Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a city park in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. Dozens of civilians have been joining Ukraine's army reserves in recent weeks amid fears about Russian invasion. | Photo Credit: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Weekly Recap: Jan 17 to Jan 23

Jan 24: Indonesia names new capital “Nusantara”, Barbados holds its first elections after officially transitioning to a republic, with the incumbent party winning in a landslide victory, Britain warns against Russia and China that the West will not tolerate dictatorial aggression and coercion.

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North America:

  • President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats were unable to secure voting rights protections when their twin legislations were defeated on Thursday (Jan 20). This was the fifth time in less than a year that the Senate Republicans blocked Democrats’ move to advance the voting rights legislation. This defeat comes off the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day D.C Peace walk organised last Monday (Jan 17), to honour Dr King Jr.’s work for voting rights protection. 
  • Honduran president-elect Xiomara Castro accused some of her party of betrayal last Friday (Jan 21). Her accusation was based on the breaking of a pact with a key ally, which could undermine Castro’s majority in Congress. Castro tweeted “The betrayal was done! I don’t need traitors to protect me.” Her party expelled the 19 lawmakers who had “betrayed” the pact. 
  • The United States (US) Supreme Court rejected former President Donald Trump’s request to block the release of White House records to the Democratic-led congressional panel investigating the deadly attack on the Capitol, last Wednesday (Jan 19). The congressional panel issued subpoenas to three lawyers who support former President Donald Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to overturn his election defeat: Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis.
  • US authorities charged Steve Shand with human smuggling of undocumented Indian nations from Canada, last Friday (Jan 21). The Indian nationals were three adults and a baby that were found frozen to death near the Minnesota border. US border patrol agents also came across five more Indians travelling on foot, carrying a backpack belonging to the family of four. They had been walking for over 11 hours, expecting to be picked up by someone. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vows to take action against human smuggling.
  • Garry Orelien, the Haitian judge overseeing the investigation into the assassination of President Jovenel Moise withdrew from the case in a letter last Friday (Jan 21). Orelien cited personal reasons for withdrawing but the head of the Port-au-Prince tribunal Bernard Saint-Vil said it was because he did not complete his investigation in time. Former Haitian President Moise was shot in his private residence on July 7, 2021, and his assassination plunged the country into further turmoil. 
  • Barbados held its first general election on Wednesday (Jan 19) since its official transition to a republic last year. The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) had secured all 30 of the seats in the lower house of their parliament in a landslide victory. BLP is led by Prime Minister Mia Mottley, the country’s first female leader, currently in her second term.

South America:

  • Tonga’s volcano eruption had reached the waters of Peru, causing an oil spill at the La Pampilla refinery off the Peruvian Pacific Coast on Wednesday (Jan 19). Crude oil had been reported to cover 3km of shoreline, contaminating the sea, and killing birds, ocean organisms, and even seals. Peru declared it a “catastrophe”, saying that the clean up would take till the end of February to complete.
  • Chile’s left-wing president-elect Gabriel Boric unveils a 24-person cabinet on Friday consisting mostly of women and former student protest leaders on Friday (Jan 21). One of the ministers is Maya Fernandez, granddaughter of overthrown ex-president socialist Salvador Allende. Boric’s government has been given the mandate to transition the country away from its Neo-Liberal roots implanted by the 1973 military junta.
  • Haitian-Chilean Rodolphe Jaar on Thursday (Jan 20) was the second person to be charged for being involved in Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s assassination in July 2021. The US Justice Department had found evidence that he had conspired and given material support in the assassination.
  • The Argentine economic ministry had announced on Friday (Jan 21) that its fiscal deficits had shrunk year on year. Its financial and fiscal deficit had been 8.5 per cent and 6.5 per cent of GDP in December 2020 as compared to 4.5 per cent and 3 per cent of GDP in December 2021. This excludes income from the government’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) special drawing rights (SDRA) agreement.
  • Paraguay Central Bank raised interest rates by 2.5 per cent on Saturday (Jan 22). This is the highest it has been in four years and was done in an effort to hedge against inflation. Inflation expectations have shown signs of increasing as oil prices have been increasing and the US Federal Reserve looks to enact a rate hike.

Asia-Pacific:

  • A Muslim woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan on Thursday (Jan 20). She had been arrested in May 2020 after a friend had reported her to the authorities for sending him an exaggerated cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad through WhatsApp. No one has been executed after charges of blasphemy but such a sentence can cause civil unrest in the country.
  • Thailand’s health ministry proposed the easing of cannabis restriction rules on Thursday (Jan 20). It had been the first Southeast Asian country to decriminalise the use of the plant in 2020. The ministry had also proposed that cannabis should not be labelled as a prohibited narcotic or psychotropic substance.
  • A week after Tonga had experienced a volcanic eruption and its resulting tsunami last Saturday (Jan 15), a humanitarian crisis is due to happen as the island nation struggles to distribute food and water. On Saturday (Jan 22) a World Health Organisation (WHO) official had said that the island nation will face food shortages. 84 per cent of the population is estimated to have been affected by volcanic ash.
  • Intel announced on Friday (Jan 21) that it will build new plants in Ohio in later-2022 as competition between other chip-making firms like the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsung Electronics ramp up. Samsung had earlier on Wednesday (Jan 19) been shown by industry data to surpass Intel in 2021 by revenue.
  • Malaysia’s Johor dissolves its state assembly on Saturday evening (Jan 22), paving the way for state elections in 60 days. The sultan had given his consent for this move, Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) said. This would be a step in the direction of power reconsolidation from the disgraced party, after snap elections in November 2021 had allowed them to retake Melaka from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
  • Indonesia names new capital “Nusantara” as plans for the relocation of its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan begins to materialise. President Joko Widodo had first introduced this plan in 2019 to allow the country to ease its administrative duties which would be affected by the congested, flooding, and sinking Jakarta. It is due to happen in 2024.
  • Cambodia moves to resume a case of treason against opposition leader Kem Sokha of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Thursday (Jan 20). His case had been on pause for two years, with the court blaming the delay on COVID-19.

Europe:

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing demands to resign from opponents and some of his lawmakers last Wednesday (Jan 19). Johnson won his party’s biggest majority but is fighting to exert his authority amidst a deepening revolt. The catalyst of the backlash came when the stories of parties being held in his Downing Street residence during COVID-19 lockdowns back in 2020 broke out. 20 Conservative lawmakers plan to submit letters of no confidence in Johnson, this could potentially trigger a leadership challenge. 
  • The West stepped up efforts in their support for Ukraine, to show a united front. US Secretary of State Antony Blnken arrived in Kyiv last Wednesday (Jan 19) to have talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Blinken also travelled to Geneva for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, seeking to de-escalate the crisis at the Ukrainian border. The US has provided 90 tons of military aid to Ukraine, as Russia continues to increase its military presence on the border. Other NATO allies have also voiced their support for Ukraine. 
  • Britain warned Russia and China that the West will fight against dictatorships, last Friday (Jan 21). British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the “free world” must “face down global aggressors” who use economic coercion to further their own political and economic interests. Truss warned Russian President Putin to step back from Ukraine and cited China’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific region to showcase how global aggressors are emboldened. 
  • Bulgaria pushed back against historical ally Russia, announcing that Bulgaria will decide on its defence plans in coordination with its allies in NATO, last Friday (Jan 21). Russia included in its security demands that NATO forces leave Bulgaria and Romania. The demands are part of Russia’s efforts to stop Western expansion eastward and to return to 1997 borders. 
  • The chief of the European Union’s (EU) Frontex border and coastguard agency, Fabrice Leggeri said that the EU needs clearer rules on balancing respect for human rights with the need for border protection. Leggeri was at the fortified border between Lithuania and Belarus last Friday (Jan 21). Lithuania began pushing back almost all Middle Eastern migrants who sought to cross from Belarus, causing violations of migrant rights. Frontex has been helping Lithuania in handling the migration. 

Middle East:

  • Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched an oil facility attack in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on Monday (Jan 17). Drones were deployed to conduct these terrorist attacks, which killed two Indians and one Pakistani. The group had warned of more of such attacks. The UAE is a part of a Saudi-led coalition backing the Yemen government.
  • Sudanese authorities had killed at least seven people on Monday (Jan 17) while they were protesting against the military coup conducted last year. This brings the death toll up to 71 since the coup in October 2021, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
  • As foreign exchange reserves had depleted in Turkey, the country agreed to a US$4.9 billion (S$6.59 billion)) currency swap with the UAE on Wednesday (Jan 19). This bolsters the Turkish lira, amidst a financial crisis that has stripped away 40 per cent of the lira’s value. This is also a signal of thawing ties between Turkey and countries in the Middle East.
  • Israel intensify their occupation of Palestinian territory as forces destroy the house owned by a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah on Wednesday morning (Jan 19). Beginning at the dawn call to Muslim prayer at 5am, they had seized control of the house and tore it down. The family of 18 is now homeless.
  • Israel’s police chief begins an investigation into claims of unauthorised use of the Pegasus spyware on protestors, mayors, and citizens on Thursday (Jan 20). NSO Group, which programmed Pegasus, has maintained client confidentiality.
  • Commenting on Saudi-led attacks in Yemen that had killed more than 70 people on Friday (Jan 21) United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an investigation into it on Saturday (Jan 22). 200 people and counting have been reported to have been injured. The Yemeni Houthis had expressed that many of the casualties were civilians.

Africa:

  • The Khoi and San, the descendants of South Africa’s earliest inhabitants, went to court last Wednesday (Jan 19) to halt the construction of Amazon’s new Africa headquarters on sacred land. The 70,000sq m development includes plans for a hotel, retail offices and homes, and thousands of job opportunities. The South African court postponed a ruling on the lawsuit last Friday (Jan 21). 
  • Namibia’s High Court ruled against the recognition of marriage for two gay couples, last Thursday (Jan 20). Both couples got married outside of Namibia and wanted their marriages to be recognized in Namibia, where they live now. The case was the latest legal challenge aimed at improving LGTQ+ rights. Many African nations still ban same-sex relationships, with couples risking jail and public abuse.
  • The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the regional monetary union imposed sanctions on Mali after the interim government proposed delaying planned elections by up to four years. As a result, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali has halted, as sanctions shut air and land borders. However, last Thursday (Jan 20) it was announced flights will resume. The mission has recorded about 230 fatalities since 2013 from violence carried out by Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State. 
  • Nigeria’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader Nnamdi Kanu, who is now a British citizen, is an outlawed separatist leader, charged with terrorism, calling for secession and knowingly spreading falsehoods about President Muhammadu Buhari. Kanu faced eight additional charges last Tuesday (Jan 18) that include terrorism and incitement, which his defence denied, arguing the case lacked merit. 
  • Sudanese anti-coup protesters held a “day for the martyrs” last Friday (Jan 21) to pay respects to those killed in a bloody crackdown on demonstrations since the military coup in October. The military takeover derailed the country’s fragile transition to civilian rule. Military leaders ensured the right to peaceful protest is protected and have called for investigations into the bloodshed.
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