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 29 to February 3, 2018
In the past two weeks, there has been three terror attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan – a hotel siege, an attacker driving an ambulance packed with explosives, and an attack on a military academy – killing more than a hundred people. Taliban claimed responsibility for the first two violent attacks, while the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the third. A “BBC” study found that Taliban threaten 70 per cent of Afghanistan, with “more than 8,500 civilians were killed or injured in the first three-quarters of 2017”. The Afghan government has accused Pakistan of supporting the Islamist militants behind these attacks, and the escalation of violence has also been traced to President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend almost a billion dollars in security assistance to Pakistan in early-January. Pakistan has been criticised for not doing enough against the Taliban and ISIS, which “use sanctuaries … to launch attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan”.
Mr. Trump, however, made no specific mention of Pakistan at his inaugural State of the Union address, but did say that in the future foreign assistance from the United States “will only go to America’s friends”.
- The roots and leaves of cassava are “a staple food for more than 500 million people in Africa each day“, where half of the world’s cassava output is produced too. Cassava, however, is also vulnerable to viruses and other plant diseases. As opposed to the traditional disease identification, a research group has turned to smartphones and apps instead.
- In South Africa, 950 gold miners were trapped after a power outage, which prevented lifts from operating.
- Tunisians have been protesting after a government hike of staple goods and the introduction of new taxes, though fundamental concerns over “the government’s broader agenda, such as job creation, tackling regional inequality, and corruption” persist.
- Three Cambodians on forest patrol were gunned down “after seizing a chainsaw from illegal loggers“. Investigations are underway.
- A former moderate leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests in Hong Kong, Agnes Chow, was banned “from standing as lawmaker in upcoming elections“. The pan-democratic camp has also been disqualified from six seats it had won in September 2016.
- In India, a minibus plunged into a river, killing at least 13 people.
- Protestors gathered in Russia to protest against the lack of choice in the upcoming March elections. These protests were called by leading opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been barred from the election and has previously been arrested and detained.
- Voters in Catalonia voted in a referendum to secede from Spain, and separatist or pro-independence parties held on to their narrow majority in the regional parliament after fresh elections in December last year. Now, Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont has been “formally nominated as the candidate for the regional presidency“, even though he remains in self-imposed exile.
- With 51.6 per cent of the vote, President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman won a second five-year term, defeating the pro-European Union (EU) academic Jiří Drahoš. Mr. Zeman “has taken a tough stance on immigration” and is also lukewarm toward the EU.
- Ahead of the 55th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty between France and Germany – “a landmark of post-war reconciliation and cooperation between the two countries“, in 1963 – French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel affirmed strong Franco-German relations, declared a determination to deepen cooperation, and also committed to move ahead with European Union integration.
- In Paris, France, the overflowing Seine river left streets flooded, and forced the closing of the lower level of the Louvre Museum.
The Middle East
- At least 95 people were killed, when “an attacker driving an ambulance packed with explosives detonated them” in Kabul, Afghanistan. This comes just one week after a hotel siege in the same city, when at least 22 people were killed.
- Then, at least 11 soldiers were killed, when at least five militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria attacked a military academy in the same city. “The recent brutal attacks have underscored the weaknesses of Afghan security forces“.
- A fossil discovered in Israel – of an ancient upper jawbone – “indicates modern humans may have left Africa as much as 100,000 years earlier than previously thought“. Previously the oldest fossils found outside Africa was dated to be 90,000 to 120,000 years old.
- In July last year, Congress passed legislation to impose sanctions on Russia. President Donald Trump then signed it reluctantly in August. But this week the Trump administration said “it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia“.
- GPS data shared by exercise tracking company Strava is raising security and military concerns, for revealing “locations and activity of [United States] military bases [as well as the] jogging and patrol routes of American soldiers“.
- A false alert went out in Hawaii two weeks ago, warning of an imminent missile attack. It was previously said that the alert was sent out accidentally, but it has been revealed that the worker thought the state was really under attack.
- President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address, focusing on the economy and his immigration plan.
- A shootout at a nightclub in Brazil killed at least 14 people.
- A criminal conviction against former President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was upheld by an appeals court, rendering him ineligible to run in the country’s presidential elections in October.
- At least three police officers were killed by a bomb attack in Colombia. Crime gangs are said to be responsible for the attack.
- Despite the irregularities associated with the election results in Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn in for his second term. There were “violent clashes between police and protesters who insist [Mr.] Hernandez was not legitimately elected“.
- For the first time in Mexico’s history, voters could potentially vote for independent candidates with no party affiliation. For these independent aspirants to make it onto the ballot, they have to “obtain 866,593 valid signatures from at least 17 of Mexico’s 32 states” using the government’s new smartphone app. yet there are concerns over the app’s usability and the exclusion of rural voters.