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!
December 19 to 24, 2016
It is the Christmas weekend, but there is not a lot of cheer around the world. Germany was rocked by a truck ploughing through a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing at least 12 people, while Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was assassinated. There were also deaths in Latin America: in Mexico, where at least 22 were killed in an explosion at a fireworks market, and in Peru, where at least 12 police officers were killed when their bus plunged off a cliff. And in Russia, where millions of Russians drink surrogate alcohol – such as perfume and window cleaner – as cheap substitutes for alcohol, the worst case of mass poisoning has seen at least 58 people dead as a result of drinking bath oil. And in a tweet, President-elect Donald Trump called for nuclear capabilities to be strengthened.
Hardly a Merry Christmas, this season.
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- Outgoing Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, one of the most repressive leaders in West Africa, was defeated in his bid for re-election, but he has refused to step aside. The United Nations Security Council reiterated its call for him “to transfer power … in a peaceful and orderly manner“.
- Internally displaced persons in Nigeria are returning home, but nearly 1.8 million people remain displaced.
- African island nation Sao Tome has cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan. “The move means only 21 countries and governments, including Swaziland and Guatemala, still maintain official ties with Taiwan“.
- India has overtaken the United Kingdom to be the world’s sixth largest economy by gross domestic product. Earlier this year in February, it also surpassed China as the world’s fastest growing economy.
- A cyberforgery ring in Russia has created more than half a million fake Internet users and 250,000 fake websites, in what has been described as the most profitable bot operation. By impersonating news and content publishers, the ring stole “advertising revenue that marketers intended to run on those sites“.
- Described as the worst case of mass poisoning in modern Russian history, at least 58 people have died as a result of drinking bath oil. Up to 12 million Russians drink “surrogate alcohol” such as perfume, after shave, anti-freeze, and window cleaner, seen as cheap substitutes for alcohol across the country.
- The European Union has extended sanctions against Russia for the latter’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, yet “the economic penalties pack a much bigger hit to European trade than to American trade with Russia“.
- Head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde has been found guilty of criminal charges “linked to the misuse of public funds dating to her time as France’s finance minister“. No punishment was meted out, but her position at the IMF and the IMF’s responsibilities are now under greater scrutiny.
- A truck ploughing into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, Germany killed at least 12 people. The country’s interior minister said it looked like an attack, and the nationality of the suspected driver is unclear. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility, and far-right politicians are pinning the blame squarely on Chancellor Angela Merkel – who seeks a fourth term next year – and her immigration policies.
- In Romania, former minister of regional development but relative unknown Sevil Shhaideh was nominated to be the country’s next prime minister. If she wins approval from the president and Parliament, “she will be both the first Muslim and the first woman to hold the post“.
The Middle East
- Egypt said that explosive traces had been detected on the bodies of passengers retrieved from EgyptAir Flight 804, “which plunged into the Mediterranean Sea in May [earlier this year] and killed all 66 people on board“.
- 81-year-old Michel Aoun was chosen President of Lebanon in November this year, after a two-and-a-half-year vacuum in political leadership under a caretaker government, and he has just announced – together with Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri – that a new government of 30 ministers “drawn from all sides of the country’s political spectrum and from all of its religious sects” has been formed.
- Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, a veteran career diplomat, was killed in a gun attack. Both Turkey and Russia, however, have said that this assassination would not derail their yearlong reconciliation, as they continue diplomatic talks on Syria’s future.
- President Bashar al-Assad has regained control of Syria’s industrial capital Aleppo, a week after his government forces retook large parts of rebel-held neighbourhoods. This seizure has been described as a “turning point“.
- Self-radicalised white supremacist Dylann S. Roof, for killing nine black parishioners last year, was found guilty of federal hate crimes. He wrote that he had mounted the attack “because no one else would take a stand against what he perceived as an epidemic of black-on-white crime and the relegation of white Americans to second-class status“. He is separately charged for murder too.
- Facebook is trying to counter the spread of fake news, and has detailed seven areas of action, including working with fact-checking groups, warning users, and letting users report misinformation on their services.
- A Chinese warship seized an underwater drone deployed by the United States in the South China Sea. “The seizure will add to concerns about China’s increased military presence and aggressive posture [in the region]“. Later, China returned the drone.
- President-elect Donald Trump called for the United States to greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capabilities. His comments came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin said it needed to bolster its military nuclear potential.