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!
January 2 to 7, 2017
In this new year, news from India makes the headlines. India’s Supreme Court, by a four-to-three majority ruling, banned politicians from using religion and caste to win votes. The landmark ruling comes weeks ahead of a crucial election in the Uttar Pradesh state, and in the past political parties – including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP – have not only selected their candidates based on their religion or caste, but have also campaigned over these issues. In Bangalore, Karnataka State Home Minister G Parameshwara blamed young people for “copying the Westerners, not only in their mindset, but even in their dressing”, following reports that women were molested by revellers at New Year celebrations.
And in the United States, the government has been tracking an India-based criminal fraud scheme targeting Americans.
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- Germany and its former African colony, Namibia, are locked in negotiations to recognise and to provide compensation for the genocide between 1904 and 1908. Then, colonial officers studying eugenics developed ideas on racial purity, “and their forces tried to exterminate two rebellious ethnic groups … some of them in concentration camps“.
- South Africa has one of the world’s worst and most unequal education systems, and many of the problems have their roots in apartheid and the extractive nature of political and economic institutions. Public spending is high, but there is “a lack of accountability” and teachers are of abysmal quality. Many hope that embarrassing losses in local polls last year by the ruling African National Congress will spur much-needed reform throughout the country.
- China announced a ban on commerce in ivory by the end of 2017, and this move in the world’s largest ivory market “could deal a critical blow to the practice of elephant poaching in Africa“. Advocates of elephant conservation will now focus on the question of enforcement in China. The United States also ended its domestic ivory trade earlier this year.
- India’s Supreme Court has banned politicians from using religion and caste to win votes. “The country is officially secular but politicians … have been accused of exploiting religion and caste to garner votes“.
- The United States government has been tracking an India-based criminal fraud scheme targeting Americans, and even though a few networks have been brought down, swindlers often quickly turn to other opportunities.
- Following reports that women were molested by revellers at New Year celebrations in Bangalore, India, Karnataka State Home Minister G Parameshwara blamed young people for “copying the Westerners, not only in their mindset, but even in their dressing“. Unsurprisingly, his comments have provoked consternation in the country.
- Police in Austria “are trying to identify a group of foreign men believed to have sexually assaulted 18 women during New Year’s Eve celebrations“. Anti-immigrant sentiments has boosted support for far-right parties.
- Due to a severe outbreak of bird flu in France, about 800,000 ducks and geese will be slaughtered next week to contain the spread of the virus. The move could cost the foie gras industry around S$120 million.
- Following an election in October in which “neither the left, the right, nor the centre had a majority“, Iceland ended the year without a government. This, even after the anti-establishment Pirate Party was invited by the president to form a government, after left and right-wing parties failed to do so.
Director of the European Union (EU) Centre in Singapore, Dr. Yeo Lay Hwee, wrote a neat commentary about key developments and trends in Europe in 2016, on “the rise of populism, right-wing nationalism, and backlash against globalisation due to rising socio-economic inequalities“. The EU has been resilient thus far, but there are even more challenges in 2017.
The Middle East
- Weeks after President Bashar al-Assad regained control of industrial capital Aleppo, Syria, the Syrian government and Russia announced a planned cease-fire with weakened rebel forces. Officials from Iran and Turkey – but not the United States – were also involved in the negotiations. Past cease-fire accords, however, have repeatedly failed.
- Thousands are starting to return to the Eastern parts of Aleppo formerly held by the rebels, though they “face appalling conditions“.
- At least 39 people were killed in a “terror attack” on New Year’s eve, in Istanbul, Turkey. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility. A few weeks ago in December last year, two explosions in the country killed at least 38 people.
- After announcing that the United States was preparing expanded economic sanctions and diplomatic measures against Russia, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian officials said to be “spies posing as diplomats and [intelligence operatives]“. These have been described as the strongest American actions against alleged state-sponsored cyber-attacks.
- Later, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said he would not retaliate against these decisions. He is “betting on improved relations with the next American president“, and the surprise announcement was meant to portray Mr Putin as a wise leader.
- House Republicans voted to weaken the non-partisan ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics, “giving lawmakers greater control over an independent body charged with investigating their behaviour“. Under pressure from the President-elect Donald Trump and others, the House Republicans later reversed course.
- Described as “the biggest massacre” ever committed at a prison in the state, a 17-hour riot in a prison in Brazil left at least 60 dead, many of whom were decapitated. Fighting had erupted between two gangs, and the violence reflect broader problems about gang controls, the justice system in the country, and the need for greater prison capacity.
- El Salvador is one of six countries where abortion is banned under all circumstances, and “the strict laws and lack of alternatives have fuelled an underground abortion economy” and made it hard for health workers.