- US Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Singapore last Sunday (Aug 22) for a short tour of Southeast Asia. She aims to offer reassurances of Washington’s commitment to the region amid concerns over China’s growing influence. However, there have been concerns about the outcome in Afghanistan. Harris will address US sailors on board the visiting USS Tulsa in Singapore before heading to Vietnam on Tuesday (Aug 24) where she will attend the opening of a Southeast Asian regional branch of the US Centres for Disease Control and meet civil society representatives. Harris will also join a virtual meeting of Southeast Asian officials which will focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.
- US President Joe Biden pledged last Friday (Aug 20) that all American citizens and US allies from Afghanistan will be safely evacuated. The US has evacuated more than 18,000 people since July and approximately 13,000 since the airlifts began two weeks ago. President Biden also stated that they will help Afghans who aided the US.
- Haiti hospitals were overwhelmed last Saturday (Aug 21) after the devastating earthquake that occurred the previous weekend. The earthquake killed more than 2,000 people, while many were seeking care for broken limbs and other traumatic injuries. Damaged roads have also hindered aid to be delivered from outside.
- A Fox News lawyer was grilled at a hearing last Tuesday (Aug 17) by Justice David Cohen about the network’s extensive coverage of false claims that the voting technology firm Smartmatic Corporation conspired against former US President Donald Trump. During the hearing, Fox was made to explain why former anchor Lou Dobbs repeatedly claimed on air in November and December that there was new “groundbreaking” evidence of voter fraud even after US officials had debunked such claims.
- Extradition hearings in Canada for Huawei’s executive Meng Wanzhou came to a close last Wednesday (Aug 18). Meng faced fraud and conspiracy charges as she was accused of defrauding HSBC Bank by falsely misrepresenting links between Huawei and Skycom, a subsidiary that sold telecoms equipment to Iran. According to the US Justice Department, Meng’s actions have placed the bank at risk of violating US sanctions. Supreme Court of British Columbia Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes will set a date to deliver her decision on Oct 21, 2021.
- Footage of Afghans clinging onto a United States Air Force plane to flee the country was widely circulated last Monday (Aug 16). Hundreds of people were also running alongside a US military jet that was preparing to depart Kabul airport. Several people were also seen climbing onto the plane as it was moving along the airport runway. Unfortunately, another clip showed at least two people falling from the sky after the plane took off.
- The United States (US) officials declared the first-ever water shortage for the Colorado River last Monday (Aug 16). The River is an arterial waterway serving 40 million people in the country’s west. Officials have asked the population the River serves to reduce their usage. This underscores the acute water challenges for a region facing a growing population and drought which has been intensified by hotter, drier weather caused by climate change.
- Former president and board chair of Purdue Pharma, Richard Sackler, told a court last Wednesday (Aug 18) that he, his family and the company are not responsible for the opioid crisis in the United States (US). Should the Sackler family accept the proposed settlement, they would have to give up their ownership of Purdue Pharma and contribute US$4.5 billion (SGD$6.13 billion) over time in cash and control of charitable funds. Most of the money and the company’s future profits would be used to abate the opioid crisis. Some would also go to individual victims and their families. Final arguments will begin this Monday (Aug 23) and a decision in the following week.
- A United States (US) administration official confirmed last Tuesday (Aug 17) that the US has frozen nearly US$9.5 billion (SGD$12.94 billion) in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank and stopped shipments of cash to the nation. This is to prevent the Taliban from accessing the money.
- Blackberry disclosed a cybersecurity flaw in its software design last Tuesday (Aug 17). According to the UN drug regulator and a federal agency, the QNX Real-time Operating System (QNX RTOS) could put at risk cars and medical equipment that use it and expose highly sensitive systems to attackers. The system has a vulnerability that could allow an attacker to execute an arbitrary code or flood a server with traffic until it crashes or gets paralysed. Blackberry has since notified potential customers that have been affected and have made software patches available to resolve the matter.
- US Capitol Police have arrested a suspect who reportedly threatened to set off a bomb near Congress after an hours-long standoff last Thursday (Aug 19). The police negotiated with the suspect, Floyd Roy Roseberry, who claimed to have a bomb in his truck near the library of Congress. Roseberry remained in his vehicle, a block away from the US Capitol and the Supreme Court for hours. He eventually got out of his vehicle and surrendered. Investigations are still ongoing as to whether the suspect actually had explosives. Roseberry requested to speak to US President Joe Biden as he was supposedly standing for Afghanistan, saying President Biden should have made sure the Afghans were “alright before he left – before we left”.
- A Mexican radio journalist, Jacinto Romero Flores was fatally shot in the Mexican Gulf coast state of Veracruz last Thursday (Aug 19). He covered politics and crime in the municipality of Zongolica, becoming at least the fifth Mexican journalist to be murdered in the country this year. The State Commission for Attention to and Protection of Journalists critiqued his murder, calling for the state prosecutor’s office to open a full investigation, including into what role, if any, Romero’s journalism played in his murder.
- Hurricane Grace hit eastern Mexico with torrential rain last Saturday (Aug 21), causing severe flooding and mudslides, killing at least eight people. The winds caused by the hurricane were up to 201km per hour and labelled as Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit the coast near the resort town of Tecolutla in Veracruz state. Veracruz Governor Cuitlahuac Garcia told a news conference that the state of emergency has yet to end.
- Mexican President mentioned last Friday (Aug 20) that drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo could be freed on the basis of old age and poor health despite being jailed for the 1985 murder of a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent. Felix Gallardo was a legendary figure in the drug world and co-founder of the Guadalajara cartel as he was a pioneer in trafficking large shipments of cocaine to the US in alliance with the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
- Former Bolivian President Jeanine Anez harmed herself by cutting her lower arms while in jail last Saturday (Aug 21). The police have categorised her actions as attempted suicide. Interior Minister Eduardo del Castillo confirmed that she is now in stable condition.
- Colombian President Ivan Duque said last Friday (Aug 20) that Colombia will temporarily host Afghans fleeing their country’s takeover by the Taliban while waiting to enter the US. The agreement between the US and Colombia could send as many as 4,000 Afghans who worked with the US government in Afghanistan to Colombia while their applications are being processed.
- Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned last Monday (Aug 16). He and his cabinet submitted their resignation to the king, and the king has accepted the resignation. He will remain as caretaker Prime Minister, albeit with limited powers, until a new successor has been found. Muhyiddin Yassin became the 8th Prime Minister of Malaysia after he and other MPs defected from the ruling coalition and formed the government with other opposition parties. However, he has been under severe pressure to resign after many MPs withdrew their support for the government.
- Cambodian union leader Rong Chhun was jailed last Wednesday (Aug 18) for two years on incitement charges for comments regarding the country’s borders. Rong Chhun was arrested in July 2020 after accusing the government of “irregularities” over the demarcation of the eastern border with Vietnam. Activists have said this aimed to crackdown on opposition voices and suppress dissent.
- The Afghan Taliban held its first press conference last Tuesday (Aug 17) declaring that it wishes to have peaceful relations with other countries. They also said that they would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law. The group’s main spokesperson said they did not want enemies from within or outside the country. He maintained that women will be allowed to work, study, and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam.”
- Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob was sworn in as Malaysia’s 9th Prime Minister last Saturday (Aug 21). The 61-year-old veteran politician from the United Malays National Organisation took the oath of office in front of King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah at the national palace. Mr Yaakob was appointed Prime Minister after 114 lawmakers submitted statutory declarations stating their support for him, giving him a simple majority in the lower house. Mr Yaakob’s appointment ended almost a week of political turmoil in the country after his predecessor, Mr Muhyiddin Yassin resigned on Monday (Aug 16).
- More than 200 people were arrested in Melbourne, Australia after a violent protest erupted in the central business district, demonstrating against the COVID-19 lockdown. Chaos ensued as thousands congregated at midday on Saturday (Aug 21) in defiance of the city’s public health orders. Police fired rubber bullets and deployed pepper spray to disperse the crowd. Several police officers were also injured and taken to the hospital.
- Two cities in China’s Henan province have issued the highest flood warnings last Sunday (22 Aug) so as to prepare local agencies to prepare for a heavy downpour. The cities of Xingyang and Changyuan raised their level for flood control responses warning from level two to one, the highest of the four-level tier. Torrential rainfall struck Henan province last month which caused massive floods and killed more than 300 people.
- Norway’s government-commissioned paper last Friday (Aug 20) proposed having climate risk underpin decisions across the fund. The sovereign wealth fund of Norway which manages US$1.4 trillion (SGD$1.91 trillion) in assets stated that oil companies are not doing enough to cut emissions. An expert group appointed by Norway’s Finance Ministry has recommended changing the fund’s mandate to put more pressure on greenhouse gas emitters, with the scope to divest those that are too slow to cut their carbon footprint.
- Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service rescued a 30-year-old woman from a sinking dinghy last Thursday (Aug 19). She was the sole survivor of an inflatable boat that was carrying 53 migrants and refugees from Africa. More than 50 people are feared dead after the boat capsized in the Atlantic Ocean, about 220km off Spain’s Canary Islands. According to the woman, the boat had embarked from the Western Sahara coast and the passengers were from Ivory Coast. She has since been airlifted to a hospital in Las Palmas, on the island of Gran Canaria.
- Nepalese Gurkhas ended their hunger strike over UK military pensions last Thursday (Aug 19). It ended after the UK’s government agreed to discuss their long-standing grievances over pension rights. Though thousands of Gurkhas have served in the British army until 2007, they did not enjoy the same pay and conditions as British soldiers despite working just as hard. Preparations for dialogue will begin on 8 Sept to schedule a meeting with the British and Nepali governments and the Gurkha veterans.
- The first German military plane only evacuated seven people from Kabul last Monday (Aug 16). According to Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the aim was to evacuate their German soldiers. However, due to the chaos and danger at the airport, only people on-site managed to board. A foreign ministry spokesperson mentioned that only seven could make it because there was not much time, and the other Germans were unable to enter the airport without protection from their soldiers. Germany is currently waiting for the green light from the US to fly a second aircraft in.
- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out an inquiry into the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan while addressing the Parliament last Wednesday (Aug 18). Several legislators have since vented their anger and concerns about the situation unfolding in Afghanistan. PM Johnson told the Parliament that he had little choice but to follow the decision taken by US President Joe Biden who has opted to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of August.
- Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszcazk announced last Wednesday (Aug 18) that more than 900 Polish troops have been deployed to support its border guards at the frontier with Belarus. This comes after a surge of refugees and migrants from Iraq attempt to enter the country.
- Hundreds of firefighters have been struggling to contain France’s worst wildfire near the glitzy Rivera resort of Saint-Tropez. The fire broke out last Monday evening (Aug 16), forcing thousands of residents and tourists to flee. At least 22 people, including two firefighters, have suffered from smoke inhalation or minor fire-related injuries as of Wednesday (Aug 18). An estimate of around 7,000 people have been evacuated due to high temperatures and strong winds, causing the flames to worsen.
- The United Kingdom’s (UK) Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, mentioned last Monday (Aug 16) that British and NATO forces will not return to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. The UK will do its best to evacuate the British citizens and Afghans with links to the UK. UK soldiers would also return home with repatriation efforts.
- The Times newspaper reported last Tuesday (Aug 17) that the United Kingdom (UK) will welcome as many as 20,000 Afghans under a new resettlement programme. It will give priority to those who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban, especially women, girls and religious and other minorities.
- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported last Tuesday (Aug 17) that Iran has accelerated its enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade. It increased the purity of refining uranium from 20 per cent to 60 per cent. Weapons-grade is 90 per cent purity. The purity was increased as a response to the explosion and power cut at its Natanz site that damaged its output at the main underground enrichment plant, blaming Israel for the attack. The latest move can be seen as a breach of the 2015 nuclear deal which capped the purity of refined uranium of up to 3.67 per cent. However, Iran reiterated that its nuclear programme is peaceful and has informed the UN watchdog about its enrichment activities.
- Israeli officials declared last Tuesday (Aug 17) that Jerusalem’s wildfires are under control. The Israeli Fire Brigade, Palestinian firefighters and Israeli Air Force have been fighting the flames on the wooded hills near the disputed capital for three days. The wildfires were described as “the worst fires in Jerusalem in years,” and there were no reports of serious injuries. The flames torched a total area of 4,200 acres (19.74 million square metres) and hundreds of families were evacuated from 10 villages west of the city over the three days.
- Hospitals in Northern Lebanon are struggling to operate as life-threatening power cuts and telecom outages sweep the area. These outages came two days after a fuel tank exploded in the Akkar region. About 80 people were injured in the explosion at the village of al-Tleil, many of them suffered from severe burns, stretching the already overwhelmed hospitals. The villagers were queuing for petrol that was distributed by the army when the explosion happened.
- Syrian air defences intercepted Israeli missiles last Thursday (Aug 19) that targeted Damascus and Homs region in Syria. Syrian news agency, SANA, cited a military source that said the air raids came from the southeast, from Beirut, Lebanon. Lebanese media outlets also reported that there were low-flying Israeli jets flying over Beirut. Israel has recently used Lebanon’s airspace to conduct air raids on Hezbollah and government targets in Syria, in a bid to avoid the Russian air force which has been active in Syria.
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have agreed to host five thousand Afghan nationals temporarily at the request of the United States. UAE’s foreign ministry said last Friday (Aug 20) that the evacuees will depart Afghanistan on a US aircraft and will stay in the UAE for ten days before departing to a third nation. The Gulf Arab state has facilitated the evacuation of 8,500 people from Afghanistan on its aircraft and through its airports so far.
- Clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinian protestors last Saturday at the Gaza border (22 Aug) resulted in 41 Palestinians being wounded, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head. An Israeli policeman was also critically injured by Palestinian gunfire. The violent clashes erupted after hundreds of Palestinians gathered in a demonstration to draw attention to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
- Rebels attacked near the northern town of Arabinda in Burkina-Faso last Wednesday (Aug 18). According to the state media, the rebels killed 47 people, including 30 civilians, 14 soldiers and three pro-government militiamen. Sixteen rebels were killed by government forces through a security force stated the number to be 58 instead. Fighters linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL have regularly carried out attacks in Burkina Faso and neighbouring Mali and Niger, killing hundreds of civilians this year alone.
- Heavy rainfall last Tuesday (Aug 17) in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, has caused widespread floods that killed at least seven people. The downpour caused flash floods in several neighbourhoods, submerging houses and cars. The capital’s mayor, Adanech Abiebie, has cautioned its residents in the coming days as torrential rainfall is expected to continue.
- An attack on a convoy transporting workers to a Shell facility in southeast Nigeria on Monday (Aug 16) has resulted in seven deaths. A spokesman from Imo state police, Michael Abatan, told AFP news that a convoy of buses heading towards a Shell gas plant was fired upon by gunmen. He added that one policeman and six oil workers were killed in the deadly attack. Southeast Nigeria has been facing increasing deadly violence targeting government facilities and security personnel. However, no group has claimed responsibility for this attack yet.
- Ugandan officials announced last Friday (Aug 20) that the state will suspend more than 50 civic groups ranging from rights watchdogs to women’s groups. The government’s Non-Governmental Organization Bureau alleged that these groups did not comply with their regulations. The suspensions will begin immediately and be enforced. This move will deal a heavy blow to the hundreds of thousands of people directly benefiting from the work of these organisations. The suspensions have renewed fears of the government clamping down on civil society that grew before the presidential elections earlier this year.
- Zambia’s opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema won a landslide election victory last Monday (Aug 16) as Zambians went to the polls to elect their president. Mr Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development, will succeed outgoing president Edgar Lungu as the seventh President of Zambia. This will be the third time that power has shifted peacefully from a ruling party to the opposition since the southern African country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1964.
- Kenya’s Court of Appeal has rejected a government proposal last Friday (20 Aug) to amend the constitution in a new blow to President Uhuru Kenyatta, who initiated the proposal. The top court in the country upheld the ruling by the High Court in May this year that Kenyatta had acted unconstitutionally. Court President Daniel Musinga said the President has no constitutional power to initiate such changes to the constitution. The proposed changes, also known as the Building Bridges Initiative would promote power-sharing among competing ethnic groups, create 70 new constituencies and establish several powerful new posts: a prime minister, two deputies and an official leader of the parliamentary opposition.