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!
March 13 to 18, 2017
In Europe, in the Netherlands, far-right politician Geert Wilders gained seats in Dutch elections, but failed to “persuade a decisive portion of voters to back his [anti-European Union and anti-Muslim positions]“, and did not drastically cross the traditional threshold. The party of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won the most number of seats, in an election which drew an 81 per cent turnout, the highest in the country for 30 years. Whereas in Asia, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party secured a stunning mandate in the state elections of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in the country, while former South Korean President Park Geun-hye left the Blue House after a court ruling which upheld her parliamentary impeachment, and will be questioned as a criminal suspect.
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- A giant landslide in Ethiopia’s largest rubbish dump killed at least 65 people and flattened dozens of homes.
- The death toll later rose to 113. The government had tried “to close the dump last year
- “, but faced opposition.
- The state of Uttar Pradesh is the biggest factor in India’s upcoming state elections (“if it were a country, it would be the fifth largest in the world in terms of population [with 220 million people]“) and these elections are widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself and the economic policies of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
- The BJP went on to secure 312 of the total 403 seats in the state, “a stunning mandate” for the ruling party.
- South Korea’s impeached ex-president Park Geun-hye left the Blue House and headed for her private home, and the court ruling which upheld a parliamentary impeachment vote has now “removed her presidential immunity to criminal indictment“.
- President of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman – a polarising figure who is the first president to be directly elected, but who has also faced protests for his geopolitical decisions – said he will run for a second term.
- To strengthen defence cooperation, foreign affairs and defence ministers of the European Union (EU) met “to establish a military planning office in Brussels [to] oversee the planning and conduct of military actions undertaken by the EU“.
- French presidential candidate François Fillon “was charged with several counts of embezzlement”, and being under formal criminal investigation should disrupt his candidacy, despite stabilising his standing.
- First minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon also confirmed that she will ask for permission for a second referendum on Scottish independence, so as “to protect Scottish interest in the wake of [the United Kingdom] voting to leave the EU“.
- In the United Kingdom, parliament passed legislation to give Prime Minister Theresa May “the power to start the EU exit process“. Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty is likely to be triggered for formal Brexit by the end of this month.
The Middle East
- Days after a military hospital was attacked in broad daylight, “a suicide bomber rammed a sedan full of explosives into a packed commuter minibus” in Afghanistan, killing at least one person and wounding at least 19 more. While the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria claimed responsibility for the hospital attack, there was no immediate claim for the attack on the minivan.
- A prosecutor in Egypt ordered the release of toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who ceded power in 2011.
- Mosul, Iraq will soon be recaptured, and even though the rout of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the country will be complete, “in the longer term, huge [political and socio-economic] problems remain for [the city]“. And in Syria, the United States is sending an additional 400 troops to prepare for the fight in Raqqa, ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
- In a second mass-casualty attack in Damascus, Syria, a suicide bomber killed at least 30 people.
- A week after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan compared the German withdrawal of permission for political rallies targeted at Turkish residents in Germany to “Nazi practices of the past“, Mr. Erdoğan compared the Dutch to “fascists” and “Nazi remnants”, after the Dutch government barred “the Turkish foreign minister from flying into the Netherlands to campaign on behalf of a referendum that would vastly augment the power of [Mr. Erdoğan]“. French officials allowed a meeting to go ahead.
- Over 17 million people in Yemen are under threat of famine, and “the global humanitarian system is already stretched to the brink with … starvation, disease, and conflict“. The country has been mired in two overlapping conflicts since 2014.
- The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time in three months, from 0.75 to one per cent.
- As part of their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, House Republicans unveiled the American Health Care Act. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported that while the healthcare bill will reduce the federal deficit by S$476 billion over 10 years, 24 million Americans would also lose insurance.
- After President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama – without evidence – of tapping his phones, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the president “used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities”, that he was not referring to wiretaps in his tweets.
- Later, a federal judge in Hawaii halted Mr. Trump’s revised travel ban, with “a nationwide freeze on enforcement“.
- In response to an ongoing yellow fever outbreak in Brazil which could spread to urban centres, the city of Rio de Janeiro is planning to vaccinate its entire population by the end of the year. The outbreak has killed at least 113 people.
- Given institutional weakness in Colombia – with “the major difference in capacity between the national government and local state institutions“, as the former is keen to honour peace agreements and as the latter is too weak to execute orders – the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement between guerillas of former terror group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the Colombian government has been slow. Voters had initially voted against the first version of the peace deal.
- At least 38 people were killed, after a bus drove into a festival crowd in Haiti. The driver “fled the scene on foot“.