- United States President Joe Biden ordered federal agencies last Friday (Feb 24) to conduct door-to-door visits for residents in East Palestine, Ohio, following the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals the week prior. Workers would ask residents how they are doing and what resources they may need. A preliminary investigative report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were published last Thursday (Feb 23), stating that the operating crew aboard the train was not alerted about its overheated axle before multiple cars had already been derailed. The crew responded to a “critical audible alarm message” just before the train’s derailment, as the axle’s temperature did not reach the temperature threshold for stopping the train before then. NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy apologised to locals, saying the incident was “preventable”.
- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) laid out its recommendations last Thursday (Feb 24), for governments to craft cryptocurrency policies. The nine-point action plan which would ‘safeguard monetary sovereignty and stability’, advised countries not to give cryptocurrencies legal tender status, and to implement unambiguous tax rules and laws around crypto assets as well as enforce oversight requirements for all crypto market actors. The recommendations came following the collapse of several crypto exchanges and assets over the last couple of years, with the board stating that any further lack of action by the board would be “untenable”.
- The United States announced last Friday (Feb 24) it would be providing Ukraine with a new US$2 billion (S$2.70 billion) military aid package, including ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), artillery rounds, drones, secure communication equipment and funding for “training, maintenance, and sustainment”, according to a statement by the Pentagon. It also added that the US would be providing longer-term security assistance requirements for “as long as it takes”. In a separate announcement on Friday, new sanctions were issued, targeting Russia’s metals and mining sector, financial institutions and international firms with alleged ties to Moscow.
- A US judge ruled last Tuesday (Feb 21) that family members of the victims of the September 11th attacks are not entitled to funds seized from Afghanistan’s central bank. US District Judge George Daniels said the move would require the recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, an assessment he was “constitutionally restrained” from making. The decision followed President Joe Biden’s controversial order to split the US$7 billion (S$9.44) assets between Afghan people and the families of the 9/11 victims who sued the Taliban. Meanwhile, Afgan-American activist Bilal Askaryar had criticised the plan, saying the Afghan people “had nothing to do with 9/11” and it was a “theft of public funds from an impoverished nation”.
- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended the country’s controversial electoral reform bill last Thursday (Feb 23). The bill, which would cut the budget of Mexico’s electoral agency and weaken oversight of campaign spending, was approved in the Senate last Wednesday (Feb 22). It detailed cutting the salaries and funding of local election offices, reducing training for citizens operating polling stations and reducing sanctions on candidates who fail to report campaign spending. Obrador maintained the legislation would survive court challenges to the bill over concerns it would weaken democracy in Mexico, stating none of was “outside the law”. Mexico it set to hold presidential elections next year.
- The death toll from floods and landslides in Brazil’s southeastern state of Sao Paulo rose last Friday (Feb 24). At least 57 people were killed and 4,000 were forced from their homes as a result of the disaster, triggered by heavy rains over the weekend prior. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva paid a visit to the affected areas of the coastal towns in Sao Paulo, and promised that the government would work to rebuild the town hit hardest by the disaster, Sao Sebastiao, with housing built in safer areas for its 91,000 residents. Regional Development Minister Waldez Goes was also ordered to ensure local officials were able to provide services to the affected population.
- Peruvian President Dina Boularte announced the “definitive removal” of the nation’s ambassador to Mexico last Friday (Feb 24). The move came following Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s vocal support for Boularte’s predecessor, Pedro Castillo, during a news conference that day. According to his statement, Mexico would continue to support Castillo, who was “unjustly and illegally removed from office”. Castillo was impeached and arrested in December last year, following his attempt to dissolve Congress. Boularte strongly rejected his comments, and the “unacceptable questioning of the constitutional and democratic origins” of her administration. Diplomatic relations between Peru and Mexico were formally reduced to the level of are formally reduced to the level of ‘charge d’affaires’.
- Argentina’s government was in final talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last Saturday (Feb 25), to ease the country’s foreign exchange reserves targets for this year, under the country’s US$44 billion (S$59.35 billion) program. The move came as the nation is facing the worst drought in 60 years, which has affected the growth and exports of soy, corn and wheat crops, further weakening foreign exchange reserves amid rising costs of energy and fertiliser imports. While discussions were still ongoing for the reviewed target, Argentina had met its end of year reserves target, and had been set the aim to increase net reserves by $9.8 billion at the end of this year.
- A major Ecuadorian indigenous organisation, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), said last Friday (Feb 24), it would not be continuing talks with the government of President Guillermo Lasso. CONAIE’s president, Leonidas Iza, said the government had not delivered on its agreements with the group, and called for Lasso’s resignation.The government said it reached numerous accords with CONAIE, including a temporary moratorium on oil blocks in the Amazon and a suspension of mining concessions until community consultation laws were passed. In exchange, CONAIE had ended weeks of anti-government protests.
- Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy announced last Friday (Feb 24) that the nation’s National Energy Policy Council (CNPE) would decide the exact percentage of the country’s mandatory blend of biodiesel in its diesel fuel. The meeting, scheduled to take place in March, is expected to have a significant impact on Brazil’s soy processing and sector planning as the percentage of biodiesel is intended to be scaled up. The current percentage of biodiesel stands at 10 per cent, following a 3 per cent reduction during the course of former President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration.
- A coal mine in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region collapsed last Wednesday (Feb 22), killing at least four people and leaving 49 missing. Debris measuring approximately 500 meters wide and 80 meters tall buried over 50 workers. More than 900 rescue workers had been deployed to the scene.
- A rally was held by Filipino protestors last Saturday (Feb 25) for the “People Power” revolution that overthrew the Marcos family 37 years ago. Hundreds of protestors marched along the streets of Manila in memory of the brutal era. The father of the Philippines’ current President, Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, and the 10th President of the Philippines, had been described by critics to have caused the nation to suffer this dark period of human rights abuses and corruption.
- The Group of 20 (G20) members gathered last Saturday (Feb 25), in Bengaluru, India, where discussions were underway to establish a common framework to deal with problems posed by cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. India’s push to regulate cryptocurrencies gained the support of the International Monetary Fund and the United States. Neither nation had moved to implement an outright ban on cryptocurrencies, but agreed its market requires a strong, global, regulatory framework.
- Thailand’s parliament concluded its final session on the cannabis draft Bill last Thursday (Feb 23) before heading into election season. However, the parliament had yet to endorse it, leaving the issue of burning cannabis hanging in the balance. Thailand was the first Southeast Asian country to decriminalise cannabis in 2022, but within a week had issued a raft of rushed piecemeal regulations to curb its potential unwarranted use, including its consumption by children, as thousands of cannabis businesses popped up in the country within the first few weeks of its decriminalisation.
- Philippine authorities said last Monday (Feb 20), that they would send a search mission after spotting the suspected wreckage of a small plane that went missing with four people on board, near the crater of volcano Mayon, one of the country’s 24 active volcanoes. Authorities remained in search of a Cessna 340 aircraft with two Filipino pilots and two Australian passengers, who were working for a geothermal power company. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines reported that the plane took off from Albay province southeast of the capital, the weekend prior, but had not received any updates from the aircraft since.
- Turkish police were reported last Tuesday (Feb 21) to have detained 134 people over “provocative posts”, and arrested 25 others over earthquake reports. The arrests came after the Turkish presidential communications director, Fahrettin Altun, warned against “lethal disinformation” jeopardising rescue efforts. Efforts were made by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to contact the directorate to ask about the journalists being investigated while advocacy groups called for investigations to be dropped, but had been met with no response.
- A Manchester-based charity that cleans landmines was given US$8 million (S$10. 8 million), last Friday (Feb 24), from the US government to carry out life-saving work in Ukraine. Mines Advisory Group (MAG) had been working in Ukraine since April 2022. The funds received would allow the charity to scale-up its Ukraine operations and would also be used to deliver risk education to communities caught in the conflict.
- Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) would vote to appoint a new leader that weekend, according to reports last Friday (Feb 24). PD supporters were set to vote between two candidates, Stefano Bonaccini and Elly Schlein, with vastly different plans to revive the party after its streak of crushing election defeats. Makeshift voting booths were set up across the country and PD officials expected at least a million voters.
- Poland delivered four Leopard tanks to Ukraine and is prepared to deliver more quickly, according to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, last Friday (Feb 24). Poland’s commitment to Ukraine has been essential in persuading European allies to provide heavy weaponry to the war-stricken nation.
- Hundreds of people and diplomats gathered outside the United Nations (UN) office in Geneva, Switzerland last Friday (Feb 24) as they paid tribute to Ukraine on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Ambassadors from countries allied with Ukraine observed a minute of silence and voiced their support for Kyiv, with Ukrainian flags draped around their shoulders and signs in their hands calling for the international community to condemn the Russian government.
- The death toll from the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria passed 50,000 last Friday (Feb 24). The region experienced more than 9,000 aftershocks since the initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6. A 6.3 magnitude aftershock hit Hatay province near the Syrian border last Monday (Feb 20), while a 5.5 magnitude aftershock hit central Turkey last Saturday (Feb 25), amid others felt throughout the week. Almost 530,000 people have been evacuated from the disaster area in Turkey alone. The Turkish government said that 173,000 buildings have been recorded as collapsed or severely damaged, with more than 1.9 million people taking refuge in temporary shelters, hotels and public facilities.
- 11 Palestinians were killed and more than 80 were injured in an Israeli raid on Nablus, in the occupied West Bank last Wednesday (Feb 22). The raid came less than a month after a similar fatal raid in Jenin. A reported six rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel in response last Thursday (Feb 23), five of which was intercepted by the Israeli military air defence system while the sixth fell in an uninhabited area. Hours later, Israel bombed the Gaza Strip. Israel has stepped up its military raids and arrests since 2021. More than 65 Palestinians, including 13 children have been killed this year in the occupied territories.
- Israel and Palestine agreed to implement measures to curb escalating violence, following talks in Jordan last Sunday (Feb 26). The meeting, attended by representatives from the United States, Egypt and Jordan, saw the issuance of a joint statement, in which officials from both sides “reaffirmed the necessity of committing to de-escalation on the ground”. Israel said it was committed to stop discussions of setting up any new settlement units for four months, and would stop approvals of any new settlements for six months. Gaza-based Hamas condemned the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s part in the deal, claiming it was “worthless”. Meanwhile, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is involved in the establishment of settlements in the West Bank, took to Twitter expressing he would not abide by any agreement that froze settlement construction, saying he had “no idea” what was spoken inJordan, but “there will not be a freeze on the building and development in settlements, not even for one day (it is under my authority”. The deal came amid increased Israeli military activity in occupied Palestine, making the first two months of 2023 the deadliest since those in 2000.
- Oman opened its airspace for all carriers, including to Israeli airlines, last Thursday (Feb 23), to meet civil aviation authority requirements. The route between Israel and Asia was previously facilitated by Saudi Arabia, following a visit to the nation by US President Joe Biden. While Oman and Israel have no diplomatic relations, the nation appears less reluctant to publicise its relations with Israel as compared to its other Gulf neighbours, having congratulated the UAE and Bahrain over its the establishment of ties with Israel in 2020.
- The Palestinian Authority (PA) was condemned by opposition political parties, including Hamas, last Monday (Feb 20), over its decision to withdraw a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council against illegal Israeli settlements. The resolution was scrapped, in exchange for a deal with the United States, which included promises of a financial aid package as well as the temporary suspension of announcements on new Israeli settlement activity and Palestinian home demolitions. Major Palestinian political parties issued a statement, saying the move extended Palestine’s dependence on the US, “which has been complicit with the occupation against our people and their rights for decades”. The PA had yet to respond, however it assured it would serve Palestinian interests.
- Nigerians voted to elect a successor to President Muhammadu Buhari last Saturday (Feb 25). Polling stations were scheduled to open in the early morning, however, several regions experienced delays of up to several hours due to the late arrival of vehicles transporting election officials and election materials. Large numbers of voters were seen waiting for election officials to turn up.
- A market in Nigeria’s northern Kano state saw customers flocking to stock up on food and essentials last Friday (Feb 24), amidst the uncertainty of Saturday’s (Feb 25) electoral outcome, in an election characterised by widespread insecurity concerns, fuel and cash shortages and a nearly two decade record-high inflation rate. Locals made preparations to brace themselves as violence had followed in the course of previous elections. In a spate of pre-election attacks, a Nigerian senatorial candidate and two drivers were killed last Thursday (Feb 23). Oyibo Chukwu of the Labour Party, his driver and the driver of a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) campaign minibus, were killed in two separate attacks using petrol bombs on their vehicles.
- Seven people were killed as Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall on the eastern Malagasy coast of Madagascar last Tuesday (Feb 21), leaving homes destroyed and thousands displaced. The cyclone then hit the tourist area of Vilankulo in the Inhambane province of Mozambique, last Friday (Feb 24). Up to 183 Mozambicans took shelter in a primary school classroom. There were no reported casualties. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that up to 1.75 million people would be affected by the storm and severe flooding across several African nations. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe braced for the storm, while its education ministry has suspended school in six provinces expected to be affected.
- Nineteen athletes were wounded last Saturday (Feb 25), after multiple blasts at a race in Buea, the Southwestern regional capital of Cameroon. 529 athletes were running up the highest mountain in West and Central Africa as they competed in the Mount Cameroon Race of Hope. The armed wing of Ambazonia Governing Council, a separatist militia group, claimed responsibility for the explosions. Three of the 19 wounded athletes have been operated on, with their conditions stable, with no casualties reported.
- Tunisian police arrested opposition member Jaouhar Ben Mbarek last Thursday (Feb 23), along with most of the main leaders of the National Salvation Front (NSFT). Mbarek, a prominent critic of President Kais Saied, is also the leader of the movement ‘Citizens Against the Coup’. The arrests shocked locals and drew international condemnation, raising fears over a crackdown on government dissent.