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 1 to 6, 2018
With concerns over rising prices, corruption, and Iran’s interventions abroad, the “Protests Everywhere” anti-government demonstrations have spread spontaneously to several major cities, and current president Hassan Rouhani has insisted that Iranians have the right to protest. Slogans have chanted against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the ruling system of the Islamic Republic. These demonstrations have led commentators to draw comparisons with the unrest in the same country almost nine years ago, which were then prompted by claims that the re-election victory of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was rigged. The crackdown against the protestors then were ferocious, and critics characterised President Barack Obama’s response as “weak”. “The Interpreter” raised four questions that observers should be looking out for: First, the profile of the protestors; second, whether the protests are about systemic opposition or change; third, opinions of the other segments of society; and fourth, the response by Iran’s elites.
In other news, natural disasters and man-made accidents have accounted for fatalities around the world: Fires in India, Mexico, and the United States, road accidents or plane crashes in Australia, Costa Rica, Kenya, and Peru, and a shooting in Egypt.
- Equatorial Guinea said a coup against President Teodoro Obiang Nguema – allegedly “mounted by foreign mercenaries recruited by his political opponents” – was thwarted in late-December last year. The president has been accused of electoral fraud and corruption.
- The government of Ethiopia said it is releasing political prisoners from a notorious prison in its capital, Addis Ababa, before turning the prison into a museum. Rights groups, however, have expressed scepticism over the lack of precision of the announcement.
- A head-on collision between a bus and a lorry in Kenya killed 36 people. About 3,000 people die annually in road accidents in the country, and the death toll for this particular stretch of road has reached 100 this month.
- A train crash in South Africa killed at least four people.
- A seaplane crashed into a river in Sydney, Australia, killing six people. There is now a probe into the cause of the crash, which killed the chief executive of one of the world’s biggest catering firm, Compass Group.
- For defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen in a Facebook post, a Cambodian court ordered exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to pay one million (S$1.34 million). “The conviction comes amid an intense push by Hun Sen’s government to neutralise political opponents and silence critics ahead of an election next year”, and in November last year the Supreme Court of the country dissolved the main opposition party, a move characterised as the “death of democracy”.
- A fire in a multi-storey building in Mumbai, India, killed at least 15 people.
- The capsize of a passenger boat in Indonesia killed at least eight people.
- Nearly 9,000 people were evacuated from Pahang, Malaysia, which was struck by heavy rains and floods. At least two people died.
- The outbreak of a highly pathogenic H5N2 bird flu was reported by Russia. More than 660,000 birds have been culled.
- South Korea proposed a meeting with North Korea on January 9. Issues include North Korea’s potential participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games next month, as well as the country’s nuclear programme.
- Two children were killed in Vietnam, “when a cache of bullets illegally stored at a scrap metal warehouse exploded“.
- The dissolution of the Italian parliament sets the country “on the path to a national election [in March 2018] that could lead to a hung parliament and a period of political turbulence”.
- In Sweden, “where unions are powerful, government support is abundant, and trust between employers and employees runs deep”, 80 per cent of its people – contrary to global trends – hold positive views about robots and artificial intelligence.
The Middle East
- In Egypt, at least nine people were killed after gunmen opened fire at a Coptic Christian church.
- To help tackle “the dangers and funding of terrorism“, the state of emergency in Egypt has been extended for three months. The current state of emergency was imposed in April last year, after two church bombings killed at least 45 people.
- Anti-government demonstrations in Iran – initially against rising prices and corruption – have spread to several major cities. “There is also anger at Iran’s interventions abroad”, and the demonstrations have taken authorities by surprise.
- The protests continued to spread in the week, and the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has laid blame on foreign “enemies”.
- A fire in a five-storey apartment building in New York, one of the city’s worst fire tragedy, killed at least 12 people.
- Freezing temperatures in the North have extended, as the Northeast braced for a “bomb cyclone”. Many flights were cancelled.
- The crash of a private aircraft in Costa Rica left 12 people dead.
- A car crash and fire in Mexico killed 10 people.
- Mexico is one of the deadliest countries for journalists (and for its citizens), and the brazen daylight killing of a journalist in December last year “underscored the blurred-lines nature of how journalism is practiced in much of [the country]“. Journalists often have to work multiple odd jobs, and most – in addition – do not enjoy institutional backing too.
- The plunge of a bus over a cliff in Peru killed at least 36 people. Deadly traffic accidents are common in the country.
- In the same week, the collapse of a Peruvian bridge left 16 people missing. They plunged into a river and were swept away.