Week #20 (21-27/10/2019)
AFRICA & THE MIDDLE EAST
The Wall Street Journal reported (21/10) that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria has been using video platform TikTok to spread ISIS propaganda to young audiences. Targeting potential future fighters, the videos displayed ISIS fighters with guns and corpses, as well as ISIS songs and women referring themselves as “jihadist and proud”. A TikTok spokesperson said (22/10) that the company uses combination of human moderators and artificial-intelligence software to ban any accounts or associated devices that promote terrorism, but the effort is not always successful.
Turkish forces along with their allied Syrian rebels have been accused (24/10) by the Kurds in northeast Syria of breaching ceasefire. Assadiya, Mishrafa, and Manajer—three villages south of Ras al-Ain—have been attacked by the Turkish soldiers. The attacks prompted Mazloum Abdi, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to urge the U.S. and Russia to “rein in the Turks”. Meanwhile, the SDF forces have started to withdraw from the Turkish border following a deal between Russia and Turkey that requires the Kurds to pull back at least 30 kilometers by Tuesday.
The protests in Lebanon have entered (22/10) its fifth day despite Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s promises of reforms and Sunday’s government ministers’ resignation. Chants asking for a revolution and the fall of the regime could be heard from the protesters across Beirut, showcasing the protesters’ distrust of Hariri’s words. The Lebanese President Michel Aoun pleaded with the protesters on Friday (25/10) to back Hariri’s economic reforms as “the first step toward saving the country from economic collapse”. Yet, the protesters still rejected calls for dialogue, leaving the country with no solution. To mark the eleventh day of the protest (27/10), tens of thousands of Lebanese protesters formed a 170-kilometer human chain from Tripoli in the north to Tyre in the south, bringing together people from all religious backgrounds.
In the wake of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition government, ex-military chief Benny Gantz has been entrusted (24/10) with the same task. Gantz became the first person besides Netanyahu to be given such instruction since 2009. He now has 28 days to complete his task. Otherwise, the Israeli parliament is allowed to find a third candidate to do the job and avoid another election.
Zimbabwe has traded(24/10) up to 30 young elephants to reputedly China, drawing criticism from animal welfare groups on the basis that the animals could be traumatized. Responding to its critics, Zimbabwe’s National Parks reasoned that the money is required to dig wells to provide water for other wildlife in Hwangi National Park during the drought season. A law banning African elephants to be sold outside the continent was passed in August but has not yet been ratified.
Reported in Nikkei Asian Review (25/10), Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore are racing to adopt more drones into their future industries, to enhance productivity and improve processes. Malaysia especially is jockeying to become the test-bed for companies who wish to develop drone industry in Southeast Asia. Previously the Malaysian government has pitched the idea to corporations from the U.S. and Europe. Malaysia is considered ideal for testing ground due to the country’s diverse geography and varied terrain.
A bitter exchange (26/10) between India and Pakistan tinged the 18th Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) Summit held at Baku, Azerbaijan. Pakistan called India’s actions on Jammu and Kashmir illegal, immoral, and ethical. In turn, India responded by describing Pakistan as the contemporary epicenter of terrorism. Earlier on Thursday (24/10) India’s Union Minister Jitendra Singh said that the day would perhaps come when India could unfurl its flag at Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have entered (26/10) its 21st weekend and become increasingly violent with two protesters shot and a police officer slashed. Government’s effort to quell dissidents has been so far ineffective. Reported earlier in the same week, the Chinese government has considered replacing Carrie Lam to attenuate public unrest by early next year. Hong Kong’s political activism has inspired other protesters from around the globe, including Spain, Chile, Lebanon, and Iraq who fight for issues around economic inequality, regional issues, and corruption. Meanwhile, on the financial market, Hang Seng Index has dropped 8.6% in the last quarter and will likely signal a technical recession.
Taiwan has just celebrated its annual Pride on Saturday (26/10), and it’s the largest march ever held in East Asia. Being the first Pride since the country legalized gay marriage, more than 200,000 people crowded the country’s capital, marching through the streets toward the Presidential Office. The government has shown their support through a message in the foreign ministry’s Facebook page. On the day, a group of about 50 people chanted that Taiwan’s homosexuals support Hong Kong. A marcher also said that he would vote for Tsai Ing-Wen because she has guarded Taiwan’s sovereignty and supported the gays.
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has visited Kabul, Afghanistan, and has met Sayed Hamid Gailani, leader of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, to discuss the country's recent presidential elections and peace efforts. He is also confirmed to have met President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday (26/10). It was Khalilzad’s first visit since talks between the U.S. and Taliban collapsed last month. Earlier Khalilzad has held a meeting with representatives of China, Russia, and Pakistan to restart peace talks on ending Afghanistan’s 18 year-old-war.
AUSTRALIA & OCEANIA
Stephen F. Russell, the headmaster of prestigious Catholic boys school St. Kevin’s College apologized (22/10) after his students were filmed singing a sexist chant on a tram in Melbourne, Australia. The chant includes “disgusting” lyrics of “I wish that all the ladies; Were holes in the road; And if I was a dump truck; I’d fill them with my load”. Russell said he was “upset, angry, and frustrated” and has the boys involved disciplined. Also reported from Melbourne, a national plan to tackle climate change impacts on agriculture, as well as to increase the sector income to $100 billion by 2030, has been approved (25/10) by federal, state, and territory agriculture ministers, including Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud. A meeting regarding the national plans was scheduled to be held twice a year. The federal government warned that the next meeting on the drought policy will “require heavy lifting from the states”.
Extinction Rebellion activists were accused of deploying “locking devices in a dangerous manner”, leading the Queensland parliament to pass (24/10) laws which allow police to take severe measures against suspected activists. The opposition Liberal National Party (LNP) proposed more extreme amendments that include prison time for second protest offenses and criminalizing a gathering of three or more people who are suspected to cause disruption. LNP’s proposal was rejected, giving an advantage to the Labor government whose amendments are “relatively moderate”. MPs gave almost unanimous support to the controversial bill, with the Greens MP Michael Berkman becoming the only one against it.
The Australian Ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey has volunteered (24/10) to help American President Donald Trump in an investigation aimed at discrediting the Mueller inquiry. Additionally, the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Frances Adamson has been appointed to be the main contact in Canberra regarding the Barr inquiry. Whilst Marise Payne, the foreign affairs minister, implied that Australia is ready to contribute to the case if asked.
Ramu Nico, a Chinese-owned nickel plant in Papua New Guinea (PNG) was closed (25/10) for breaching safety and mining laws. A pump failure in August has led to the spilling of 200,000 liters of toxic slurry—of which 80,000 liters flowed to the ocean—around Basamuk Bay, turning the water bright red and polluting the coastline. Local officials have banned fish caught in the area to be sold following the incident. Despite the punitive action taken by the PNG’s Mineral Resources Authority (MRA) against Ramu Nico, local villagers are still not satisfied and demand the government to apply heavier penalties on the company.
The government of the Solomon Islands has ruled (26/10) that the leasing of Tulagi Island to a Chinese company “unlawful, unenforceable, and must be terminated with immediate effect”. The leasing agreement was signed by one of the Solomons’ provinces without being vetted by the Attorney General’s chambers. The Solomons’ decision to terminate the agreement was praised by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper who called the action “an important decision to reinforce sovereignty, transparency, and the rule of law”. The Pacific has been the U.S.’ diplomatic stronghold since World War II, but China has been expanding its influence in the region in recent years.
A 32-year-old man with a link to the Nazi organization The Nordic Resistance Movement and a woman in her mid-20s have been arrested (22/10) after hijacking an ambulance and deliberately hitting pedestrians in Oslo, Norway. No one was killed and everyone involved only suffered minor injuries. Police are still investigating the incident but ruling out terror-related attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart RecepTayyip Erdogan have agreed (23/10) on a deal taking over northeastern Syria after a six-hour meeting in Sochi, Russia.A win for Turkey but a “death knell” for the Kurds’ autonomy in the region, the Sochi agreement gave the People’s Protection Units (YPG) 150 hours to withdraw from the border. Afterwards, Russian and Turkish soldiers will begin joint military patrols along a “6-mile-deep stretch of border to the west and east of the Turkish incursion”.
A lorry driver identified as 25 years old Mo Robinson of Northern Ireland was arrested (23/10) after the discovery of 39 dead bodies inside a lorry in Essex, the United Kingdom (U.K). The lorry was registered in Varna, Bulgaria, under an Irish woman’s company but arrived in the U.K. from Zeebrugge, Belgium. The victims, 38 adults and a teenager, were initially believed to be Chinese nationals (24/10), but later said (26/10) to be Vietnamese travelling with fake Chinese passports from two Vietnam’s impoverished provinces. Chinese and Vietnamese officials are now working together with their British counterparts to investigate the allegedly human trafficking activity and start carrying out autopsies. Daily Mail reported (26/10) that four other people were arrested in the U.K. and Ireland in connection to the lorry deaths. A day later (27/10), Mo Robinson was charged with manslaughter, people trafficking, and immigration and money laundering offences. He is due before court on Monday.
After their Friday meeting in Brussels, Belgium, European Union (EU) ambassadors have agreed (25/10)on the need for Brexit extension, but decided to delay confirming its length until next week. The U.K. has previously suggested that Brexit could be delayed until January 31, 2020. Should Members of Parliament (MPs) agree on a deal before January, they can terminate the extension early. However, the final decision still lies on the EU leaders’ hand.
Speaking from Vatican (25/10), Pope Francis apologised for theft of the Amazon statues from a church in Rome. Five wooden statues of the Amazonian goddess Pachamama were stolen by reputedly Catholic militants on Monday (21/10) and thrown into the Tiber River. The Italian police managed to recover the statues which appeared to be intact.
One of the world’s most popular tourism destinations and conference venues, Barcelona might suffer from a negative image after violent clashes between Catalan separatists and the police (27/10) that have been wrecking Spain’s Catalan cities since Monday (14/10) and causing the economic activity in the region fell up to 50% (26/10). The President of Barcelona Restaurateurs Association Roger Pallarols estimated €2 million in damage to property after protesters destroyed around 70 restaurants. However, Gabriel Jené, president of tourism association Barcelona Oberta, affirmed the city’s ability to bounce back after the riots.
LATIN AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN
The government of Brazil was condemned (23/10) for its slow response in handling the oil spill on more than 200 beaches in the country. The government has now deployed an additional 5,000 troops to help thousands of Brazilians who have already started cleaning the beaches. But critics said it was already too late and now they are demanding the government to declare an environment emergency.
As protests against inequality continue in Chile, thousands of workers, including healthcare workers, teachers, and students, are taking part (24/10) in a “two-day nationwide general strike” and demanding the government to end the state of emergency and withdraw their forces. The protests were triggered by the plan to raise the metro fares in Santiago. Although the plan has now been suspended, protests against inequality have already spread across the country. Sixteen people have died as the result of the mostly peaceful protests. Officials are now investigating allegations of violence committed by the security forces.
Protests broke in La Paz and Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, (25/10)following the declaration of Evo Morales as the winner of Sunday’s election. Morales, the country’s first indigenous president and Latin America’s longest-serving leader, beat his closest rival, Carlos Mesa, by more than 10 percentage points. Mesa, along with the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, demanded a second-round vote after an allegation of electoral fraud emerged. More demonstrations are expected on Friday.
THE UNITED STATES (U.S.) & CANADA
As Canada awaited the result of Monday’s (21/10) federal election, early vote counting showed that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party and Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party were neck-and-neck. On Tuesday morning (22/10), the Liberals had 156 seats, confirming Trudeau’s winning of second term as Canadian prime minister. But unlike 2015, this time Trudeau won narrow victory (23/10) as his party lost 20 seats, leaving just enough seats to form a minority government.
Ten of thousands people were forced to evacuate their homes on Thursday (24/10) after wildfires swept through California, the United States (U.S.). In Northern California, the Kincade Fire started near the world’s largest geothermal field, the Geysers, on Wednesday night (23/10), but it is yet clear what has caused it. Strong dry winds exacerbated the blazes, prompting Pacific Gas & Electric Co., to shut down the power across San Francisco Bay Area. Four days later (27/10), the Kincade Fire has burned more than 54,000 acres, including homes and wineries, and injured two firefighters. It was estimated that the fire could only be fully contained by November 7. Meanwhile, Southern California is battling a separate wildfire named the Tick Fire that has burned 4,615 acres in Los Angeles.
President Donald Trump declared the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the White House, Washington, on Sunday morning (27/10). Trump claimed that a U.S. special operations forces mission chased Baghdadi to a dead end tunnel in northwest Syria where he eventually blew himself up along with three children. “He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place,” said the president. Despite calling Baghdadi’s death a “devastating blow to ISIS”, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper still emphasized on the need of taking a careful next step as new leaders might “pop up”. On the other hand, the Russian military denied knowing anything about the U.S. operations in the region.