Group Photo of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers and ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Retreat in Phnom Penh on Feb 17, 2022. | Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Weekly Recap: Feb 14 to Feb 20

Feb 21: The Myanmar junta refused to cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) terms for discussion on Thursday (Feb 18), Ecuador’s National Assembly approved regulations to allow women and girls access to abortions in cases of rape on Thursday (Feb 17), Russia conducts nuclear exercises on Saturday (Feb 19) as the conflict with Ukraine heats up. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that his country would disregard Russian provocation.

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North America:

  • Police in Ottawa, Canada detained two leaders of the trucker convoy in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Tamara Lich was arrested on Thursday (Feb 17) evening after Chris Barber was held, with both expected to be charged criminally. The demonstrators parked some 400 heavy trucks and other vehicles on city streets around Parliament, causing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to invoke the Emergencies Act which imposed bans on public assembly in some areas, among other measures. 
  • New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron said on Thursday (Feb 17) that Mr Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr, 44, and daughter Ivanka Trump, 40, must each comply with legal orders that prosecutors issued in December last year. New York Attorney General Letitia James has alleged that the Trump Organisation obtained tax breaks and loans through “fraudulent or misleading asset valuations”. Mr Trump, 75, has called the investigation politically motivated and a “witch-hunt” by Ms James, a member of the United State (US) Democratic Party.
  • Mexico’s Supreme Court (SCJN) revoked two mining concessions on Wednesday (Feb 16) in Puebla because the federal government failed to consult with the local indigenous community before granting the concessions to the Mexican subsidiary of the Canadian company Almaden Minerals. The unprecedented ruling came after a group of Nahua residents concerned about contamination and overexploitation of local water sources filed a challenge against the concessions in 2015.
  • Thousands of Haitian garment workers protested in Port-au-Prince on Thursday (Feb 17) to demand higher wages. Union leader Dominique St Eloi said that the workers are seeking a raise that would take their daily wage to 1,500 gourdes (S$19.60), from the current wage of 500 gourdes (S$6.53). A spokesman for the office of Prime Minister Ariel Henry said Henry was working on the issue with the High Council of Salaries and he had met with industry leaders about the issue. For decades, Haiti has promoted itself as a centre for clothing manufacturing thanks to low wages and proximity to US markets.
  • The US National Archives and Records Administration has confirmed in a letter to the Justice Department on Friday (Feb 18) that classified information was found in 15 boxes of White House Records at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. The revelation could also interest federal investigators responsible for policing the handling of government secrets, though the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)  have not indicated they will pursue the matter.

South America:

  • Brazilian officials say more than 100 people have died in landslides and flash flooding in the city of Petrópolis. Another 134 people are missing and could still increase, according to the Civil Defence of Rio. The city, which is located in the mountains north of Rio de Janeiro, was hit by torrential rainfall on Tuesday (Feb 15). The rainfall triggered landslides that washed out streets, swept away cars and buried homes. Brazil’s Civil Defence Secretariat said that 269 landslides had been recorded.
  • Ecuador’s National Assembly on Thursday (Feb 17) approved regulations to allow women and girls access to abortions in cases of rape. The vote comes after the Constitutional Court gave the green light for abortion in cases of rape in April last year and ordered legislators to speedily regulate the procedure. Although the National Assembly adopted the regulations, conservative President Guillermo Lasso could veto the legislation and prevent it from becoming law. The approval comes amid a widespread debate about the issue in the mostly conservative country.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pledged “powerful military cooperation” with Russia after high-level discussions between officials on Wednesday (Feb 16). Maduro, flanked by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov and Venezuelan Petroleum Minister Tareck El Aissami, said economic, commercial and tourism matters were also discussed during the high-level discussions. Russia has supplied its COVID-19 vaccines to Venezuela which Maduro expressed gratitude during the news conference. 
  • A Chilean indigenous language has vanished after the death of its last native speaker on Wednesday (Feb 16). Cristina Calderón passed away, aged 93 became the last living speaker of the Yamana language of the Yagan community after the death of her sister in 2003. Before her passing, Calderón worked to save her knowledge by creating a dictionary of the language with translations to Spanish. Although there are still a few dozen Yagans left, people from the community stopped learning the language over the generations. 
  • Forest fires are sweeping the northeastern province of Corrientes in Argentina on an unprecedented scale as of Friday (Feb 18).  Officials have confirmed that more than 600,000 hectares of land have been destroyed by the flames – close to 7 per cent of the region’s territory. Government officials, farmers and environmentalists said that the flames would cause heavy economic losses and serious environmental damage. Experts have also warned that the environmental damage left by the inferno will be incalculable, especially its impact on the flora and fauna of the littoral province.

Asia Pacific: 

  • Defence spending in Asia rose 2.8 per cent in 2021, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), an international affairs think tank, reported on Tuesday (Feb 15). The global average was a 1.8 per cent drop. These numbers have been adjusted for inflation.
  • An Indian court sentenced 38 men to death and 11 to life in prison for bombings in 2008 that killed more than 50 on Friday (Feb 18). The “Indian Mujahideen” claimed responsibility for the explosions in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Hindu-Muslim riots had broken out in 2002 in which thousands died, mostly most Muslims. The judge, A.R. Patel, had pressed for a death sentence for what he described as a “rarest of rare case”.
  • Carrie Lam, incumbent Hong Kong Chief Executive, postponed on Friday (Feb 18) its elections for its next Chief Executive elections amidst a COVID-19 outbreak. Pressured by Chinese President Xi Jinping, she had postponed it by two months.
  • Taiwanese iPhone assembler Foxconn announced that it plans to build a chip plant with Vedanta, an Indian conglomerate, on Monday (Feb 14). It is reportedly the first manufacturer to respond to India’s courtship of chip production firms.
  • The Myanmar junta refused to cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday (Feb 17) as they rejected calls to send a non-political representative to discuss the situation in Myanmar. Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn remarked that “[m]aybe it’s not possible to meet everyone for the first visit, and we should not be too ambitious”. The ASEAN envoy also expressed that they might visit the Junta’s opposite, the democratically-aligned National Unity Government.
  • Japan reported its biggest single-month trade deficit in eight years on Thursday (Feb 17). January imports soared 39.6 per cent year-on-year as manufacturers grappled with supply chain issues and high energy costs, causing domestic car shipments to fall. Exports had risen 9.6 per cent in comparison.
  • Bangkok officially renamed itself Krung Thep Maha Nakhon on Wednesday (Feb 16). The name Bangkok, however, is still recognised.

Europe: 

  • Norway’s oil and gas companies plan to invest more than expected in 2022 plans, the national statistics office reported on Thursday (Feb 17). Planning for more than US$18 billion (S$24.2 billion) in investments, it was criticised for not reining in spending to mitigate climate change. They argued that they are producing more in response to global demand.
  • Albania’s constitutional court took away parliamentary power on Thursday (Feb 17) to sack President Ilir Meta in response to him provoking violence and violation of the constitution. 104 out of 140 lawmakers had voted to dismiss Meta. However, the power to do so ultimately rests within the Court.
  • Metro workers in Paris, France demanded pay hikes on Friday (Feb 18) as they went on strike. The state-owned Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) had announced 2022 pay hikes of 2.7 per cent, which unions saw a “provocation”. French inflation was reported to have hit 3.3 per cent year-on-year.
  • French unemployment hit a 13-year low as it fell from 8 per cent to 7.4 per cent in the months from November to January, the statistics agency reported on Friday (Feb 18). This boosts incumbent President Emmanuel Macron’s bid for another term as the presidential election looms two months away.
  • Ex-Jeffrey Epstein subordinate Jean-Luc Brunel was found dead in a French jail on Saturday (Feb 19). He was being held as the French police investigated the rape and trafficking of minors. Jeffrey Epstein was a convicted underage sex trafficker and offender who had close ties to elite figures like Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey, and Prince Andrew.
  • Oil prices fell the most since November 2021 on Tuesday (Feb 15). It fell to almost US$90 (S$121) a barrel as crude fluctuated amidst reports of conflict in Ukraine.
  • Russia conducts nuclear exercises on Saturday (Feb 19) as the conflict with Ukraine heats up. The launch of Russian hypersonic ballistic missiles is seen as a signal of power as tensions threaten to spill over. The US had responded saying that Russia is “poised to strike” Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, responding to reports of Ukrainian aggression against Kremlin-backed separatists, dubbed them as “pure lies” and that his country would disregard Russian provocation on Saturday (Feb 19). He had said this as he met with US Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Middle East: 

  • Israeli firm Tower Semiconductor is to be acquired by Intel for U$5.4 billion (US$7.3 billion), Intel reported on Tuesday (Feb 15). This is the latest move in a major restructuring of the global semiconductor production chain as companies look to diversify to prevent disruptions.
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was visited by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday (Feb 15). Russia had earlier sent Syria long-range missiles and fighter planes with hypersonic missiles to conduct regional naval drills.
  • Hospitals in Idlib, Syria shut down as budget cuts fall on the medical system, Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday (Feb 16). One hospital was reported to be operating at 50 per cent capacity, lacking in manpower, equipment, power, and disinfectants. A doctor in the hospital remarked that the entire staff could be laid off.
  • Iran and the US declared on Wednesday (Feb 16) that talks to revive the previously agreed-upon Iran nuclear deal are very close to resulting in a deal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had been revoked by the previous US president. Signed in 2015, it decreed that Iran scale back on its nuclear programme, in exchange for US lifting of Iran sanctions.
  • The High Judicial Council (HJC) retorted on Thursday (Feb 17) to Tunisian President Kais Saied’s decree to seize judicial power on Feb 10. The HJC said that it was an “attack on the independence of the judiciary”. This comes after months of attempts to seize complete power starting in July 2021.
  • Israeli forces kill a 17-year-old in clashes between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli military on Monday (Feb 14). Palestinians had reacted after the military had demolished the home of a Palestinian attacker that had been charged in a fatal shooting last year. 11 other civilians were wounded, with two reportedly in serious condition.

Africa:

  • French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday (Feb 17) that French-led anti-terrorist operations in West Africa will begin their withdrawal from Mali. The withdrawal will take between four to six months. France and its allies will close down military bases in Gossi, Ménaka and Gao and transfer soldiers stationed there to Niger, according to Macron. In a joint statement released, the European and Canadian governments involved in anti-terrorist operations deemed that “the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali,” resulting from obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities. Mali has been under military rule after a coup d’etat in 2021.
  • Amnesty International in a report released on Wednesday (Feb 16) has accused fighters affiliated with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of committing atrocities including gang rape and assault in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. The report said TPLF fighters “deliberately killed dozens of people, gang-raped dozens of women and girls — some as young as 14 — and looted private and public property in two areas of northern Ethiopia’s Amhara region” in late August and early September 2021. 
  • Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibeh survived an assassination attempt after assailants struck his car with bullets early on Thursday (Feb 17). A government source close to him said the incident happened as Dbeibeh was returning home. The attempt on his life comes amid intense factional wrangling over control of the government. Dbeibeh was installed in March last year as head of the UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNU) but the parliament based in Tobruk, a port city at the eastern tip of Libya, has declared the GNU invalid and named former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as the new Prime Minister. 
  • The leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, Freeman Mbowe will stand trial for terrorism, a high court judge ruled on Friday (Feb 18). Mbowe and several other senior party officials from the opposition Chadema party were arrested on July 21 last year in a night-time police raid just hours before they were to hold a public forum to demand constitutional reforms in the East African country. The 60-year-old, who has accused police of torturing him during nearly seven months in custody, was charged with terrorism financing and conspiracy in a case his supporters brand a politically-motivated move to crush dissent.
  • Health authorities in Malawi have declared an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 in the country after a case was detected in a three-year-old girl in the capital Lilongwe. This is Africa’s first polio case in five years. In a tweet on Friday (Feb 18), the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is supporting the Malawi health authorities to carry out a risk assessment & outbreak response, including supplemental immunisation. The case was confirmed after tests were carried out on samples from the infected child who was suffering from paralysis, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
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