Taliban fighters sit over a vehicle on a street in Laghman province on August 15, 2021. | Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Weekly Recap: Aug 9 to Aug 15

Aug 16: The UN released a climate report last Monday emphasising global warming may reach an irreversible state, North Korea did not answer routine calls with South Korea on inter-Korean hotlines last Tuesday, Taliban forces entered Afghanistan’s capital Kabul last Sunday

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North America:

  • United States (US) President Joe Biden’s administration highlighted that rising energy prices could slow the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. National security adviser Jake Sullivan urged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to restore the global supply of petroleum to pre-pandemic levels last Wednesday (Aug 11). According to analysts, the US headline inflation rate is expected to grow at an annualised rate of 5.3 per cent.
  • According to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino last Friday (Aug 13), Canada is on track to meet its goal of 401,000 new permanent residents for 2021. This was mainly due to the record numbers in June and July. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the number of new permanent residents to fall from 341,000 in 2019 to 185,000 in 2020. Since then, Canada has enforced programs that allow temporary residents in the country to acquire permanent residency more easily to meet its immigration goals.
  • 304 fatalities were recorded as Haiti experienced a major 7.2-magnitude earthquake last Saturday (Aug 14). According to authorities, many were injured and many others remain missing. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) shared that the earthquake struck 8km from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes at a depth of 10km. However, considering Haiti’s situation of encountering a possible track of Tropical Storm Grace, relief efforts may not be able to reach those in need. 
  • The United Nations (UN) released a climate report last Monday (Aug 9) that emphasised that global warming may reach an irreversible state. It is highlighted that even the extreme reductions in carbon emission are unlikely to prevent global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2040. Authorities urge countries to increase and solidify their efforts in tackling climate change before it is deemed too late.
  • US President Joe Biden’s administration seemed to aim for the complete replacement of fossil fuels with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to power aircraft to tackle climate change by 2050. The Biden administration is considering incentivising the private sector production of SAF to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in their aviation industry. SAF is made from feedstocks such as used cooking oil and animal fat, which currently accounts for only a tiny fraction of the overall amount of jet fuel use. Though concrete actions have not been mentioned, it is said that the White House and industry groups will discuss efforts to promote alternative jet fuels later this month. 

South America:

  • The annual deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has exceeded 10,000 km2 for the third consecutive year, according to the preliminary data released on Friday (Aug 13). The lack of protection continues a worrisome jump since President Jair Bolsonaro assumed office. The area nearly the size of Puerto Rico has since been destroyed. Despite the clear evidence of environmental destruction in the Amazon, President Bolsonaro seems to only be concerned about the powerful agribusiness lobby and tapping on global markets that only worsen the situation. Academics and environmental activists have been protesting for a change of Brazilian leadership to protect the rainforest.
  • Top editor Juan Hollman Chamorro of a newspaper company La Prensa in Nicaragua has been arrested by the police. La Prensa is known for being extremely critical of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his months-long crackdown on opposition leaders and potential challengers for the upcoming November election. The police announced last Saturday (Aug 14) that Juan was arrested for customs fraud and laundering money, property and assets. However, many rights groups and international observers have accused President Ortega of becoming more autocratic to prevent his competitors from rising.
  • Mexican President Lopez Obrador apologised to the indigenous Mexica peoples on Friday (Aug 13) during the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the capture of Tenochtitlan by Hernan Corte’s troops, He sought forgiveness for the violence that was brought upon the indigenous group during the bloody 1521 Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire.
  • Prominent female news anchor, Azucena Uresti, has allegedly been threatened by Mexican Drug Cartel, the Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG). The warning was made last Monday (Aug 9) by an unidentified man who claims to be speaking on behalf of CJNG’s leader. He accused Uresti of biased reporting about the conflict between the cartel and vigilante groups. The Mexican government has since offered her protection, though unspecified as to exactly what sort would be provided.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is currently under criticism after hosting a military parade outside the presidential palace on Tuesday (Aug 10). He has been accused of hosting the military parade to intimidate the Congress and Supreme Court and show that the armed forces will stand with him. Nine opposition parties have since condemned the display.
  • Brazilian Indigenous organisation has requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation on Monday (Aug 9) against President Jair Bolsonaro for genocide and ecocide. They accused him of persecuting native people and destroying their lands since taking office in 2019. President Bolsonaro has allegedly been responsible for the increasing destruction of the Amazon rainforest as environmental protection programmes have been ceased while Indigenous reservations and other protected lands have been used for agribusinesses and mining. Whether the ICC will take up the case will depend on the chief prosecutor, Karim Khan.
  • The Nicaraguan government announced on Monday (Aug 9) that it has recalled its ambassadors to Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica. This comes after the four countries recalled their ambassadors due to the widening crackdown by President Ortega’s government. Since the crackdown, dozens of opposition leaders and presidential contenders have been arrested.

Asia Pacific:

  • North Korea did not answer routine calls with South Korea on inter-Korean hotlines last Tuesday (Aug 10). Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, accused South Korea of “perfidious behaviour” for going ahead with the annual joint military drills set to begin this week after North Korea agreed to restore hotlines in late July, having cut them last year amid rising tensions. According to military sources, South Korea and the US were supposed to go forth with computer-simulated exercises this week, but preliminary training began last Tuesday (Aug 10) instead.
  • As the US evacuated diplomats from its embassy, Taliban forces entered Afghanistan’s capital Kabul last Sunday (Aug 15). The Taliban have captured much of northern, western and southern Afghanistan in recent weeks. With the Taliban even gaining control of Kandahar’s radio station, the withdrawal of foreign forces and retreat of Afghanistan’s troops has raised concerns over the Taliban ultimately regaining power or the emergence of a civil war.
  • As Southwest Japan experienced torrential rain, authorities claimed that hundreds of thousands of residents were evacuated last Thursday (Aug 12) to avoid casualties from the floods and landslides. Authorities issued a Level 5 evacuation order in parts of Kyushu to urge residents to find means of protecting themselves immediately.
  • In response to the public’s call for more efforts to overcome climate change, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded last Tuesday (Aug 10) by saying Australia has been doing its part and no further action is required. People have been urging officials to increase efforts to increase climate change after the UN reported the alarming news of the almost irreversible effects of global warming last Monday (Aug 9). Even though Australia has claimed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, no formal target or commitments have been made to reduce carbon emissions.
  • The UN special envoy on Myanmar said last Tuesday (Aug 10) that the country’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing seems determined to hold onto his power since the coup started in February. He had announced that he would now be the prime minister in a newly formed government, raising concerns over the possible disbanding of Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party. The junta, which argues that it is not a military government and came about through a constitutional transfer of power, said it wants to appoint Aung Thurein – a member of Myanmar’s military from 1995 to 2021 – to be the next UN ambassador.

Europe:

  • British national, David Smith, has been suspected of selling secrets to Russia. Smith worked as a security guard contracted to the Berlin embassy and any information gathered would be passed to Russian intelligence. It was reported on Sunday (Aug 15) that Smith will not be extradited from Germany as the current legislation is too weak to deal with spies acting against British interests. Although Smith was paid, sources mentioned that the money was only a bonus as he was allegedly motivated by ideology, not money. 
  • The German government agreed on Tuesday (Aug 10) to provide US$35 billion (S$47.5 billion) to rebuild regions affected by the serious floods last month. According to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the relief package is significantly more than that of previous floods. 16 German states have since approved the state flood aid but it still requires the parliament’s endorsement. The floods claimed the lives of more than 180 people and left many injured.
  • Lithuanian protestors clashed with the police on Tuesday (Aug 10) night in the capital Vilnius against the new proposed COVID-19 health passes in the Baltic nation. The government planned to impose new restrictions in mid-September, which will require all Lithuanians to obtain passes before entering public spaces such as cafes, shops, public transportation and other venues. The new restrictions could also mean that infected citizens could lose their right to free medical treatment. 
  • As forest fires in Greece rage on, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologised on Monday (Aug 9) for their failures in tackling the wildfires. PM Mitsotakis has approved a US$585.85 million (S$795 million) aid budget for the affected region and promised that all forests destroyed by the fires will be restored. The government later mentioned on Tuesday (Aug 10) that those affected by the fire will be compensated for the dangers to their homes and businesses. Hundreds of millions of euros have since been pledged towards helping civil protection, reforestation and flood prevention. 
  • Iranian citizen, Hamid Noury, went on trial in Sweden on Tuesday (Aug 10). He has been accused of committing war crimes and murder during the final phase of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. This marks the first time anyone has been brought before a court to stand trial for the purge. 
  • The Italian police announced last Monday (Aug 9) that they have disbanded 32 groups on the mobile messaging app Telegram. The groups had been selling fake COVID-19 heath passes which would allow people to access services and leisure activities. The pass would show whether an individual had received at least one vaccine dose, recovered from COVID-19 within the past six months, or tested negative in the previous 48 hours. 
  • Poland’s president has decided to sign a bill that would limit the Jewish people to recover their property seized by Nazi Germany occupies and retained by post-war communist rules. This has drawn fury from Israel, calling the law “anti-Semitic”. Before the law was passed, Jewish expatriates or their descendants were able to demand the return of property that had been seized illegally. However, Polish authorities argued that it has resulted in uncertainty over property ownership. 
  • The Russian defence ministry announced last Saturday (Aug 14) that a Russian firefighting plane has crashed in southern Turkey. The people on board included five Russian servicemen and three Turkish citizens. All members on board died in the crash. According to private news agency DHA, the plane had crashed while fighting a forest fire in the inland Bertiz region. However, investigations are still ongoing as to why the plane had crashed. 
  • French President Emmanuel Macron has stated last Friday (Aug 13) that he will be boycotting a UN conference on the fight against racism in September due to the anti-Semitic statements made during the Durban Conference back in 2001. The conference was criticised by many and fill with virulent and undisguised anti-Semitism. According to President Macron, he aims to fight against all forces of racism and hopes that future conferences will be held according to the UN’s founding principles. 
  • A rare mass shooting in the United Kingdom (UK) happened last Thursday (Aug 12) in the evening. The gunman had opened fire on a house in Plymouth, resulting in the deaths of four people. The fifth victim was rushed to the hospital but unfortunately passed away. According to the police statement made on Friday (Aug 13), the offender was a male who also died at the scene due to gunshot wounds. The police have stressed that this is not a terrorism-related incident. 

Middle East:

  • Flash floods and mudslides in coastal Turkey have resulted in a death toll of at least 57 people as dozens are still missing (Aug 14). Unprecedented levels of torrential rain pounded on Bartin, Kastamonu and Sinop for three days from Wednesday (Aug 11). Experts also pointed out mismanagement of rivers and improper construction were also a factor for the damage caused.
  • Israel and Morocco continue to normalise ties as Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, announces plans to open embassies in their respective countries (Aug 13). This is the latest development in Israeli-Moroccan relations since their formalisation on 20 December, 2020, as Morocco emerged as the sixth Arab League country to move toward friendly and diplomatic relations.
  • Eight Egyptian troops in Sinai were killed by a roadside bomb on Thursday (Aug 12), as six others were left wounded. The armed group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed to be the perpetrators. Egypt had fought with various armed groups in the Northern Sinai region for years, peaking in 2013 after the military coup of ex-President Mohamed Morsi.
  • Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued a decree on Tuesday (Aug 10), forming a new government, three months after his re-election (May 28) for another seven-year term. The ministries of defence, interior, and foreign affairs did not change but new appointments were made in information, internal trade, and consumer protection.
  • 28 people were killed in a fuel tanker explosion in Lebanon on Sunday morning (Aug 15) as it was being transported by the military. This comes as Lebanon is facing an oil shortage crisis which has been exacerbated by the end of central bank fuel subsidies on Wednesday (Aug 11). Experts warn that this would lead to price hikes in almost all commodities.
  • OPEC has been called on by the Biden Administration to increase oil production on Wednesday (Aug 11) as gasoline prices rise. They remarked that oil production is “not enough” at this “critical moment” in global economic recovery.

Africa: 

  • The death toll rose to at least 69 as wildfires swept across Algeria last Wednesday (Aug 11).  Firefighters, soldiers and volunteers were among those who had suffered casualties and fatalities. In response, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning that started last Thursday (Aug 12). Authorities suspect that the fires could have been due to widespread arson as they all emerged within a short period.
  • Ivory Coast’s health minister Pierre N’Gou Dimba reported the first case of the Ebola hemorrhagic virus last Saturday (Aug 14) after 25 years. The 18-year-old female who travelled from Guinea was said to have been tested positive for the virus and is now being treated in intensive care. Transmission of the diseases occurs through contact with infected bodily fluids and tissue, while symptoms include headache, vomiting blood, muscle pains and bleeding.
  • Guinea confirmed a case of Marburg virus disease last Tuesday (Aug 10). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the first recorded case of a virus in West Africa that is related to Ebola. The virus is said to be hosted by bats and has a fatality rate of up to 88 per cent. Once caught by a human, it is spread through contact with bodily fluids of infected people, or with contaminated surfaces and materials. Said to be a high threat nationally and regionally, 10 WHO experts have been dispatched to support national health authorities there.
  • Omar Hassan al-Bashir had been accused by an international court of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region of Darfur. Army commander Mr. al-Bashir came to power in Sudan in 1989 and led a government that violated human rights, ultimately killing 300,000 people. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said last Thursday (Aug 12) that there is hope that he will be turned over by the Sudanese government to face charges of genocide and war crimes. If he is turned over for trial, it will mark a major step in the Sudanese government’s efforts in enforcing justice and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.
  • Ethiopia’s government urged all capable citizens to join the country’s military forces last Tuesday (Aug 10) to stop resurgent forces from the Tigray region. The announcement essentially ended the unilateral ceasefire that the government declared in June. The increased fighting heightened fears for those of other ethnicities, such as the Amhara, that the Tigray forces may take revenge.
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