The UK has urged France to take stricter actions against those attempting to make the journey across the English Channel. | Photo Credit: Ben Stansall/AFP

Weekly Recap: Nov 22 to Nov 28

Nov 29: At least 27 refugees and asylum seekers die while crossing the English Channel, The Socialist Party of Venezuela clinches a big victory winning 20 out of 23 governor posts, China reduces its diplomatic engagement with Lithuania following the Baltic state’s opening of a de facto embassy in Taiwan.

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North America:

  • Police identified the suspect that was responsible for the driving through of a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Authorities said the suspect “intentionally drove his maroon SUV through barricades into a crowd of people”, and “was involved in a domestic disturbance” prior to the incident. However, authorities have no evidence that it was a “terrorist” attack. According to Waukesha police chief Dan Thompson last Monday (Nov 22), the incident resulted in five fatalities and 48 casualties. US President Joe Biden and his administration offered condolences for the victims’ families and said that the situation will continue to be monitored.
  • Apple Inc filed a lawsuit against Israeli firm NSO Group last Tuesday (Nov 23), accusing it of using its Pegasus spyware to hack Apple users’ devices. Apple’s lawsuit sought unspecified financial compensation, a court order to permanently ban NSO from using Apple servers and devices and that NSO delete all hacked data even from previous times. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering added that NSO’s behaviour of spending money and effort on advanced surveillance technologies without effective accountability “needs to change”. In response, NSO denied the allegations, claiming that the objective of their products, which is to track criminals and terrorists, remains upheld.
  • Shalanda Young was  nominated last Wednesday (Nov 24) by United States (US) President Joe Biden to lead the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. The position is an influential post that sets policies across the US government. The appointment comes as Biden’s Democrats face a deadline to pass a new legislation providing funding for government agencies. If the US Senate confirms her position, she would be the first Black woman to serve that role.
  • Five US legislators met with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in a surprise one-day visit last Friday (Nov 26) to reaffirm the United States’ support for Taiwan. The meeting comes amidst rising tensions between Taiwan and China in recent times. According to Representative Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich, the Chinese Embassy wanted the trip to be called off. Nonetheless, the meeting went on, with the US reassuring Taiwan of their “commitment and shared responsibility” in tackling rising tensions, especially with regards to the Indo-Pacific region. “Taiwan will continue to step up cooperation with the United States in order to uphold our shared values of freedom and democracy and to ensure peace and stability in the region,” Tsai said.
  • ​​Oil prices crashed more than 10 per cent amidst the emergence of the new coronavirus as fears heightened over the possibility of lockdowns that could threaten global demand recovery. This caused a decrease in oil prices, with West Texas Intermediate crude dropping below the US$70-a-barrel level (S$95.9) last Friday (Nov 26) and the global benchmark price, Brent, dropping to less than US$75 (S$102.8). This was following the US-led effort by top consuming nations to release stockpiled crude in efforts to mitigate surging energy inflation. The OPEC+ meeting this week thus holds high importance,  as the producer group led by Saudi Arabia and Russia decide whether to continue ramping up supply or halt it in response to the market’s volatility.
  • Prime Minister Ariel Henry swore in his new Cabinet last Wednesday (Nov 24) almost four months after he assumed leadership. In response to Haiti experiencing a wave of turmoil in violence, kidnappings and ongoing fuel shortages, PM Henry condemned the violence and addressed the ongoing fuel shortage. Additionally, he also committed tens of thousands to subsidising gas.

South America:

  • Tensions heightened in Honduras during the lead up to its Presidential election last Sunday (Nov 28) that could end 12 years of rule under the conservative National Party. The National Party’s time in office has been marred by increased militarisation, corruption and alleged drug trafficking. First Lady Xiomara Castro of the left-wing Liberty Party led the polls, with National Party candidate Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry “Tito” Asfura trailing by 17 points. Castro is making her third run for president and promises a return of social programmes, decriminalising abortion, and banning special economic zones. She is touted to end government corruption and impunity, and aims to restore the weakened democratic institutions during the National Party’s time in office.
  • Brazil will shut its border to six South African countries from Monday (Nov 29) onwards, said President Jair Bolsonaro’s Chief of Staff, Ciro Nogueira. The affected countries are South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. This comes in lieu of the identification of the new Omicron variant. Bolsonaro reiterated his reluctance to implement severe restrictions to journalists last Saturday (Nov 27) to journalists, as he said “Brazil can’t handle another lockdown.” 
  • Indigenous members of the Hugua Po’i community were forced off their ancestral land last Sunday (Nov 21) by armed police equipped with water cannons and low-flying helicopters. In spite of Paraguay pledging to end deforestation by early 2030 at the 2021 United Nations climate change conference (COP26) held earlier in November, continued evictions show the disparity in concrete actions taken against agribusinesses. Climate researcher Guillermo Achucarro claimed that agriculture is Paraguay’s single biggest contributor to global heating. According to the World Bank, land inequality in the country is extremely high, with two per cent of the population owning over 80 per cent  of farmland. 
  • Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro’s Socialist Party of Venezuela clinched a big victory last Sunday (Nov 21) winning 20 out of 23 governor posts, as well as mayorship of the capital Caracas. Opposition parties in Venezuela returned to the elections after the 2018 boycott, citing alleged fraud and intimidation from violent gangs loyal to Maduro. Opposition member Henrique Capriles from the Justice First party, accused the government of rigging votes. However, opposition candidate Tomas Guanipa said it was clear that the majority of the country wanted change, as Venezuela experienced its eighth year of recession in a row, with three in four Venezuelans living in extreme poverty. 
  • Opposition lawmakers in Peru filed a motion to impeach President Pedro Castillo last Thursday (Nov 25), after the narrow defeat of right-wing Presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori. Although 52 votes are needed to begin impeachment proceedings with a final vote of 87 out of 130 required to remove President Castillo, 28 signatures have already been garnered. He appeared unphased despite scandals plaguing his key ministers and advisers and a deteriorating left-wing support due to a failure in manifesting economic benefits.

Asia Pacific:

  • Myanmar’s representative was absent for the summit between China and the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last Monday (Nov 22). According to Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, Myanmar authorities provided no immediate comment on the no-show. Even though China and ASEAN countries agreed to have an envoy from Myanmar, Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing refused to send junior representation and criticised ASEAN for not upholding its principle of non-interference and being subjected to Western pressure.
  • Deputy refugee commissioner Moozzem Hossain said last Wednesday (Nov 24) that 2,000 more people will be transferred to Bhashan Char island, a remote and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal. According to Hossain, navy ships brought them to the island last Thursday (Nov 25). This is in compliance with Bangladesh’s aim to eventually rehouse 100,000 of its approximately one million Rohingya refugees living in camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Bangladesh authorities agreed with the UN refugee agency’s to  provide help and protection to refugees on the island. So far, the government has made efforts in finishing a storm wall on the island.
  • Kyrgyzstan went to parliamentary polls last Sunday (Nov 28) after tensions settled regarding claims of a plan to unseat populist President Sadyr Japarov. While polls show that many are still in support of Mr Japarov’s government, critics say the recent jailing of potential rivals and a constitutional overhaul earlier this year suggest that he may be repeating the mistakes of predecessors. In the past, three presidents were unseated during protests driven by corruption, crackdowns and anger over perceived election irregularities. Russia, a close partner, will also be monitoring the outcome of the polls as they had pledged support for the new government.
  • Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that it would provide more than US$28 million (S$38.4 million) in terms of medical, food and other humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan last Monday (Nov 22).  A statement released indicated that the humanitarian assistance includes “food commodities including 50,000 [metric tonnes] of wheat, emergency medical supplies, winter shelters and other supplies”. Moreover, transport of food aid from India through Pakistan to Afghanistan would be settled.
  • Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government approved the outlay of adding US$6.75 billion (S$9.26 billion) as part of a supplementary budget last Friday (Nov 26). The addition is aimed to bolster air and maritime defenses amidst rising tensions with China and North Korea. The budget is the largest amount ever, and would allow Japan to upgrade their surface-to-air missile launchers on islands at the edge of the East China Sea and Patriot PAC-3 missile batteries elsewhere earlier than originally planned.
  • China reduced its diplomatic engagement with Lithuania from ambassadorship to the charge d’affaires level following the Baltic state’s opening of a de facto embassy in Taiwan. The new office suggested growing ties between the two parties. China’s foreign ministry considered it as “undermin[ing] China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” According to Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis last Wednesday (Nov 24), China had cut trade links and approached companies in third countries to not do business with Lithuania. In response, Landsbergis announced that this would only be a short-term economic impact, for Lithuania would find ways to adapt their markets. He also emphasised the need for Europe to brace against Beijing’s economic “coercion” by getting more involved in the Indo-Pacific to strengthen their economic security.

Europe:

  • France postponed the mandatory coronavirus vaccination requirement for health workers in Guadeloupe and Martinique last Friday (Nov 26), following several days of protests and strikes in those areas. The French health ministry said the vaccination requirement would be postponed until the end of December to allow for dialogue. The vaccine mandate, according to President Emmanuel Macron, created an “explosive” situation in Guadelope with protesters firing on security forces and firefighters. Similar instances of unrest were observed in Martinique, with ten police officers injured last Thursday (Nov 25).
  • The United Kingdom (UK) detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant last Saturday (Nov 27). According to British Health Minister Sajid Javid, two Omicron cases found in the UK were related to travels to South Africa. Though UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined measures including stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country, measures with regards to social activity continued to require only mask-wearing in some settings. The Omicron variant is said to be a “variant of concern” by the United Nations’ health agency, although it remains uncertain if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared with other strains.
  • Dutch health authorities believe some of the detected 61 COVID-19 cases among those who flew in from South Africa are of the new omicron variant. Last Saturday (Nov 27), the Dutch Health Authority (GDD) said that the cases were discovered among 624 passengers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on two flights last Friday (Nov 26). Those who tested positive are kept in isolation near the airport.
  • At least 27 refugees and asylum seekers died while crossing the English Channel last Wednesday (Nov 24) after their dinghy deflated and ultimately sank.  A joint French-British rescue involving at least three boats and three helicopters was then launched. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the incident is the largest single loss of life in the Channel since it started collecting data in 2014. In response to the incident, President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed on stepping up efforts to prevent traffickers for the surge in crossings.
  • Germany announced last Wednesday (Nov 24) that it will have a tougher policy on China. With Social Democrat Olaf Scholz succeeding Angela Merkel as German chancellor, he plans to form a government with the Green Party and Free Democratic Party (FDP), all of which have tough stances regarding Chinese foreign policy. The references to China in the coalition text include human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the violation of rights in Hong Kong, and the concerns involving Taiwan. According to Noah Barkin, managing editor with Rhodium Group’s China practice, the references indicated heightened concerns regarding China’s expansion efforts. The leaders have 10 days to settle the agreement with their own parties.

Middle East: 

  • A new criminal code was announced last Saturday (Nov 27) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which would be instituted from January 2022. Up to 40 laws are to be changed this year, one of which would be the ratification of a Federal Crime and Punishment Law, designed to better protect women, domestic staff and public safety. This wave of reform in the UAE comes in lieu of its Gulf Neighbour Saudi Arabia opening up to foreign investment in an effort to stay competitive. Major changes so far include decriminalising premarital sexual relations and alcohol consumption. 
  • The Turkish lira hit a record low of TRY₺12.49 (S$1.38) against the US dollar after it crashed by 12 per cent last Tuesday (Nov 23). This came in lieu of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s defence of sharp rate cuts in hopes that there would be economic growth and job creation. However, he had ordered an investigation regarding currency manipulation last Saturday (Nov 27). The State Supervisory Council was tasked with identifying institutions that bought large amounts of foreign currency and determining allegations of manipulation.
  • Several thousand Jordanians protested for a water-for-energy deal with Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last Friday (Nov 26). If it comes to fruition, the deal would see Israel send over 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water to water scarce Jordan, in exchange for 600 megawatts of electricity from a UAE-funded solar energy plant. The UAE became the first Gulf state to normalise relations with Israel last year. However, anti-Israel sentiment continues to run rampant in a country where most are of Palestinian origin. 
  • US$10 million (S$13.7 million) was spent on fuel sourced from Iran, said Lebanon’s Hezbollah party leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last Friday (Nov 26). US$2.5 million (S$ 3.4 million) worth of fuel was provided for free to Lebanese Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and various organizations, while the remaining fuel was sold at a discount. The importing of fuel began in September and is slated to last for another month, with those living above 500 meters altitude given priority as winter approaches. Separately, Iran is set to boost crude oil capacity back to levels not seen since the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on the country’s crude oil sales, according to the oil ministry’s new service Shana last Sunday (Nov 28).
  • The inspector general of the United Arab Emirates interior ministry, General Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi, was elected as Interpol’s new President. Despite being accused of overseeing torture, he received 68.9 per cent of the vote at Interpol’s general assembly in Istanbul. Three European Parliament members wrote to European Commision President Ursula von der Leyen to warn of the General’s impact on Interpol on November 11, while Human Rights Watch also expressed concerns. Nonetheless, Raisi has vowed to build a “more transparent, diverse, and decisive” Interpol.

Africa: 

  • Libya’s interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah registered himself as a candidate in the upcoming Presidential elections slated for December 24, on the last day of eligibility last Monday (Nov 22). His decision flouted rules barring current holders of the interim government from entering elections to prevent abuse of their power. It also went against his own pledge not to run in the election, as a condition for taking on his caretaker role earlier this year. For him to be eligible, he would have had to suspend himself from governmental duties three months before the polling fate, which he failed to adhere to. 
  • As Tigrayan rebels allegedly moved closer to Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, more countries like France, Germany and the United States cautioned their citizens to leave the country last Tuesday (Nov 23). The frontline claims were difficult to corroborate as much of northern Ethiopia continues to experience a  communication blackout. Contrasting reports from officials in Addis Ababa insisted that security forces have been ensuring the capital’s peace and security, while the Ethiopian government accuses rivals of exaggerating their territorial gain, despite declaring a state of emergency six months ago. 
  • Tanzania’s education minister Joyce Ndalichako announced last Wednesday (Nov 24) that they would abolish a policy dated back to 1961, which barred pregnant school girls from continuing their studies after giving birth. The late former President John Magufuli endorsed this mandate, which his successor Samia Suluhu Hassan has diverged from. Sweden and the World Bank, who had previously halted funding in protest of the ban and citing shrinking freedoms, hailed the move. 
  • 12 cabinet ministers resigned last Tuesday (Nov 22) in protest against the reinstating of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as a political deal between the prime minister and the country’s ruling military council. While largely welcomed by the international community, pro-democracy activists demanded the military not be part of the Sudanese government, and saw this as a legitimising of the coup on October 25. However, the prime minister maintained that the agreement was signed to prevent further bloodshed, as more than 40 have been killed in protests since. 
  • Burkina Faso President pledged to reform his government last Thursday (Nov 25) amidst pressure from Islamist insurgency, and calls for his resignation from civil society movement, the “November 27” coalition. The nation braced for more protests against increasing insecurity, with schools shutting down in anticipation of the unrest. The President pledged to launch an anti-corruption drive, and maintained that disciplinary measures would follow an inquiry against recent troop attacks.
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