Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s biggest news stories
Europe: Peter Hourston
Belarus holds its Presidential Election today (Sunday 9 August) where the 26-year long incumbent Alexander Lukashenko faces a serious challenge from Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher whose husband, Sergei, a fellow opposition leader and YouTuber, has been imprisoned by the current regime. The election has been marked by a crackdown on opponents by the lifelong ruler, with one independent election monitor suggesting that police were restricting access to polling stations.
The former king of Spain, Juan Carlos, wrote in a letter to his son King Felipe that he would leave the country this week. Speculation this week suggested that he may have travelled to neighbouring Portugal or even the Dominican Republic, however, the Spanish media group NIUS reported this morning that he flew to Abu Dhabi where he is close friends with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014 due to corruption allegations involving his daughter’s husband and a controversial wildlife hunting trip in Botswana during the Spanish financial crisis. His abdication meant he lost his immunity from prosecution which allowed the Spanish Supreme Court to launch an inquiry into his role in a high-speed rail contract in Saudi Arabia. Juan Carlos had previously been highly respected in Spain and internationally, due to his role in leading Spain’s transition to democracy after the Franco regime in the 1970s.
French President Emmanuel Macron has led international support for Lebanon, a former French colony, after an explosion in a warehouse in Beirut, which stored 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, left 300,000 people homeless. The current death toll stands at 158 but is expected to rise further. Macron is set to co-host an online conference with the UN today to galvanise international donors. However, the French President warned that Lebanon would “continue to sink” if the Lebanese government fails to lead economic and political reforms to fight corruption and stabilize the country.
Asia Pacific: Satyajit Mohanan
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka People’s Freedom Alliance secured a massive victory by winning nearly 150 seats out of a total of 225 in the unicameral legislature. The election reflects the rise of the Rajapaksa’s and strengthens their grip on power in the island. It has also left the opposition in disarray, with Sajith Premadasa’s newly formed Samagi Jana Balawegaya party coming in second with 54 seats and the country’s former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) suffering a humiliating defeat by winning just 1 seat.
Rights groups and critics argue that this election result paves the way for more centralization of power and rising authoritarianism. The Rajapaksa’s are expected to enact constitutional amendments aimed at increasing the executive authority of the presidency and the possible removal of a two-term limit on the presidency. Proponents of the regime argue that a central leadership would lead to an efficient form of governance and strong security policies. However, Rajapaksa’s immediate concern would be to re-start the island’s ailing economy. The government’s handling of the economic crisis would certainly reflect the governing capability of this brute majority.
China-US ties plunge following Washington’s sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials including the city’s leader Carrie Lam. The sanctions are seen as a response to Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong through its new draconian security law. This tough offensive on China by the Trump administration which interestingly comes ahead of America’s presidential elections in November is seen as one which has escalated diplomatic tensions between the two powers. China on Saturday slammed the US sanctions and termed it as “barbarous” and “rude”.
Indonesia’s economy shrinks for the first time in more than 20 years. Southeast Asia’s largest economy contracted by 5.3% in the second quarter owing to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Economists argue that a low consumer demand, delayed investments and fall in exports fueled by a lower global demand and prices are some of the factors of this economic fallout. The government’s plans to increase fiscal spending in the coming months. Indonesia has already budgeted $47.88 billion worth of stimulus to protect the country from its existent economic crisis.
Africa & Middle East: Lucy Wright
Families in Beirut are still desperately seeking news of missing loved ones, following the huge explosion on Tuesday 4th August which killed more than 150 people and left thousands injured and displaced from their homes.
It is still unclear what exactly caused the explosion. Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, said an investigation would focus on an estimated 2,750 metric tons of the explosive ammonium nitrate stored at a warehouse.
Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25% off of the country’s GDP. Many Lebanese are angry at the government’s response and say the disaster highlighted the negligence of a corrupt political elite.
Dozens of people were injured in Saturday’s protests, where thousands of people took to the streets and gathered at Martyrs’ Square, which was transformed into a battle zone in the evening between police and protesters.
North America: Amelia Brown
In response to President Trump’s planned 10% tariff on Canadian aluminum, Canadian deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland announced Friday over $2.5 billion in tariffs on US imported goods.
Major canadian cities such as Ottawa, Vancouver, and Toronto saw protests on Saturday pushing the government to reunite families who are separated by visa delays amidst the ongoing pandemic.
As the US presidential and state primaries come to a close, with only Connecticut remaining to vote next week, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center director, William Evanina, issued a statement warning Americans of foriegn interference in the 2020 election. Evanina specifically cited China, Russia, and Iran as major influencers, saying interference will likely be in swaying voters and spreading discord, but that, “it would be difficult for our adversaries to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale.”
Oaxaca, Mexico, legislators have approved a ban on the sale of ‘junk food’ to minors, claiming the country’s high death rate of middle-age citizens from Covid-19 is partly caused by diabetes and obesity stemming from snacks and sodas. Small businesses, thousands of which have already closed due to the pandemic, say the legislation would cause thousands more to also close.
South America: Annie Smith
Latin America and the Caribbean has surpassed Europe as the region hardest-hit with deaths from the novel coronavirus, with over 2 million fatalities. Over the past week, 44 per cent of global fatalities occurred in the region, and more than half of the region’s infections are in Brazil, which has seen over 3 million cases and 100,000 deaths. Mexico, the second worst-affected country in Latin America, passed 50,000 deaths on Thursday.
On Friday, the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) announced that football teams travelling around the continent to compete in club competitions did not need to quarantine for 14 days before matches. The announcement comes after Conmebol’s talks with national governments. However, other leagues, including the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana, are waiting to restart until September 15 and October 27, respectively, with strict rules on movement and the time spent in competition countries.
Five months after a general election in Guyana, the country has finally sworn in opposition candidate Irfaan Ali as its new president, who represents the People’s Progressive Party. The general election earlier this year saw allegations of vote tampering, a recount, and a legal battle. The election comes after oil giant Exxon made one of the world’s largest discoveries of oil off Guyana’s coast, which could put Guyana among the world’s top oil producers and massively boost its economy.
Image Source: Hussein Malla / AP via TechCrunch