US soldiers check evacuees at the Hamid Karzai International airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. | Photo Credit: AP News

Weekly Recap: Aug 23 to Aug 29

Aug 30: Biden warns another highly possible attack on Kabul, ‘Humanitarian catastrophe’ unfolds as hundreds die in Western Ethiopian violence, 539 migrants rescued off Italian island of Lampedusa

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North America:

  • United States (US) President Joe Biden vowed to ‘hunt down’ those responsible for the two suicide bombings at Kabul’s airport on Thursday (Aug 26). The ISIS attacks killed at least 60 Afghan nationals and 13 US soldiers. The US had since carried out an airstrike targeting an ISIS member. Airlift operations evacuating US soldiers and Afghan locals are set to continue until Tuesday (Aug 31) as President Biden stands by his decision to pull troops from Afghanistan, saying it was “time to end a 20 year war”.
  • The US will try “diplomacy first”, but is prepared to take unspecified measures against Iran if it fails to revive the Iran nuclear deal. President Biden said the nation is ready to “turn to other options” if talks fail to revive the 2015 deal. The President’s comments came during his first meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday (Aug 27), who opposed re-entering the deal with Iran in favour of a more hardened approach to “halt the Iranians”. 
  • The US probe into the origins of the Sars-CoV-2 virus yielded inconclusive results, according to a report published on Friday (Aug 27). Analysts remained divided over whether the virus originated naturally, from animals, or a lab leak. China had accused the US of the  ‘scapegoating’ of the nation and “politicisation” of the study, however, President Biden remains committed to pressing Chinese officials for more information on early COVID-19 cases.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to cancel an election rally on Friday (Aug 27), in Ontario, after angry protestors crashed the event to express their disapproval for COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates. Prime Minister Trudeau said the cancellation was due to the organisers being unable to ensure the peoples’ safety. Similar incidents have occurred on the campaign trail, as an anti-vaccination protest was held on Wednesday (Aug 25) during his visit to British Columbia. 
  • The Mexican government filed a lawsuit against US gun manufacturers in an attempt to hold the US accountable for the high levels of gun trafficking across the border. An estimated half a million firearms are trafficked into Mexico each year from the US. The move came as homicide rates are climbing to extremely high levels, with 36,000 deaths reported in 2020. 
  • Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of the assassination of Senator Robert F Kennedy in 1968 was granted parole on Friday (Aug 27). The two-person panel recommended Sirhan, 77, for parole at his 16th hearing, after two of Kennedy’s surviving sons expressed support for his release. The ruling may yet be overturned by California Governor Gavin Newsom upon review. 

South America:

  • Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro poses three alternatives for his future: be re-elected, killed or arrested. The current right-wing leader has plans to run for a second term in next year’s presidential elections and has criticised the country’s electronic voting system, threatening to not accept the final result amid trailing former left-wing leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. His claim has since been discredited by the head of Brazil’s electoral court.
  • Death toll rises to at least 20 amid floods in Western Venezuela. Landslides have torn through the city of Mérida as a result of heavy rains. Rescue workers are expecting to find more missing people who have been feared to be buried under mud and debris. Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has said that more than 8,000 homes in the region have been destroyed as a result. 
  • Colombian 2022 presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo is set to face embezzlement charges before the supreme court as of Friday (Aug 27). The politician has been accused of inappropriately authorising a US$98 million (S$131.9 million) loan to be denominated in dollars for the benefit of third parties involved in the transaction. Mr Fajardo has been accused of violating public transparency principles as noted by the attorney general’s office but in response, has stated via Twitter on Friday (Aug 27) that he “acted correctly and [will] demonstrate it”. 
  • Peru’s Congress confirmed a new left-wing cabinet nominated by President Pedro Castillo on Friday (Aug 27). The president expressed his gratitude on Twitter immediately after the confirmation thanking Congress for granting them the vote. The vote will allow the administration to focus on higher social spending hand in hand with increased taxes for the mining industry. Despite public opposition leading to the vote, the cabinet is said by the president’s supporters to represent groups of marginalised Peruvians. 
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernandez has been charged with allegations of breaking a mandatory quarantine on Thursday (Aug 26) after hosting a party last year. The allegation comes amid Argentina’s imposition of stricter lockdowns in response to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr Fernandez has since offered to settle the case by paying a fine. 

Asia Pacific:

  • US President Joe Biden warns that another attack on Kabul airport is highly possible within the next few days as the US military approaches its final phase in its airlift operation. More than 112,000 people have been evacuated out of Afghanistan via the US-led airlift in the last two weeks amid evacuations after a suicide bombing near the airport killed around 170 people on Thursday (Aug 26). A Western security official has said that over 1,000 civilians remain to be airlifted although the end of the evacuation remains tentative.
  • Australia hits record-breaking 1,323 local COVID-19 cases on Sunday (Aug 29) amid nationwide debates on whether they should open up the country. The nation’s most populated state New South Wales (NSW) has become the epicentre of the country’s Delta variant cases with 1,218 infections reported and is currently undergoing a nine-week lockdown until the end of September. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged the states to reopen their borders once 70 per cent of the citizens have been vaccinated despite the hesitancy of state leaders in Queensland and Western Australia (WA). As of Sunday (Aug 29), less than 34 per cent of the eligible population have been vaccinated nationwide. 
  • China has evacuated thousands of residents along the Myanmar border to control the spread of COVID-19 according to government sources. Around 5,000 residents from the Jiegao region in the Yunnan province were asked on Monday (Aug 23) to evacuate via bus to a group quarantine centre 100 kilometres away in the city of Mangshi. The measure was reported to be a last-resort attempt to stop the spread of the virus as infections persisted despite the district being in lockdown for months.
  • US Vice President Kamala Harris has criticised China for its actions of “coercion” and “intimidation” in the South China Sea, affirming that the country will stand with its allies in the Indo-Pacific region against Beijing’s threats. She said this during her foreign policy speech in Singapore on Tuesday (Aug 24) as part of her week-long Southeast Asia tour to which she laid out the Biden administration’s plans for the Indo-Pacific region. 
  • The Taliban is preparing to form a new cabinet as the US evacuation operation draws to a close and expects economic unrest to subside after their takeover of Kabul two weeks ago. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, condemned the US overnight drone strike against the Islamic State militants on Saturday (Aug 28) as a “clear attack on Afghan territory”. Despite the incident, he has since urged the US and other Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations following their withdrawal. 

Europe:

  • The final flights carrying British troops, officials and civilians left Afghanistan on Saturday (Aug 28), as the United Kingdom (UK) wrapped up its present evacuation operations. Almost 15,000 people have been evacuated, including 5,000 British nationals and 8,000 Afghan nationals eligible under the UK’s relocation scheme. Downing Street received heavy criticism for ‘abandoning’ Afghanistan as thousands eligible for relocation remain behind. British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, said those left behind would not be “forgotten” although current operations have ended.
  • Poland is set to build a fence along its border with Belarus. Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said security forces would also be doubled in the area in efforts to deter migrants entering from Belarus, many of whom are from Iraq and Afghanistan. The European Union (EU) claimed Belarus is acting in retaliation for recent sanctions. Rights groups condemned the decision for violating migrant rights after a group of migrants were trapped for two weeks between the borders of  Belarus and Poland. 
  • Russian government critic Alexei Navalny likened the prison he is currently held to a  “Chinese labour camp” where prisoners are subjected to “psychological violence”. In his first interview since being jailed in March, Navalny told the New York Times he was forced to watch eight hours of state TV each day. The Kremlin maintains that Navalny’s arrest was not politically motivated. President Vladimir Putin’s administration has cracked down further on public dissent, however, the party is expected to struggle in the September parliamentary elections. 
  • Two-thirds of Northern Ireland voters believe they should be allowed to vote regarding its status as part of the UK, according to a recent poll for the Observer. When asked, 49 per cent of respondents said they would vote to stay with the UK, while 42 per cent expressed support for a united Ireland. While opinions regarding a sovereign nation appear divided as of yet, the UK government has expressed concern that support for it could grow, due to the fallout from Brexit.
  • Europe’s migrant crisis saw one of its largest emergency operations on Saturday (Aug 28), as 539 migrants were rescued off the coast of Italian island, Lampedusa. The fishing boat appeared to have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. In May, more than 1,000 people arrived in Lampedusa within a few hours. The island’s migrant camp now holds five times its original capacity, as the number of migrant crossings into Europe continues to rise.

Middle East:

  • Israel bombs Hamas sites in Gaza in response to fire balloons launched from the Palestinian territory on Sunday (Aug 29). Palestinian groups have said to continue protests at the Israel-Gaza border to urge Israel to ease restrictions on Palestinian territory. Hundreds of Palestinians have gathered along the border throwing explosives and burning tyres as depicted by the Israeli military. At least six Palestinians have been hurt as a result with no reports of casualties.
  • United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called upon political leaders in Lebanon to form an effective government amid a deteriorating socio-economic situation in the country. A financial meltdown in the last two years hit a critical point in Lebanon this month as a result of fuel shortages. More than half of Lebanese have been propelled into poverty as the country’s currency sinks by more than 90 per cent, becoming one of the worst depressions in modern context.
  • Saudi Arabia’s Investment Minister Kahlid al-Falih visited Oman on Sunday (Aug 29) for talks on economic opportunities for both countries. The visit accompanies prior talks this year in which Saudi Arabia said it was contemplating developing an industrial region in Oman. The current visit aims to boost economic relations and expand mutual investments between the two Arab countries. 
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that it will resume issuing visas and open the country to fully vaccinated tourists from Monday (Aug 30) in order “to achieve sustainable recovery and economic growth”. The lift comes amid a reported drop of less than 1,000 COVID-19 cases per day last week for the first time in recent months. The capital city of Dubai is also set to host the Expo 2020 trade fair next month. The move is applied to all citizens regardless of the COVID situation in their respective countries. 
  • At least 30 soldiers were killed and 60 wounded in Houthi strikes in Yemen military base on Sunday (Aug 29). Armed drones and ballistic missiles have been used in numerous attacks by the Houthis on the al-Anad military base as said by Mohamed al-Naqeeb, a Yemen southern forces spokesman. The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers are in the midst of attending to the scene. 

Africa:

  • Vaccination rates across Africa remain low as 47 out of 56 nations are set to miss the September target for inoculating 10 per cent of their populations, despite numbers tripling in the past week. Vaccine inequality is to blame, according to health officials including the Africa director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Matshidiso Moeti, with international cooperation regarding vaccine distribution ‘failing’ Africa. The continent reported 248,000 new infections among a new surge of the Delta variant infections across at least 28 African nations.
  • More than 210 people have been killed across the past week in western Ethiopia, due to ongoing ethnic violence in the country. UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” as thousands have been killed and more than two million people have been displaced from their homes. Millions more require immediate food and medical assistance. The United Nations has called for both sides to cease hostilities as the nine-month war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), expands beyond Tigray into other Ethiopian regions.
  • Mali’s ex-Prime Minister Boubeye Maiga was arrested on Thursday (Aug 26) over corruption charges. His arrest appears to be related to his role in the corrupt purchase of a US$40 million (S$54 million) presidential plane during the now-deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s regime. Maiga had been a possible presidential candidate in the 2022 elections promised by interim authorities.  The country is currently ruled by interim president and coup-leader Assimi Goita. 
  • The remaining pupils among the 136 students taken captive in May have been released by Nigerian gunmen on Thursday (Aug 26). Six pupils had died in captivity, in one of the many recent school kidnappings in the country. Nigeria has seen a surge in student abductions by local gangs seeking ransom payments. More than 1,000 students have been kidnapped since December, despite attempted amnesty deals and ongoing government airstrikes on gang bases.  
  • Libyan locals called for an end to power cuts caused by the decade-long conflict in the country. Although the Libyan Audit Bureau recently brought the issue up with the General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL) for its unfinished power projects, the firm cited poor city infrastructure that had been “decaying for 10-years”, as a reason for the delays. Three new power stations are currently being constructed by a German-Turkish consortium in the nation, with plans for a third, in hopes of alleviating the blackouts which can span up to 12 hours a day. 
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