People carry Amhara flags and Ethiopian national flags to stand in honor of the Ethiopian army in the Tigray conflict, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nov. 17, 2020. | Photo Credit: AFP Photo

Weekly Recap: Nov 8 to Nov 14

Nov 15: China and the United States to Cooperate in Tackling Climate Change, Iranian General Warns Israel will be “Destroyed” if War Waged, Ethiopia’s Tigray Region Experiences “Systemic Blockade.”

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North America:

  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega won the presidential election last Monday (Nov 8), making it his fourth consecutive presidential term. According to Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council, President Ortega secured 76 per cent of the votes, winning by a landslide. However, the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) rejected the outcome of the election, accusing Ortega of “systematic incarceration, harassment and intimidation” of opponents, journalists and activists, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also highlighting that the US was ready to impose economic sanctions, visa restrictions and coordinated actions against those who support Nicaraguan government’s “undemocratic acts”. Russia and Venezuela Foreign Ministers on the other hand, denounced western rejections of the vote, saying the election was held “in an orderly manner and in full compliance with Nicaraguan legislation”.
  • Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pitched a global plan that sought to uplift about 750 million people living in poverty at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last Tuesday (Nov 9). President Lopez Obrador said the proposed plan would be financed by an annual 4 per cent contribution from the fortunes of 1,000 wealthy individuals and corporations, along with donations from G20 countries equivalent to 0.2 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Haitian G9 gang leader Jimmy Cherizier agreed last Friday (Nov 12) to temporarily lift the blockade of fuel terminals for a week to allow for the safe distribution of fuel. This was amid weeks of water shortages in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince where local residents lacked access to drinking water due to faulty water pumps and the disruption of bottled water deliveries indirectly caused by the blockade of fuel. The blockade also disrupted operations at hospitals, businesses and schools. However, the relaxation was emphasised to be temporary, and demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry (who is accused of being involved in the assassination of President Jovnel Moise) were reiterated.
  • The White House announced last Friday (Nov 12) that United States (US) President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet virtually on Monday (Nov 15), to address tensions and opportunities for cooperation. The Xi-Biden meeting comes after China and the US agreed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to cooperate in tackling climate change. In Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s preparatory phone call, views pertaining to energy efficiency and the Iran nuclear issue were also discussed, with China claiming to maintain dialogues regarding global challenges.
  • China and the United States announced in a joint statement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow last Wednesday (Nov 10) that they would enhance cooperation in tackling climate change. These two states, the largest emitters of carbon dioxide, agreed to engage in “concrete actions” to ensure regulations for decarbonisation, deforestation and the reduction in methane emissions are met. However, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global leader on climate and energy of the WWF, noted that “they must also support the enhancement of national policies, plans and actions that will see 1.5°C kept within reach”. To tackle climate change, both countries have to influence others at the COP26 talks in Glasgow to do the same.
  • According to the United States (US) Navy last Thursday (Nov 11), the US, Bahrain, Israel and the United Arab Emirates began a joint naval training in the Red Sea, which is one of the world’s key shipping routes for oil. The training which focuses on maritime “visit, board, search and seizure tactics” is to “enhance interoperability” among the countries’ navies.

South America:

  • The lower house of Chile’s Congress approved the impeachment trial of President Sebastian Pinera last Tuesday (Nov 9). President Pinera was accused of using his presidency for business gains following the release of the Pandora Papers. The vote came early after a last-minute effort by opposition members to extend the session, which allowed a legislator who was just released from quarantine to cast his vote. This gave parliamentarians in the Chamber of Deputies the required 78 votes to seek impeachment and advance proceedings to the Senate. The vote comes less than two weeks before the upcoming election in late November where Chileans are to elect a new President.
  • Ecuador’s local court announced last Friday (Nov 12) it had frozen the bank accounts of 19 business leaders and former government officials, including former President Rafael Correa, as part of a corruption investigation. Former President Correa and the leaders were accused of accepting US$7.5 million (S$10.15 million) in bribes to finance their party’s electoral campaigns between 2012 and 2016. The former president who was in office from 2007 to 2017 was previously sentenced to eight years in prison but has evaded his sentence and is currently living in exile in Belgium. Following the announcement of frozen bank accounts, those who were sentenced are also required to pay a total of US$14.7 million (S$18.94 million) in reparations to the government.
  • A deadly clash among rival gangs at Ecuador’s Penitenciaria del Litoral prison left at least 68 prisoners dead and 25 wounded overnight, the Ecuador Prosecutor’s Office wrote on a twitter post last Saturday (Nov 13). This added to the total death toll of nearly 300 inmates in Ecuador’s prisons this year. The violence was sparked by a power vacuum with the release of a gang leader. In September, another similar riot in the same penitentiary resulted in the deaths of 119 inmates. 
  • A Venezuela judge granted an appeal last Tuesday (Nov 9) to six United States (US) oil executives, also known as “Citgo 6”, who were imprisoned in the country for the past four years. They were arrested in 2017 due to accusations of embezzlement. Washington has accused Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela of using them for their political agenda amid an international pressure campaign launched by former US President Donald Trump. The men have been placed on house arrest twice in December 2019 and in April 2020 and are scheduled to appear for a hearing this Tuesday.
  • Argentina headed to the polls on Sunday (Nov 14) to cast their votes in the mid-term election. Argentina President Alberto Fernandez administration has been the target of growing discontent by Argentines due to recession since 2018. A midterm defeat would deal a devastating blow to his government as he risks losing the Senate majority.

Asia Pacific:

  • Pakistan hosted a meeting dubbed Toika Plus last Thursday (Nov 11) to discuss the situation in Afghanistan among senior diplomats from the United States (US), China and Russia. According to a Pakistani official, Troika Plus “will express support for an inclusive government, discuss ways to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as well as the protection of human rights, particularly women’s rights.” It was also emphasised in the meeting that there must be an international effort to address the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
  • Demonstrators in Thailand protested last Sunday (Nov 14) following a court ruling that rejected calls for royal reform. Tensions were heightened last Wednesday (Nov 10) when the court deemed three prominent protest leaders guilty of violating the Constitution and attempting to overthrow the royal institution.
  • Thousands of Afghan refugees have escaped the Taliban by fleeing into neighboring country Iran, with many wishing to go on to Europe, stated by a top aid official last Wednesday (Nov 10). Afghans flee to Iran every day through unofficial border crossings, according to the National Refugee Council (NRC). According to the NRC secretary-general, more needs to be done for Afghans fleeing the Taliban in terms of food, hope and care. Nonetheless, Iran was commended for sheltering millions of Afghans for four decades.
  • Malaysian and Indonesian leaders urged Myanmar’s military rulers last Wednesday (Nov 10) to resolve the country’s internal crisis and address the influx of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. Over two hundred thousand Rohingyas have relocated to Malaysia in recent months. According to Malaysia’s Prime Minister, if the Rohingyas are able to live peacefully in Myanmar, the refugee crisis can be mitigated.
  • According to the United States (US) holocaust museum last Tuesday (Nov 9), the Chinese government is conducting “multiple crimes against humanity” against the Uighur people. The museum issued a report showing proof of Uighur Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang province facing rising government repression. Forced sterilisation, sexual violence, enslavement, torture, and coercive transfer are among the abuses described in the report. However, Beijing denied the allegations, claiming its actions are needed to “fight extremism” and help Uighurs and other Muslim minorities advance economically.
  • President Xi Jinping of China cautioned against returning to Cold War-era tensions in the Asia-Pacific region last Wednesday (Nov 10), “The Asia-Pacific region cannot and should not relapse into the confrontation and division of the Cold War era”, he said, calling for global collaboration against COVID-19 vaccinations and climate change. The Chinese president’s comments appeared to be a reference to efforts by the United States (US) and its regional allies to counter what they perceive as a hostile rise in China’s economic and military power.
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore called international cooperation “key” to the Asia-Pacific region’s recovery as well as to strengthening the economy at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting last Friday (Nov 12).  He also emphasized the importance of aiding the Asia-Pacific region’s recovery, with the gradual reopening of borders. He added that APEC should also improve the reliability of its supply chain and that members of APEC should strengthen regional economic cooperation. However, he indicated that a difficulty will arise between economies that pursue a “zero COVID” policy and others that have shifted to living with the virus approach. 

Europe:

  • Turkey snubbed calls from French President Emmanuel Macron to remove their forces from Libya last Sunday (Nov 14). Libya has been embroiled in civil war ever since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011. Turkey sent pro-Ankara militia units from Syria to back the United Nations (UN) recognized Tripoli-based Government while Russia and the United Arab Emirates supported Khalifa Haftar. President Macron urged for the withdrawal of both Russian and Turkish forces at an international conference last Friday (Nov 12). However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin voiced displeasure on President Macron’s foreign policy stance, saying that the presence of Turkish military forces is to train the Libyan army.
  • United States (US) Vice-President Kamala Harris announced a joint partnership between the US and France to protect against digital intrusion in elections and cyber-attacks last Wednesday (Nov 10). Vice-President Harris’ five-day visit came after US President Joe Biden admitted to French President Emmanuel Macron that the submarine deal was problematic.
  • One of the most infamous cyber-crime gangs, REvil, dealt a huge blow last Monday (Nov 8) in a coordinated effort by the Romanian police, the United States (US) Department of Justice (DOJ) and Europol. The raids resulted in the arrest of two alleged hackers from Romania and Ukraine. REvil has been accused of hacking many major businesses and institutions around the world for the past three years. One of these businesses was JBS SA which is the world’s largest meat processor.. The US announced that it successfully retrieved more than US$6 million (S$8.12 million) in cryptocurrency in a hacking operation. REvil leaders have shut down their operations following pressure from the authorities.
  • Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s leader Alexander Lukashenko of being responsible for the migrant crisis at the Belarus-Poland border last Tuesday (Nov 9). Prime Minister Morawiecki made further claims that Russia and Belarus are retaliating with the intention to undermine the security of the European Union (EU) in revenge for the EU sanctions. President Putin denied the accusations last Saturday (Nov 13) saying that Russia plays no role in the migrant crisis, complaining that everyone is trying to make Russia a scapegoat for every crisis. Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko has also denied these accusations on Thursday, threatening to cut off gas supply to the European Union (EU) if they impose sanctions over the border crisis. Natural gas prices have since risen by 7% following his comments. 
  • Pro-Palestine left-wing students staged a protest last Wednesday (Nov 10) at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in the effort to bar Israel’s UK ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely from speaking at a debate. Footage of the event showed security guards escorting the ambassador out of the university to the car, with the mob of protestors being held back by the ambassador’s security team. Home Secretary Priti Patel, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Tory MP James Cleverly have condemned the actions of the mob on their attempt to silence freedom of speech and of anti-semitism. 

Middle East:

  • Lebanon’s economic crisis worsened last Friday (Nov 12) with shortages in fuel, medical and food rising with no political action made to address the disaster. According to the UN poverty rapporteur, the destruction of the Lebanese pound wreaked havoc on lives and left millions penniless. An economist told Arab News that Lebanon may “suffocate” as a result of a combination of Gulf political and economic crises. Despite increasing pressures, the Lebanese are not likely to return to the streets to resume their protests. This unwillingness to voice anger “is way more than mere frustration, it is a loss of purpose,” according to an economist.
  • Qatar claimed it has no plans to normalise relations with Syria last Friday (Nov 12) and is hoping this would discourage other countries from cooperating with President Bashar al-Assad’s government, according to foreign minister Sheikh Al-Thani. This was to “not to worsen the misery of the Syrian people,” according to Sheikh Mohammed. Qatar was one of several regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, that sponsored Syrian rebels throughout the country’s decade-long civil conflict. After Assad restored control over the majority of the country, countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), had attempted to normalize relations. Washington, an ally of UAE, expressed worry about UAE’s approach as it opposed normalising relations with Assad until the conflict is politically resolved.
  • Greenpeace accused Saudi Arabia of sabotaging the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) last Monday (Nov 8). Leaders in Glasgow were urged by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries to speed up efforts on emissions reductions in the coming years. The preparation of a “cover decision” text is currently in progress. However, according to Greenpeace International, Saudi Arabia claimed that a cover decision text is not required. In an interview, Greenpeace International highlighted that the lack of such a text would be a big setback for efforts of decreasing emissions faster this decade. The UN procedure is based on consensus, which means that all nations must agree before a document can be legally adopted — meaning that Saudi Arabia has the ability to hinder progress. Saudi Arabia, however, denies being the climate saboteur. 
  • The United States (US) and Qatar signed an agreement allowing Qatar to represent US diplomatic interests in Afghanistan last Friday (Nov 12). Qatar will represent US’ interests in Afghanistan, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken considering the closure of the US embassy in Kabul. Qatar will create a section dedicated to US interests within its own embassy in Kabul for American citizens in Afghanistan to be provided consular and other services. Qatar will also be in charge of the security and protection of the US diplomatic facilities in Kabul, which are now vacant. This decision allows Washington and Qatar to further strengthen their relations.
  • An Iran commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) declared last Thursday (Nov 11) that Israel will be “destroyed if it wages a war.” This was in response to an Israeli commander’s declaration that Israel was preparing for a possible armed conflict with Iran. According to the commander of the IRGC,“Tehran will accelerate its destruction” if Israel were to make a mistake in its judgments. Israel has long remained concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran, which it regards as an existential threat. It has stated on multiple occasions that it will act to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, including using military force if needed.

Africa:

  • According to UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo, the chances of Ethiopia “descending into widening civil war is only too real”. US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman visited Addis Ababa last Monday (Nov 8) as part of diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. In response to international requests for the conflict to stop, the Ethiopian government has set out conditions for possible ceasefire talks with leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said last Thursday (Nov 11) that conditions included the TPLF ceasing their attacks, withdrawing their forces from Amhara and Afar regions and recognising the legitimacy of Ethiopia’s government; in which the third condition was considered a “non-starter” by the TPLF.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last Friday (Nov 12) that Ethiopia’s Tigray region is experiencing a “systemic blockade”. More than seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in northern Ethiopia alone, with an estimated 400,000 people in Tigray living in famine-like conditions due to the lack of access to basic necessities and medicine. It was reported last Wednesday (Nov 10) that 72 drivers for the World Food Programme were detained by Ethiopian authorities. The United Nations has advised Ethiopia’s government to ensure aid is distributed, but Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has denied blocking aid to the region and any allegations that the blockade is “systemic”.
  • The United States sanctioned the Eritrean military and the country’s ruling party last Friday (Nov 12) for its contribution to the conflict in Ethiopia. This came after Ethiopia’s government set out conditions for a possible ceasefire last Thursday (Nov 11). According to the US Treasury Department, Eritrean Defence Forces and the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, other individuals and entities will be sanctioned. Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Ghebremeskel, Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and Abiy’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum have not responded to this action.
  • Former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, died at the age of 85 last Thursday (Nov 11) from cancer. The former president was the last leader of the apartheid and was a key actor in the country’s transition to democracy. De Klerk left a final apology, in a video message released after his death, for the pain inflicted on non-white ethnic groups during the apartheid era.
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Muhindo Luanzo, assistant of the Rutshuru Territory administrator, blamed M23 last Monday (Nov 8) for the seizing of at least two villages in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). M23 is known for being a rebel group that seized several territories back in 2012 and 2013. UN investigators allegedly accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting M23 considering their military intervention in the DRC during the two regional wars. However, both countries rejected the allegations.
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