Demonstrators protesting against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Canada. | Photo Credit: Shannon VanRaes/Reuters

Weekly Recap: Jan 31 to Feb 6

Feb 7: Thousands protest against vaccine mandates in Canada last Saturday (Feb 5), Amnesty International calls Israel an apartheid state last Tuesday (Feb 1), Demonstrators protest against racism in Brazil after Congolese refugee killed last Saturday (Feb 5).

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North America:

  • Former US Vice President Mike Pence has disregarded claims by former President Donald Trump that he could have prevented President Joe Biden’s win in last year’s elections, saying “[Trump] had no right to change the outcome”. Pence’s comments come after a series of attempts by Trump to overturn the outcome of the US 2020 Presidential elections and claims of voter fraud. Trump has since issued a statement in disagreement with Pence. 
  • Thousands of people gathered across Canada last Saturday (Feb 5) to protest against vaccine mandates in major cities including the capital Ottawa and financial hub Toronto. A movement called “Freedom Convoy” started as a protest against a vaccine requirement for cross-border trucks but ultimately turned into a rally against public health measures. Ottawa’s city centre has been shut down by protesters with some wishing to dissolve the Canadian government.
  • The US competitive swimming’s governing body recently announced last Tuesday (Feb 1) its new policy on the eligibility for Transgender athletes to compete. The new policy now requires a three-person medical panel to assess whether athletes have physical assets that give them an unfair advantage at competitions. On top of that, testosterone tests will be conducted for three years prior to competitions. The change in policy comes after female transgender athlete from Pennsylvania, Lia Thomas has been controversially shattering female swimming records. 
  • Native American tribes reached a settlement last Tuesday (Feb 1) with major drug corporations including Johnson & Johnson (J&J) over accusations of causing opioid addictions among vulnerable, minority communities. J&J released a statement stating that they were not in the wrong and that their actions of advertising for their medical products were “appropriate and responsible”. The settlement deal is worth US$590 million and will be made available to the 574 government-recognised tribes, including those who were not involved in the suit. 
  • Citizens of Costa Rica began casting their vote last Sunday (Feb 6) for the 2022 general elections. This year’s elections boast a record number of 25 candidates for the country’s presidential seat and succession to current incumbent President Carlos Alvarado. The voting so far has not produced a clear favourite and no candidates are expected to accumulate more than 40 per cent of the votes. Most Costa Ricans hope to see their next president tackle issues relating to corruption and high unemployment rates in their four-year presidential term. 

South America:

  • Thousands of people took to the streets last Saturday (Feb 5) to protest against racism across major Brazilian cities including Rio de Janeiro and the capital Brasilia following the killing of an African refugee last month. Moïse Mugenyi Kabagambe, a 24-year old Congolese refugee, was assaulted, attacked and beaten to death by three men. The brutal incident sparked public uproar across the country resulting in larger than expected protests initially organised by the victims’ family. The incident also mobilised anti-racism movements, with many calling for Black people to be treated equally as humans. 
  • Contaminated cocaine has cost at least 20 people their lives and left a further 74 to be hospitalised around the region of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Authorities speculate the illegal substance to be laced with a sort of poison or laced with other substances. Users have been warned to discard any cocaine that has been purchased in the last 24 hours. According to a 2019 report, Argentina has the third-highest rate of cocaine intake per user in the Americas. Nine people have so far been arrested in relation to the incident. 
  • At least 24 dead and 12 missing in Quito, Ecuador after the country’s heaviest rainfall in almost two decades triggered a massive landslide last Monday (Feb 2). The nation’s disaster management agency has also reported 48 people injured. The rains in the city on the day of the disaster equated to 75 litres per square metre. Shelters have been set up for affected families. 
  • Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Iquique, Chile last Monday (Jan 31) to protest against migration from Venezuela. This comes after an influx of migrants from Venezuela as the country suffers from an economic collapse. The protest was sparked after a video showed suspected Venezuelan drug dealers attacking local policemen at a checkpoint. Protesters have since called such migrants ‘foreign criminals’ and demanded them to be deported. Concerns of migration and crime were a few of the biggest worries among voters in last year’s presidential elections.
  • At least 21 dead and nine others injured in Brazilian floods and landslides triggered by torrential rain last Monday (Jan 31). Heavy rains devastated the major state of São Paulo leaving more than 600 displaced from their homes. Residents who are at a geographical risk of flooding have been urged to leave and seek shelter with their loved ones. São Paulo’s Governor João Doria has distributed emergency funds in aid to those affected. 

Asia Pacific:

  • Bali welcomed its first international tourist flight from Tokyo, Japan on Thursday (Feb 3) after almost two years since Indonesia closed its borders to foreigners in order to stem the spread of COVID-19. Vaccinated tourists must however quarantine between five and seven days at hotels or on vessels offshore. Indonesia recorded just 1.6 million foreign visitors last year, a far cry from the 6.2 million foreign tourists who visited Bali alone in 2019 before the pandemic struck.
  • Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said on Thursday (Feb 3) that a non-political representative from Myanmar has been invited to attend a meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers later this month rather than the country’s military-appointed foreign minister. “Meanwhile, we encourage Myanmar to be represented at the retreat by a non-political level rather than leaving the seat empty,” Chum told Reuters. The Burmese military junta has been slow in implementing the ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar since its adoption last year after a meeting between ASEAN’s senior leaders and junta chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC)  told Taiwan’s team for the Beijing Winter Olympics that they are required to participate in the opening and closing ceremonies of the sporting event. Taiwan’s Olympic committee said on Monday (Jan 31) that it had received “several notices” from the IOC “requiring all delegations to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to cooperate in sending personnel to attend the opening and closing ceremonies”. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office referred to Taiwan’s team as being from “China, Taipei”, rather than the official terminology of Chinese Taipei, drawing ire from Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council.
  • Japan said on Tuesday (Feb 1) that one of its Japanese frontline F-15 fighter jets is believed to have crashed with two crew members unaccounted for. The Japan Air Self-Defense Force jet disappeared from air traffic control radars on Monday (31 Jan) shortly after take-off, around 5km from Komatsu air base on the Sea of Japan coast, according to the defence ministry. The Japan Coast Guard said in a press release that search and rescue helicopters and three coast guard ships have continued their search after finding aircraft debris in the sea.
  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a five-step plan on Thursday (Feb 3) that would reopen New Zealand borders to the world, signalling an end to nearly two years of tough border rules that have separated families and shut out almost all foreigners. The plan will allow fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens to start travelling from Australia later this month and by July, fully vaccinated people from Australia or visa waiver countries — including the United Kingdom, the United States, and many European nations — will be able to enter New Zealand and self-isolate on arrival.

Europe:

  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Wednesday (Feb 2) that US President Joe Biden’s decision to deploy extra troops to Europe last week was a “destructive” and an “unjustified” step. The Pentagon said 2,000 US troops would be sent from North Carolina to Poland and Germany, and a further 1,000 already in Germany would go to Romania. This was in addition to the 8,500 troops that the Pentagon put on alert last month to be ready to deploy to Europe if needed. Russia has repeatedly denied that it was planning to invade Ukraine despite some 100,000 troops amassed near the border with Ukraine. 
  • Dr Hans Kluge, Europe director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday (Feb 3) that the continent is now entering a “plausible endgame” to the pandemic and the number of COVID-19 deaths is starting to plateau. As winter would end in the coming weeks in Europe, Kluge said the upcoming spring “leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquillity and a much higher level of population defence against any resurgence in transmission.” Kluge believes health authorities in Europe should be able to keep another variant in check, provided immunisation and boosting efforts continue, along with other public health interventions.
  • Iceland’s fisheries minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir said whaling could be banned in two years. Writing in the Morgunbladid newspaper on Friday (Feb 4), she said there was no justification for the continuation of the practice as it is no longer profitable and brings no economic benefits — only one whale had been killed in the past three years — to the northern European country. Iceland, an island nation situated in the North Atlantic, is one of the few countries on Earth that allows commercial whaling, the others are Norway and Japan.
  • Three men, aged between 41 and 50, were found guilty by a Danish court on Friday (Feb 4) for spying for Saudi Arabia. Belonging to the Saudi-backed Iranian opposition group Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), they had passed information on a variety of Danish individuals and organisations, as well on Iranian military affairs, to Saudi intelligence officers in exchange for payment. They were also found guilty of “promoting terrorism” by supporting ASMLA’s armed wing in Iran. The men, one of whom is a Danish citizen, would face sentencing next month, with possible prison terms of up to 12 years and deportation.a
  • The Norwegian government announced on Friday (Feb 4) that the current Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg would become the next governor of the Norges Bank, Norway’s central bank. Stoltenberg, also the former Prime Minister of Norway, would end his tenure at NATO on October first this year and is set to start his term as governor on December first. Norwegian opposition parties have argued, however, that Stoltenberg’s appointment could damage the independence of the central bank, given his close ties to the country’s Socialist government.

Middle East:

  • The Ministry of Defence of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said on its official Twitter account that it has intercepted and destroyed three drones that penetrated the Gulf country’s airspace over unpopulated areas on Wednesday (Feb 2) morning. Little-known Iraqi group named Awliya al-Waad al-Haq, or The True Promise Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it launched “four drones targeting vital facilities in Abu Dhabi” in retaliation for the Emirates’ policies in both Iraq and Yemen. The group had previously claimed responsibility for an attack on the Yamama Palace in the Saudi capital Riyadh on January 23, 2021.
  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flew to Kyiv, Ukraine Thursday (Feb 3) to offer himself again in the role of mediator between Ukraine and the Russian president Vladimir Putin. He would be joining the flock of overseas leaders lending their support to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and would sign a free-trade deal. Turkey’s NATO membership has been repeatedly under challenge, partly due to its decision to buy the Russian-made S-400 air-defence system. Ankara would face a difficult balancing act in showing continued strong diplomatic support for Ukraine while not damaging complex long-term relations with Moscow.
  • Amnesty International released a report on Tuesday (Feb 1) saying that Israeli laws, policies and practices against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories amount to apartheid. The report alleged that the Israeli state maintains “an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis”. The findings from the report drew the ire of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, he said “Amnesty quotes lies spread by terrorist organizations.” An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman accused Amnesty of recycling “lies, inconsistencies, and unfounded assertions that originate from well-known anti-Israeli hate organisations”. 
  • Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi has died following a raid by US forces on his hideout in Syria on Wednesday (Feb 2). US President Joe Biden disclosed the overnight raid on Thursday (Feb 3) and said his death “removed a major terrorist threat to the world”. Qurayshi set off a blast killing himself and his family as special forces rounded on his hideout after a gunfight. The raid targeted a three-storey residential building on the outskirts of the opposition-held town of Atmeh, which is in northern Idlib province and close to the border with Turkey.
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Saturday (Feb 5) that the United States decision to restore sanctions waiver on Iran’s civil nuclear programme was “good but not enough”. Amirabdollahian emphasised however that Iran wants guarantees from the US that they would not withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) that was reached in 2015 which he says is one of the “major issues” of the negotiations taking place in Vienna, Austria. The waivers, in the short term, will exempt foreign countries and companies that work in Iran’s civilian nuclear sector from American penalties. The two countries have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact with other major powers.

Africa:

  • Rayan Oram, a five-year-old Moroccan boy fell into a 32 metre well last Tuesday (Feb 1) and sparked a collective outpouring of sympathy across the online community resulting in the trending hashtag #SaveRayan on Twitter. The five-day rescue operation to retrieve him resulted in the tragic discovery of his dead body. King Mohammed VI of Morocco has expressed his condolences to the family. 
  • Deadly clashes between military forces and armed groups at the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) base took place in North Darfur Sudan last Sunday (Feb 6) resulting in casualties and injuries. The clash comes amidst a continuous influx of violence and eviction in the Darfur region. Experts from the UN claim that rebel groups from the region continue to operate in Libya and profit from deals promoted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 
  • The African Union (AU) has heavily criticised a recent resurgence of coups on the continent during the 35th AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last Sunday (Feb 6). The AU’s commissioner for political affairs, peace and security Bankole Adeoye mentioned that the union had absolutely no tolerance for military experimentation, denoting the reasons for the suspension of four countries—Mali, Guinea, Sudan and Burkina Faso within a year. He also disregarded claims that the AU had lacked in efforts for the war in Ethiopia and argues that the union has put up a good fight in regards to mediating a ceasefire. 
  • At least 4 people were injured after a bomb detonated at a bustling market in the city of Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo last Saturday (Feb 5). The incident occurred days after a warning from the US embassy in Kinshasa of a possible attack. The US embassy predicted that “terrorist attacks” were planned and could occur in Beni “in the near future” and warned US citizens to avoid travelling to the African country. Local police are on the search for the suspected bomber. The city has undergone several bombings in previous years where the blame has been placed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan armed group that has their loyalty with ISIL (ISIS).
  • Thousands took the streets of Bamako, Mali last Friday (Feb 4) to rejoice in the exile of the French ambassador, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The celebrations come amid rising tensions between the country and its retired colonial power. The expulsion occurred after “outrageous” comments about the transitional government were made by the French ambassador. Relations between the two countries have declined since the army gained power in 2020.
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