Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, last year. | Photo Credit: Wali Sabawoon/Getty Images

Weekly Recap: Aug 2 to Aug 8

Aug 9: Afghan city of Sheberghan falls to the Taliban in Afghanistan war, Lebanon’s Hezbollah fires a volley of rockets at Israel in retaliation, Myanmar citizens arrested over plans to kill Myanmar UN ambassador

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North America:

  • Family members of victims from the September 11 terrorist attacks have urged President Joe Biden to stay away from memorial events – that is unless he declassifies documents that allegedly reveal the involvement of Saudi Arabian officials in the attacks. As the 20th anniversary of the attacks approaches, more than 1,700 people have signed a letter telling Biden to not participate in memorial events unless he “fulfils his commitment” in releasing the documents. Thousands of families of the victims have sued Saudi Arabia for billions of dollars to which Saudi officials have since denied involvement. 
  • One of California’s largest wildfires has nearly burned Californian town, Greenville, to the ground. The wildfire, also known as the Dixie Fire and California’s largest current wildfire, has been burning for 3-weeks. As a result, around 800 residents in the community were forced to evacuate from their homes. While 5 people have been reported missing from Greenville, no casualties have been reported as of Sunday (Aug 8). 
  • The US Senate has advanced a US$1.2 trillion (S$1.6 trillion) bipartisan infrastructure bill on Saturday (Aug 7) as a result of a 67-27 vote. The trillion-dollar proposal aims to improve various infrastructures, with the largest share of the money, US$110 billion (S$149 billion), pumped into maintaining and rebuilding roads and bridges. President Joe Biden who spent months crafting the infrastructure package has mentioned that signing this package is one of his top priorities in his presidency. 
  • President Joe Biden has set a goal for 50% of new US-sold vehicles to be electric by the next decade. This goal springs from his plan to tackle the climate crisis by tightening pollution standards for vehicles and cutting down carbon emissions. After months of discussion between the Biden and car manufacturers, the new plan comes with the hopes of bringing it alongside the infrastructure bill that will fund cross-country charging points for electric vehicles. Biden has said on Thursday (Aug 5) that the car industry in the next decade is “electric and there is no turning back”. 
  • The Mexican government has filed a lawsuit on Wednesday (Aug 4) against major US gun manufacturers in an attempt to stop gun trafficking across the border. Mexican officials reveal that US gun manufacturer’s unlawful business practices have contributed to gun-related deaths in the country and allege that the companies were aware of this statistic. Mexican officials have, however, stated that legal actions were not aimed towards the US government. 
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing impeachment threats over multiple reports of harassment. President Joe Biden and state senate leader Andrea Stewart -Cousins have called for his resignation after the state’s Attorney General Letitia James mentioned that the Democrat governor violated state and federal laws. Mr Cuomo has denied the allegations and vows to remain in office amid a majority of the state assembly favouring impeachment proceedings. 

South America:

  • Many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are pushing back against the US doubling down on its tough stance and sanction on Cuba and its protests last month. 20 foreign ministers worldwide joined in US efforts, and US ally Canada condemned the Cuban crackdown and supported protesters’ right to freedom of expression. Cuba’s leftist allies in Latin America and the Caribbean have urged the US to lift sanctions while some warned against the US meddling in Cuba’s domestic affairs. Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia have since sent aid.
  • As Nicaragua’s November election draws near, the incumbent government under President Daniel Ortega has arrested several political adversaries including presidential candidates. Contenders from five parties registered on Monday (Aug 2) with election authorities to enter the race but by evening, no candidates had been put forward due to large numbers remaining in detention. The EU and US have imposed sanctions against members of Ortega’s family and key figures within the government. The US has imposed visa restrictions on 50 relatives of Nicaraguan officials as well. Amnesty International called for rights violations to be investigated. 
  • Talks between Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido are expected to begin next Friday (Aug 13) in Mexico. Venezuela was once the richest country in Latin America, but now has an extremely high inflation rate and has pushed 5.4 million citizens to leave the country. Maduro said the agenda had to be focused on lifting US sanctions, most of which were created under the Donald Trump administration in 2019. Guaido wants to use the talks to push for guarantees of free and fair elections. The dialogue will be attended by international actors. 
  • Colombia’s vice president and foreign minister Marta Lucia Ramirez and Panama’s foreign minister Rrika Mouynes announced that the countries will work together to process and organise thousands of migrants – mostly from Haiti and some from Cuba and various African countries. The foreign ministers hope that in doing so, the migrants will be protected from criminals, human trafficking and the dangers of the terrain. Transit countries like Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador and destination countries like the US and Canada will be invited to future meetings.
  • Peru’s new left-wing administration under President Pedro Castillo strengthened ties with China during the early days of office. China is Peru’s most important commercial partner and the main buyer of its copper. Peruvian administration officials have met with the Chinese ambassador and Chinese mining executives to discuss policies for their industries and to strengthen a previous free trade agreement signed in 2009. Castillo said he wants to extract higher tax revenues from mining companies which would affect the previously agreed to tax stability deals. 
  • Colombia’s former army commander General Mario Montoya will be charged for the responsibility of 104 extrajudicial executions which are part of the “false positives” scandal – at least 6,402 civilians were murdered by soldiers but were registered as guerrilla fighters killed in combat. Montoya deflected orders from the defence ministry and military command to prioritise captures and continued to incentivise combat deaths by evaluating commanders on their number of reported combat deaths. He could receive a sentence of between five and eight years under the Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP). 

Asia Pacific:

  • Afghan city of Sheberghan falls to the Taliban in Afghanistan war. This comes days after Zaranj, the capital city of Nimraz province, fell on Friday (Aug 6), making Sherbergan the second regional capital to fall to Taliban militants. Sherberghan is considered a stronghold of former Afghan vice-president and warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. The Taliban has taken captive of the majority of rural Afghanistan since international forces withdrew their troops in May. The militants have also claimed responsibility for the death of the head of the Afghan government’s media information department and former government spokesman in the capital city Kabul on Friday (Aug 6).
  • Thai protesters clash with police amid anti-government protests on Saturday (Aug 7) in the capital city of Bangkok. Thousands of protesters marched towards the Government House, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s office, demanding his resignation as a result of the government’s failure in handling the COVID-19 situation in the country. Police have responded by using teargas and rubber bullets to force protesters back while hundred other officers were seen equipped with riot gear and shields. The protests have been held by several groups in the past few weeks as the country reports close to 750,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 6,000 deaths. 
  • Army officer, Neeraj Chopra has made history by clinching India’s first athletics Olympic gold medal in the men’s Javelin at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Saturday (Aug 7). Mr Chopra’s achievement has brought India’s total medal count to 7, making this Olympic year the best-ever for India’s Olympic medal haul. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has sent his congratulations on Twitter amid the country’s celebrations.
  • A man in his 30s has stabbed and injured 10 passengers on a Tokyo commuter train near Seijogakuen station on Friday (Aug 6). The man’s motive is said to be a random act of violence that resulted from a sudden desire to kill women who appeared to look happy. 9 out of the 10 who were injured were taken to the hospital according to the Tokyo Fire Department. The perpetrator has since been arrested. 
  • Two Myanmar citizens, Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw were arrested in New York on Friday (Aug 6) over plans to kill or inflict violence on Myanmar’s UN ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun. The pair have been charged with conspiracy to ‘assault and make a violent attack’ alongside an arms dealer in Thailand as a threat to force the ambassador to step down. The UN ambassador continues to represent the country’s elected civilian government in which the Military has overthrown in February. The duo’s charges carry a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. 
  • The Australian government has tightened its border rules, prohibiting overseas Australians to leave the country if they decide to return. This restriction comes months after the government’s ban on its citizens leaving the country which initially did not apply to overseas Australians. The measures are said to take effect on Wednesday (Aug 11) next week. Many citizens have expressed anger towards the government’s strategies in reducing the influx of COVID-19 infections into the country and has branded its border curbs as one of the strictest in the world. As of Sunday (Aug 8), more than half of Australia’s population are in lockdown amid the surge of Delta outbreaks in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. 

Europe:

  • Belarusian sprinter Krystina Tsimanouskaya took refuge in Poland on Wednesday (Aug 4) after refusing to return to Belarus. The Belarusian head coach, following an order from above, showed up at her room on Sunday (Aug 1) and told her she had to leave, against her wishes. She refused to board and sought the protection of the Japanese police at the airport and was withdrawn from the Games. Poland has granted her and her husband humanitarian visas. Poland has been critical of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and harboured many activists from Belarus. The EU and US support Poland’s decision and call the treatment of Tsimanouskaya an example of Lukashenko’s repressive regime.
  • Britain, Romania and Liberia told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday (Aug 3) that it was “highly likely” that Iran used one or more drones to carry out a deadly tanker attack last week off the coast of Oman. Iran has denied any involvement in the attack. It is expected for Britain to raise the issue in a closed-door meeting of the Security Council and the Council is coincidentally due to discuss maritime security in a public meeting on Monday (Aug 9). The US and Britain announced that they, with their allies, are working together to respond to the attack.
  • Italy’s former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, whose coalition government collapsed seven months ago and was replaced by current Prime Minister Mario Draghi, has been officially elected leader of the 5-Star Movement. The decision brought months of uncertainty and division within the party. Opinion polls show that Conte is Italy’s second most popular politician after Prime Minister Mario Draghi, has earned widespread respect for his management of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Poland is to comply with the EU’s top court ruling: disband a Disciplinary Chamber for judges which violates EU law. The EU saw the disciplinary system being used to pressure judges or to exert political control over judicial decisions and undercuts the bloc’s laws. Poland’s compliance was to prevent financial penalties against the country. Poland has clashed with the EU on several fronts, such as media independence, and the rights of migrants, women and gays. 
  • France and Britain’s agreement last month to deploy more police and invest in detection technology to stop migrants risking their lives crossing the Channel still has yet to yield desired results. The Channel has very strong currents and heavy boat traffic, making the journey dangerous. The migrants are too numerous, the shore too long and the smugglers too adaptive. The border between France and Britain has more than 130km of beaches, sand dunes and cliffs, making it a huge territory to control. 

Middle East:

  • Ebrahim Raisi has been sworn in as Iran’s 8th President on Thursday (Aug 5) amid an economic crisis, accusations of being responsible for a tanker drone attack near Oman last week. The new president has sworn to lift all US-led sanctions against the country that has left the economy battered and its citizens increasingly unhappy. The country also faces challenges in battling the COVID-19 pandemic amid the surge of infections in the past week that has made Iran the worst-hit nation in the region. Mr Raisi is also notorious for his human rights record, has been heavily criticised in the past. The US sanctions imposed on him are alleged to be related to human rights abuse.
  • Israel has launched airstrikes in Lebanon on Thursday (Aug 5) in response to rocket attacks. The Israeli military has said that the jets had struck the site from where the rockets were launched. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have alleged Lebanon’s responsibility for the attacks and warned against further attacks. The US has since condemned the rocket attacks on Israel with US state department spokesperson Ned Price telling reporters that “Israel has the right to defend itself against such attacks”.
  • Iran has rejected accusations of being responsible for a deadly drone attack on  Mercer Street, an oil tanker near Oman that killed 2 people. The United States military’s Central Command has stated that evidence from forensic investigation points to Iran. Furthermore, US military explosive experts concluded that the drone was originated and produced in Iran. Despite Iran’s denials to the attacks, Britain and the US among other major powers, have put the blame on Tehran for the attack. 
  • Lebanon’s Hezbollah has fired a volley of rockets at Israel on Friday (Aug 6) in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes on South Lebanon on Thursday (Aug 5). The attacks come amid rising tensions between Israel and Iran since the deadly attack on the Israeli-managed oil tanker off the coast of Oman. Israel has since stated that it does “not wish to escalate to a full war” as the UN peacekeeping force called for both sides to “cease-fire and maintain calm”. Despite the rising tensions, both parties have indicated an interest in diffusing the situation and avoid further escalation. However, the Israeli military has stated that although they wish to avoid escalating the situation, they are still “very prepared for that” if it happens.
  • Iraq reclaims 17,000 looted archaeological artefacts from the United States. The artefacts were smuggled out of Iraq after the US invasion in 2003 that overthrew the country’s leader, Saddam Hussein. The US authorities have recently made a deal with the Iraqi capital, Baghdad to repatriate the artefacts that were seized from museums and dealers in the United States. Iraq’s ancient culture and heritage have seen multiple incidents of looting with thousands of artefacts still missing and the country’s officials hope to restore and preserve the country’s relics with the help of international agencies. 

Africa:

  • Ethiopian authorities accused humanitarian aid workers of favouring and even arming Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces. The war in Ethiopia erupted eight months ago between Ethiopia’s central government and the region’s ruling party, TPLF. The government of Ethiopia also suspended operations for the Dutch branch of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the Norwegian Refugee Council. Both aid organizations are currently in dialogues with the government. The UN says that around 400,000 people are living in famine and more than 90 per cent of the population needs emergency food aid.
  • Human Rights Watch reported that both separatists groups and government forces committed human rights abuses and urged authorities in Cameroon to protect civilians. Extrajudicial and mass killings occurred across Cameroon’s Anglophone regions throughout 2020; the restriction of freedom of expression and association, and intolerance of political dissent continued to grow. The Human Rights Watch detailed killings and kidnappings carried out by the government and separatist fighters. More than 3500 people have been killed and over 700,000 have fled.
  • Amnesty International reported on Thursday (Aug 5) that the violence from separatists resulted in security forces killing at least 115 people in southeast Nigeria this year and arbitrarily arrested or tortured others. Separatists’ sentiments and movements go back to 1967, when an attempt from the Igbo ethnic group to gain independence in their homeland, killed more than one million people. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari warned those who promote succession will face a “rude shock” and the government will “treat them in a language they understand”.  
  • Madagascar has arrested 21 more suspects in connection with a plot to kill President Andry Rajoelina and topple the government. Six people were arrested last month on suspicion of involvement in the plot. Among the arrested, included four foreigners and 12 military personnel: five generals from the army and the gendarmerie and two captains and five non-commissioned officers. 
  • South Africa’s Electoral Commission applied to the Constitutional Court for municipal elections to be postponed on Wednesday (Aug 4). The Electoral Commission concluded in an inquiry last month that it was unlikely that the municipal elections would be free and fair if they went ahead during the COVID-19 pandemic and following the unrest triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma after he failed to appear before an anti-corruption inquiry. It is unclear what impact a delay would have on the outcome of the elections – the governing African National Congress is still expected to win despite the unrest and pandemic. 
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