- A Canadian public commission announced last Friday (Feb 17) that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was justified in using the Emergencies Act to end protests by truckers and others against COVID-19 restrictions last winter. The act allowed the authorities to establish no-go zones, freeze truckers’ bank accounts, and compel tow truck companies to remove vehicles. Although some police failures contributed to the situation getting out of control, the report concludes that the measures taken were appropriate and effective. The protests closed several border posts and key parts of the capital and reflected the spread of disinformation and populist anger in Canada.
- Canada is set to send navy vessels to the coast of Haiti to gather intelligence as the country is plagued by violence from powerful criminal organisations they announced last Saturday (Feb 18), following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Haitian leaders have requested military assistance from the international community to help curb the escalating violence, but some Haitians have pushed back against those calls, citing Haiti’s long and troubled history with foreign intervention. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also pledged US$9.1m (S$14.7 million) in humanitarian assistance and $7.4 million (S$11.9 million) to help protect Haitian women and children along the country’s border with the Dominican Republic.
- Former Mexican security chief Genaro García Luna faced a trial in New York last Saturday (Feb 18), accused of taking bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel in exchange for allowing safe passage for drugs. The former security chief, arrested in the US in 2019, has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces 10 years to life in prison. The case is based on testimony from nine cooperating witnesses, including members of the cartel, who say they delivered bribes to García Luna personally. The defence has argued that these witnesses cannot be trusted and that the former security chief did not accept illegal drug-related bribes.
- China’s National People’s Congress’s Foreign Affairs Committee accused American lawmakers of violating other nations’ sovereignty last Thursday (Feb 16) after the United States (US). passed a resolution condemning a suspected Chinese spy balloon’s intrusion into US airspace. China toughened its rhetoric, saying the balloon was an unmanned civilian weather research airship, while the US argued it was carrying surveillance equipment. Beijing has offered no details on what company or government department was responsible for the giant balloon. The US government determined the balloon posed little risk to national security and allowed it to fly across the continent before bringing it down with a missile off the coast of South Carolina.
- Moderna announced last Thursday (Feb 16) that it would provide its COVID-19 vaccine for free to all Americans, including the uninsured, after the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration ends in May. Moderna’s patient assistance program will offer COVID-19 vaccines at no cost to uninsured or underinsured people. The move comes after backlash over reports that Moderna was considering pricing the vaccine on the commercial market at US$110 (S$147.07) to US$130 (S$173.81) per dose. Moderna will be the only vaccine manufacturer offering COVID-19 shots for free to the uninsured, while Pfizer and BioNTech plan to list their COVID-19 vaccines starting at $110 per dose.
- Peruvian authorities were accused by Amnesty International for repressing protests with “a marked racist bias” last Thursday (Feb 16). According to a report by Amnesty International, these crackdowns have been aimed at populations that have been discriminated against historically. Evidently, since the protests began, the majority of the deaths have taken place in areas with a majority of indigenous populations. However, Peru’s Ministry of Defence has declined to comment on Amnesty International’s report and mentioned that the public prosecutor’s office is currently conducting an ongoing investigation on this matter.
- Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro mentioned his plans to return to Brazil in March to lead the political opposition last Tuesday (Feb 14). In an interview, Bolsanaro said that his return includes plans to defend himself against accusations that he had instigated election-denial protests in January. Brazil had spiralled into political turmoil right after Bolsanaro’s loss in the election which was topped off by his supporters storming the Brazilian congress on January 8th. In his first interview right after his narrow election loss Mr Bolsanaro said “The right-wing movement is not dead and will live on”.
- A Nicaraguan court stripped 94 dissidents of their citizenship last Wednesday (Feb 15). All 94 are outspoken, well-known critics of President Daniel Ortega who is currently serving his fourth consecutive term in office. Among the 94 include Catholic Bishop Silvio Báez and a former Nicaraguan ambassador who denounced the government as a dictatorship. Legal analysts have declared this move a violation of international law and the Central America Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) has condemned this action.
- Mexico set up express lanes for Cuban migrants’ relatives for Mexican visas as announced by the country’s Foreign Relations Department last Wednesday (Feb 15). The worsening economic conditions in Cuba coupled with the political dissent have triggered an exodus from the island causing many Cubans to cross into Mexico. Out of the 40,000 Cubans who entered Mexico in 2020, 20,000 were given some form of residency or humanitarian visa in Mexico. However, it was unclear what happened to the remaining Cubans. According to the Mexican Foreign Relations Department, special visa appointments will be held starting in April at the Mexican consulate in Havana.
- Hundreds of protestors stormed Suriname’s parliament last Friday (Feb 17) to protest against high fuel and electricity prices. The protestors called for the resignation of the President who recently ended the state subsidies for fuel and electricity prices due to the International Monetary Fund’s recommendation. The inflation of the prices of other basic goods and the decline of Suriname’s dollar strength was also a cause for concern for the protestors.
- North Korea fired a long-range missile from its capital, Pyongyang into the sea off Japan last Saturday (Feb 18) right after it had threatened to take strong measures against South Korea and the US due to their joint military exercises. The South Korean President and the National Security Advisor accused North Korea of escalating regional tensions and denounced the North for accelerating its nuclear arms development regardless of worsening economic problems and food insecurity. The Japanese Prime Minister also called this “an act of violence that escalates provocation toward the international order”.
- A Chinese official’s arrival in Taiwan last Saturday (Feb 18) for a three-day visit was met with protests. This visit marked a rare point of contact between the two sides. Many protestors gathered at Sunshan airport in Taipei as pro-China minority party representatives shouted greetings. However, neither the Chinese official, the head of Shanghai City’s Taiwan Affairs Office nor any members of his delegation issued any arrival statements. Meanwhile, protestors chanted to denounce Chinese efforts to undermine Taiwan’s security and democracy.
- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with LGBTQ activists last Friday (Feb 17) to offer an apology for the discriminatory remarks made by his former aide which led to nationwide outrage. Prime Minister Kishida also appointed former Justice Minister Masako Mori last Friday as the special aide in charge of promoting understanding for LGBTQ people. During this meeting, Prime Minister Kishida also sought views from LGBTQ representatives to further the effort to strive for a diverse society that respects every individual’s human rights and dignity to lead a fulfilling life.
- A boat carrying 71 Rohingya Muslims fleeing from refugee camps in Bangladesh arrived last Thursday (Feb 16) in Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh. The Rohingya were unable to find employment or gain access to higher education in the refugee camps in Bangladesh and thus left for Indonesia according to a fifteen-year-old refugee who was on the boat with his parents. 21 women and 20 children are also part of the 71 Rohingyas on board.
- India’s tax officials left the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai last Thursday (Feb 16) after a three-day search seeking information about the organisation’s business operations in the midst of allegations of tax evasions. So far, the Indian tax department has not issued any statement on what instigated the search. The Press Trust of India news agency mentioned that the survey is being carried out to investigate issues related to international taxation and transfer pricing of BBC subsidiary companies.
- China was grilled last Wednesday (Feb 15) over its human rights record over a two-day hearing at the United Nations Human Rights Office. Human rights advocates raised issues such as relocations from Tibet, COVID-19, retaliation against human rights defenders, and the security law that trampled dissidents in Hong Kong. The six-hour hearings marked the first time a Chinese delegation has travelled to answer to a United Nations (UN) body since COVID-19 according to UN officials.
- Finland’s defence minister said last Saturday (Feb 18) that Finland will join NATO and not wait for Sweden if its accession is delayed by the Turkish government. Turkey’s reluctance to accept Sweden unless it increases pressure on Kurdish exile groups has made it likely that Finland and Sweden will join NATO at different periods in time. However, in recent weeks, NATO officials have downplayed the significance of the two nations joining the alliance simultaneously. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the reporters that it is crucial for Finland and Sweden to join “as soon as possible’ and that it is “of course a Turkish decision whether to ratify both protocols or only one protocol”.
- US Vice-President Kamala Harris mentioned that it has been “formally determined’ that Russia had committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine at the Munich Security Conference last Saturday (Feb 18). Many world leaders at the conference called for long-term support of Ukraine. The United Kingdom Prime Minister also argued that Western allies should start planning for the future and current security of Ukraine by sending the weapons it needs to defend itself at the present moment. The conference in Germany comes as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches on February 24.
- Two more European data centres are in talks to be set up as announced by TikTok last Friday (Feb 17). This is in lieu of growing concerns about data privacy for its users in the West. TikTok has recently come under fire from European and American authorities over concerns that it could gather user data in mass amounts and send it to China. In light of this, a top European Union official warned the CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew last month that the company would need to comply with the EU’s new digital rules.
- The Spanish parliament approved legislation expanding on abortion and transgender rights for teenagers last Thursday (Feb 16). These changes to sexual and reproductive rights would allow 16 and 17-year-olds in Spain to undergo an abortion without parental consent. The addition of the menstrual leave measure will entitle employees to paid menstrual leave as well. Under this new system, state hospital doctors would not be forced to carry out abortions, provided that they have registered their objections.
- The Serbian police arrested five people last Thursday (Feb 16) under the suspicion of calling for a violent overthrow of the president and possession of arms. The arrested men engaged in protests where pro-Russian groups demanded that President Aleksandar Vučić reject a western plan to normalise ties with Kosovo. However, Serbian officials were quick to denounce the protest and claimed that it was an attempted coup against the president and the government.
- British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak dampened the prospects of a quick trade deal over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland last Saturday (Feb 18). This has brought about political turmoil in the European region and strained relations with the EU. Prime Minister Sunak met with the European Commission President to resolve differences and to have a “positive discussion about the talks on the Ireland-Northern Ireland Protocol”. This protocol was meant to help preserve the free flow of trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Prime Minister thus mentioned that they are currently “working through those (those) issues” and that they would “Work through them intensely with the EU” though they are “by no means done”.
- The bodies of 18 migrants were discovered last Friday (Feb 17) by the police in Bulgaria in an abandoned truck. The migrants appeared to have been suffocated to death. According to initial information from the Interior Ministry, the truck was carrying approximately 40 migrants and the survivors had been taken to hospitals nearby for emergency treatment. The truck was found abandoned on an expressway near the capital and the bodies were discovered in a secret compartment below a load of timber. Bulgarian media reported that the migrants were from Afghanistan.
- Israel passed a new law last Thursday (Feb 16) that allows authorities to revoke the citizenship and residency of Palestinians who have been convicted or charged for “acts of terror” and receive financial assistance from the Palestinian Authority. The law applies to Palestinian citizens of Israel or those residing in occupied East Jerusalem who hold Israeli residency, and it stipulates the deportation of Palestinians to occupied territories. Critics argue that this law is arbitrary, racist, and violates international law. The Palestinian Authority provides financial aid to families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, as well as those killed or seriously injured by Israeli forces.
- Turkey’s interior minister announced last Saturday (Feb 18) the death toll from the recent earthquake to 39,672, with overall fatalities in both Turkey and Syria reaching 43,360. Despite the diminishing window for finding survivors, rescuers pulled several individuals from under the rubble, including a man who spent 278 hours trapped beneath a collapsed building. UN aid has crossed into Syria from Turkey, while the bodies of 1,522 Syrians have been brought back to their homeland for burial. Some 1,795 Syrian survivors have also crossed back into Syria from Turkey.
- Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi went on a three-day trip to China last Monday (Feb 13) with a large delegation of senior Iranian officials, including the central bank chief and the top nuclear negotiator, to boost economic and bilateral ties between the two countries. Raisi’s visit to China is the first state visit by an Iranian president in 20 years and comes after he met Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2021. The two countries signed a 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement in 2021, and the main goal of the visit is to finalise the operational mechanisms of the agreement. China remains Iran’s largest trade partner, with Iranian customs data showing Iran exported US$12.6 billion (S$16.8 billion) worth of goods to China and imported US$12.7 billion (S$17.0 billion). The visit also comes as Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, accompanies Raisi, suggesting that the talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) could also be a significant part of the visit.
- An attack in Syria, believed to be carried out by the Islamic State (IS) group, resulted in the deaths of 68 people, making it the deadliest attack in over a year last Saturday (Feb 18). The attack targeted truffle hunters, with suspects on motorcycles opening fire on them. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, reported that 61 civilians and seven soldiers were killed in the attack. IS is said to be using the annual harvest of the desert fungus delicacy, which takes place between February and April, as an opportunity to carry out attacks in remote locations. The group has not claimed responsibility for the recent attack.
- At least 73 people are missing and presumed dead after a ship carrying migrants and refugees sank off the coast of Libya last Tuesday (Feb 14). The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that Libyan authorities recovered at least 11 bodies from the wreckage, while seven people survived and were taken to a hospital. The central Mediterranean remains a key route for migrants, and over 25,800 people have gone missing in the region since 2014, according to the IOM’s Missing Migrants project. Libya has become a major transit point for refugees and asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe.
- Critics of Tunisian President Kais Saied were detained last Monday (Feb 13) amid a wave of arrests. A senior official in the main opposition party Noureddine Bhiri and the head of a radio station were among those arrested. Saied had defended these detentions saying that they were anti-corruption. Most of the people arrested are critics and pro-democracy activists.
- Thousands of Tunisian trade unionists held protests across the country over the deteriorating economic conditions and the detention of a high-ranking union official last Saturday (Feb 18). The demonstrations marked an escalation in the union’s confrontation with President Kais Saied and followed its criticism of the recent arrests of several anti-government figures, including politicians, a journalist, two judges, and a senior union official. The protests in eight cities followed the warning of the UGTT workers’ federation of possible painful austerity measures if Tunisia accepts an International Monetary Fund bailout loan. Demonstrators demanded the release of the union official, Anis Kaabi, who was arrested on January 31 after a strike by toll barrier workers.
- The UN announced $250 million (S$334.3 million) in crisis funding last Sunday (Feb 19) to respond to several crises around the world, including helping communities at risk of famine in Africa. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticised the international financial system for charging “extortionate” interest rates to African countries. Public debt ratios in sub-Saharan Africa are at their highest in more than two decades, with the coronavirus pandemic pushing many poor countries into debt distress. Governments, including Ethiopia, sought debt restructuring deals under an IMF program to help them navigate the crisis, but the conclusion of the process has been delayed. The African Union summit is also focusing on deepening food and security crises on the continent, as armed conflicts and extreme weather conditions drive more Africans from their homes.
- President Muhammadu Buhari has announced that the old 200 Naira banknote will be reintroduced into circulation for another 60 days in Nigeria in response to violent protests and frustration caused by a lack of cash to pay for vital items last Friday (Feb 17). The deadline to hand in old cash had been the Friday before (Feb 10), but not enough new notes have been released. The president has also extended the exchange period for old 500 and 1,000 Naira notes until 10 April, blaming “unscrupulous officials in the banking industry” for the difficulties in implementing the new policy. The redesign of the currency was intended to tackle inflation and illicit financial flow, as well as curb insecurity, but it has coincided with problems making digital payments. The Supreme Court last week ordered that the deadline for giving up old banknotes be suspended, following a legal challenge by several state governments.
- An Israeli diplomat, Sharon Bar-Li, was removed from the African Union’s (AU) annual summit in Ethiopia as she was not the accredited Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia last Sunday (Feb 19). Israel blamed South Africa and Algeria for holding the AU hostage and being driven by “hate”. The dispute stems from Israel’s observer status to the AU, which triggered an uproar from several member states demanding the status be withdrawn. South Africa rejected the claim, saying Israel’s application for observer status at the AU has not been decided upon by the bloc.