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January 2017 International Issues


  • US withdraws from TPP : US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order formally withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, following through on a promise from his presidential campaign. 

    TPP accord was negotiated by former President Barack Obama's administration but never approved by US Congress. Signed by 12 countries in 2015, the TPP trade agreement had yet to go into effect and the US' withdrawal is likely to sound its death knell. 

    It had been the main economic pillar of the Obama administration's "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific region to counter China. Its signatories are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Brunei. They together represent 40 percent of the world economy. 

  • Parliamentary nod must for Brexit : The British government’s plans to commence the process of leaving the EU speedily temporarily halted as the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot trigger Article 50, the EU article that sets out how a country can leave the union without a parliamentary vote. It upheld the verdict of the High Court last year. 

    However, the court ruled that the government would not have to consult the devolved legislatures in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The government, which has accepted the verdict, has said it plans to stick to the existing timetable to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. 

  • Record level nomination for Oscars : La La Land movie on 24th January landed a record-tying 14 nominations to the Academy Awards, which fielded a notably more diverse field of nominees following two straight years of ‘OscarsSoWhite’ backlash. 

    La La Land matched Titanic and All about Eve for most nominations ever, earning nods for best picture, stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, its jazz-infused songs and its 32-year-old writer-director, Damien Chazelle. 

  • Russia, Iran, Turkey agree on truce mechanism : Russia, Iran and Turkey, the sponsors of peace talks between Syrian rebels and Damascus, agreed on 24th January to establish a joint “mechanism” to monitor the frail truce in the war-torn country. The sides will “establish a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance with the ceasefire, prevent any provocations and determine all modalities of the ceasefire”, according to a final statement read by Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov following the talks in Astana. 

    Turkey and regime allies Russia and Iran also support the presence of the armed opposition at negotiations under UN auspices set to take place next month in Geneva. The rebel delegation had said earlier that they would agree to have Russia serve as a guarantor of the current ceasefire but not Iran, another backer of President Bashar Al-Assad. 

  • Dubai: Burj Khalifa to be displayed in tri-colour for two days : As a goodwill gesture to mark the historic visit of Shaikh Mohammad to India as the Chief Guest on the 68th Republic Day and also to mark the close India - UAE ties, the iconic Burj Khalifa in Dubai will be displayed in the tri-colour on 26th January. 

    This will be a grand public display of the close relations between the two countries which will be visible to the huge population of various nationalities present in Dubai. In addition, patriotic Indian songs will be played during the musical fountain show in the vicinity of the Burj. 

  • UK publishes draft legislation to start Brexit process : The UK government on 26th January published draft legislation in Parliament that would allow it to begin the process of leaving the EU, two days after the Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May cannot unilaterally trigger Britain's exit from the 28-nation bloc and must seek Parliament's approval. 

    The European Union (Notification of withdrawal) Bill was published in the House of Commons. Described as one of the shortest notifications to be published in the British Parliament, the two-clause Bill has its first reading in the House as a procedural step that allows it to be printed. 

  • Surya Namaskar Yajna recognised in US Congress : The annual "Surya Namaskar Yajna" or "Health for Humanity Yogathon" has been recognised in the US House of Representative on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. Congressman Bill Foster from Illinois said in his remarks on the House floor that he recognises the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh's tenth annual Surya Namaskar Yajna. 

    Explaining the importance of the event in the house, Foster said Surya Namaskar integrates simple yoga postures in ten steps. Along with teaching easy breathing techniques, it can provide immense health benefits to both the body and the mind. 

  • UNSC extends arms embargo on Central African Republic : The UN Security Council has extended an arms embargo on the Central African Republic and a travel ban and asset freeze on blacklisted individuals for another year. The resolution adopted unanimously by the UNSC on 26th January added a new provision making sexual violence a criterion for sanctions. It also encouraged member states to require that airlines provide advance passenger information to national authorities to make sure the travel ban is enforced. 

  • IMF: Greece's govt debt remains highly unsustainable, will be explosive in long run : Greece's government debt remains highly unsustainable and will be "explosive" in the long run. The International Monetary Fund said this in its annual report on the Greek economy. The IMF said addressing the debt burden of the beleaguered nation will require significant debt relief from European institutions, including dramatically extending the grace periods and maturities of the loans. 

    The IMF board is due to discuss the confidential report, which includes a debt sustainability analysis, on February 6, after which the findings will be made public. 

  • World diplomats urged peace in Mideast : Delegates from 70 countries have called on Israel and the Palestinians to revive work toward long-elusive peace, including an independent Palestinian state. The closing declaration at a Mideast peace conference in Paris on 15th January urged both sides to "officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution" and disassociate from voices that reject this. 

    While the Palestinians welcomed the declaration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the conference "rigged" and cooked up behind Israel's back to force it to accept conditions against national interests. 

  • Barack Obama Commutes Sentence Of WikiLeaks Source Chelsea Manning : US President Barack Obama on 17th January commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who is serving 35 years behind bars for giving classified US documents to WikiLeaks. 

    In one of his final acts as president, Obama pardoned 64 people and commuted the sentences of 209 others, including the imprisoned transgender soldier who was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offenses. Manning who had been serving time in solitary confinement and is now eligible for release in May. 

    Manning admitted handing 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic after admitting to handing classified documents over to WikiLeaks. Activists had argued her sentence is excessive and point to the psychological frailty of the transgender soldier who has already made two suicide attempts. 

  • Colombia, ELN rebels agree to peace talks : The Colombian government and the country’s last active rebel group, the ELN, have reached a new agreement to launch formal peace talks. Colombia has suffered more than half a century of civil war that has killed 260,000 people, according to the authorities. 

    President of Colombia Manuel Santos has already signed a historic peace accord with the country’s biggest rebel group, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). That deal is seen as effectively ending Latin America’s last major armed conflict. 

    It will demobilize and disarm the 5,700-strong FARC and transform them into a political party. Santos says that adding a peace deal with the smaller leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) would allow him to achieve “complete peace” in Colombia. 

    The ELN is estimated to have about 1,500 members. Santos’s government and ELN negotiators were on the verge of starting talks last in October in the Ecuadoran capital, Quito. But that effort stalled due to a disagreement over the release of a lawmaker held by the ELN. 

  • Scientists name 3 diseases that could cause next global health emergency : Scientists have named three relatively little-known diseases Mers, Lassa fever and Nipah virus, they think could cause the next global health emergency. A coalition of governments and charities has committed 460 million dollars to speed up vaccine development for the diseases. 

    The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) aims to have two new experimental vaccines ready for each disease within five years. The Coalition is asking for funds at the World Economic Forum for another 500 million dollars to speed up the vaccine development. 

  • Robot reporter gets its first news article published : A robot journalist made its debut in a Chinese daily newspaper on 19th January with a 300 characters long article written in just a second, scientists say. The article was focused on the Spring Festival travel rush. 

    Its author, Xiao Nan, took only a second to finish writing the piece and is able to write both short stories and longer reports, according to Wan Xiaojun, a professor at Peking University who leads the team studying and developing such robots. 

  • Donald Trump sworn in as 45th US President : Donald Trump was sworn-in as the 45th US President, he took over the reins from Barack Obama amid expectations of radical change in policies and apprehension at home and abroad. 

    Trump, 70, took the oath of office in front of about 800,000 people who braved chilly weather to gather on the National Mall in the center of the capital. Trump was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice John Roberts. Earlier Mike Pence was also sworn-in as the Vice President of the US. 

  • UN adopts resolution backing Gambia's new President : United Nation's Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution expressing full support to Gambia's new President Adama Barrow and calling on ex-leader Yahya Jammeh to step down. 

    The UN resolution also condemned Yahya Jammeh's attempts to usurp power. A last-minute revision to the resolution after Barrow took the oath of office on 19th January backed efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to ensure that Barrow's election victory is respected. 

    The deputy ambassadors of Russia and Britain said that Barrow is now president and he can ask ECOWAS for military action to oust Jammeh. Meanwhile, Senegalese army spokesman said that their troops have entered the Gambia to ensure Adama Barrow assumes power as the country's new president. 

  • US Army issues new regulations, allows turbans and beards in military : The United States army has issued new regulations, allowing servicemen and women sporting turbans, beards or hijabs to enroll in the military effective immediately.

    The new sets of rules, which have been issued by the Secretary of the US Army, Eric Fanning, are more inclusive of minority religious traditions, especially Indian ones. They will allow military men with unshorn hair, beard and turbans to enroll in the army unless they are not sincere in their beliefs.

    According to Joe Crowley, sitting Congressman from New York, this progress is not only major for the Sikh- American community but also for the nation’s military. He further added by saying that this move will give the Sikh Americans equal opportunity to serve America.

  • Venezuela raises minimum wage by 50% : Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro on 8th January announced the raise in minimum wage by 50 per cent in Venezuela, a country with astronomical inflation. According to President the minimum wage raised to 40,000 bolivars, about $60 dollars at the highest official exchange rate o r $12 on the black market. Venezuela grapples with the world’s highest inflation rate set to hit 475 per cent this year, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

  • 22,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh in one week: United Nations : At least 65,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar a third of them over the past week since the army launched a crackdown in the north of Rakhine state, the United Nations (UN) said on 10th January. The report come the same day the UN's human rights envoy for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, began a 12-day visit to probe violence in the country's borderlands that will take her to the army-controlled area.

    The exodus of Rohingya from northern Rakhine began after Myanmar's army launched clearance operations while searching for insurgents behind deadly raids on police border posts three months ago. Escapees from the persecuted Muslim minority in Bangladesh have given harrowing accounts of security forces committing mass rape, murder and arson.

  • China moves to prevent entry of terrorists from Pak, Afghanistan into Xinjiang : To prevent terrorists from entering or leaving China efforts have been stepped up on entry and exit management. Beijing has reportedly ordered authorities in its sensitive Xinjiang autonomous region to seal its border with eight countries including Pakistan, to counter terrorist infiltration. Countries bordering Xinjiang are Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

  • Obama Ending 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' Policy for Cubans : US President Barack Obama has ended a two-decade-old 'wet foot, dry foot' policy that allows only Cuban migrants who arrive in the US without a visa to become permanent residents.

    The move is likely to be one of the final foreign policy decisions of Obama's term and it terminates decade’s long policy that many argued amounted to preferential treatment for a single group of migrants. The 'wet foot, dry foot' policy mostly allows Cubans who reach US soil to stay in the country. Those caught at sea are returned to Cuba.

  • US House Votes To Begin Repealing Obama care :
    US House Republicans on 13th January won passage of a measure starting the process of dismantling Obama care, despite concerns about not having a ready replacement and the potential financial cost of repealing President Barack Obama's landmark health insurance law.

    The House voted 227-198 to instruct committees to draft legislation by a target date of Jan. 27 that would repeal the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, often called Obama care. The Senate approved the same measure early on 12th January.

  • Ecuador takes chair of UN group of 134 developing countries : Ecuador has taken over from Thailand as chair of the Group of 77 which promotes the interests of the 134 developing countries it represents at the United Nations, including China. UN New Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the G-77 is his "preferred forum" to implement his vision including seeing the new goals become reality and reforming UN operations.

  • UN Security Council approves Russian-drafted resolution on Syria ceasefire : The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution drafted by Russia, on 1st January that endorses a nationwide Syrian ceasefire, which was earlier brokered by Russia and Turkey. The Security Council also expressed its support for the efforts taken by Russia and Turkey and aimed at stopping violence in Syria and launching a political process. 

    The draft resolution prepared by Russia was officially presented to the UNSC on 30th December, a day after Moscow sent the texts of two agreements signed by the Syrian government and seven armed opposition groups to the UN body. 

  • 93 journalists & media staff killed worldwide in 2016: IFJ : Ninety-three journalists and media staff ware killed around the world in the course of their work in 2016, with Iraq and Afghanistan the deadliest countries. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said the number included those killed in targeted attacks, bomb blasts or caught in the cross-fire. A further 29 died in plane crashes in Colombia. 

    Regionally, the Middle East was deadliest with 30 killings, followed by Asia-Pacific with 28, Latin America with 24, Africa with eight and Europe with three, the watchdog said. 

  • Finland to pay unemployed basic income : Finland has become the first country in Europe to pay its unemployed citizens a basic monthly income, amounting to 560 euros (USD 587), in a social experiment hoped to cut government red tape, reduce poverty and boost employment. 

    Olli Kangas from the Finnish government agency KELA said that the two-year trial with the 2,000 randomly picked citizens who receive unemployment benefits kicked off January 1. The unemployment rate of Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, stood at 8.1 per cent in November with some 213,000 people without a job unchanged from the previous year. 

  • US designates Osama’s son Hamza bin Laden as ‘global terrorist’ :Al-Qaeda leader Hamza bin Laden, the son of the terror group’s slain leader Osama bin Laden, was on 5th January designated as a “global terrorist” by the US. The US move comes nearly year and half after Hamza was officially announced by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri as an official member of the group. 

    Hamza, who is in his mid-twenties, has become active as an Al-Qaeda propagandist since his father’s death in 2011. As a result of this designation, all property subject to US jurisdiction in which Hamza has any interest is blocked and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with him. 

  • Every French citizen presumed to be organ donor under new law : France has passed a law making every citizen an organ donor, unless they opt out by registering with a national refusal registry. The presumed consent law, which came into effect on Jan. 1, was passed in hopes of increasing organ and tissue donation. 

    According to France’s national agency for biomedicine, individuals who do not wish to be an organ or tissue donor can either officially register their refusal or express their wishes to family who will be consulted before a donation is made. 

  • Russia begins military drawdown in Syria : Russia’s military said on 6th January that it has begun scaling down its deployment to Syria, as the regime intensified its bombardment of a rebel-held district home to the capital’s main water source. Moscow’s intervention in September 2015 helped turn the tide in favour of President Bashar Al-Assad. Russia, along with fellow regime ally Iran and rebel backer Turkey, is pushing for peace talks to be held later this month in Kazakhstan. But escalating fighting near Damascus, including reported barrel bombings, has undermined a fragile week-old nationwide ceasefire and left the talks in doubt. 

  • US Congress certifies Trump presidential election : The US Congress certified on 6th January that Donald Trump won the November election to become the nation's 45th president, as lawmakers counted and affirmed the votes by the Electoral College. When US voters cast ballots on November 8, they did not directly elect the president but rather 538 electors charged with translating voters' wishes into reality. 

    Donald Trump of New York has received, for president of the United States, 304 votes," while his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton received 227 votes, Vice President Joe Biden declared to assemble lawmakers after the counting was complete. 

  • Tokyo Costliest City for Expats : Tokyo regained its top spot among the world’s most expensive cities for expatriates for the first time since 2012 as the yen rose. London fell out of the top 100 priciest after Brexit crushed the pound. The Japanese capital jumped up from the 12th spot last year, while Yokohama and Osaka joined the top 10, according to the ECA International report comparing the global cost of living for expatriates. 

    Those cities all leapfrogged Hong Kong, which edged down to 11th from ninth. Top 5 cities in the list are Tokyo, Luanda, Zurich, Geneva and Yokohama. 

  • China tests prototype of fifth-generation fighter jet : China has tested the latest version of its fifth-generation stealth fighter, state media reported on 26th December. The test comes as the nation flexes its military muscles, sending its sole aircraft carrier the Liaoning into the western Pacific in recent days to lead drills there for the first time. 

    The newest version of the J-31 now renamed the FC-31 Gyrfalcon took to the air for the first time on 23rd December, the China Daily reported. 

    The jet is manufactured by Shenyang Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of the Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC). The fighter is expected to sell for around $70 million, the article said, aiming to take market share away from more expensive fourth-generation fighters like the Euro-fighter Typhoon. 

  • US designates Pakistan-based LeT's student wing a terrorist organisation : The United States has announced that it was adding the student wing of the Pakistan-based militant organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The State Department's move against the student group, Al-Muhammadia Students, came as the Treasury Department added two Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders to the US list of specially designated global terrorists, subjecting them to US sanctions. 

    LeT has been accused of orchestrating numerous attacks, including a 2008 assault in Mumbai that killed 166 people. LeT was banned by the Pakistani government in 2002 but it has continued operating through front organizations, according to US officials, and their leaders conduct public rallies and interviews.

  • Syrian govt, rebel groups agree ceasefire : Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that the Syrian government and rebel groups have agreed a ceasefire and to begin peace talks. The ceasefire is due to come into force at midnight on 29th December. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Turkey and Russia would act as guarantors under the plan. The two countries back opposing sides in the conflict, which has raged for more than five years. 

  • U.S. Expels 35 Russian diplomats : In a strong response to election hacking, US President Barack Obama has sanctioned Russian intelligence services and their top officials while expelling 35 Russian officials and shutting down two Russian-owned compounds in the US. 

    It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date over Russia's involvement in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election. In response to the US action, Russian authorities have also ordered closure of the Anglo-American School of Moscow. 

  • China blocks proposal at UN to list Masood Azhar as terrorist : India has expressed concern over China on 30th December finally blocking a proposal at United Nations to list Masood Azhar as a designated terrorist. Earlier, China had twice imposed technical hold on the Indian proposal. India said, the inability of the international community to list its leader Masood Azhar is an unfortunate blow to the efforts to counter all forms of terrorism. 

    India had expected China to be more understanding of the danger posed to all by terrorism and to join India and others in fighting terrorism. New Delhi says it will continue to push forward with resolute determination through the use of all options available to bring terrorists to justice. 

    China was the only member in the 15-nation UN body to put a hold on India's application. 

  • China to build $1.5 billion power line across Pakistan : China’s State Grid Corporation is set to build a $1.5-billion power line across Pakistan to enable the transmission of 4,000 megawatts of electricity from the country’s north to south. Pakistani and Chinese officials signed an investment agreement in Beijing to build the country’s first high-voltage, direct current line. 

    The power transmission line would link the national grid between the southern Pakistani town of Matiari and easternmost city of Lahore, some 1,000 km apart. 

    Pakistan P.M Nawaz Sharif inaugurated Pakistan’s fourth nuclear power plant, a joint collaboration with China that adds 340 megawatts to the national grid as part of the government’s efforts to end the energy deficit. 

  • US sanctions 7 Pakistani entities associated with country’s missile programme : United States has announced sanctions against seven Pakistani entities allegedly associated with the country’s missile programme. The US Department of Commerce by a notification said that the entities added to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) list have been determined by the US government to be acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States. 

    According to the notification, the US government determined that there was reasonable cause to believe, that these “government, parastatal, and private entities in Pakistan are determined to be involved in activities that are contrary to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. 

    The entities notified are (1) Ahad International,Lahore; (2) Air Weapons Complex (AWC), Islamabad; (4) Maritime Technology Complex (MTC), Karachi; (5) National Engineering and Scientific Commission (NESCOM),Islamabad; (6) New Auto Engineering (NAE),Rawalpindi; and (7) Universal Tooling Services through its three associates ,Forward Design and Manufacturing; SM Enterprises; and -Technopak Engineering. Pakistan has always denied any wrongdoing in connection with its nuclear or missile programme.
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