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 27 to April 1, 2017
The two-year Brexit process was formally triggered, when the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the European Union (EU) handed a six-page letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk. Prime Minister of the United Kingdom described the departure as “an historic moment from which there can be no turning back“, while Mr. Tusk said it was not a “happy day” for him or the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel “snubbed [Mrs. May’s] call for negotiations … to run alongside talks on defining their future relationship“, while the government of the United Kingdom said it will remove EU law from its statute books in a forthcoming Great Repeal Bill.
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- Former Chadian head of state Hissène Habré was found guilty of “crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture” two years ago in 2016, and success of the trial can be attributed to collaboration between countries and the African Union, cost-effectiveness, and minimal obstruction to the institutional process. Uncertainty over the verdict and compensation, however, persists.
- There is a real possibility of four famines – in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen – breaking out at once and “endangering more than 20 million lives“. If so, this will be one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since the Second World War.
- Somalia is working to vaccinate 450,000 against cholera, a waterborne disease which causes severe watery diarrhoea. “In 2015, the country had 15,619 known cholera cases and 548 deaths [and] this year it has already had over 13,000 cases and 333 deaths“.
- A ferry carrying 80 passengers in Bangladesh capsized, because of strong currents and overloading. At least 12 died.
- Besides the “smog-forming chemicals emitted from power plants, steel factories, and cars“, China will now have to contend with climate change and the stagnant air conditions it causes, if it wishes to improve air quality by reducing regional air pollution.
- From four, to three, to an unsurprising one, in Hong Kong. “A committee dominated by supporters of the Chinese government chose Carrie Lam as Hong Kong’s next leader“. She received 777 out of 1,163 votes, though divisiveness is expected to persist. Last year in November, Beijing also intervened in a local court case without a request from the city’s government or judiciary, and essentially blocked “two politicians from taking seats in the legislature“, over a oath-taking controversy.
- The biggest anti-government demonstrations in years broke out in Russia, “to demonstrate against corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev“. Leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny – who is hoping to channel public discontent into votes against President Vladimir Putin next year – was detained, along with hundreds of other protestors.
- The European Union celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community. Success stories like the European Research Council – which supports basic science – will also be highlighted.
Last year, female workers in Iceland left their workplaces 14 per cent earlier, to protest the gender pay gap. Now, in a country which already has equal pay laws, the government has now introduced “legislation requiring employers to prove they are paying men and women equally“, the first country in the world to do so.
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May formally triggered the Brexit process.
The Middle East
- It is the start of the new school year in Afghanistan, but 3.7 million boys and girls will not be attendance, “because of increased violence, displacement, and poverty“, and this trend will prove to be deleterious for the country in the long run.
- “Hearts-and-minds” aid programmes in Afghanistan bring about useful benefits, but they also have unintended consequences, when “Taliban insurgents target villages where [the] aid projects have gained traction“.
- In Yemen, where there are two separate but overlapping conflicts, Iran is transferring sophisticated arms to the Houthi rebels in the country. These weapons include “so-called kamikaze aerial drone technology“, and is likely to escalate the conflicts.
- A comprehensive negotiated political settlement is elusive, as three million Yemenis remain displaced from their homes.
- Republican leaders in the House of Representatives pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It showed that “Republicans – now in control of the House, the Senate and the presidency – could not band together on a major priority“.
Declaring the end of a “war on coal”, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to review aspects of former President Barack Obama’s climate change strategy, starting with the rolling back of the Clean Power Plan. Mr. Trump’s plan may benefit the coal industry, but not necessarily the workers of the coal industry.
There is a heated debate in Paraguay, on whether former presidents should be allowed to be re-elected. A constitutional amendment is on the way, yet 77 per cent of the country’s citizens are against it.
- Venezuela is still in the middle of a political and economic crisis, though “the Venezuelan nexus between organised crime and Iran’s radical Islamic network [Hezbollah, in particular]“, deserves more attention, especially by the United States.