Security forces are seen at the site of an explosion near the airport in Cucuta. | Photo Credit: https://www.dw.com/en/colombia-two-policemen-killed-in-airport-blasts/a-60124003

Dec 20: The French flag in Mali’s military base was lowered last Tuesday (Dec 14) after their forces left the city of Timbuktu after nine years, Two police officers and a suspected attacker were killed in bomb blasts at Colombia’s airport, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party suffered a massive loss during the recent by-election last Friday (Dec 17).

North America:

  • The United States (US) Congress passed a bill last Thursday (Dec 16) that will require companies to prove their goods imported from China’s Xinjiang region were not produced by forced labour. While it previously lacked support from the White House, it was approved after every member of Congress except one voted. The bill is currently waiting for US President Joe Biden to sign it into law. However, the bill has been criticised by major companies including Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple. 
  • An appeals court in the US has reinstated President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for large businesses. This move reverses the decision by a federal judge in a separate court that had paused the mandate. With the reinstated mandate, businesses with at least one hundred workers will be required to get vaccinated. It will take effect on Jan 4, 2022. 
  • US President Joe Biden pledged to protect voting rights and reform law enforcement during a commencement speech last Friday (Dec 17) at South Carolina State University. However, he acknowledged that his agenda faces an uphill battle amid sharp political divisions in Congress. Nevertheless, President Biden told students the fight against police brutality issues is not over. By protecting the sacred right to vote, minorities will have their voices heard.
  • The circulation of numerous school-shooting threats circulating on TikTok and other social media platforms has prompted several US schools to close last Friday (Dec 17) and others to bolster their police presence. While the threats did not name specific schools and lack credibility, they did mention it would happen on Dec 17. Thus, many schools in Michigan and Washington temporarily asked their students to stay at home. Authorities are currently working closely with law enforcement to monitor the situation and remain prepared. 
  • A US oil company and two subsidiaries have been charged last Wednesday (Dec 15) for a crude oil spill that resulted in environmental havoc in southern Californian waters and beaches in October. They were indicted for illegally discharging oil. Prosecutors also accused the companies of their negligence in their response to the spill. It resulted in the polluting of 88 square kilometres of the ocean along California’s coast, killing wildlife, forcing fisheries to close and harming delicate wetland ecosystems. If convicted, the corporation could face up to five years of probation and face fines that could total millions of dollars.
  • Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, convicted earlier this year of the murder of George Floyd, pleaded guilty last Wednesday (Dec 15) to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights. He had previously pleaded not guilty. Chauvin has been in solitary confinement in a Minnesota prison where he is serving a 22.5-year sentence for the murder and manslaughter of Floyd in 2020. The death of Floyd sparked months of Black Lives Matter protests that called for racial justice and an end to police violence in the US. 
  • The US Congress approved a US$777.7 billion (S$1063.82 billion) defence budget after the Senate overwhelmingly passed the budget legislation last Wednesday (Dec 15). Several US legislators cited countering China as a top priority in the defence budget, formally known as the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA). However, progressive legislators and advocacy groups are questioning the budget’s enormous price tag and criticised policymakers who have justified it by pointing to intensifying competition with China. 
  • A US District Judge Trevor McFadden dismissed former President Donald Trump’s bid to keep his tax returns from a House of Representatives committee last Tuesday (Dec 14). McFadden ruled that Trump was “wrong on the law” in seeking to block the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining his tax returns. It was also within the power of the committee’s chairman to publish the returns if he saw fit, thus allowing time for an appeal. Trump was the first president in 40 years not to release his tax returns as he wants to keep the details of his wealth and the activities of his family company a secret. While it is not compulsory for US Presidents to release details of their personal finances, every leader since 37th US President Richard Nixon has done so. 
  • The attorney general for Washington DC announced a civil lawsuit last Tuesday (Dec 14) against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers over the deadly riot at the United States Capitol on Jan 6. Members of the groups had caused physical and financial harm to the US capital and residents. Thus, the city is seeking severe financial penalties against the defendants and hold them accountable. The lawsuit seeks to recover the costs of deploying hundreds of city police officers to defend the Capitol against the attack, and medical and paid-leave costs incurred after. 
  • Kentucky’s Governor, Andy Beshear, announced last Monday (Dec 13) that at least 74 people have been killed after a host of tornadoes tore through the state. The ages of the deceased ranged from five months to 86 years old. The storm was recorded to be the worst one yet experienced in Kentucky. The death toll is likely to rise as 109 people remained missing. Authorities are still assessing the damage from the tornadoes which levelled entire neighbourhoods, destroyed one thousand homes and wiped out critical infrastructure. Thousands of people have since been left homeless.
  • Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand publicly apologised last Monday (Dec 13) for the government’s failure to stop widespread sexual abuse in the military. The government acknowledged the pain and trauma victims had to endure for not protecting their members, resulting in a crisis of broken trust in the defence team. This apology comes after several senior officers faced sexual misconduct investigations, including former Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance who has since been charged with obstruction of justice. 

South America:

  • Bolivia’s former head of the Ceremonial Department, Renzo Antelo Fernandez, was arrested last Thursday (Dec 16). He was under the suspect of acquiring tear gases and other military supplies from Argentina during the events surrounding the former president’s, Evo Morales, resignation. Antelo has been charged with obtaining illicit arms trafficking, falsifying official letters and resolutions contrary to the Constitution and Law. Antelo acquired the weaponry intending to use them against protesters.
  • Mexico’s Interior Minister announced last Friday (Dec 17) the country will impose Visa Requirements on Venezuelans. This is to reduce the number of Venezuelans trying to enter the United States (US) illegally via Mexico. The move comes after Mexican authorities detected Venezuelans passing through Mexico to enter another country. As compared to trends in the previous five years, there has been a thousand per cent increase in 2021. 
  • The United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) urged Columbia last Wednesday (Dec 15) to reform policing of protest. They called for urgent police reform after the mistreatment of Columbians during the nationwide protest that began on April 28 that continued for weeks. During that period, 46 people were verified to have died, of which 44 were civilians. 76 per cent of deaths were from gunshot wounds. After interviewing 620 people and holding 878 meetings with government officers, civil society representatives and civilians, the OHCHR concluded that the Columbia police have used unnecessary forces. 
  • The second son of Panama’s former president, Ricardo Martinelli, pled guilty last Tuesday (Dec 14) to laundering US$28 million (S$38.3 million) in connection with an enormous bribery scheme involving a Brazilian construction firm, Odebrecht SA. His scheme involved the payment of more than US$700 (S$ 957.54 million) in bribes to government officials, public servants, political parties and others in Panama and other countries. Ricardo Alberto Martinelli, 42, entered his plea in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, after being extradited to the US from Guatemala on Dec 10. His younger brother, was also previously extradited from Guatemala in November and pleaded guilty on Dec 2 to the same count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  
  • Two police officers and a suspected attacker was killed in bomb blasts at an airport in northeastern Colombia near the border of Venezuela last Tuesday (Dec 14). The suspected attacker managed to cross a wire fence to access the runaway at the Camilo Daza International Airport in the border city of Cucuta. Colombina Defence Minister Diego Molano described the incident as a “terrorist” act and suspects that it could have been coordinated by Colombian rebels based in Venezuela. Colombian authorities have since offered a reward of approximately US$25,000 (S$34,187.75) for any information regarding the blasts. 

Asia Pacific: 

  • Envoys from 57 Islamic nations and observer delegations met in Pakistan last Sunday (Dec 19) for a summit to discuss how to relieve the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. They also wanted to test diplomatic ties with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers. This is the biggest major conference on Afghanistan since the United States (US) backed government fell in August. 
  • The Taliban government appealed to the international community for help last Saturday (Dec 18) as their deepening economic crisis has fuelled fears of another refugee crisis. The Taliban deputy foreign minister said it is the responsibility of countries such as the United States (US) to help Afghanistan recover from the decade of war as they have blocked billions of dollars of central bank reserves. He added that the impact of the frozen fund is not on the Taliban authorities but the ordinary people. The United Nations (UN) has estimated that millions of Afghans will face hunger during the winter. However, aid has been hampered due to the international community’s unwillingness to be involved with the Taliban directly, millions are without work, and the banking system is only partially working. 
  • Indonesia’s Semeru volcano on Java island erupted in the early hours of last Sunday (Dec 19). The eruption resulted in dense white and grey ash clouds. Nearby residents have since been warned by Indonesia’s Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation not to conduct any activities within a five-kilometre radius of the eruption centre. Residents were advised to keep a five hundred metre distance from riversides due to the risks of the lava flow. The agency also told people not to conduct activities within 13 kilometres southeast of the eruption centre. 
  • Four people died last Sunday (Dec 19) after a small aircraft crashed off the coast near Redcliffe, north of Brisbane Australia. According to the Queensland police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, the plane appears to be in a difficult position in the wetland area. Queensland Water Police officers and divers and the forensic crash unit have since been assisting with investigations. A police spokesman confirmed there were only four passengers on board the plane when it crashed. 
  • A man was beaten to death in the Indian city of Amritsar last Saturday (Dec 18) after he was suspected of attempting to commit a sacrilegious act at Sikhism’s holiest shrine. This occurred during a prayer service at the city’s Golden Temple. The man had apparently barged into the inner sanctum, where Sikhism’s holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is kept. He then tried to touch a ceremonial sword placed next to the book but was overpowered by guards and worshippers. 
  • A typhoon that crashed into the Philippines’ southeastern islands last Thursday (Dec 16) brought winds of about 195 kilometres per hour. This has resulted in the destruction of houses and the uprooting of trees, leaving three million people without electricity. While the latest official death toll reported by the country’s disaster agency stands at 31, Bohol’s provincial governor said at least 49 people have died. Additionally, there are still many people yet to be found. 
  • Six children in Australia passed away after being thrown from a height of 10-metres when strong winds lifted a bouncy castle they were playing on last Thursday (Dec 16). The sixth child who was taken to the hospital passed away last Sunday (Dec 19). Two children remain in critical condition at the hospital and one is recovering at home. This occurred at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport, northern Tasmania. The kids were celebrating the last week of class before the Christmas break when the devastating tragedy occurred. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the incident as a “horrific tragedy”, especially at this time of year and expressed his condolences. 
  • At least 27 people are feared to have died after a fire broke out in a building in downtown Osaka last Friday (Dec 17). The police have since been investigating if the blaze was an act of foul play by a man who reportedly spilt liquid near a heater and started the fire. Internal Affairs Minister told reporters last Sunday (Dec 19) that the fire broke out near the stairs, which was the only escape route. 
  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that the government has been overstating construction orders data received from builders for years. However, it is the reasoning behind this action that was not explained. It was also not specified as to how Japan’s gross domestic product (GDP) figures would have been affected. PM Kishida described the incident as a regrettable one and said the government will take measures to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. 
  • In a news conference last Monday (Dec 13), China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned the United States (US) that it would “strike back” should there be any “reckless” actions. This is in light of the US’ human rights-related sanctions on Dec 10 against Chinese individuals and entities tied to human rights abuses committed by Beijing. Wang urged the US to withdraw the sanctions and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and harming their interests. 
  • A spokesman for the Philippines’ election commission announced last Tuesday (Dec 14) that President Rodrigo Duterte has withdrawn his candidacy for a Senate seat. While it is unsure as to why President Duterte made such a move, he mentioned in October he would be retiring from politics. President Duterte’s political party has yet to comment about the announcement. 
  • China reported their first case of the Omicron variant last Monday (Dec 13). It was discovered in the northern port city of Tianjin after a traveller arrived from overseas on Dec 9. The patient has since been in isolation in the hospital for treatment. 

Europe:

  • The United Kingdom’s (UK) Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party suffered a massive loss during the recent by-election last Friday (Dec 17). Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan overturned a Conservative majority of nearly 23,000 votes from the previous election to win their contest. PM Johnson was primarily blamed for the upset and has claimed personal responsibility for the loss. Many critics mainly blamed Johnson’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 Pandemic and his scandals, such as disobeying rules on paid lobbying.  During her victory speech, Morgan called for better leadership and said that PM Johnson was no leader. 
  • The French government banned non-essential travelling to Britain last Thursday (Dec 16) due to the surge in the Omicron variant in Britain. British authorities reported more than 80,000 COVID-19 cases last Thursday (Dec 16). As of last Saturday (Dec 18), French citizens will only be allowed to travel to and from Britain for urgent matters such as medical emergencies or legal summons, regardless of vaccination status.
  • The European Commission changed its medicine rules last Friday (Dec 17) to allow Britain to continue supplying Northern Ireland with medicine. This is the first step in solving post-Brexit disputes trade in the region. Brussels will legislate the United Kingdom-approved medicines to enter Northern Ireland to prevent a possible shortage due to post-Brexit regulations. The solution on medicine marks a positive end to months of hostile negotiations that has created tensions between the United Kingdom and the European Union countries. 
  • Germany’s Friedrich Merz of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was elected as the designated new leader by their members last Friday (Dec 17). This comes after the departure of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merz, who has come second twice in previous leadership races to centrist candidates, won a surprise majority in the ballots, with more than 60 per cent of the votes, hence there will not be a run-off vote.  For the first time in the CDU’s history, they will be able to have a say over its future leaders to its 400,000 members. 
  • The High Court of the European Union (EU) ruled last Wednesday (Dec 15) that member nations will have to legally recognize same-sex parents and their children. This ruling came after Bulgarian authorities refused to give a birth certificate to the newborn daughter of a same-sex couple as the country did not recognise same-sex marriages and unions. The European Court of Justice stated that if one EU country acknowledges a child’s parental relationship, all members must recognise it to guarantee their right to free movement between the countries. 

Middle East:

  • Two Katyusha rockets struck Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses several Western embassies, last Sunday (Dec 19). One rocket was destroyed in the air by the C-RAM defence system and the other landed near a national monument and damaged two cars. Security forces have since started an investigation to detect the launch site. No one has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack yet. 
  • During the third Turkey-Africa Summit last Saturday (Dec 18), Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would be sharing 15 million COVID-19 vaccines with African countries in the next few months. Apart from COVID-19 vaccines, President Erdogan is also ready to share counterterrorism expertise with African nations. Details of military cooperation have not been revealed and are expected to be announced as the summit goes on.
  • Several villages in the occupied West Bank was attacked last Friday (Dec 17) by Jewish settlers. The settlers smashed homes and cars and beat up at least two people. This came one day after a Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli man in a shooting ambush in the territory.  
  • Israel imposed a travel ban for travellers in and out of Britain and Denmark last Wednesday (Dec 15) due to the last Omicron variant. While Belgium was previously added to the list, further inspection of the infection rates made the Israeli Health Ministry keep it off the ‘red’ list for now. Since the new Omicron variant was discovered, almost 50 countries have been declared ‘red’ by Israel and citizens of those countries are not allowed to enter. 
  • Two Chinese companies have finalised a deal last Thursday (Dec 16) to build one thousand schools in Iraq. The two companies are PowerChina, which will build 679 schools, and SinoTech, which will build 321 schools. This deal is the first tranche of a more significant deal between China and Iraq. In 2019, China agreed to build a wide range of construction projects in exchange for 100,000 barrels of oil. More than 7000 schools will be built in Iraq, which is a crucial development for the country as there are more than 3.2 million Iraqi children outside the education system, and in rural areas, 90 per cent of children are not in school.

Africa: 

  • The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) passed a resolution last Friday (Dec 17) to launch an international investigation into abuses in Ethiopia’s 13-month conflict. This comes despite objections from Ethiopia’s government who accused the UN body of being an instrument of political pressure. Thus, the Ethiopian government has pledged not to cooperate with the UNHCR’s investigations. 
  • Health authorities from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced the end of their thirteenth Ebola outbreak last Thursday (Dec 16). This comes after no new cases were recorded since Oct 30. Thus, with the end of a 42-day countdown, which is also two incubation periods after the last confirmed case was discharged, DRC is finally free of the Ebola outbreak. The outbreak had emerged in October, resulting in 11 people being infected and 6 passing away.
  • South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma was ordered by the High Court to return to jail last Wednesday (Dec 15). According to Judge Elias Matojane, the decision to release Zuma on medical parole was deemed unlawful. Zuma’s legal team have since been appealing the court’s decision. The former president has since been serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court after ignoring instructions to participant in a corruption inquiry. 
  • The French flag in the military base at Mali was lowered last Tuesday (Dec 14) after their forces left the city of Timbuktu. This signals that the former colonial power is scaling down its presence in northern Mali after nearly nine years when the militarily intervened. While the French forces have left, they are still in partnership with Mali. 
  • Kenya’s High Court suspended a government order last Tuesday (Dec 14) which was to prevent individuals who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from accessing services and entering public places. The order was termed as tyrannical and a gross violation of the constitution. 
  • Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine claimed he was placed under house arrest last Tuesday (Dec 14). Wine mentioned that security forces have surrounded his residence. He has since accused longtime President Yoweri Museveni of being involved. The singer-turned-politician has been arrested several times in recent years. He was set to campaign this Tuesday (Dec 21) to support an opposition candidate running in a by-election in the central district of Kayunga where Museveni is also expected to hold a rally. 
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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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