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Weekly Recap: Dec 20 to Dec 26

Dec 27: More than thirty people, including children, killed in Myanmar by state military, NASA launches $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, World Food Program “forced” to cut aid to Yemen amid fund shortage.

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North America:

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States launched the James Webb Space Telescope on Saturday (Dec 25). The US$10 billion (S$ 13.59 billion) space telescope developed by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is intended to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s  flagship mission in astrophysics. It launched from Kourou, French Guinea, on the northeastern coast of South America.
  • US President Joe Biden signed a bill on Thursday (Dec 23), that bans imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labour, provoking an angry condemnation from the Chinese. The Xinjiang region, where Beijing has established detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, is a major producer of cotton and materials for solar panels. The bill designates these goods a high priority for enforcement. China strongly condemned the measure, stating that it “would respond further in light of the development of the situation”.
  • A Canadian court on Wednesday (Dec 22) approved a deal that would require the federal government to commit at least CAD$6 billion (S$6.37 billion) for safe drinking water infrastructure for First Nations and pay a compensation of CAD$1.6 billion (S$1.69 billion) for individuals deprived of clean drinking water. 
  • The US and Japanese armed forces have drawn up plans for a joint operation for a possible Taiwan emergency amid rising tensions between the island and China, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported on Friday (Dec 24). Under the plan, the US marine corps would set up temporary bases on the Nansei island chain, with Japanese armed forces providing logistical support. 
  • Environmental organisations across Latin America called on the United States to reduce plastic waste exports to the region, reported the Guardian on Friday (Dec 24). The call came out after a report found that the US had doubled exports to some countries in the region during the first seven months of 2020. More than 75 per cent of these imports to the region arrive in Mexico.

South America:

  • Chile elects leftist Gabriel Boric as president on Monday (Dec 20) after elections last Sunday (Dec 19). The student-organiser-turned-president-elect ran against Antonio Kast, a lawyer who ran on a right-wing populist platform. Boric had won 55.87 per cent of the vote while Kast trailed at 44.14 per cent.
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) admits that their loan to Argentina under the previous administration had been “too fragile” to address structural and political problems in the country on Wednesday (Dec 22). The IMF reported that the fund should have considered furnishing the loan with other creditors, made sure the loan was wanted by all branches of the Argentinian government, understood existing debt instruments, and strongly considered the exchange rate depreciation path in their initial loan agreement.
  • Over 300 civil servants tendered their resignation on Thursday (Dec 23) in protest of Brazil’s 2022 budget. The government approved a new budget which included pay cuts to the tax agency and pay increases for the police on Wednesday (Dec 22). This is seen as a political move which could boost reelection prospects for incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro as the police are one of Bolsanaro’s key constituencies.
  • Brazil’s central bank reported on foreign direct investment (FDI) on Thursday (Dec 23) that it has increased year-on-year. Yearly FDI has increased to US$51.5 billion (S$69.9 billion) from US$49.2 billion (S$66.9 billion), a 4.48 per cent difference.
  • Ecuador unemployment falls, the national statistics institute reported on Thursday (Dec 24). Numbers show that there has been a 1.2 per cent fall last month as compared to November last year. It now stands at 4.4 per cent.
  • A United Kingdom (UK) court has ruled that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is to be recognised as the interim president on Tuesday (Dec 21). This is the latest blow to Nicolás Maduro in the Venezuelan presidential crisis that started in 2018 when Maduro called for early elections and blocked multiple opposition parties.

Asia Pacific:

  • The former President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye was pardoned on Friday (Dec 24), from serving a 22-year sentence following her impeachment in 2017 and conviction for corruption and abuse of power. Park was brought down after being found guilty of collusion to secure millions of dollars worth of funding from Samsung and other major South Korean companies, which would have allowed her to influence policy. Her amnesty was granted by her successor, Moon Jae-in, an act that could influence conservative voters in the presidential election that is three months away.
  • Two Hong Kong universities removed on Friday (Dec 24), artworks commemorating the deadly 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters by Beijing. This was immediately preceded by the removal of the Pillar of Shame statue, also commemorating the massacre, at Hong Kong university the day before on Thursday (Dec 23). The Chinese government, which has been exerting incrementally increasing control over Hong Kong has made commemorating Tiananmen effectively illegal. A fourth Hong Kong university is set to remove an artwork commemorating the victims of the massacre.
  • More than thirty people were killed in Myanmar’s conflict-torn Kayah state on Saturday (Dec 25). The Myanmar state media said that the military had shot and killed an unspecified number of “terrorists with weapons”, while the Karenni National Defence Force, one of the largest civilian militias opposing the junta said that the dead were not their members, but rather civilains seeking refuge from the conflict. Myanmar has been in civil turmoil since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February. Since then, many local resistance forces have sprung up across the country.
  • The UK government announced on Thursday (Dec 23), that a long-awaited resettlement scheme for Afghan citizens will start next month. Providing support for up to 20,000 Afghans, the scheme will prioritise women, children and others at risk. Charities working with refugees have however criticised the government, claiming that the delay in implementation of the programme, four months since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, has forced Afghans to embark on “perilous, life-threatening journeys” to seek asylum.
  • The Solomon Islands government announced on Thursday (Dec 23) that China will equip and train its police force. The arrangement was made after rioting last month sparked by the country’s 2019 switch of diplomatic relations from Taiwan to Beijing. Australia, which has a bilateral security arrangement with the Solomon Islands, also sent police and soldiers within days of the unrest.
  • Japan and the US announced on Saturday (Dec 25) plans to hold virtual joint foreign and defence minister meetings in January 2022. The meetings, along other potential sojourns to Australia and India are seen as a demonstration of the strength of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sees the framework as vital to responding to China’s increasingly assertive posturing and actions.

Europe:

  • The French army reported on Tuesday (Dec 21) that they have killed a suspect in the murder of six French aid workers and their Nigerien guides in August last year. Via drone strike, they killed Sousana Boura, an Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) leader. As part of Operation Barkhane, a counter-insurgent effort, France has several thousand soldiers deployed in the Sahel region.
  • Romanians protest against the enactment of a bill that would make a COVID-19 health pass compulsory for health workers on Tuesday (Dec 21). The protestors had also tried storming parliament in an effort to signal to parliamentarians not to pass such a law. The current government says that no bill of this kind is on the agenda at the moment.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech in an annual news conference, highlighting several issues on Thursday (Dec 24). He said that he did not want to go to war with Ukraine but that he cannot have good relations with the current government. He accused their president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of being a nationalist. Zelenskyy has expressed that he was ready to talk with Russia to negotiate peace but Russia has rejected such a move.
  • Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, and his legal team filed an appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court on Friday (Dec 24), against spying charges that he would be extradited to the US for. The US have accused Assange of revealing confidential US military cables about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which “put lives in danger”. He could be jailed for up to 175 years for such charges.
  • At least 30 people are found dead in Greek boat crashes that migrants were in. On Friday (Dec 25), the Greek coast guard found 16 dead. In another crash, 11 bodies were recovered. Greece is a hotspot for the movement of migrants as it is the main sea route for migrants seeking refuge from the Middle East via Turkey into the European Union.
  • Dutch prosecutors on Wednesday (Dec 22) called for life sentences for three Russians and one Ukrainian in the 2014 missile attack that downed MH17 flight that killed 298 people. An international team of investigators found that the launcher that shot the flight had belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. Most of the people on board were of Dutch nationality.

Middle East:

  • The World Food Program said that it has been “forced” to cut aid to Yemen amid a lack of funds. They then warned that there will be a surge in hunger in the coming months. The UN children’s fund (UNICEF) reported that 2.3 million children under five-years-old in Yemen suffer from acute malnutrition, with 400,000 projected to suffer fatal malnutrition months later. This civil war has been going on for almost eight years.
  • On Thursday (Dec 24), the EU foreign service announced that Iran nuclear deal talks will resume on Monday (Dec 27). Participants are Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, the UK, and the US who are participating indirectly. Iran expressed that they wanted all sanctions to be removed, imposed as part of the previous US administration’s “maximalist” approach.
  • Palestianian authorities reported that they were attacked in Burqa, a village in the West Bank, by Israeli settlers during a pro-settlement march. 42 Palestinians were wounded by rubber-tipped bullets. Settlers also entered the village and destroyed local tombstones.
  • Emarati authorities had placed Pegasus spyware in the phone of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday (Dec 21). Khashoggi had been killed by a Saudi hit squad in 2018. This is also the latest report of such spyware being used by governments against journalists, rights activists and dissenters.
  • Off the coast of Libya, more than 160 migrants have been found to have drowned on Tuesday in separate shipwrecks (Dec 21). As migrants move out from the Middle East in hopes of new lives, Libya has emerged as a prominent transit point for human traffickers to exploit.
  • Israel on Wednesday (Dec 22) announced that they will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people above the age of 60 and health workers as the Omicron variant rages on throughout the world. Recommended by an expert panel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has endorsed the decision.

Africa:

  • Six soldiers and 22 jihadists died in fighting in the Lake Chad region of Central Africa on Friday (Dec 24). A multinational joint task force (MNJTF) comprising troops from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, all countries that border Lake Chad, described the operation as a “success” and that it had benefited from “decisive support by American partners”. The MNJTF, originally comprising Nigerian forces aimed at combating bandits on the country’s northern border, was later expanded after Boko Haram began an insurrection that extended into neighbouring countries.
  • Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a social activist and key figure in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa died aged 90 on Sunday (Dec 26). Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Enjoying immense popularity and respect, he was appointed archbishop of Cape Town, the effective head of the Anglican Church in the country. After the nation’s first free election in 1994, Nelson Mandela, the then new president asked Tutu to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the controversial and emotional hearings into apartheid-era human rights abuses.
  • Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, along with his lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim were served lengthy prison sentences by an emergency court on Monday (Dec 20). The sentences, which await ratification by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the current President of Egypt who was involved in the 2013 military coup that overthrew then President Mohamed Morsi from office. Their arrests and trial represent the latest in a string of attacks on Egyptian civil society and human rights, especially those associated with the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, protests that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak.
  • Libya’s chief electoral body the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) announced on Wednesday (Dec 22) that the presidential elections would be delayed by a month. Originally set for December 24, the elections have been marred by unresolved disputes over the basis of the elections as well as who was eligible to stand for elections. The uncertainty has led tensions to mount, threatening a year of relative calm for Libya after an October 2020 ceasefire following almost a decade of conflict.
  • Tigrayan Defence Forces (TDF) located outside of Tigray have been ordered to return to the region on Monday (Dec 20), potentially signaling a deescalation in the conflict. In a letter to the United Nations (UN), the head of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) Debretsion Begremichael made the proposal in exchange for an arms embargo on Ethiopia and an end to aircraft attacks. The conflict between the TPLF and Ethiopian militaries has sparked a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia, with the UN having previously accused the Ethiopian government of blocking urgently needed humanitarian assistance.
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