The clinic in Tetovo was constructed last year to care for people suffering serious effects of Covid-19. | Photo Credit: EPA

Weekly Recap: Sep 6 to Sep 12

Sep 13: Four of the six prisoners have been caught after escaping from Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, a fire at a makeshift hospital treating COVID-19 patients in North Macedonia killed at least 14 people, the fire and smoke alarms sounded off at the Russian segment of the International Space Station while the batteries were being recharged.

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North America:

  • United States (US) Justice Department has said last Tuesday (Sept 7) that it will protect clinics that perform abortions in Texas, concurrently filing a lawsuit against the recently enacted law that prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Doctors and women’s rights groups have criticised the legislation known as SB8 that took effect two weeks ago. The now-known “Heartbeat Act” was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in May. The law, one of the most restrictive in the country, bans abortions after detecting what anti-abortion campaigners call a foetal heartbeat. However, medical and legal experts maintain that the term is misleading because embryos don’t possess a heart at that developmental stage.
  • The Canadian government has prompted a court order last Saturday (Sept 11), directing a state-owned Chinese telecommunications firm, China Mobile International Canada, to divest its stake in a Canadian subsidiary. While the firm asked the Federal Court to set aside the recent decision on the grounds that the government has no reason to believe the company would compromise security or engage in espionage on behalf of Beijing, the Canadian government claimed that the firm threatens national security. The case unfolds amid high tensions between Ottawa and Beijing over China’s prolonged detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for alleged spying.
  • US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping engaged in their first phone call in seven months signalling a thaw in the icy relationship between the two countries. The American and Chinese presidents had a “frank and in-depth” discussion last Thursday (Sept 9) which focused on the points of convergence and divergence between the “interests, values ​​and perspectives” of each country, according to the White House. Tensions between the countries have never been higher, and recent efforts to move the relationship forward have stalled following the Trump presidency. However, to prevent the lingering hostility between the two great powers from degenerating into conflict, Biden and Xi have “discussed their joint responsibility” as the two biggest economic powers in the world, emphasising that the ability of China and the US to manage their relations well is critical for the future of the world.
  • Texas has joined more than a dozen US states last Tuesday (Sept 7) in passing Republican-backed voting changes since the 2020 election. While Republican backs say that these law voting restrictions are intended to combat voter fraud, critics claim that it will make it harder for Democratic-leaning minorities to cast ballots. 
  • The Mexican Supreme Court ruled the criminalisation of abortion unconstitutional in a unanimous vote last Tuesday (Sept 7) to allow Mexican women across the country to access the procedure. The court met in a plenary session for two days to consider the constitutionality of the Coahuila Penal Code articles, which punish women who have abortions with sentences of up to two to three years in prison. The ruling established case law for all courts across the country, paving the way for abortion across Mexico. However, the court ruling does not legalise abortion in the 30 states that prohibit it. Articles in the Penal Codes of the other 29 states that criminalise voluntary abortion and establish various penalties for women will remain in force. Currently, Oaxaca and Mexico City are the only states where abortion is fully decriminalised within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
  • The US Coast Guard announced last Monday (Sept 6) that it is investigating reports of 350 incidents of oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of Hurricane Ida. The announcement came shortly before US President Joe Biden was set to tour areas of New York and New Jersey ravaged by remnants of the storm, killing more than 60 people during landfall in Louisiana in late August. 
  • A crowd of demonstrators in London, Ontario threw gravel at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Monday (Sept 6). The protestors were angry about the COVID-19 vaccines and lockdown measures. Many of them held signs for the far-right People’s Party of Canada (PPC) as he was getting back onto his campaign bus. Trudeau has dubbed the protestors as the “anti-vaxxer mobs” to interrupt the Liberal Party leader’s campaign events. 

South America:

  • Leader of the Sendero Luminoso, Abimael Guzman, died at 86 years old in prison last Saturday (Sept 11). He led a group of rebels who nearly overthrew the Peruvian state in a bloody Maoist revolution. Guzman was captured in 1992 in the capital of Peru and sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted as a “terrorist”. Guzman had been ill recently and was released from a hospital in August. He died in his cell on the day he was supposed to receive more medical attention after his health condition worsened. 
  • Tropical storm Olaf came ashore near San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, last Thursday (Sept 9). At least 700 residents had to spend the night in shelters while an estimated 20,000 foreign tourists hunkered down in their hotels. State Civil Defence Deputy Secretary Carlos Alfredo Godinez mentioned that there has not been any reports of lives lost. However, officials closed ports, schools in the area, and suspended COVID-19 vaccinations. 
  • Haiti’s chief public prosecutor, Bed-Ford Claude, sent a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Henry last Friday (Sept 10), asking him to explain why he spoke with one of the main suspects who assassinated the former President on the same night of the crime. According to investigators, former Haitian justice ministry official Joseph Felix Badio is suspected to have ordered the assassination. Badio and Henry spoke on the phone twice, just hours after the president was killed. The letter also mentioned that geolocalisation data showed Badio was speaking from the scene of the crime. 
  • The Mexican Supreme Court has ruled that criminal penalties for terminating pregnancies are unconstitutional. Last Tuesday (Sept 7), the court ordered the state of Coahuila to remove sanctions for abortion from its criminal code. At the moment, only four states allow for women to undergo abortions. This move could pave the way for the decriminalisation of abortions across the country.
  • At least 17 patients were killed last Tuesday (Sept 7) after heavy rainfall caused a hospital in Mexico’s central Hidalgo state to flood. Some of the victims were COVID-19 patients who were being treated with oxygen therapy. Rescuers evacuated around 40 patients. 
  • Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro struck a defiant note on the country’s independence day last Tuesday (Sept 7) saying that only God can remove him from power. He also criticised Congress and the Supreme Court who are persecuting him and his political allies. 
  • A powerful earthquake occurred near the Pacific resort city of Acapulco, Mexico last Tuesday (Sept 7). One man was killed after a post fell on him in the nearby city of Coyuca de Benítez. Residents were seen running out of their homes and hotels, and into the streets. Power cuts were also reported in several states. However, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced there were no reports of major damage across the country. Additionally, a blue light flashed across the night sky during the tremors. While several mentioned that it was a rare phenomenon also known as earthquake lights (EQL), other researchers also think it was caused by friction between moving rocks which created electrical activity. Some also said it was probably lightning or electricity arcing between shaking power lines. 

Asia Pacific:

  • The Islamist movement announced last Tuesday (Sept 7) that Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada was to become the “supreme leader” of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”. The former foreign minister of the previous Taliban regime will rule the country under the watchful eye of cleric Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. The successor of Mullah Mansour at the head of the Taliban is now the country’s “supreme leader”. Eight days after the departure of the last American soldier from Afghanistan, and less than 48 hours after the takeover of the Panjshir valley, the Taliban revealed the composition of the interim government which will now lead the government. 
  • In a statement last Friday (Sept 10), the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said that Indonesia has ended their anti-deforestation pact with Norway to reduce carbon emissions over a lack of payment. Norway had announced a US$56 million (S$75 million) contribution to Indonesia, based on its 2016 to 2017 commitment to curbing deforestation under a United Nations (UN)-backed forest-conservation scheme (REDD+). Last year, the Foreign Ministry said it decided to terminate the agreement due to the government of Norway not following through on their obligations. Nevertheless, the Southeast Asian country met its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 11.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the 2016 to 2017 period. Even with the end of the agreement, the government claimed that the decision to terminate the pact will in no way affect the Indonesian government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • China’s second-largest real estate developer, the Hengda Group, headquartered in Shenzhen, was summoned last Thursday (Sept 9) by the People’s Bank of China and the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission. The company is estimated to have 200,000 direct employees and indirectly provides 3.8 million jobs across the country. Its extraordinary size is also reflected in its debt, which amounted to more than 1.9 trillion yuan, “exceeding the annual GDP of Finland,” said US public radio VOA. The consequences of the collapse of this real estate empire would be colossal. 
  • Due to a short circuit in Block C2 of Tangerang Prison, 41 inmates were burned to death in the satellite city of Jakarta. The block housed a total of 122 inmates, more than triple its capacity. When the fire broke out, no alarm sounded. The guards at the watchtower only noticed the fire when they heard faint calls for help from detainees surrounded by flames. Of the 41 victims, one died on the way to the hospital. Guards claim that they could not evacuate the detainees quickly because all the prison doors were locked, massively slowing down their rescue operation.
  • Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of the capital Kabul, Afghanistan, last Tuesday (Sept 7) chanting anti-Pakistan slogans and calling for freedom. The protests came a day after resistance leader Ahmad Massoud called for an uprising against Taliban rule. Journalists were prohibited from filming while some saw the Taliban destroy several cameras and arrest journalists as they followed protestors towards the palace. 
  • Afghanistan’s former President Ashraf Ghani published a statement on Twitter last Wednesday (Sept 8) to apologise for the way his rule came to an end. He mentioned that he did not mean to abandon the people when he fled the country in August on the same day the Taliban entered the capital, Kabul. Ghani tried to justify his actions by explaining that he left after the palace security urged him to avoid the risk of bloody street fighting. He also denied stealing millions from the treasury.
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced last Wednesday (Sept 8) that China is offering at least US$31 million (S$41.6 million) worth of emergency aid, including COVID-19 vaccines, grain, winter supplies and medicines. The announcement was made at a virtual conference with foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. 

Europe:

  • Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed while 10 were wounded last Sunday (Sept 12) during clashes in Ukraine’s war-torn east. In a statement by the military, pro-Russian separatists had fired at Ukrainian positions. However, there are no victims among the local population. 
  • After the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France has started a trial of unprecedented scale. The 20 men suspected to be involved in the attacks faced their trial last Wednesday (Sept 8). Streets will be closed off to cars and pedestrians around the Palais de Justice courthouse on an island in central Paris. The surrounding banks of the Seine are also cordoned off. The trial will last 9 months and the verdict is expected in late May 2022. 
  • France’s former health minister Agnes Buzyn was charged last Friday (Sept 10) for her poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Buzyn was charged with “endangering the lives of others”. However, she will be able to appeal the charge. 
  • The fire and smoke alarms sounded off at the International Space Station (ISS) last Thursday (Sept 9) as reported by the crew of the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS). This took place in the Russian-built Zvezda module as the station’s batteries were being recharged. Nevertheless, the Russians returned to their rest after the crew activated air filters and the air quality went back to normal. However, this is not the first incident that has raised safety concerns over conditions in the Russian segment. 
  • The United Kingdom (UK) has approved plans to turn away boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers to its shores. A British government official said last Thursday (Sept 9) that border officials will be trained to force boats away from British waters. However, this new tactic will only be deployed when it is safe to do so. The move has angered the French government as they believe the UK should honour both maritime law and commitments made. 
  • A French court confirmed last Thursday (Sept 9) that the uncle of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad has been sentenced to a four-year jail sentence for misappropriating public funds in Syria, laundering the spoils and building a vast property portfolio in France. However, the 84-year-old former military commander is unlikely to serve time due to his old age. French authorities have been investigating Rifaat al-Assad since 2014. 
  • Russia and Belarus have agreed last Thursday (Sept 9) to closer economic ties and new loans from Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned that the economic foundation must be laid before the political track is laid. 
  • The Polish parliament has backed a state of emergency on the Belarus border amid a surge in migration and upcoming Russian-led military exercises. This comes after the Polish Members of Parliament voted to approve the law last Monday (Sept 6). The law will ban large gatherings and limit movement for 30 days along the Poland-Belarus border. Poland accuses Belarus of inducing migrants to fly there on the false promise of legal entry to the European Union (EU). Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also mentioned concerns regarding large joint Russian and Belarussian military exercises that started last Friday (Sept 10). 
  • Russia’s Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev died at 55 years old last Tuesday (Sept 7) while trying to save a cameraman during a big Artic civil defence exercise. Both Zinichev and the cameraman were on the edge of the cliff when the cameraman slipped and fell into the water. While trying to save the cameraman, Zinichev died after hitting a protruding rock. The cameraman also died. 
  • A fire broke out last Wednesday (Sept 8) night at a makeshift hospital treating COVID-19 patients in North Macedonia. At least 14 people have been killed. Authorities suspect that the fire was caused by the explosion of oxygen cylinders used to treat COVID-19 patients. Many videos emerged on social media to show the burning building and a thick cloud of black smoke billowing into the air. 
  • Italy’s civil protection agency announced last Friday (Sept 10) that nine people were injured after a tornado swept through an Italian island. Cars were overturned and roofs were ripped off at the tourist hotspot of Pantelleria. At least two people have been killed while four are wounded and remain in critical condition.
  • To shore up Britain’s national social care system and throw a financial lifeline to the overstretched National Health Service, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday (Sept 7) that his government has decided to raise taxes on workers, employers and some investors. This goes against his promise to British voters during the 2019 election campaign. 
  • A top member of the Belarus opposition Coordination Council, Maria Kolesnikova, was sentenced to 11 years in prison last Monday (Sept 6). The Belarus court found her guilty of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organisation and calling for actions damaging state security. 

Middle East:

  • The provisional results announced by the interior minister last Thursday (Sept 9) has Morocco’s long-ruling party, Morocco’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), suffering a humiliating defeat to liberal rivals in parliamentary elections and moving them from first to eighth place. The liberal National Rally of Independents (RNI) party gained most seats, followed by another liberal party – the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) – which is seen as close to the monarchy. The turnout for the parliamentary election last Wednesday (Sept 8) was just over 50 per cent, which was higher than expected. Analysts had predicted that that new voting rule was going to make it harder for bigger parties to win as many seats as previously expected. The moderate PJD, the biggest party in the past two parliaments, seems to have suffered from this. 
  • Yemeni officials have claimed that the Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile and five explosive-laden drones at a Red Sea port, specifically al-Makha port on Yemen’s western coast last Saturday (Sept 11). While the Houthis have not claimed responsibility for the strike, the rebels in recent weeks have accelerated their attacks on government areas, going as far as to conduct cross border attacks on Saudi Arabia. While no human casualties were reported, the attack caused massive destruction to the port’s infrastructure and burned the storehouses of aid agencies, irreversibly destroying some humanitarian aid warehouses. The specific agencies that stored cargo at the port were not named. This port is essential for the import and delivery of humanitarian rations.
  • Mohammad Younes Menfi, the chairman of Libya’s Presidential Council officially announced the launch of a national reconciliation project last Tuesday (Sept 7), starting with the release of key political prisoners. Libya’s Presidential Council has announced the release of Saadi Gaddafi, son of the removed leader, Muammar Gaddafi and several other prisoners, including Gaddafi’s former cabinet and intelligence chief, Ahmad Ramadan. Libyan Presidential Council spokeswoman Najwa Wahiba said the decision to release the prisoners was purely based on judicial rulings and that the Council would continue to coordinate with the judiciary to release other prisoners who have been acquitted. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said that this represents a significant step towards respect for the rule of law and human rights. Thousands of people “arbitrarily detained” nevertheless remain to be released.
  • Erbil International Airport in northern Iraq has suffered another drone attack last Saturday (Sept 11), the latest in a series of similar incidents over the past year. Iraq’s internal security service for Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish’s region initially claimed that three rockets hit near the airport. However, a second statement by the Kurdish counterterrorism force said explosive-laden drones had carried out the attack. There were no victims discovered in the attack carried out by the two armed drones. Neither were there any immediate reports of casualties. Witnesses said they heard up to six explosions in the area.
  • Early last Monday (Sept 6), six Palestinian prisoners escaped from Gilboa Prison, one of Israel’s most secure penal institutions. The prisoners are believed to have escaped via a tunnel located under the toilet of the cell that they shared with help from outside of the prison. The six prisoners include a former leader of the Fatah party and five members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who were all serving life sentences for their involvement in the Palestinian Intifada. Further investigations revealed last Tuesday (Sept 7) that the guard on duty in the watchtower overlooking the tunnel opening fell asleep during the escape. A search for the prisoners is currently being executed by the police, soldiers, as well as the internal security agency of Israel. As of last Saturday (Sept 11), four of the six prisoners have been arrested. 

Africa:

  • Ethiopian authorities have recovered 120 bodies since last Wednesday (Sept 8) after a massacre in the Amhara region in early September. According to the spokesperson of the nearby city of Gondar, the victims were all innocent farmers. Since there are still people missing, authorities suspect that the number of people killed might be higher. The search for missing and dead bodies are still going on. The Tigray forces said that they were not responsible for those who have been killed. 
  • The first group of children in South Africa were vaccinated last Friday (Sept 10) as part of the global phase three clinical trials of China’s Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine. The trial will begin at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in the capital, Pretoria, along with six different sites across the country. The study is to evaluate the efficacy of two doses of the CoronaVac against confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 cases in children and adolescents aged between six months and 17 years old. 
  • A delegation from West Africa’s main political and economic bloc headed to Guinea last Friday (Sept 10) to meet coup leaders. It came two days after suspending the country’s membership in response to a military coup that removed President Conde. 
  • In a statement released on Tuesday (Sept 8), Sudan’s ministry mentioned that it had summoned Ethiopia’s ambassador to Khartoum on Aug 30 after 29 bodies were found on the banks of a river flowing from Ethiopia. The bodies had been identified as Ethiopians from the Tigray ethnic group by Ethiopians residing in the Wad al Hylaywah area of eastern Sudan. However, the statement did not say how the people died. 
  • The leader of an army unit, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, barred Guinean government officials from leaving the country last Monday (Sept 6). Colonel Doumbouya also told the government officials that they should hand back their official vehicles. This comes after the Guinean President Alpha Conde was overthrown. The ban will continue until further notice. A curfew imposed in mining areas has also been lifted. 
  • The global aluminium markets were ratted last Monday (Sept 6) after political unrest in Guinea fueled concerns over the supply of the raw material needed to make metal. Aluminium climbed to the highest in more than a decade. This comes after a unit of the military seized power and suspended the constitution, with the head of special forces, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, urging the army to support him. 
  • Both local and UN sources confirmed last Monday (Sept 6) that at least 30 people have been killed in the restive northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the weekend before last. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group is suspected of carrying out the attack in the Ituri area the previous Saturday (Sept 4). 
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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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