- Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability James Comer said last Thursday (Feb 9) that it would be a threat to national security if United States (US) President Joe Biden’s decision making is compromised by deals with foreign adversaries. Republicans continued their investigation into Biden’s family and made official requests for his son’s and brother’s foreign business pursuits. Comer had issued letters to Hunter Biden (Biden’s son) and James (Biden’s brother) requesting for financial activities and communications with specified individuals after accusing the Biden family of “influence peddling”. Hunter Biden’s lawyer opposed the scope of the investigation and questioned whether the committee has a “legitimate legislative purpose” for the investigations.
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada last Friday (Feb 10) regarding the release of 222 political prisoners in Managua who were arrested in crackdowns in the wake of the anti-government protests in 2018. With the majority of the prisoners being allowed to travel to the United States, it was seen as an attempt by President Daniel Ortega to repair relations with the US. However, Washington said that nothing was promised in return for releasing the prisoners. According to US State Department spokesperson Ned Price, the two discussed “the importance of constructive dialogue”.
- Legislators in Florida passed a bill last Friday (Feb 10) that supported Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ effort to transport migrants and asylum seekers to largely liberal parts of the US. The bill approves a US$10 million (SG$13.3 million) funding for the initiative named the Unauthorised Alien Transport Program. The bill also allows his administration to transport migrants from anywhere in the US before it becomes a law. In response, Democratic Representative Christopher Benjamin said it was an “indefensible” bill and called on the Republicans to “[s]top playing games with people’s lives”.
- The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a six-month sanctions exemption for all transactions related to providing disaster relief to Syria last Thursday (Feb 9). This comes after the death toll increased to over 22,000 in Syria and neighbouring Turkey. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said that “US sanctions in Syria will not stand in the way of life-saving efforts for the Syrian people”. The exemption means that organisations do not need to spend resources on proving an exemption from sanctions before sending aid.
- Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva and President Joe Biden pledged last Friday (Feb 10) to develop relations between the two states. The establishment of relations will focus on encouraging democracy and addressing issues relating to climate change, including efforts to save the Amazon rainforest.
- Brazil’s space research agency Inpe released preliminary satellite data last Friday (Feb 10) that showed signs of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest dropping by 61 per cent in January after one month of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva being in office. However, experts warned that while the decrease was a positive sign, it is too early to tell if deforestation has been reversed. In comparison to Lula, former far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had promoted mining activities and economic development which had caused deforestation in the Amazon to increase during his term.
- Brazilian environmental and Indigenous agencies said last Wednesday (Feb 8) that operations to launch raids against illegal gold miners for causing a humanitarian crisis on an Indigenous reservation—the Yanomami people—had started earlier last week. According to the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), agents destroyed a helicopter, plane, bulldozer and support structures for the miners, while two weapons and about 5,000 litres of fuel were also seized. Yanomami Indigenous leaders have expressed concerns over illegal mining activities on their territories that have threatened their livelihoods.
- Officials from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay submitted a joint bid last Tuesday (Feb 7) to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup. President of the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) emphasized at the Argentine Football Association headquarters in Ezeiza that the 2030 World Cup “deserves a celebration with recognition for 100 years” by being held in Uruguay, where the first World Cup was held. President of the Argentinian Football Association Claudio Tapia added that the South American bid to host the 2030 World Cup fulfils “the dream” of all people in the football obsessed region.
- Deputy Interior Minister of Chile Manuel Monsalve said last Tuesday (Feb 7) that a heatwave with temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius in central Maule and Nuble will “[create] a very complex situation in terms of weather” and could further threaten spreading wildfires. So far, two dozen people have been killed while thousands of others have been injured due to the blazes. Fires spread over more than 290,000 hectares across Chile, destroying homes and leaving thousands homeless. About 5,600 firefighters from Chile and other firefighters form Latin American countries have been stepping up to combat the fires.
- President Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador accepted defeat in a referendum which allowed extradition for organised crime last Sunday (Feb 12). Results from the voting that day escalated political tensions for Lasso who struggled to address insecurity, protests and violence in prisons. However, Lasso added that he aims to continue opposing drug trafficking and improve social conditions. Ecuador is located in between Colombia and Peru, both of which are known to be the largest producers of cocaine.
- North Korea held a parade in Pyongyang marking the 75th founding of North Korea’s army last Wednesday (Feb 8). The parade featured its largest nuclear missiles, including their new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and at least 11 Hwasong-17 ICMBs— an increase from the four Hwasong-17s featured in the 2020 parade. The state news agency highlighted that these weapons were crucial in supporting North Korea’s self-defence considering “hostile” policies imposed by the United States and its allies. South Korea’s foreign ministry criticised North Korea last Thursday (Feb 9) for holding the parade while civilians face food crises during a time of economic turmoil. Spokesperson of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Lee Sung-jun also emphasised that South Korean and US militaries were closely analysing the parade and evaluating the weaponry shown.
- The United States (US) Bureau of Industry and Security blacklisted six Chinese entities last Friday (Feb 10) for being involved in China’s aerospace programs including airships and balloons. The six entities —Beijing Nanjiang Aerospace Technology Co, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation 48th Research Institute, Tian-Hai-Xiang Aviation Technology Co and Shanxi Eagles Men Aviation Science and Technology Group Co— will face increased difficulties to obtain US technology exports. This decision comes after an alleged Chinese High Altitude Balloon (HAB) was caught in US airspace for intelligence and reconnaissance activities. In response, Beijing stated that the balloon was a weather craft that had blown off course but has yet to respond regarding the blacklisting of the entities.
- Australia’s foreign ministry agreed to follow the defence ministry’s decision in removing all Chinese-made surveillance cameras from its facilities last Friday (Feb 10). Foreign Minister Penny Wong had asked her department to remove the cameras following reports that it posed security risks. In response, China claimed this act was “over-stretching” Australia’s national security measures that was meant to “discriminate against and suppress Chinese companies”. Skepticism over cameras made by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology and Dahua Technology Co were raised during a time when Canberra and Beijing are attempting to amend ties from a conflict regarding the 2018 decision to ban China’s Huawei from Australia’s 5G broadband network.
- Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed last Thursday (Feb 10) to increase defence ties. The agreement, which allows Japanese troops to access Philippine territory with greater ease, lets Japanese troops join training exercises to respond to natural disasters and humanitarian needs in the Philippines. The agreement was seen as a cooperative move between Tokyo and Manila and could signal possibilities of similar agreements between Japan and other Southeast Asian nations. According to Kishida, the countries will not only continue talks to discuss the transfer of Japanese defence equipment and technology to the Philippines, but also strengthen cooperation trilaterally with the United States.
- Myanmar’s military imposed martial law in strongholds of anti-coup resistance last Friday (Feb 10), affecting 37 townships. New measures include not being able to make appeals for convictions handed down by military tribunals unless it is a case of imposing the death penalty, which has to be approved by military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The announcement indicates the military trying to further clamp down on resistance. It has been published in state-controlled media that the martial law was “to exercise more effective undertakings for ensuring security, the rule of law and local peace and tranquillity”.
- Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Khartoum last Wednesday (Feb 8) as part of an African tour seeking to expand influence as Western nations impose sanctions over the Russia-Ukraine war. Sudan’s governing military council previously considered allowing Russia to open a naval base on the Red Sea coast, which is a strategic region for Gulf countries and Turkey. Lavrov’s tour also included Iraq, Mauritania, South Africa and Mali.
- Russian forces bombarded power facilities across Ukraine last Friday (Feb 10). Even though 61 of 71 Russian missiles were shot down, energy minister German Galushchenko said that some of the missiles and drones hit power facilities in six regions which caused blackouts across most of Ukraine. Russia denied targeting civilians and said the attacks supported Kyiv’s war efforts. The attack comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ended a tour of European allies.
- Moldova’s pro-Western government resigned last Friday (Feb 10) after 18 months in power. Their reign was characterized by turbulent economic turmoil and having to address spillover effects of the war in Ukraine. Taking over resigned Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita’s position is defence adviser Dorin Recean, who holds a strong drive in pushing pro-Western policies including the seeking of European Union accession. Recean, who served as interior minister from 2012 to 2015, will need to form a new government within 15 days to present to parliament for a vote.
- Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni criticised France and Germany last Thursday (Feb 9) at the Brussels summit for excluding her for a dinner in Paris with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Zelenskyy embarked on a surprise visit to Western Europe last Wednesday (Feb 8) where he visited the United Kingdom and France before having dinner with French President Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. However, Meloni, unlike former Prime Minister Mario Draghi, was excluded from this meeting, increasing tensions among the European Union allies.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last Thursday (Feb 9) at the Brussels summit that European leaders expressed positive indications to supply Kyiv with aircraft. “I’ve heard it from a number of European leaders… about the readiness to give us the necessary weapons and support, including the aircraft”, he said. There was no immediate confirmation from any European countries of the alleged promises.
- The Arab League hosted a meeting in Cairo last Sunday (Feb 12), where leaders and senior officials from Arab and Islamic countries raised concerns over Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank and occupied Jerusalem. This year, Israelis have killed at least 42 Palestinians, making it one of the greatest periods of violence in years that has been heightening tensions between Israel and Palestine. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in the meeting that Palestinians were facing a “lethal assault” by Israelis who have “crossed all red lines” and called for world leaders to put an end to the crisis. Speakers at the meeting condemned Israel’s actions and visits by Israeli officials to Jerusalem’s contested holy site.
- Barcelona temporarily broke off its ties with Israel over its policy towards Palestine last Wednesday (Feb 8). Left-wing mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing that relations will be suspended until Israel ends its “systemic violation” of human rights. This means that the twinning agreements with the Tel Aviv City Council will also be suspended until Israeli authorities comply with international law obligations and UN resolutions. The decision comes after 100 groups and over 4,000 residents signed a request to break ties with Israel. However, Colau emphasised that the decision does not apply to Israelis or Palestinians who seek to build peace in the Middle East.
- The death toll from the earthquakes in Turkey rose to 24,617 last Sunday (Feb 12). The United Nations highlighted that at least 870,000 people need hot meals across Turkey and Syria, which had also been impacted by the earthquakes. In Syria, about 5.3 million people have become homeless, according to the UN. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had appealed for US$42.8 million last Saturday (Feb 9) to support medical operations considering the damage to hospitals from the earthquakes. At the moment, thousands of rescue workers are on the ground helping to save victims, with more than 32,000 people from Turkish organisations working on search and rescue efforts.
- German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser announced last Saturday (Feb 11) that those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria will be allowed to temporarily stay with their relatives in Germany. “We want to allow Turkish or Syrian families in Germany to bring their close relatives from the disaster area to their homes without bureaucracy”, she said. Regular visas that remain valid for three months will be granted. Currently, Germany holds a large community of Syrians and about 2.9 million people of Turkish origin.
- Turkey identified 131 suspects last Saturday (Feb 11) that were responsible for the collapse of buildings. Thousands of buildings allegedly collapsed in the ten provinces affected by the earthquakes last Monday (Feb 6). According to Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay, detention orders had been issued to the suspects. “We will follow this up meticulously… especially for buildings that suffered heavy damage and buildings that caused deaths and injuries”, he said.
- Ethiopia’s orthodox church sparked violent protests which led to the state having to restrict access to social media platforms last Thursday (Feb 9), according to Internet watchdog NetBlocks. Church officials had declared themselves archbishops last month, which led to protests breaking out in the Oromia region. At least 30 people have been killed since February 4th. NetBlocks revealed on Twitter that access to social media platforms like Facebook and Telegram had been restricted by the government in response, however government spokesperson Legesse Tulu has yet to respond.
- Cameroon restricted activities along its border with Guinea due to the occurrence of deaths from an unknown illness, according to Minister of Public Health Malachie Manaouda last Friday (Feb 10). Equatorial Guinea highlighted last Wednesday (Feb 8) that they discovered this situation taking place in the Nsok Nsomo district, where nine deaths had occurred within a short span of time. Manaouda said that the border restrictions come as a safeguarding measure considering the “high risk of importation of this disease and in order to detect and respond to any cases at an early stage”. Currently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are supporting investigations and epidemiological surveillance.
- Foreign ministers of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso said in a joint statement last Thursday (Feb 9) that they agreed to collaborate in reinstating the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). Abdoulaye Diop of Mali, Morissanda Kouyate of Guinea and Burkina Faso’s Olivia Rouamba held talks in Ouagadougou, where they highlighted how pressure exerted from ECOWAS to return to civilian rule was affecting populations and “undermine[d] sub-regional and African solidarity”. Insecurity in the region has been rising due to the occurrence of coups since 2020, where Mali and Guinea were also subject to other sanctions.
- President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster last Thursday (Feb 9) due to the country’s severe electricity crisis. The state’s power utility Eskom has been unable to produce sufficient power due to frequent breakdowns and corruption. Recent power cuts lasting up to eight hours a day have affected homes, factories and businesses across the state. The emergency measure was thus implemented to enable the government to exempt essential services like healthcare and water treatment plants from power blackouts, while also allowing the government to buy power from neighbouring countries.
- Peacekeepers from the United Nations (UN) killed eight civilians during an attack in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last Tuesday (Feb 6). Four trucks from the UN convoy with supplies from Goma were set on fire in Kanyaruchinya by assailants, which spurred peacekeepers and some Congolese soldiers to try protecting it. MONUSCO soldiers fired warning shots which killed eight civilians among the displaced and wounded 28 others, according to the governor’s spokesman Lieutenant-General Constant Ndima. MONUSCO, which had been in the DRC since 1999, has not given a response.