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!
April 10 to 15, 2017
The ramifications of climate change and natural disasters have been felt around the world. In Australia, dismal conditions at the Great Barrier Reef have led to unprecedented levels of coral bleaching, leaving no time for recovery, while in Latin America the countries of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru have suffered the brunt of torrential rains leading to floods and mudslides. Man-made disasters have been no less destructive too. Somalia is on the brink of famine, with more than six million in need of emergency aid. Two church bombings in Egypt killed at least 44 people, with a state of emergency announced thereafter. And demonstrations continue in Paraguay, over a controversy of whether former presidents should be allowed to be re-elected.
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- Islamic extremist group Boko Haram is said to have been crushed in Nigeria, yet “the number of child soldiers has grown alarmingly over the past three years“. In 2017, it has already used 27 children in attacks.
- Somalia – beset with problems of militancy and cholera – is on the brink of famine. More than six million need emergency aid.
- There have been longstanding calls for much-needed reform in South Africa, and in the largest protests in years “tens of thousands of people demonstrated … to demand the resignation of President Jacob Zuma“. President Zuma had dismissed a well-respected finance minister who was regarded as a bulwark against the culture of corruption.
- Conditions at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia have been dismal, and now “back-to-back severe bleaching events have affected two-thirds [of it]“. The proximity and extent of coral bleaching has been unprecedented, with no time for recovery.
- Following the American deployment of an aircraft carrier to the waters off the Korean Peninsula, in response to provocations by North Korea, China and South Korea agreed “to impose tougher sanctions” if further missile tests were conducted.
- There are concerns that growing intolerance will threaten free speech and inquiry throughout the 750 universities in India. These institutions, furthermore, “are now facing drastic cuts in employment and resources“.
- The European Court of Human Rights ruled that transgender people who are changing their names and genders on their birth certificates do not have to undergo mandatory sterilisation. The ruling does not mean immediate legal changes.
- Three explosions went off “near the team bus of Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s top [football] clubs“. One of the club’s players was injured, and a letter claiming responsibility was found near the site of the blasts.
- Following Brexit and the European Parliament setting red lines for the divorce talks, the status of Gibraltar has resulted in the first major dispute. Gibraltar is a non-self-governing territory under British administration which voted to stay in the European Union, but which also rejected “a Spanish proposal for joint sovereignty of [the territory]“.
- The driver of a stolen beer truck ploughed into a crowd in Sweden, killing four and injuring 15.
The Middle East
- A three-month state of emergency was announced in Egypt, after two church bombings which killed at least 44. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “claimed two Egyptian suicide bombers carried out both attacks and threatened further attacks“.
- Elections are scheduled for May 19 in Iran, and hard-line Shiite cleric Ebrahim Raisi has emerged as potentially the most serious challenger to President Hassan Rouhani, who “has disappointed many … with his inability to fix the Iranian economy“.
- Morocco’s King Mohammed VI named a new cabinet, “after six months of post-election deadlock“.
- Last year, it was found out that Wells Fargo had secretly issued credit cards, created fake email accounts, and set up sham accounts. It lost its status as the most valuable bank in the United States, and now an investigation by the board is blaming the “high-pressure sales culture and a retail executive obsessed with stamping out negative views about her division“.
- President Donald Trump ordered “a targeted military strike against an airfield in Syria from which a deadly chemical attack was launched“, last week. American military action is likely to put the country at odds with Russia.
- Later, Russia was accused by the White House of covering up the role of the Syrian government in the attack.
- Senate Republicans voted to end the filibuster of Supreme Court nominations, and with the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch the Supreme Court returns to full strength for the first time in 14 times. The long-term implications, however, are unclear.
- The United States dropped “the mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan, “the largest non-nuclear device it has ever unleashed in combat, on a network of caves and tunnels [used by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria]“.
- In the South American countries of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, torrential rains have wreaked havoc, with floods and mudslides killing and displacing many. Leaders believe “that the rains [and the natural disasters] are linked to climate change“.
- A 12-year-old girl in Costa Rica was raped by her father, but is prevented from having an abortion. The controversy demonstrates weaknesses of the legal and medical establishments, even though women have had the right to abortion since 1970.
- In Haiti, “at least 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers exploited nine children in a sex ring from 2004 to 2007“. Yet because the United Nations (UN) has no jurisdiction over peacekeepers, punishment is left to the contributing countries. Last year, the UN also apologised to Haitians for the loss of life and suffering caused by the country’s cholera epidemic.
- In the past two weeks, in Paraguay, a heated debate on whether former presidents should be allowed to be re-elected led to demonstrations and the setting of the Congress on fire. President Horacio Cartes later called for a national dialogue.