- Tornadoes that swept across the American Midwest on Saturday night (Dec 11) left 80 and counting dead. In Illinois, the tornado caused an Amazon warehouse to collapse, killing at least six. In Kentucky, more than 100 workers were also trapped in a candle factory as the tornado ripped through it. The factory had been “going 24/7” to meet Christmas demand. United States (US) President Joe Biden described the tornadoes as “one of largest” in history. He cited climate change, which results in more extreme weather conditions that create these natural disasters.
- Against Ghislaine Maxwell, the prosecution rested their case after 10 days on Saturday (Dec 11) in Manhattan. She and Jeffrey Epstein are seen to have run a sex trafficking circle of underage girls, servicing elite figures and themselves. Multiple charges were made against her, including sex trafficking charges, conspiracy, and perjury. Jeffrey Epstein was arrested and in jail when he was found dead in his cell two years ago (Aug 10, 2019).
- Honduras began a recount of last month’s congressional election vote on Tuesday (Dec 7) following allegations of electoral fraud made by President-elect Xiomara Castro alleging that the previously ruling National Party had inflated the vote tally to control congress.
- Nicaragua formally broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan, pledging to recognise the Communist Party of China’s One China policy on Thursday (Dec 9), that Taiwan is a territory of China. Taiwan responded saying they felt “pain and regret”. This break is seen as a loss for the US which is increasingly losing influence on the world theatre, ceding diplomatic ground to China.
- Two migrants were sent back from the US to Mexico under a rebuffed Trump policy on Thursday (Dec 9). On the second day of Biden’s presidency, he had rescinded the policy. It states that asylum-seekers must stay in Mexico during the process of immigration instead of in the US.
- Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionise on Thursday (Dec 9). At least one of out three chains of outlets have successfully voted to do so. As Starbucks moved to challenge results at one of the outlets, investors urged the multinational company to “proceed expeditiously and in good faith according to the results.”
- An impeachment vote against Peru President Pedro Castillo fails in congress on Wednesday (Dec 8). Introduced in October, it failed 76-46. Right-wing parties introduced the motion to do so against the leftist leader for claims of corruption by his aides.
- Chile’s congress votes to legalise same-sex marriage on Tuesday (Dec 7). This comes after a decade-long legal battle. President Sebastián Piñera signed it into law on Thursday (Dec 9). He said that the new law “will allow all children with a papa and mama, with two papas or with two mamas to have the same rights and the same protection”.
- Colombian ex-soldiers admit on Friday (Dec 10) to murdering at least 227 people on a justice tribunal investigating crimes against humanity perpetrated by the state against civilians. Soldiers had killed civilians and recorded their allegiances as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels to gain promotions and compensation. The number of these “false positive” murders are estimated to be at least 6,400 civilians.
- Paraguay expressed that it will maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan on Friday (Dec 10) according to President Mario Abdo’s top official. This is in response to Nicaragua’s move to recognise the One China policy.
- Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s president, had been accused by the US Treasury of negotiating a truce with El Salvadoran street gangs in 2020 on Wednesday (Dec 8). They had alleged that he “provided financial incentives” to these street gangs. This concerns Bukele as low homicide rates during his term is a statistic that his administration saw as a point of pride. The US Treasury then imposed financial sanctions on two Bukele officials.
- Colombian drug cartel Gulf Clan is found to have an extensive presence in Panama, creating networks of logistics and money within the transcontinental country. Panama’s police chief announced this on Monday (Dec 6). Panama and Colombia neighbour each other.
- New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific, holds a referendum on its independence on Sunday (Dec 12). This is the third time it has been held, in accordance with the Noumea Accord. The accord came out of a conflict between the indigenous Kanaks and descendants of French colonists. Independence had been rejected the past two referenda.
- Myanmar elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was found guilty of charges believed to be politically motivated on Monday (Dec 6). Sentenced to four years of jail, coup and military leader Min Aung Hlaing then gave a partial pardon which reduced it to two years.
- World Bank donors approve a US$280 million (S$382 million) aid disbursement to Afghanistan on Friday (Dec 10) as droughts and international sanctions cause a serious food supply crunch affecting 22 million people. The money will be managed by UNICEF and the World Food Programme to “cover financing gaps”. Earlier in the year, the US froze US$10 billion (S$13 billion) worth of Afghan reserves while the WB and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had stopped funding.
- Soldiers in Myanmar burn 11 Don Taw villagers alive on Wednesday (Dec 8) as the military looks to seize control of pro-democracy rebel hotspots. Their charred remains gave strong evidence that they were alive when they were burned, as one figure is seen to be frozen in motion, an arm outstretched. The US and UN have strongly condemned this massacre.
- Malaysia Ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak loses appeal against corruption convictions on Wednesday (Dec 8) regarding the scandal-riddled 1Malaysia Development Berhad. The appeals court judge upheld the charges, calling his actions “a national embarrassment”.
- China’s central bank restrained the Yuan’s rise as it rose to its highest value against the dollar since 2019. It ordered commercial banks on Thursday (Dec 9) to increase foreign currency deposits, reducing the amount available for trading, allowing Beijing to better manage the exchange rate.
- Cambodia Prime Minister and strongman Hun Sen expressed on Monday (Dec 6) that he will cooperate with Myanmar’s democratic usurpers. His spokesman said on Saturday (Dec 11) that he will visit Myanmar in January for talks. Cambodia will assume chairmanship for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2022.
- Dr Hans Kluge, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, said on Tuesday (Dec 7) that mandatory vaccination should be regarded only as an “absolute last resort and only applicable when all other feasible options to improve vaccination uptake have been exhausted.” This comes after a series of new measures imposed by European Union (EU) countries to encourage unvaccinated people amidst a COVID-19 surge.
- Khaled Alotaibi, 33, was arrested at an airport in Paris on Tuesday (Dec 7) on the assumption that he was connected with Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. The Saudi embassy in Paris demanded his immediate release and clarified that all of those involved in Khashoggi’s murder were serving their sentences in Saudi. He was eventually released by French prosecutors after concluding that the arrest was made in a case of mistaken identity.
- Former vice-chancellor and Social Democrat Olaf Scholz was sworn in as German chancellor on Wednesday (Dec 8) after securing a majority of 395 to 303 delegates’ ballots. As former German chancellor Merkel ended her 31-year political stint, she told Scholz to approach the task “with joy”. Scholz has been observed to have led an unprecedented three-way ruling coalition and promised efforts against climate change, liberal social policies, minimum wage increase, and continuity in foreign policy.
- The EU and the US have coordinated efforts against Russia should Moscow proceed with an invasion of Ukraine. According to a senior Biden administration official’s directives on Monday (Dec 6), the US has “had intensive discussions with European partners” and “believe that we have a path forward that would involve substantial economic countermeasures by both the Europeans and the United States.” Germany’s new government has also promised a tougher stance towards Russia and China which has been observed to affect the rest of Europe since Berlin has traditionally been the moderating centre ground.
- Following a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics from the UK, Canada, and the US, France President Emmanuel Macron has said that any such move would be “insignificant” and merely “symbolic”. He added on Thursday (Dec 9) that “[y]ou either have a complete boycott, and don’t send athletes, or you try to change things with useful actions.” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was seeking a common EU stance on the issue.
- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued a warning to Russia on Friday (Dec 10) that it would face consequences if it invaded Ukraine. She added that “[a]ggression needs to come with a price tag, which is why we will communicate these points ahead of time to Russia.” While she said that a good relationship with Russia is desirable, she also noted that “it depends first and foremost on the way in which Russia behaves.”
- European Commissioner Ylva Johansson has announced that a group of 15 EU countries have agreed to take in 40,000 Afghan refugees, with Germany accepting the bulk of the new arrivals, followed by the Netherlands, Spain, France, and other countries. In the aftermath of the US military withdrawal, 24 EU states have already taken in 28,000 evacuees. Johansson called this “an impressive act of solidarity” on Thursday (Dec 9).
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will adopt a four-and-a-half day work week starting Jan 1 2021, with the weekend starting on Friday afternoon till Sunday weekend. Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation Abdulrahman al-Awar said on Tuesday (Dec 7) that the shift would “ensure smooth financial, trade and economic and economic transactions with countries that follow a Saturday-Sunday weekend, facilitating stronger international business links and opportunities” since the UAE stock exchanges would be more integrated with global markets.
- In a joint statement released on Tuesday (Dec 8), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med Monitor) condemned and called for an immediate end to the unjustified Israeli travel bans imposed on Palestinian journalists. According to the head of RSF’s Middle East desk Sabrina Bennoui, the travel bans “clearly violate their freedom of movement” and “use ‘case confidentiality’ as a pretext for giving no reason”. Euro-Med chief media officer Nour Olwan also argued that “Journalists are not a party to the conflict”.
- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday (Dec 8) that the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories “can fairly be characterised as disastrous, with severe infringements on the rights of over 4 million people”, and added that “[o]nly an end to the occupation can bring about lasting peace and establish the conditions in which the human rights of all can be fully respected.”
- In a resolution approved 178-1 on Monday (Dec 6), Israel was the only country to oppose the UN General Assembly call for a Middle East nuclear-free zone. The resolution calls on all Middle Eastern countries “not to develop, produce, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or permit the stationing on their territories, or territories under their control, of nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices.” Israel is considered to be one of nine nations to possess nuclear weapons, although never admitted to having such WMDs.
- Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz reaffirmed Israel’s hopes to deepen dialogue and cooperation with the US on Iran, including “joint military readiness to face Iran and to stop its regional aggression and nuclear aspirations” during a Washington meeting with heads of research institutes on Thursday (Dec 9). He claimed that Iranian aggression was momentum, and added that Israel “is prepared for any such attempt, and will do whatever it takes to protect our citizens and our assets.”
- Lebanon has reported a large explosion in a Palestinian camp on Friday (Dec 10) with no fatalities recorded. According to the state-run National News Agency (NNA), the blast had emanated from a Hamas weapons depot and a judge had ordered security forces to launch an investigation. Hamas has yet to release an official statement regarding the explosion.
- Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki has welcomed the passing of five resolutions by the UN General Assembly in favour of Palestinian rights and against the Israeli occupation and settlements on Friday (Dec 10). Al-Maliki thanked the support of the international community in a statement while rejecting the “blackmailing” by some countries he did not mention by name to discourage other states from voting for Palestine.
- Amidst a COVID-19 surge in cases, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has stressed that hospitals are preparing for more admissions. He said on Monday (Dec 6) that “[d]isease modellers in our country have told us that we would likely experience a fourth wave around this time and that it was almost inevitable that new variants of the virus would emerge”, urging people to get vaccinated as there are sufficient supplies of vaccines. Only 25 per cent of the South African population has been observed to be fully vaccinated.
- Niger President Mohamed Bazoum urged his country’s allies to step up the fight against arms trafficking from Libya. Making this call at the opening of a major security forum on Monday (Dec 6) in Senegal, he said that “[t]he partners’ biggest failure has been their weak involvement in the fight against arms smuggling from Libya, which is the most important factor in the prevalence of this terrorism.” This comes after at least 12 soldiers and dozens of terrorists were killed in action in Western Niger last Saturday (Dec 4).
- Re-elected President of The Gambia Adama Barrow has laid out plans for his second mandate on Friday (Dec 10). However, Barrow faces worries both at home and abroad. While the authorities have used tear gas to disperse protestors of the elections, the World Bank commented that the tourism-dependent economy was severely impacted by COVID-19, and rising inflation is a worry for many. Furthermore, international partners are pressuring The Gambia to push ahead with reforms to strengthen its democracy.
- A Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) court has released the former chief of staff of President Félix Tshisekedi, Vital Kamerhe, on Monday (Dec 6). Kamerhe was initially sentenced to 20 years behind bars in June 2020, relating to misappropriating more than US$50 million (S$68 million). The UNC, part of the ruling coalition of President Tshisekedi has denounced the case as politically motivated.
- The Omicron variant has exacerbated the COVID-19 situation in South Africa, surging cases by up to 400 per cent. Health Minister Joe Phaahla noted on Friday (Dec 10) that “[w]hile there is an increasing rate of hospitalisations, it may be due to overall big numbers of infections…rather than as a result of any severity of the variant itself.” A study has demonstrated that the R rate in South Africa, which indicates the average number of people each COVID-positive person goes on to infect, is at the highest mark of 2.5.
- The Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention John Nkengasong has said on Friday (Dec 10) that African governments might have to resort to mandating COVID-19 vaccinations if citizens are not quickly vaccinated. According to the World Health Organisation, less than 8 per cent of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated. Only six African countries have realised the global target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their populations against COVID-19 by year-end.
- Burkina Faso’s President Kabore has named a 58-year-old geophysicist Lassina Zerbo as Prime Minister. Kabore accepted Prime Minister Christophe Dabire’s resignation on Wednesday (Dec 8), which comes after several demonstrations by the population protesting against the government’s ability to counter recurrent and weekly jihadist attacks. Burkina Faso has observed over 2000 fatalities and the displacement of 1.4 million since 2015.