarisation, or aligning their currency to the US Dollar, as new bank rules are to be put into law. President Nicolas Maduro detailed this plan at the yearly State of the Union address on Tuesday (Jan 12). Dollarisation is seen to be necessary as the Boliviano is estimated to have inflated 1,858 per cent in the last year. 
  • Colombian capital Bogota is to impose lockdown in six more neighbourhoods after an initial city-wide lockdown from Jan 8 to Jan 12. This new lockdown order is to be enforced from Jan 18 to Jan 28. 

Asia Pacific

  • A state of emergency was declared by Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah last Tuesday (Jan 12), in order to curb the spread of Covid-19. The emergency will last until Aug 1 or earlier, depending on the state of coronavirus infections. The decision was made on the advice of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. 
  • Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expanded the country’s state of emergency to seven new prefectures. The Prime Minister admitted that the state of emergency is a strong measure that limits personal freedoms, but argued that it was necessary if the virus was to be contained. Business travelers have also been banned from entering the country.
  • The Workers Party Congress in North Korea concluded last week in Pyongyang, with its leader Kim Jong Un declaring the US his principal enemy.
  • Tokyo has lodged a protest with Beijing over Chinese government vessels repeatedly spotted near the disputed Senkaku islands.
  • Indonesian state oil and gas company Pertamina said last Friday (Jan 15) that it has begun a second round of test production for biodiesel made entirely from palm oil at its largest refinery in Central Java. This follows a similar test in July, and continuing production trials for its ‘green avtur’ jet fuel made from palm oil. The new biofuels are expected to reduce Indonesia’s dependence on oil imports and narrow its current account deficits, while also supporting the domestic palm oil industry as it faces pressure from Europe over environmental concerns.

Europe

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned against anti-Chinese sentiment, despite renewing strong criticism about Beijing’s actions and policies. This follows rising tensions between Britain and China, including British offers to provide a route to citizenship to Hong Kong Residents, and import controls on companies who may have directly or inadvertently sourced goods from Xinjiang using alleged forced Uighur labour.
  • A report by Robin Niblett, director general of Britain’s leading foreign policy thinks tank Chatham House, has suggested that Britain will fail if it seeks to reincarnate itself after Brexit as a mini-great power. Instead, Britain should focus on being a global broker for solutions to specific challenges such as climate change, cybersecurity, global health, and human rights.
  • The UK has revealed that Britain has spent £2.4 million (S$4.3 million) over the last four years to help Saudi Arabia’s military comply with international humanitarian law, during which time Saudi Arabia has been accused of indiscriminately bombing and killing Yemeni civilians.
  • Independent Belarusian news agency BelaPAN says police in Minsk have searched its offices while not allowing the company’s lawyer to be present.
  • The European Court of Human Rights has determined that it will consider a complaint brought by Ukraine into alleged human rights breaches by Russian authorities on the disputed Crimean Peninsula, during the Maidan uprising.
  • Kirill Dimitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, announced last week that Russia would submit a formal application to the European Union (EU) next month for approval of its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. The vaccine has already been approved by several countries, and Russia plans to begin mass vaccinations of its population this week.

Middle East

  • Iran declared last Wednesday (Jan 13) that it has started work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, its most recent breach of its nuclear deal. Iran has been accelerating its breaches of the deal in the past two months, in an attempt to get US sanctions lifted. Iran has also stated that it plans to enrich uranium to 20 per cent, sufficient for medical research purposes but far from the 90 per cent that is weapons grade.
  • Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister from Israel’s Likud Party argued last Wednesday (Jan 13) that the incoming US administration must not ‘appease’ Iran, and warned that Israel would not tolerate Iran’s presence in Syria or its development of nuclear weapons. Hanegbi also threatened military airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities if the US rejoins the Iran nuclear deal, which President-elect Joe Biden has indicated plans to do so.
  • Saudi Arabia’s central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, has announced the launch of a framework for open banking. The decision is set to present significant opportunities for fintech companies and Saudis themselves.
  • Nomura Holdings has closed its offices in Qatar and Bahrain as part of a push to move some of its regional and client coverage to bigger financial centers. This is its latest move in an attempt to overhaul its global wholesale business more than a year ago, so as to cut costs and sustain profitability abroad.
  • Saudi Arabia has begun cutting its supplies of oil to some buyers, including to at least 11 refiners in Asia and most buyers in Europe. This coincides with an overall slump in demand as peak refinery maintenance season is set to hit from March to April. 
  • Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh expressed concern about the ongoing financial crisis in his country, warning that the situation could “deteriorate” if a government is not formed quickly. He announced that Lebanon’s central bank is ready to provide all the information necessary for the “forensic audit” required by the international community.
  • The Jordanian government of Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh won a vote of confidence last Wednesday (Jan 13) in the House of Representatives, the country’s lower house, with the support of 88 of 130 MPs. 38 voted against the government, one abstained and three were absent.

Africa

  • Leader since 1986, incumbent Yoweri Museveni met a challenge from pop star Bobi Wine as Uganda voted to elect their new leader on Thursday (Jan 14). Wine’s campaign has been marred with strong opposition from Museveni as he cracked down with disruption tactics, social media bans, and arrests of his key advisers.. Wine is leaning on the support of Ugandans who have criticised Museveni as a dictator that has lost his touch after being unable to bring up employment and kick out corruption. Museveni has since been declared the winner. (Jan 17)
  • Nigerian Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed has said that they expect to see inflation decrease, from 14.89 per cent to 11.95 per cent by the end of 2021. He added that they will also work on lowering food prices and the cost of doing business.
  • Six park rangers from Congo’s Virunga National Park were ambushed and killed on Sunday (Jan 10). The park is also a ground for many local militias that have formed and are recuperating after the civil war before the new millennia. This struggle happens in the backyard of almost a third of the world’s mountain gorillas, be it to seize land, poach, or conduct logging. 
  • Ex-journalist Farida El Choubachy is the first woman to assume leadership in an opening session of the Egyptian Parliament on Thursday (Jan 14). As President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ruled with an iron fist and cracked down on opposition and critics, this signals a progressive change in Egyptian politics as more than a quarter of 596 lawmakers were also present in the session.
  • After an attack in Mali on Wednesday (Jan 13), three UN peacekeepers were left dead while six were wounded. The UN mission to Mali is dubbed the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and it continues to be the most dangerous UN operation in the world. Since its establishment in 2013, 231 members have died, while 358 have sustained serious injuries.
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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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