In Cape Coast, Ghana, a baby receives a dose of the RTS,S vaccine during a trial in 2019. | Photo Credit: Cristina Aldehuela/AFP/Getty

Weekly Recap: Oct 4 to Oct 10

Oct 11: The World Health Organisation (WHO) approves world’s first Malaria vaccine for use in Africa, The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has voted to stop formal investigations of war crimes in Yemen, Multiple world leaders have been implicated in the Pandora Papers, a leak that has uncovered the offshore shell companies in which people hide their wealth.

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North America:

  • United States (US) officials converged with Afghanistan’s Taliban in Qatar for their first meeting on Sunday (Oct 10) since Washington pulled its troops from their country in August. Officials say these talks aim to focus on issues such as the containing of extremist groups like the Islamic State, the evacuation of US citizens, humanitarian aid and the reinstatement of the 2020 Doha agreement. The US insists, however, that the meeting does not amount to formal recognition of the Taliban.
  • The US Senate voted to temporarily raise the nation’s debt ceiling by US$480 billion (S$650 billion) last Thursday (Oct 7). The experts say that it will cover the US until early December. It is widely regarded as a move to avoid a historic default that would have devastated the US and global economy. The bill narrowly passed in a 50-48 vote, following weeks of partisan fighting. Under the Trump Administration, the debt limit was raised three times.
  • President Joe Biden pushed a landmark childcare bill on Saturday (Oct 9), capping families’ child care expenses at 7 per cent of their income, offering large subsidies to child care centres and requiring them to raise the wages in hopes of attracting higher teacher quality. Some opponents to the bill have warned that these provisions may inadvertently inflate costs,  impose cumbersome regulations, and penalise parents who prefer informal care.
  • Federal authorities in Mexico found about 652 Central American migrants hidden in the refrigerated containers of three tractor-trailers last Thursday (Oct 7) in Tamaulipas. Tamaulipas authorities said that the army and National Guard stopped these trucks at a military checkpoint on the Ciudad Victoria-Monterrey highway in the municipality of Hidalgo. This comes amidst a record high influx of migrants in Mexico. 
  • Authorities in Santa Rosa have finally managed to capture the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (CSRL), Fernando Emmanuel “N,” also known as “El Panther” on Friday (Oct 8). This suspect, wanted for many crimes, was captured in a sting operation led by the state’s criminal investigation agency in collaboration with other state and federal authorities.
  • US and Mexican officials finally met last Friday (Oct 8), breaking the ice after about a year of tense bilateral relationships between the two countries. Under the Trump Administration, US-Mexico relations sustained significant damage last year when US authorities detained Mexico’s former defence minister, Salvador Cienfuegos, on drug trafficking charges without tipping off Mexico. The two sides aim to come together to work on a new, broader framework for security cooperation that includes public health and economic initiatives.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his new government mandatory vaccine policy on Wednesday (Oct 6). This mandate requires all public servants to be vaccinated by the month’s end or take an indeterminate unpaid leave of absence with no employment insurance benefits. People can apply for medical or religious exceptions. Moreover, all potential travellers must be fully vaccinated by Oct 30 before boarding planes, trains or marine vessels.

South America:

  • The Bank of Mexico’s Deputy Governor announced that they are set to increase interest rates as inflation rates look to reach 5.87 per cent, above their target rate of 3 per cent. Announced on Monday (Oct 4), this is a contractionary measure that looks to control inflation and reduce the money supply in the economy.
  • Automotive production in Mexico and Brazil plummets as the industry-wide semiconductor chip shortage worsens, data showed on Wednesday (Oct 6). Output dived 21.3 per cent and 33.3 per cent in Brazil and Mexico respectively as compared to the same month in 2020. Experts have forecasted that semiconductor supply and demand would be in equilibrium in the second quarter of 2022.
  • Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso agreed to face the tax commission to answer questions related to his use of offshore tax havens on Thursday (Oct 7). He had been implicated in the “Pandora Papers”, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) into the hidden owners of offshore companies and other assets held by high-profile individuals.
  • Chile President Sebastian Pinera looks to be investigated as his dealings have been revealed in the Pandora Papers leak, the Chilean Public Prosecutor announced on Friday (Oct 8).
  • Pedro Castillo, Peru’s President, replaced his “hard-left” Guido Bellido as he gave the Prime Minister position to Mirtha Vasquez on Thursday (Oct 7). This is seen by many as a move to appease conservative critics as he announced to achieve “governability” and that “it is time to put Peru above all ideology and isolated party positions”.
  • Brazil has registered more than 600,000 deaths due to COVID-19, second only to the US, their Health Ministry announced on Friday (Oct 8). This comes as Brazilian numbers have hovered around 500 for a month, down from 3,000 in April. Brazil has a population of 212.6 million.

Asia Pacific:

  • Australia will only be opening its borders to tourists in 2022, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday (Oct 5). They have, however, lifted restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents, as well as “skilled migrants and international students”.
  • The race for the Philippines presidency heats up as the son of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., announced that he would run for President in 2022 on Tuesday (Oct 5). Senator and ex-boxer Manny Pacquiao also announced his presidential bid on Sept 19.
  • China’s President Xi Jinping’s declaration on Saturday (Oct 9) warned against those who “betray the motherland” and that the Taiwanese independence movement is the “biggest obstacle to reunification”. He, however, also expressed “peaceful reunification”. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen says that Taiwan will not be forcibly coerced, offering again to talk on the basis of equality.
  • Starting Oct 19, Singapore will allow quarantine-free travel, marking the start of “a new normal”. Restrictions will be lifted on fully vaccinated people from Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom (UK), US, and Canada. South Korea will join the list from Nov 15. This is referred to as the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangement.
  • Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Sony Group are looking to engage in joint construction of a semiconductor factory in Japan amidst a worldwide chip shortage, it was reported on Thursday (Oct 7). With the Japanese government subsidising half the amount, the total investment is set to cost US$7 billion (S$9.49 billion).
  • Pakistan and China have reportedly agreed to develop the Karachi coast as the centrepiece of the Belt and Road Initiative, they announced on Monday (Oct 4). The Karachi port has also seen investment from Saudi Arabia (Jun 13), away from Gwadar, which has been plagued by extremist Islamic terrorism and unrest.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday (Oct 8) that pivoting to nuclear energy away from fossil fuels is “a must”. He has brought in officials with deep links with a pro-nuclear ministry into his government and top-party posts. The Suga and Abe Administrations had reportedly sidelined nuclear energy.

Europe:

  • Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Saturday (Oct 9) that he plans to step down after prosecutors announced a corruption probe, which he denies. To avoid political instability from a no-confidence vote the opposition has threatened, he resigned. While he has proposed that Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg will replace him, he himself will remain in frontline politics as head of the Austrian People’s Party’s parliamentary group.
  • Turkey has acquitted 19 people on Friday (Oct 8) they had been prosecuted for organising and participating in a Pride march two years ago. A Turkish court had ruled that the students and academics did not commit any crime by holding the rally at their university campus. The group had been charged with “refusing to disperse” after they were arrested at the march by police, who used tear gas. The students were from Middle East Technical University (ODTU).
  • Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has made a challenge to one of the European Union’s (EU) core legal principles on Thursday (Oct 7). Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that key articles of one of the EU’s primary treaties were not compatible with Polish law, rejecting the principle that EU law has primacy over national legislation in certain judicial areas. This has fuelled concerns that Poland wants to leave the bloc. On Friday (Oct 8), the French and Germans stressed that EU membership was not simply a moral but also a legal commitment.
  • In a surprise result, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s centrist party on Saturday (Oct 9) narrowly lost the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election, possibly spelling the end of his populist rule. The two-day election to fill 200 seats in the lower house of the parliament took place shortly after details emerged of Babiš’s overseas financial dealings in the Pandora Papers, which he denies. Five opposition parties, which have policies closer to the EU’s mainstream, created two coalitions in hopes of ousting Babiš. 
  • French interior minister Gérald Darmanin has called for the start of negotiations for a migration treaty between the EU and Britain on Saturday (Oct 9). He also urged the UK to finance a clampdown they had agreed on to clamp down on refugees being trafficked across the English Channel through the French coast.
  • Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who was a key figure in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution, died aged 88 on Saturday (Oct 9). He acted as their first president and was seen to be a moderating figure until he alienated his supporters and lost a power struggle in 1981. He then fled into exile in France.
  • Tensions heat up between the UK and the EU as they struggle to negotiate a trade deal (Oct 10). On the UK’s side, they want the privileges they had before the Brexit process, like free trade between the bloc and themselves. On top of that, they want to remove the jurisdiction the EU Court of Justice has over the previous protocol. The EU is set to table proposals for an agreement on Wednesday (Oct 13).

Middle East:

  • Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund completed a deal to acquire English Premier League football club Newcastle United on Friday (Oct 8). Newcastle United are set to be the third club in the world to have oil-rich Middle-Eastern owners, with the other two being Manchester City under a United Arab Emirates-based private equity firm and Paris Saint Germain under a Qatari state-run shareholding firm.
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah II is not dealt a blow to his reputation or standing as the local media have steered clear of news of his implication in the “Pandora Papers” leak as of Sunday (Oct 10). Last week, ICIJ revealed that the King had purchased, using offshore companies, properties amounting to more than US$106 million (S$143.7 million) in the US and UK.
  • There were two drone attacks on King Abdullah Airport in Saudi Arabia, near the border with Yemen on Friday evening (Oct 8) and Saturday morning (Oct 9), with the first one injuring 10 and the second one intercepted. No one has come forward to claim responsibility for the attacks. Yemeni Houthis had reportedly sent in a drone that had wounded four people on Wednesday (Oct 6) in Abha Airport.
  • At US$80 (S$108) per barrel, US crude futures are the highest they have been since November 2014 as the OPEC are keeping supplies tight as of Friday (Oct 8). The global energy crisis ravages on as the economic wave of recovery from the first year of the pandemic has increased demand for energy to fuel worldwide demand.
  • The US has reiterated the desire to continue nuclear talks with Iran on Thursday (Oct 7), after Iran had expressed that they will return to talks “very soon” on Tuesday (Oct 5).
  • The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted not to renew the investigation of war crimes in Yemen on Thursday (Oct 7). This is the first time the United Nations (UN) body has rejected a draft resolution since its convention in 2006. In 2018, the UN had called the Yemeni war the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
  • The Tobruk-based Libyan Parliament has said on Monday (Oct 4) that legislative elections will be postponed to January, after the presidential vote happens on Dec 24. The Tobruk and Tripoli-based officials hope that the presidential vote will allow whichever side a chance to “stabilise itself”.
  • Boycotted by many who distrust promises for reform, Iraqis are set to vote to select who to represent them in 329 seats in parliament on Sunday (Oct 10). Results will be out within 24 hours of the closing of polls at 6.00pm on Sunday.

Africa:

  • In the world’s first, a Malaria vaccine (RTS,S) has been approved to be deployed in high-transmission areas like sub-Saharan Africa on Thursday (Oct 7). 63.6 per cent of the world’s deaths come from Africa’s children alone, where approximately 260,000 children died in 2019. This vaccine will mostly be used in Africa, where a more fatal form of the virus is pervasive. It has an efficacy rate of 40 per cent which, although is seen as low, will prevent four in 10 cases and three in 10 severe cases of malaria in Africa.
  • Multiple leaders in Africa have been implicated in the Pandora Papers leak. Congolese President Denise Sassou-Nguesso has threatened legal action against media outlets. Uganda Security Minister Jim Muhwezi said that he did not know of the leak and that he “can’t make any reply”. Kenya President Jomo Kenyatta said on Tuesday (Oct 5) that he will “respond comprehensively” once he comes back from a state visit abroad.
  • Tunisian authorities have shut down a critical television station in the latest crackdown on media by President Kais Saied on Tuesday (Oct 5). This was in response to a journalist, Amer Ayad, reading an “anti-dictator” poem on air. Saied had suspended parliament earlier in the year and has yet to release his grip on power.
  • The Nigerian government plans to increase spending in the 2022 budget to 16.39 trillion Naira (S$54.1 billion) on Thursday (Oct 7). This is a 25 per cent increase from that of the previous year, as the government prepares for economic recovery. Of the whole amount, their government is set to borrow US$10 billion (S$13.6 billion).
  • Following last month’s coup, Guinea’s Interim President Colonel Mamady Doumbouya has sworn in a civilian Mohamed Beavogui as Prime Minister on Thursday (Oct 7). Although there hasn’t been any confirmed date, Col Doumbouya has promised free and transparent elections in which he is barred from contesting future elections.
  • Sierra Leone formally abolishes the death penalty on Friday (8 Oct) as President Julius Maada Bio signs it into law. It had been agreed on in parliament earlier in the year (July 23). No one has been executed in Sierra Leone since 1998.
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