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 23 to 28, 2017
One week into his administration – and also days after millions took to the streets to protest his presidency – President Donald Trump has been busy with executive orders: pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, banning foreign aid to groups that counsel women on abortion, reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, indefinitely blocking Syrian refugees and temporarily halting the admission of refugees from elsewhere, and ordering work to begin on a wall on the Mexican border (which Mexico has reiterated, it will not be paying for). For the first time too, the Economist Intelligence Unit demoted the United States from a full democracy to a flawed democracy – a country with free elections but with weak governance, underdeveloped political culture, and low levels of political participation – though Mr. Trump is not entirely to blame.
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- Despite losing an election in December last year, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has refused to step aside. Mr. Jemmeh then declared a state of emergency last week. Senegal first said “that its forces are at the Gambian border and will enter at midnight [last Wednesday] if the veteran president … refuses to relinquish power“, but later this military operation was suspended. Winner of the election Mr Adama Barrow was sworn in a brief ceremony about 240km outside of Gambia, and after final talks Mr. Jemmeh flew out to Guinea, before moving to Equatorial Guinea where he will remain in exile.
- Mauritian Prime Minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth handed power over to his son, but the opposition has rejected this “inheritance” and is now calling for the dissolution of the national assembly and for an early election to be called.
- Against the backdrop of a three-year civil war in South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011, there are now proposals “for outside powers to take over [the country] and run it as [an international] trusteeship until things calm down“.
- A man in Melbourne, Australia deliberately drove into pedestrians, killing three and injuring at least 20.
- Four candidates are now in the race to be Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive: former Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, former Finance Secretary John Tsang, pro-establishment legislator Regina Ip, and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. They will have to secure at least 150 nominations from a 1,200-member election committee, who will then go on to select a winner in March.
- The German cabinet is abolishing the crime of lese majeste. The Bundestag lower house of parliament still has to decide on the law, brought to attention by comedian Jan Böhmermann for reciting an obscene poem about the Turkish president.
- European far-right leaders gathered in Germany “with the aim of strengthening ties between their parties“. They included the German Alternative for Germany, the Dutch Freedom Party, the Freedom Party of Austria, the French Front National, and the Italian Northern League. Key elections are scheduled in France, Germany, and the Netherlands in 2017.
- In Iceland, the use of curfews and sports – radical, evidence-based approaches supported by regular country-wide questionnaires and scientific research – has reduced the rates of drinking, the use of cannabis, and the rate of cigarette smoking.
- An avalanche in Italy left at least 30 people missing. Earthquakes had hit the country in August and November last year.
- “Singapore on steroids” is the liberal vision of a post-Brexit future in the United Kingdom, but negotiations will be tricky. And in response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit speech, that “No deal is better than a bad deal”, most said that it was easier said than done and that Mrs. May “needed to be realistic about the price Britain would pay [for Brexit]“.
- She later added that the government would produce a white paper to detail its plan for leaving the European Union.
The Middle East
- At least 20 firefighters were killed, when a building collapsed in Tehran, Iran.
- Against the resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council, demanding an end to Israeli settlements, Israel approved “a huge new wave of [2,500] settlement construction in the occupied West Bank [against international pressure]“.
- Arranged by Russia and Turkey, the first meeting between Syrian rebel fighters and government officials “in nearly six years of civil war ended abruptly … when diplomatic talks quickly devolved into harsh words and competing accusations“. Revival of the Geneva talks – which will call for a transitional body with full governing powers – appears to be the aim, though Russia may want to replace these talks, and there is also disagreement on whether President Bashar al-Assad should step down.
- An agreement was reached after two days to enforce a fragile partial cease-fire, but “neither the Syrian government nor the rebel fighters … signed [it]“. Continued clashes on the ground have since been observed.
- Billionaire real estate developer and mogul Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States last week, and his Press Secretary Sean Spicer falsely claimed that the president’s inauguration was the largest audience ever. Advisor to Mr. Trump Kellyanne Conway later explained that Mr. Spicer’s comment was based on “alternative facts”.
- Meanwhile, the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, millions took to the streets to demonstrate against his presidency.
- Mr. Trump then pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and banned foreign aid to groups that counsel women on abortion. In addition, pipeline projects the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline were also revived.
- In addition, he “ordered work to begin on planning and building a wall on the Mexican border” through an executive action, though there are doubts over its effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Besides lengthy proceedings involved in financing and the seizure of land, Mexico has reiterated that it will not pay for the wall, and its president is considering cancelling next week’s trip to Washington. He said he regrets the decision by the United States, and cancelled a scheduled meeting next week.
- The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed atop the 20,000-mark for the first time.
- Chile is battling its worst wildfires in recent history, “with historically high temperatures [creating] tinder-dry conditions“.
- More than 1.5 million in Haiti remain food insecure, even though “the number of Haitians facing hunger in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Matthew has declined steadily in the [past] three months“. The hurricane hit the country in October last year.
- The notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, known as El Chapo, was extradited to the United States, “drawing to a close a decades-long quest to prosecute the head of one of the world’s largest narcotics organisations“.