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 8 to 13, 2018
For months Myanmar has been under the spotlight for its assault against more than 650,000 Rohingyas – stripped of their citizenship in 1982 – who have been forced to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for her apparent apathy too. This week, as a Rohingya rebel group Myanmar claimed responsibility for an attack on government forces which left three people wounded, the Myanmar military also made a first public admission of its wrongdoing, when it acknowledged that “its security forces and Buddhist villagers killed 10 Rohingya Muslims whose bodies were found in a mass grave in a village in troubled Rakhine state“. And for covering the situation in the Rakhine state, two Reuters journalists were “formally charged with offences under the Official Secrets Act“, facing up to 14 years in prison.
- The collision of a minibus and a truck in Guinea-Bissau, one of the poorest countries in the world, left 18 people dead.
- In Senegal, gunmen opened fire on people gathering firewood in a forest, killing at least 13 people. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, though a separatist group which operates in the region have been fighting for independence since 1982.
- Following a government hike of the prices of staple goods and its introduction of new taxes, protests broke out in Tunisia – also the country where the Arab Spring protests started seven years ago – with police firing tear gas to disperse crowds.
- In an annual report on the state of child rights in Bangladesh – published by a network of non-government organisations – “as many as 28 children [are said to be] murdered and 49 [are said to be] raped” in the country every month. In the face of child abuse cases and child rights violation, child marriage has also come under the spotlight.
- The capsize of a passenger boat in Indonesia killed at least 13 people. This was the second fatal boat accident in a week.
- In a terror attack in Kashmir, four Indian policemen who were on patrol were killed.
- A Rohingya rebel group in Myanmar claimed responsibility for an attack on government forces, which left three people wounded. Last year, the assault against the Rohingyas – forced to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh – was characterised as a genocide in the making. More than 650,000 of them have fled to the neighbouring country since the start of the campaign in late August.
- Following the first formal inter-Korean talks in more than two years, North Korea offered “to send a [high-level] delegation of high-ranking officials, athletes, and a team of taekwondo and art performers to the upcoming Winter Olympics“.
- Seven people were killed in a suicide bomb blast in Quetta, Pakistan.
- Bulgaria took up its first six-month presidency of the European Union, and its self-declared priority include “the future of Europe and its young people, security and stability, and developing the digital economy“.
- The National Health Service in the United Kingdom struggled to cope with a busy winter season – “over 4,700 people were stuck in ambulances for more than an hour while they waited for space in hospital wards“, for instance, during the Christmas week – and Prime Minister Theresa May apologised for delays throughout the healthcare agency.
- In the same week, Miss May carried out a reshuffle of her cabinet, the first since the 2016 general election last year.
The Middle East
- Iran banned the teaching of English in primary schools, with Islamic leaders warning that “early learning of the language opened the way to a western ‘cultural invasion’“. There was no mention of the Iranian demonstrations last week.
- Off the coast of Libya, the sinking of a boat carrying migrants to Europe killed eight people.
- For protesting against austerity measures “that included suspending payment of their utility bills [for royal family members]“, 11 princes in Saudi Arabia were detained. In November last year, 11 princes – including prominent billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal – were arrested in a perceived move to consolidate the power of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
- At least 17 civilians were killed in Syria after a day of government airstrikes. “The latest strikes come as the government steps up its offensive against the country’s last rebel-held areas“, and medical facilities have been hit in these areas.
- The Trump administration reversed two policies from the Obama administration: First, one which made it easier for individual states to legalise pot; second, which limited offshore drilling for oil and gas in waters surrounding the United States.
- With concerns over the fight against terror groups, the United States froze aid and security assistance to Pakistan.
- A group of security experts revealed two security flaws – named Meltdown and Spectre – “that affect nearly all microprocessors“. While the world’s largest tech companies have worked to fix the problems, the computer chips are not completely fixable. Last year in the “WannaCry” ransomware attack, cyber extortionists hit users with software stolen from the United States National Security Agency.
- Extreme hurricanes and wildfires caused $306 (S$408.7) billion in total damage in 2017. The bulk of the damage came from the hurricanes: Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria.
- In Southern California, which was hit by the largest wildfires in the state’s history in December last year, heavy rain has led to mudslides which has killed at least 13 people. Dozens more were injured.
- A Brazilian state, Rio Grande do Norte, declared a state of emergency, after a three-week police strike which has led to an increase in the number of violent crimes. Civil and military police have been on strike because of delayed pay and poor working conditions.
- A gunfight in Acapulco, Mexico – a centre of opium poppy production and vicious gang warfare – left 11 people dead.
- President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro – who has a low approval rating, but who has exploited the opposition’s lack of unity and coordination – cut off his country’s air and sea traffic with the countries of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Mr. Maduro is accusing these three Caribbean countries of “running black markets by siphoning everything from copper to food before selling the items“.