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 19 to 24, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin may have been re-elected by a landslide with a dominant 76.66 per cent of the vote, thereby extending his rule for another six years, but international headlines were instead dominated by reports of Russian involvement in the United Kingdom (UK) and interference in the United States (US). In the UK, following the nerve-agent attack of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil, Russia expelled 23 British diplomats and closed a British consulate, after the UK had expelled 23 staff at the Russian embassy in London. Despite Brexit, the European Union has rallied together to show solidarity with the UK. In the US, President Donald Trump named special counsel Robert Mueller – who is overseeing an ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections – for the first time in a series of tweets, sparking concerns that he may order the firing of Mr. Mueller.
- 44 African countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, though 10 of the 55 member states of the African Union – including Nigeria and South Africa, two of the continent’s largest economies – did not do so.
- In Kenya, “for every 100,000 births 495 women die“, and complications sustained during unsafe abortions is a major factor. With close to half a million of such unsafe abortions in the country, access to contraceptives and family planning services must be increased.
- A powerful tropical storm in Madagascar – “frequently hit by cyclones and tropical storms” – left at least 20 people dead.
- Islamic extremist group Boko Haram – which had kidnapped 276 Chibok schoolgirls beds in April 2014 – returned nearly all the 110 Nigerian schoolgirls they had kidnapped from a boarding school last month, warning parents to never put their daughters in school.
- Former President of South Africa Jacob Zuma – who was forced to step down in February this year – had corruption charges against him “in a case related to a multibillion-dollar arms deal in the late 1990s” reinstated.
- A week after Chinese delegates at the National People’s Congress voted to approve the removal of term limits for its leader, they formally and unanimously endorsed President Xi Jinping’s second five-year presidential term.
- Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing announced his retirement in May later this year, handing over the reins to his son Victor Li.
- A mortar bomb fired by Pakistani soldiers killed five members of a single family in Kashmir.
- The political crisis in the Maldives has been marked by the declaration and the subsequent extension of a state of emergency, and now the government has “arrested more than 140 activists who defied a ban on rallies and demonstrated against [the] state of emergency”.
- Later in the week, the state of emergency was lifted after former president of the country Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was charged with “terrorism” under state of emergency laws.
- In the Philippines: The crash of a small plane killed 10 people; a fire in a Manila hotel killed three people.
- In response to the decision by the United Kingdom to expel 23 staff at the Russian embassy in London, following the nerve-agent attack of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil, Russia said it will expel British diplomats.
- Russia later announced the expulsion of 23 British diplomats and the closure of a British consulate.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected by a landslide, “extending his rule over the world’s largest country for another six years“. With leading opposition leader Alexei Navalny – who has previously been arrested and detained – barred from the election, Mr. Putin won 76.66 per cent of the vote, with a turnout rate of 67.47 per cent.
- As tensions between Russia and the United Kingdom (UK) continue to rise over a nerve-agent attack of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil, the European Union has rallied together “to show solidarity with the UK“.
- The European Union and the United Kingdom reached a political agreement on the 21-month Brexit transition period, up to December 31, 2020. Before that, Brexit is expected to start on March 29, 2019.
- 16 people drowned off the coast of Greece when a small boat capsized. “Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in Greece and further west in 2015 from Turkey, making the short but precarious crossing“.
The Middle East
- An explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan killed at least two people. The Taliban – which has continued its string of escalated attacks since January this year and which has been offered a peace deal earlier this month – claimed responsibility for the attack.
- A suspected suicide bomber in the city later left at least 29 people dead.
- A helicopter crash in Iraq killed seven American service members. The crash “does not appear to be a result of enemy activity“.
- Turkish forces seized control of the Syrian city of Afrin, as Syria enters its eighth year of civil war. The Kurdish-majority Afrin “has been the target of a two-month Turkish offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia“, the People’s Defense Units or YPG.
- Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who replaced former national security adviser Michael Flynn in February last year, is now out of the White House.
- The Federal Reserve increased interest rates, for the sixth time since 2015.
- The collapse of a bridge in Florida resulted in several fatalities.
- There was a “serial bomber” – said to be responsible for four bombings this month – at large in Texas. The suspect later blew himself up with an explosive device inside his car, “ending a manhunt but leaving investigators scrambling to determine whether any bombs remain and if he acted alone“. Investigators believe that he is responsible for five explosions.
- Within rural Amazonian communities in Brazil, a team of researchers are studying “the challenges faced by Amazonian communities who attempt to coexist with wildlife“, paying particular attention to animal crop raiders.
- The outbreak of yellow fever in Brazil – reported since early-2016 – was initially limited to rural areas, but later spread to urban centres. The government has since worked to vaccinate millions, and it announced plans to vaccinate the entire country by April 2019.
- President of Peru Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned “after political opponents released video and audio recordings” which is said to implicate the president in a vote-buying scheme with politicians in exchange for support during impeachment proceedings last year.