This roundup covers news summaries across six regions: Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. Wherever possible I draw links to Singapore, but I think it is more important to understand geopolitical developments around the world, to draw attention to meaningful news stories, and to highlight both positive and negative events.
Around the world, I rely primarily on the email newsletters from “The Economist“, “Foreign Policy“, “Muck Rack“, “The New York Times“, “The Wall Street Journal“, and “The World Post“. In Singapore, the weekly digests from the European Union Centre and the Middle East Institute are handy. Do send me recommendations of news outlets or articles too, to jinyao.guan.yin.miao[a]gmail.com!
September 26 to October 1, 2016
The first presidential debate in the United States may have drawn 84 million viewers, and while many thought democratic nominee Hillary Clinton emerged the winner, policy questions – beyond the political platitudes and personal attacks – remain unanswered. A photograph posted by Senator Bernie Sanders on his Twitter page left many wondering what might have been, especially on an Earth with persistent problems: the repatriation of refugees in Kenya and the shutting down of the Calais migrant camp in France, likely military escalation between India and Pakistan, and the never-ending violence in Syria.
So a move to Mars, perhaps? SpaceX founder Elon Musk shared plans for a human mission to planet Mars, though he will need to explain how humans will travel through safe spaceflight, since a SpaceX heavy rocket exploded on the launch pad earlier this month. Or, you can take your pick: The European Space Agency just created “the largest and most accurate 3-D map of our galaxy“.
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- Kenya is repatriating Somalis in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab – at a rate of 1,000 every day, with the help of the United Nations refugee agency, or UNHCR – even though returnees end up living in worse conditions in conflict-torn Somalia, remaining at the mercy of al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist terrorist group al-Shabaab.
- For demolishing historic Muslim shrines in Timbuktu, Mali, Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi – part of an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group – was sentenced by the International Criminal Court to serve nine years in prison. This is “the court’s first prosecution of the destruction of cultural heritage as a war crime“, and also brings attention to the fate of cultural and religious monuments in other conflict areas.
- Human rights non-government organisation Amnesty International reported that Sudan’s government “has carried out at least 30 likely chemical weapons attacks in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January“. The war in Darfur started in 2003, as rebels accused the government of oppressing the non-Arab population, and has since resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
- A maritime border dispute between Australia and Timor Leste in the Timor Sea was taken up by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which is not part of the United Nations system. The PCA made headlines in July earlier this year when it ruled in favour of the Philippines, against China’s claim over the South China Sea.
- Reporting from Hong Kong, the World Health Organisation said that 92 per cent of people around the world breathe “unhealthy air [air as having concentrations of fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, above 10 micrograms per cubic meter]“. Major drivers include inefficient energy use, transportation, and dust storms.
- In response to an attack on an army base on September 18 – which has been blamed on Pakistan – India conducted surgical strikes on suspected militants. Earlier in the week Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised the possibility of military escalation. A conflict over shared water resources under the Indus Waters Treaty, moreover, could escalate tensions between these two nuclear powers.
- President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte “likens himself to [Adolf] Hitler, wants to kill millions of drug users“.
- President François Hollande said France will shut down the migrant camp in Calais – or “the Jungle” – where “as many as 10,000 migrants from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan live in squalor [and who ultimately want to enter Britain]“. These migrants will then be relocated, as the French president continues to draw criticisms for his actions.
- Two improvised bombs at a mosque and at an international conference centre – thought to be installed by xenophobes, ahead of the anniversary of German reunification – exploded in Dresden, Germany. No one was injured.
- Deutsche Bank, Germany’s biggest bank and one of the world’s largest lenders, is facing trouble with the volatility of its share price and a potential fine from the United States Justice Department. The market has reacted badly, and it appears that the German government will not provide bailouts. The European Union also has strict rules on such bailouts.
- A team of international prosecutors led by the Dutch said that “the powerful surface-to-air missile system used to shoot down [Malaysian Airlines plane, MH17] was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night“. A long diplomatic and legal struggle is likely to follow, depending on what the Netherlands does next.
The Middle East
- Three explosions – two suicide bombers and one roadside bomb – killed at least 17 people in Baghdad, Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attacks.
- Former prime minister and president of Israel, Shimon Peres, died on Wednesday. He was 92. “The New York Times” published a balanced, informative obituary, citing Mr. Peres’s biggest breakthrough in 1993, with the Oslo Accords. “He worked out a plan with the Palestine Liberation Organisation for self-government in Gaza and in part of the West Bank, both of which were occupied by Israel“.
- During an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the United States accused Russia of sponsoring “barbarism” in Syria, while Russia said that a peaceful solution to the war would be “an almost impossible task”. In the meantime, airstrikes continue and the death toll rises, with no end in sight for Syrians – especially those in opposition-held Aleppo – to this five-year conflict.
- Most agreed that Hillary Clinton won the first presidential debate against Donald Trump, and “FiveThirtyEight” reckoned that the democratic nominee should therefore gain in the polls. Nearly 84 million American viewers tuned in.
- Congress overrode a veto by President Barack Obama for the first time, allowing families of those killed in the September 11 attacks – in which 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudi citizens – to sue the government of Saudi Arabia. This is also the first congressional override of a veto signed by the president. Some are concerned that this may open the United States government to litigation too.
- The crash of a commuter train into a train station in New York has left at least one dead and dozens injured.
- After four years of negotiations and after five decades of war, a peace accord was signed between the Colombian government and former terror group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Colombians will vote on ratification on October 2.
- “The Economist” urges Colombians to vote for the agreement. “The accord comes after four years of hard talking by an able team of government negotiators … The alternative to the deal is years of further bloodshed“.