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!
December 12 to 17, 2016
The fall of Aleppo, Syria, to Syrian government forces marks a turning point in the conflict within the country, and President Bashar al-Assad now has control over all of Syria’s most important cities. The city of Idlib remains the final stronghold of the Syrian rebels, though “it has nowhere near the economic weight or urban population that Aleppo offered[,] and it is already home to a large, displaced population“. Around the world, political leaders continue to face challenges. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been impeached, but the process might take a long time. Dutch far-right Geert Wilders was convicted of inciting discrimination and of insulting a group. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been under fire for perceived mismanagement of the economy.
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- The giraffe – found mostly in Southern and Eastern Africa – is threatened with extinction, with its population declining by 40 per cent over the past three decades. Poaching and the loss of habitat are the biggest threats.
- A church in Nigeria collapsed, killing as many as 50 worshipers.
- The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria might have achieved a number of symbolic victories in sub-Saharan Africa, “but it has failed to displace al-Qaeda as the continent’s premier jihadi franchise“.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in Japan, with the dispute over four islands at the bottom of the Kurile chain a focus. According to “The Economist“: “Japan demands the four southernmost islands back. The Soviet Union offered to hand over the two smallest of them, Habomai and Shikotan, if Japan gave up its claim to the others. But Japan refused to do so. The impasse endures to this day“.
- A report published by the World Anti-Doping Agency provided substantial evidence for Russia’s sports doping programme – among the most sophisticated in sports history – implicating “more than 1,000 athletes in over 30 sports“. The evidence includes email correspondences, documents, laboratory analysis, and forensic analysis of doping samples.
- South Korean President Park Geun-hye has been impeached, and it is now up to the Constitutional Court to decide whether to remove her permanently. The shadowy influence of long-time confidante Choi Soon Sil – and daughter of a cult-like religious group – partly explained the displeasure of the people, though at the same time the impeachment is also seen by some as “a judgement against the conservative party and the post-Cold War order that has maintained power in South Korea for so many years“.
- The Lithuanian army considers hosting of a NATO battalion to be a “priority”, to “withstand the double-whammy of an aggressive Russia and a new American president whose commitment to European allies has been lukewarm, at best“.
- Far-right politician Geert Wilders – who has adopted the campaign slogan “Make the Netherlands Great Again”, ahead of elections next year – was convicted of inciting discrimination and of insulting a group, “for saying that the Netherlands would be safer with fewer Moroccans“. The trial, however, seems to have improved his party’s standing.
- A report released in the United Kingdom said “hundreds of officers and other employees of the police … have used their power to sexually abuse vulnerable people“. 334 police employees, including 306 officers, are said to be involved.
The Middle East
- In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been under fire for perceived mismanagement of the economy, and the Copts – the region’s largest minority, constituting about 10 per cent of the country’s population – “now feel that the president has failed to deliver on the promise of equality he made three years ago“.
- With warnings from President-elect Donald Trump that he would dismantle the international nuclear agreement with the country and further pressure from hardliners at home, Iran is signing deals with big Western oil and gas companies. Iran wants to return to its 2011 oil production level of 4.3 million barrels a day. It stands at 3.7 million now.
- Syrian government forces have retaken large parts of rebel-held neighbourhoods in Eastern Aleppo, and this turning point will cement “government control over all of Syria’s most important cities“. Russia, Turkey, and Syrian rebel groups “announced that they had agreed to evacuate all of the remaining fighters to rebel-held territory, with civilians free to join them or move to government-held areas“.
- Two explosions in Turkey killed at least 38 people. No group immediately took credit for the attack, though the choice of target [the police] “was in line with the types of attacks that have been carried out by Kurdish militants“.
- The Central Intelligence Agency released a report saying that Russia had intervened in the United States presidential election, but President-elect Donald Trump dismissed these conclusions.
- The election of President-elect Donald Trump is leading to “the strongest the pro-life movement has been since 1973“.
- The Federal Reserve increased its key interest rate by 0.25 per cent, “just the second time in a decade that the Fed has raised rates“. Millions of Americans will be affected by this rate hike.
- Following an announcement in September this year that 500 million of its user accounts were hacked in 2014, Yahoo now says that “data from more than one billion user accounts [were] compromised in August 2013“.
- Even though the World Health Organisation has declared an end to the Zika emergency, the long-term effects have yet to be seen. In Colombia, cases of microcephaly – the rare birth defect associated with the Zika virus – “were four times higher this year than last“. The number of cases in Brazil is even higher.
- There has been a surge in homicides in Mexico, with 17,063 cases in the first 10 months of this year, “already more than last year’s total and the highest 10-month tally since 2012“.