Week #18 (07-13/10/2019)
AFRICA & THE MIDDLE EAST
Pop star and leading opposition figure in Uganda, Bobi Wine, has made a dramatic escape after his home were barricaded by police and security forces. Wine was due to hold a concert at Busabala to commemorate Uganda’s Independence Day, which turned 57 on Wednesday (10/10), and the barricade was allegedly intended to stop him from performing. Later the Inspector General of Policy, Martins Okoth Ochola, revealed that the police had cancelled Wine’s music show on the grounds that it did not make sufficient preparatory plans for traffic control, medical care, and crowd control.
Nigeria is struggling (10/10) to deal with mental illness that have plagued one in four of its citizens, being hampered by tight budgets and a lack of skilled staff. Dire budget and staffing shortfalls have caused doctors to go on strike, leave the country, or even quit the medical profession altogether. As of now, there are only eight neuropsychiatric hospitals in the country.
For the first time in decades, thousands of Iranian women can freely attend a football match (11/10). Iran’s restriction that barred female spectators from entering football and other sports stadiums was lifted after FIFA threatened to suspend the country. Sahar Khodayari’s case, which set herself ablaze after finding out that she could face a two-year jail sentence for attempting to enter a stadium dressed as a boy, has prompted FIFA to pressure Iran to allow women attend all games without restriction. However, Tehran has yet to announce whether women will be granted unrestricted access to all matches.
Tens of thousands of civilians evacuated as Turkish forces pressed ahead (11/10) with its assault against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the northern Syria. The SDF is spearheaded by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey classifies a “terrorist organization”, a major threat to its security. Aid agencies estimated the attack would put at risk 450,000 people who live near the area. The Turkish defense ministry said that 174 “terrorists’ had been killed in the operation dubbed ‘Operation Peace Spring’”.However, Turkey’s attempt to “ethnic cleansing” the Kurdish might backfire and lead to the Islamic State (IS) regrouping. The SDF has been in charge of holding more than 12,000 suspected IS members. But Turkey’s offensive on Syria has shifted the SDF’s priority and they are no longer able to guarantee the security of the IS members they have detained. In fact, Kurdish authorities claimed (13/10) that “almost 800 relatives of foreign IS members have escaped”.
The government of Kazakhstan announced on Monday (7/10) that they have agreed to pilot an “open skies” aviation policy. The new policy will be enforced in nine cities—including Nur-Sultan or previously Astana that has adopted the policy in 2017—and is expected to promote ease of access to and rules for national airports for foreign airlines; to increase competition and see a drop in ticket prices; and to boost passenger traffic to the Caspian countries. Despite having more than 20 national airlines operating in the country, only four that really compete for the domestic market of commercial aviation, namely Air Astana, SCAT, Bek Air, and Qazaq Air. Exorbitant ticket prices have prompted investigation into Air Astana and SCAT over a perceived abuse of a dominant or monopoly position. Additionally, the government has also planned to introduce the “fifth freedom” flight that will permit an airline to sell tickets on standalone city-to-city routes in countries in which they otherwise would not be able to operate.
As Thailand and Indonesia wrested control over natural resources from foreign companies, some fear (12/10) that the strategy could backfire and lead to declines in production and investment, thus making Asia more vulnerable to energy crisis. Some of the reasons are due to skepticism over the state-owned companies’ expertise to handle the take over from established international companies. The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, forecasts Asia will only be able to meet 63% of its energy by 2050, down from 72% in 2016. Similarly, the group of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s ability to meet its energy demand, with bleaker outlook, is expected to plummet to 66% from 117% over the same period.
Reviewed by The Economic Times (12/10), The World Bank’s 2019 report shows a slowdown trend on South Asia’s economic growth. The region in overall is expected to experience a decline of economic growth from 7% last year to 5.9% in 2019. Likewise, India is projected to fall to 6%; Pakistan to deteriorate further to 2.4%; and Sri Lanka to soften to 2.7%. Meanwhile other countries will see an increase such as Afghanistan (estimated 2.5% in 2019), Bangladesh (8.1%), Bhutan (to 7.4%), Maldives (5.2%), and Nepal (6.5%). “As global and domestic uncertainties cloud the region’s economic outlook, South Asian countries should pursue stimulating economic policies to boost private consumption and beef up investments,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank Vice President for the South Asia Region. A slight rebound in investment and private consumption could potentially jumpstart the region’s growth to 6.3% in 2020.
Hong Kong’s Kowloon Tong metro station was bombed (13/10) as hundreds of protesters marched through the streets in Kowloon to protest against face-mask ban. Not only the bombing has seriously damaged the station, protestors have also targeted China banks and shops with perceived links to China, as well as smashed a Starbucks outlet. The mass demonstration has caused many shops to shut early to avoid becoming a target of protesters, and due to closures of the damaged metro.
AUSTRALIA & OCEANIA
Australia’s advocates warned (09/10) that the proposed religious discrimination bill would prevent women to receive the healthcare they need, especially in the case of reproductive health procedures such as abortion or getting contraception and morning after pill. National Secular Lobby ambassador Fiona Patten gave examples of healthcare practitioners who refused to treat a woman due to their religious belief, “Consider a midwife, refusing to deliver a single mother’s baby. A rural pharmacist refusing a teenage girl’s prescription for the pill. Or a Christian nurse simply refusing to treat a Muslim. Bizarrely, the bill does not offer non-religious health practitioners the same right, even though they may hold the same belief.” These women who are denied healthcare services on religious grounds are forced to find someone who is willing to provide the care they need. It means that they have to spend more money travelling and are delayed to receive the care. The bill, however, gained big support from the Australian Christian Lobby, whilst attorney general Christian Porter wished to find “an acceptable middle ground”.
Labor MPs rejected (10/10) a new free trade agreement with Indonesia that is at odds with the party's official platform. Although the party has made similar agreement with Hong Kong and Peru, their indication to enabling the legislation for the Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) might cause a fierce debate in the parliament next week. However, before supporting the agreement to go through the parliament, Labor has told to the union leaders that it would try to negotiate changes and make the agreement Australia’s national interest.
One of New Zealand’s biggest supermarket chains, Countdown, will introduce (09/10) “quiet hour”on their stores nationwide on Wednesdays from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. During the quiet hour, “Lighting will be dimmed, in-store radios turned off, checkout volumes lowered, trolley collection and shelf-stocking kept to a bare minimum, and no PA announcements broadcast except in emergencies,” explained general manager Kiri Hannifin. The action, initiated by an employee with an autistic son and was tested in selected stores, was taken to provide a safe weekly shopping space for people with autism or anxiety issues, as well as older people who enjoy quiet and peaceful environment. Autism New Zealand’s chief executive Dane Dougan was “thrilled” because the step would “make meaningful differences” for people dealing with autism.
King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden stripped (07/10) five of his seven grandchildren of royal status, releasing them from performing royal official duties.The only two grandchildren who got to keep their royal status are the children of Crown Princess Victoria: Princess Estelle and Prince Oscar. The decision was made to keep annual budget in control since the growing royal family can be expensive to pay for. The King’s younger children, Prince Carl Philip and Princess Madeleine supported the decision and stated that their children, despite losing access to taxpayer funds and will no longer be addressed as His or Her Royal Highness, would have “a greater opportunity to shape their own lives”. The five children, however, are still considered as royal family members and can keep their duke and duchess titles.
Ahead of Poland’s Sunday’s vote, the head of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), JarosławKaczyński, who is notoriously known for accusing Middle Eastern migrants of bringing “parasites and protozoa” to the country on his election campaign in 2015, is now attacking the LGBT+ rights as “threat to traditional Polish families and values” (08/10). Kaczyński is not the only one targeting the LGBT+ communities. The Catholic Church also denounced the rights of LGBT+, with the Archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski, named “LGBT lobby” and “gender ideology” threats to Polish freedom.
After postponing the announcement of the winner for the Nobel Prize for Literature last year due to conflict-of-interest rules breaching and a sexual assault committed by Jean-Claude Arnault, the Swedish Academy finally awarded (10/10) the 2018 and 2019 prizes to Poland’s Olga Tokarczuk and Austria’s Peter Handke respectively. Described by the media as “one of her generation’s most successful writers”, Tokarczuk is an activist as well as a decorated author who is “deeply inspired by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung”. Whereas Handke is infamous for being a controversial author who opposed NATO bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War in the ‘90s.
As doubt over the United Kingdom’s (U.K.) Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to secure a deal with the European Union(EU) grows, pro-remain MPs are confident (12/10) that they can secure a second Brexit referendum with cross-party support. Pro-referendum MPs are also looking for alternatives that can be the basis for a second referendum. Johnson is required to ask for an extension to U.K. membership until January 31 should he fail to secure a deal with the EU by October 19.
Liberal Gergely Karácsony beat (13/10) ruling party incumbent IstvánTarlós in Budapest mayoral race. Besides Karácsony, other opposition mayor candidates are projected to win in 10 of Hungary’s 23 largest cities, in contrast with the 2014’s election where only three opposition mayors won. Despite suffering another defeat, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party are predicted to still have a grip on national power and continue with their fierce anti-migrant policies.
LATIN AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN
Fuel shortages and worsening inflation have caused weeks of mass demonstrations in Haiti, demanding President Jovenel Moïse’s resignation. The public unrest is further inflamed with the death of Néhémie Joseph, a prominent journalist who had covered demonstrations. Joseph was found dead in his car in the town of Mirebalais with gunshot wounds on his body—previously he said he was threatened by politicians. As tension escalated, on Friday (12/10) protestors attempted to reach the president’s house and forced through a cordon, but the police managed to drive them back by firing into the air and using tear gas. Meanwhile, earlier this year Moïse rejected calls for his resignation, saying he would not leave the country in the “hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers”.
Reported in Aljazeera (11/10), in contrast to last year’s relatively peaceful presidential election, the Colombia’s 2019 local and regional elections have seen spate of violence that has been worsening since campaigning began on June 27. Seven candidates have been killed and more than 60 others attacked in the lead up the October 27 election. The signing of the landmark 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) makes no difference as violence is still rampant.
THE UNITED STATES (U.S.) & CANADA
The White House announced (07/10) that President Donald Trump, against the recommendations of top officials in Pentagon and the State Department,has agreed to Turkish military operation in northern Syria. Consequently, the Turkish might clash with the Kurdish forces that has been the United States’ (U.S.) most reliable ally in fighting the Islamic State (IS). Turkey has long seen the Kurdish fighters as a terrorist group and therefore wish the U.S. to end their support for the group. Trump’s abrupt decision to shift the policy on Syria and pull back of 100-150 U.S. military personnel from northeast Syria is feared to reverse the counterterrorism gains achieved in fighting IS and jeopardise the U.S.-Kurds relationship.
As Turkey launched (09/10) its military offensive—named Operation Peace Spring—into northeast Syria, Trump disavowed the Kurds whilst insisting that the U.S. “does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea” and that the invasion is a “historical inevitability” since the Turkish and Kurds “have been fighting each other for centuries”. Trump also downplayed the U.S.’ alliance with the Kurds by saying, “They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy for example. They’re there to help us with their land.” His remarks angered (10/10) Republicans, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, who usually is a staunch supporter of Trump, working together with Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen to place sanctions on Turkey, including banning all military business and transactions between the two countries. Analysts and lawmakers also remarked that Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds would make the U.S. seems “untrustworthy or transactional” and thus making it harder for the U.S. to build future alliances.