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 20 to 25, 2017
News from Europe makes the headlines this week. In France, in particular, the five presidential candidates faced off for the first time in a three-and-a-half-hour debate, ahead of the first and second rounds of voting on April 23 and May 7 respectively. Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are favoured by polls to make it to the second round. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will trigger the Brexit process next week on March 29, and leaders of the European Union have said that talks should conclude within 18 months. And a ruling by the European Court of Justice – that the banning of Islamic headscarves could happen under certain circumstances – drew sharp criticisms from human rights groups and activists.
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- In a Kenyan town – where “victims of sexual violence [have been] neglected by an inept government and [an] overburdened police force” – Nuria Gollo is the founder of the Marsabit Women’s Advocacy Development Organisation, through which she hopes to bring justice to every victimised woman in her community. She faces personal risks, but continues with her work, nonetheless.
- Namibia celebrated 27 years of independence, and may rank high in governance among other African countries, but its “state-driven economy is a paradise for parasitic and rent-seeking self-enrichment schemes“, with high levels of socio-economic inequality.
- As retaliation against South Korea for the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, or Thaad, by the United States, the country’s hypermarket conglomerate Lotte Group said 80 per cent of its chains in China were suspended.
The Sewol ferry sank in South Korea in 2014. Three years later, it is now lifted from sea.
- A ruling by the European Court of Justice – “that banning Islamic headscarves could happen under certain circumstances when there is an internal company rule which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign, and not when companies pander to the prejudices of their clients” – drew criticisms from human rights groups and activists.
- A man was shot dead by two other soldiers at the Orly airport in Paris, France, after attacking a soldier.
- Five presidential candidates in France faced off for the first time in a three-and-a-half-hour debate, ahead of the first round of voting on April 23. In a “stunning rebuke for France’s two main political parties, the Socialists and the Republicans“, centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are most likely to make it to the run-off on May 7. Republican François Fillon was once favoured to win, but he has been charged for embezzlement and is under formal criminal investigation.
- Thousands of demonstrators in Spain rallied “to oppose a push by the regional government of Catalonia to break away“. The demands for autonomy are fuelled by Spain’s poor economic performance and the victory of separatist parties in the 2015 local elections.
- The United Kingdom granted its first licence for scientists “to create babies using DNA from three people to prevent women from passing on potentially fatal genetic diseases to their children“. There are, however, concerns about further applications.
- Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May will trigger the Brexit process next week on March 29, after parliament passed legislation two weeks ago. Leaders of the European Union have said “they want to conclude the talks within 18 months“.
- A knife-wielding assailant ploughed into pedestrians in London, the United Kingdom, killing at least four and injuring at least 40. The threat of terrorism has again been emphasised.
The Middle East
- Saudi Arabia launched its inaugural girls’ council, but pictures “showed 13 men on stage, and not a single female“.
- Syrian armed forces fired anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli warplanes, “in what appeared to be the most serious clash between the two militaries since the start of the Syrian civil war six years ago“. A political solution remains elusive.
- Aleppo might have fallen, but the civil war in Syria is far from over. “Syrian insurgents seized several government positions on the outskirts of Damascus“, as political messages of disruption, causing government forces to scramble to repel the attack.
Off the coast of Yemen, more than 30 Somali migrants were killed “when a military helicopter opened fire on their boat“. With the instability in Yemen, the migrants were headed towards Sudan.
- Remember Congress overriding a veto by President Barack Obama for the first time in September last year, to pass a legislation which allows families of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot? Hundreds of families are now doing just that, accusing Saudi Arabia of “raising and providing money to al-Qaeda for terrorist activities“.
- Director of the FBI James Comey confirmed that his agency was investigating “whether members of President [Donald] Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election“, and placing a criminal investigation at the president’s doorstep.
- Mr. Comey also added that he had no information to support Mr. Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. “I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI“, he said.
- The United States “banned passengers from carrying most electronics larger than a cellphone into the cabin on direct flights from eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa“, for both security and business reasons. The order covers nine airlines.
- Allegations that major Brazilian producers “have been selling rotten meat worldwide” prompted President Michel Temer to hold crisis talks and to reassure foreign ambassadors that it is under control. Brazil is a leading exporter of beef and chicken.
- Even with the ascent of President Donald Trump and Mexico’s frustration with his administration, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is paradoxically trying to reverse tenets of the new justice system, to – for instance – “broaden the power of the Mexican government to detain suspects for years before trial [and] enable the police to rely on hearsay in court“.