Sudanese protesters rally outside the president’s palace in Sudan’s capital city of Khartoum. | Photo Credit: AP News

Weekly Recap: Oct 11 to Oct 17

Oct 18: White House issues 40-page report against climate crisis, Myanmar junta chief excluded from upcoming ASEAN summit, Sudanese protesters took to the streets demanding military take over.

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North America:

  • The US Courts of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has refused the US Department of Justice’s petition on Thursday (Oct 14) to put on hold Texas’s prohibitive abortion law. The Texas abortion law, which is the strictest in the country took effect last month on Sept 1, banning abortion procedures as early as six weeks into pregnancy. No exceptions are made if cardiac activity is detected and for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. The Justice Department has since sued Texas over the law, arguing that the law hinders women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.
  • The Biden administration mentioned its plans on Friday (Oct 15) to bring back the Trump-era border policy mid of next month. The border policy known as “Remain in Mexico”, was introduced in Mexico in January 2019 during the Trump administration, forcing tens of thousands of asylum seekers to remain in Mexico as they waited for their cases to be considered. The policy was controversial among advocates as it placed vulnerable Central and South American migrants at risk of danger as they waited in their own countries. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expects to spend US$14.1 million (S$19 million) on reinstating the program, which will fund the reopening of temporary courtrooms in Texas.
  • The US will lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated international travellers starting November 8 according to White House officials on Friday (Oct 15). Unlike many other countries that have already made the move on lifting travel curbs, the US has lagged behind after restrictions have banned individuals from most of the world from visiting the country, including those with family and business links. US airlines including American Airlines and hotel and cruise industry stocks have since risen on the news. 
  • The White House issued a 40-page report on Friday (Oct 15) warning against the climate crisis and setting out measures to address the climate impact on “American jobs, homes, families’ hard-earned savings, and businesses”. The new plan will map out steps to safeguard the financial, insurance and housing markets in the country and also protect the savings of American families. The White House report is a follow-up to a May executive order by President Biden that called on the government to investigate how the US economy could be affected by extreme heat, flooding, storms, wildfires and the extensive adjustments needed to address the climate crisis. Many are looking to the US to lead the way. 
  • Texas Governor Greg Abbot issued an executive order on Monday (Oct 11) banning vaccine mandates in the state. The Republican leader has since expressed that although the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, it “should remain voluntary and never forced”. His move to pass the ban into law pits him against Democrat President Joe Biden, who firmly called on companies last month to introduce mandatory vaccines for their employees. Mr Abott has previously tested positive for the virus in August and has credited his recovery to being fully vaccinated. 
  • 17 US Christian missionaries, together with their families, have been abducted from a bus on Saturday (Oct 16) by gang members in Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. The kidnapping took place after the group left an orphanage to make their way to the airport to drop off some of the group’s missionaries. The group is reported to be held by an armed gang responsible for various theft and kidnapping incidents in the region between Haiti’s capital city and the Dominican Republic border. A US government spokesperson said that they were alerted on the reports of the kidnapping. According to Haiti’s Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, the country has seen a spike in gang-related kidnappings of which 600 were recorded this year alone. 

South America:

  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera faces an impeachment bid launched by the opposition after new details resurfaced in the Pandora Papers leak. The Pandora Papers is a leak of 11.9 million documents that shed light on the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders and billionaires of which some reveal Mr Piñera’s activity in selling the Dominga mine to a close family friend a decade earlier. Evidence from the Pandora papers investigation suggests that the last instalment of the payment mentioned a clause requiring the government not to strengthen environmental protections where the mining company was located in northern Chile. The billionaire President has since denied the accusations, arguing that no irregularities were found in the deal. Prosecutors have launched an investigation against the President to hold him accountable.
  • A group of Hippopotamuses also known as “cocaine hippos” that originally belonged to the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar are being sterilised after concerns of being an invasive species. The species number has more than doubled since 2012 and sterilisation procedures were carried out after observation of their potential threat to the environment and to human safety. Studies by Mexican and Colombian university researchers discovered that the hippos have spread out from their original home and dispersed more than 100 kilometres and as such have proven to be a threat. As of Sunday (Oct 17), 24 of the “cocaine hippos” have been sterilised. 
  • Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has made comments rejecting to be vaccinated as “it makes no sense” for him to do so. His controversial views come after more than 600,000 of his country’s citizens lost their lives as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has cited his reasons for not taking the vaccine as having high antibody levels due to his previous infection in July of last year. Natalia Pasternak, head of civil society group, Question of Science Institute has commented that his views are “stupid and selfish” as “[vaccination] is about protecting those around you”. Others have also expressed their anger and frustration, accusing the President of neglecting national issues such as poverty and inflation. As of Wednesday (Oct 13), at least 72% of Brazilians have received one dose of the vaccine while 47% have received both doses.
  • The United Nations (UN) is urging Venezuela to conduct an “independent investigation” into the death of Raul Baduel, a former minister who was jailed and labelled a political prisoner by the opposition party. The UN human rights office have called on the country to take all required steps to ensure access to healthcare for detainees and to consider other measures of detention. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has since expressed her condolences on Twitter saying that she is “deeply saddened” by the former minister’s death in detention whose death was ruled as a result of COVID-19. Baduel was previously arrested in 2009 due to charges of corruption after his fall-out with the Socialist Party and was re-jailed  4 years ago for allegations of conspiracy against President Nicolas Maduro. Both his sons have also been charged and arrested over allegations of conspiracy.
  • Disputes between the Mapuche Indigenous people and security forces have pushed Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to announce a state of emergency. The President has deployed troops to the two southern regions of Biobio and Araucania where the Mapuche are demanding the restoration of their ancestral lands. According to Pinera, the four provinces of the two southern regions have seen continuous acts of drug-trafficking related violence and terrorism committed by armed groups. The Mapuche’s make up 1.7 million people of Chile’s population of 19 million, making them the largest indigenous group in the country. As a result of the clashes, one person has since been killed while 17 have been reported to be injured. 

Asia Pacific:

  • Japan dissolved its parliament on Thursday (Oct 14). Official campaigning would start on Tuesday (Oct 19) with voters going to the polls on October 31. The election would pit newly appointed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party against an unpopular opposition in a bid to steer the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic with its economy battered because of the virus. Kishida enjoys reasonable public support after he replaced his unpopular predecessor Yoshihide Suga after only a week in the job as polls show, boding well for his goal of maintaining a lower house majority for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its Komeito party coalition partner.
  • South Korea said on Friday (Oct 15) that it would lift its stringent anti-coronavirus curbs on social gatherings next week, as the country prepares to switch to a “living with COVID-19” strategy amid rising vaccination levels. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said that the government would allow gatherings of up to four unvaccinated people while gatherings of up to eight people will be allowed if a group includes four fully vaccinated people in Seoul, and up to 10 people will be allowed to gather in other regions. Operating-hour restrictions imposed on venues like restaurants, cafes and cinemas would be eased from next Monday. The country has never imposed a full lockdown since the pandemic began.
  • A fire tore through a 13-storey mixed-use building in Taiwan’s southern city of Kaohsiung on Thursday (Oct 14), killing 46 people and injuring another 41. The flames broke out in the wee hours of Thursday and were extinguished around dawn. Kaohsiung’s fire department said around 70 fire trucks were mobilised and the fires were only extinguished at dawn. The fire would be Taiwan’s deadliest in years with the last major incident happening in 1995 when 64 people perished in a karaoke club.
  • Foreign Ministers of ASEAN will exclude Myanmar junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming regional summit at a decision made during a virtual meeting on Friday (Oct 14). The meeting came as the junta refused a request by ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar and Brunei Second Foreign Minister, Erywan Yusof, to meet ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. She was charged with accepting bribes and also six other charges relating to alleged illegal imports of walkie-talkies and inciting public unrest Her government was deposed in a coup d’etat by the military on Feb 1.
  • North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un was quoted on Tuesday (Oct 12) by state-run Korean Central News Agency that his country’s weapons development is necessary in the face of ‘hostile’ policies from the United States and a military buildup in South Korea that is destabilising the peninsula. According to KCNA, Kim said in a speech at the Defence Development Exhibition that Pyongyang was only increasing its military in self-defence and not to start a war. “We are not discussing war with anyone, but rather to prevent war itself and to literally increase war deterrence for the protection of national sovereignty,” he added.

Europe:

  • 37-year-old Espen Andersen Brathen went on a killing spree in the Norwegian town of Kongsberg on Wednesday (Oct 13). The Danish citizen allegedly murdered five people and injured three others, including an off-duty police officer with a bow and arrow. Brathen, a Muslim convert who has lived in Kongsberg for almost his whole life was arrested in 34 minutes while committing the act of terror at the same time. He is now undergoing a psychiatric assessment and prosecutors say he has been handed over to health services. This was Norway’s worst terrorist attack since domestic right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik massacred 77 and injured 319 people in 2011.
  • The trial of four Egyptian police officers, albeit in absence, accused of the murder of Giulio Regeni, has begun in Rome, Italy on Thursday (Oct 14). 28-year-old Regeni was abducted, tortured, and killed over five years ago in Cairo, Egypt. The case has deepened divisions between Italy and Egypt. Regeni’s mutilated body was found on a road days after he disappeared in the Egyptian capital on January 25 2016. Regeni was in Cairo for his doctoral thesis on trade union activities among street vendors, a sensitive subject in the country. Egyptian authorities have alleged that the Cambridge University doctoral student fell victim to ordinary robbers.
  • Tens of thousands of Georgians have rallied in the capital Tbilisi to demand the release of jailed ex-president and opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili on the morning of Thursday (Oct 14). Saakashvili, president of Georgia from 2008 to 2013 was arrested earlier this month after returning from exile in Ukraine. Saakashvili, the founder of Georgia’s main opposition force, the United National Movement, has declared a hunger strike and doctors have expressed concern about his deteriorating health. The pro-Western reformer was convicted in absentia on charges of abuse of office and sentenced to six years in prison in 2018. 
  • British royal, Prince William, grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, slammed the rise in space tourism, urging more attention on problems closer to home ahead of the COP26 climate summit. In an interview on BBC’s Newcast podcast that aired on Thursday (Oct 14), he was quoted saying that the world needed some of its greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet instead of finding the next place to go and live. His interview came ahead of the inaugural Earthshot Prize awards ceremony on Sunday (Oct 17), his initiative to honour those working on environmental solutions.
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said his country would continue arming itself with weapons from Russia, China and elsewhere on Tuesday (Oct 12). He made the statement at an opening of an arms fair on Tuesday that coincided with a two-day summit marking the 60th anniversary of the first conference of non-aligned nations. Vucic said Serbia is a “free and independent nation” that would not seek outside opinions about where it sources weapons. “If anyone thinks that we should ask the US or the EU to decide about our weapons, let’s abolish our state,” he added. Serbia has refused to align its foreign policies with the EU and has instead strengthened its alliance with Russia and China although it has formally applied to be a member of the 27-nation bloc.

Middle East:

  • The Taliban held their first face-to-face talks in Doha, Qatar on Tuesday (Oct 12) with a joint US-EU delegation. The talks were held concurrently with a virtual G20 summit, the EU opened the summit by offering a €1 billion (S$1.56 billion) in aid package to Afghanistan. The Taliban are seeking international recognition of its Islamic Emirate after the hardline group took power when the US military withdrew from the country in August.
  • United Nations deputy humanitarian chief, Assistant Secretary-General Ramesh Rajasingham said on Thursday (Oct 14) that the Yemeni economy was collapsing, its humanitarian crisis was worsening, and the conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation was growing more violent in a briefing to the United Nations Security Council. He warned that aid agencies, currently serving nearly 13 million people across the country, don’t have enough money to keep going at this scale. He added that  “in the coming weeks and months, up to 4 million people could see their food aid reduced” and “by the end of the year, that number could rise to 5 million people”. Yemen has been convulsed by civil war since 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital of Sanaa and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the internationally recognised government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.
  • Israeli occupation authorities in Jerusalem have approved a controversial plan to build housing units in an illegal settlement in the Palestinian area of Khirbet Tabalya, southwest of the city on Wednesday (Oct 15). The local municipality planning committee approved the plan to construct “public buildings and roads” in the illegal Jewish settlement of “Giv’at Hamatos”. It was already planned since 2012 to build units in the settlement but were previously met with strong opposition from Israeli allies Germany and the US, causing authorities to repeatedly postpone implementation. Jerusalem map expert Khalil Toufakji said that he believes it is likely that during the last visit of Germany’s outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel to Jerusalem earlier last week that she gave the Israeli authorities the go-ahead to continue with the settlement or Germany would no longer pressure the Israeli authorities to stop building the settlement.
  • The Lebanese Red Cross said on Thursday (Oct 14) that Lebanon’s army arrested nine people, including a Syrian, after gunfire erupted on Thursday in the Lebanese capital Beirut, leaving at least six dead and dozens wounded. Soldiers were deployed on the streets to contain the violence as an undeclared truce brought calm to the city, after nearly five hours of heavy gunfire. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has vowed to catch those responsible for the violence and hold them accountable. A rally organised by the Hezbollah and Amal movements demanding the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator into last year’s port explosion turned violent and clashes subsequently erupted between rival factions.
  • Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday (Oct 12) Turkey would “do what is necessary for its security” after what it described as a rise in cross-border attacks by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey’s top diplomat criticised both the United States and Russia for having not kept their promises to ensure the YPG withdrew from the Syrian border area. Ankara says the group is the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been designated a “terror” group by Turkey and its NATO allies although it was backed by the US.

Africa:

  • Thousands of Sudanese protesters took to the streets in capital city, Khartoum to demand the military to take over the country after political crisis intensifies. Sudanese military and civilian groups have been sharing power since the falling-out of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. However, protests on Saturday (Oct 16) erupted after a fail coup attempt assigned to forces loyal to Bashir was thwarted last month. Military leaders have since demanded reforms to the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), a civilian alliance that led the anti-Bashir protests and formed a crucial part of the transitional government. The military has also demanded the replacement of the current cabinet.
  • Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta has declined a decision by the UN’s highest court to permit Somalia control of disputed waters in the Indian Ocean, believing it would “strain relations” between neighbouring nations. Both Somalia and Kenya are currently involved in conflict over the involvement of the Kenyan military in Somalia as part of the country’s African Union mission. Mr Kenyatta has since accused the international court of justice of inflicting its power on a dispute that the President claimed that they have no authority to oversee. Mr Kenyatta said on Wednesday (Oct 13) that the ruling will “potentially aggravate the peace and security situation in the fragile Horn of Africa region”.
  • Ethiopia’s Tigray forces say the government has launched a major military offensive against them with the plan of ending the almost one year old war. According to the Tigray external affairs office, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian fighters launched an organised attack on multiple fronts. The deadly political dispute last November resulted in the deaths of thousands. The new attacks also defies the calls for peace by the UN and the threat of new sanctions from the US and the European Union. 
  • Violent protests erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday (Oct 17)  upon the selection of Denis Kadima as the new head of the National Electoral Commission (CENI). Due to alleged corruption and his close ties with President Tshisekedi, Kadima’s election was met with fury and political analysts have reprimanded the CENI for its role during the 2018 disputed election. Local police have responded by using tear gas to dissolve clashes and to disrupt tens to thousands from demanding and marching for a neutral election commission. President Tshisekedi is anticipated to seek a second term for the 2023 elections. 
  • Cape Verde citizens have cast their votes on Sunday (Oct 17) to elect the country’s next leader. This election will be the seventh round since the country transitioned to free and multiparty elections three decades ago in 1991. Cape Verde has continued to rank above its neighbouring countries in the African continent amongst indexes of transparency and political freedom. Out of the seven candidates running for presidency, former prime ministers Carlos Veiga and Jose Maria Neves are set to be the strongest contenders for this round of elections. The elections come during a time of the country’s continuous struggle of an economic recession which shrank by 14.8 per cent in 2020 due to the decline in tourism.
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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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