World Newsletter

31 December 2019


US officials said on Sunday that air strikes in Iraq and Syria against an 
Iran-backed militia group were successful, but warned that "additional 
actions" may still be taken in the region to defend US interests. 
The US military carried out the strikes against the Kataib Hezbollah militia 
group in response to the killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket 
attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said. 
US President Donald Trump was briefed by his top national security advisers 
at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida following the strikes. "We 
will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put 
American men and women in jeopardy," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told 
reporters after the briefing with Trump. 
Iraqi security and militia sources said at least 25 militia fighters were 
killed and at least 55 wounded following three US air strikes in Iraq. 


The Taliban targeted a pro-government militia compound in northern 
Afghanistan before dawn on Monday, killing 14 members of the Afghan security 
forces, a local official said. The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility 
for the attack. 
The attack came even as Taliban officials told the Associated Press and 
other media outlets just hours earlier that a temporary, nationwide 
ceasefire has been agreed upon among their council leaders. It wasn't clear 
when the ceasefire would go into effect. However, an AFP report claimed that 
the Taliban had denied agreeing to any ceasefire."In the past few days, some 
media have been releasing untrue reports about a ceasefire... The fact is 
that, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no ceasefire plans," the 
Taliban said, after multiple media reports, including a story in the Wall 
Street Journal, suggested the group was on the verge of announcing some type 
of temporary truce. 


A Chinese court sentenced the scientist who created the world's first 
"gene-edited" babies to three years in prison on Monday, according to the 
official Xinhua news agency, on charges of illegally practicing medicine. 
He Jiankui, then an associate professor at Southern University of Science 
and Technology in Shenzhen, said in November 2018 that he had used 
gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to change the genes of twin 
girls to protect them from getting infected with the AIDS virus in the 
The backlash in China and globally about the ethics of his research and work 
was fast and widespread. 
He and his collaborators forged ethical review materials and recruited men 
with AIDS who were part of a couple to carry out the gene-editing. His 
experiments ultimately resulted in two women giving birth to three 
gene-edited babies, according to Xinhua. 
The court also handed lesser sentences to Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, who 
worked at two unnamed medical institutions, for having conspired with He in 
his work. 
"The three accused did not have the proper certification to practice 
medicine, and in seeking fame and wealth, deliberately violated national 
regulations in scientific research and medical treatment," the court said, 
according to Xinhua. 
"They've crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and 
medical ethics." 


U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed 
the state of relations between their two countries in a phone call 
instigated by Putin, the White House said on Monday. 
The official reason for the call, according to both sides, was for Putin to 
thank Trump for what White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said was 
"information the United States provided that helped foil a potential holiday 
terrorist attack in Russia." 
No details were provided, but Russia said on Sunday it had thwarted attacks 
reportedly planned in St. Petersburg thanks to a tip from Washington. 
Mr. Gidley said both Presidents committed to continuing counter-terrorism 
cooperation between the two countries. 
"The presidents also discussed the state of relations between the United 
States and Russia and future efforts to support effective arms control," he 
said, an apparent reference to Trump's stated desire for a new nuclear arms 
control deal. 
Some new tensions have arisen between the two countries. 
Mr. Trump on Thursday warned Russia, Syria and Iran against killing 
civilians in Syrias Idlib province. 
Syrian and Russian forces have intensified their bombardment of targets in 
Idlib, the last significant rebel pocket of Syria. Syrian President Bashar 
al-Assad has vowed to recapture it. 
In another potential strain, Russia joined with China on a draft proposal to 
the U.N. Security Council to seek a lifting of some U.N.-backed sanctions 
against North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. 
The Trump-Putin call came as the State Department announced Secretary of 
State Mike Pompeo will travel to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan 
and Cyprus from January 3-7. 


President Donald Trump's order for airstrikes on a Tehran-backed Iraqi 
militia group, after resisting retaliating against Iran for months, sent a 
clear message Sunday that killing Americans was his red line. 
But experts warned that, far from being deterred, Iran might find that line 
signals there is space for them to continue the kind of provocative 
activities that fired up tensions across the Gulf region throughout 2019. 
And with Mr. Trump facing a re-election fight in 2020, some said Tehran 
could even step up its actions to challenge the president's promise to pull 
U.S. troops out of the Middle East. 
U.S. officials said on Monday that Mr. Trump had exercised "strategic 
patience" during the past year in the face of Iran's stepped-up military 
activities in the region challenging the U.S. and its allies. 
But they said that the death Friday of a U.S. civilian contractor in Kirkuk 
in a rocket attack by the Hezbollah Brigades, an Iran-supported militia, 
forced Mr. Trump's hand. 
At least 25 members of the group were killed in retaliatory U.S. strikes 
Sunday on five of their bases in Iraq and Syria. 
"The president has shown a lot of restraint," Brian Hook, the State 
Department's Special Representative for Iran, told reporters Monday. 


Thousands of people have fled into the water at a beachside town in 
Australia to seek shelter from a massive bushfire bearing down on the area. 
Residents said the blaze moved into the Victorian town of Mallacoota on 
Tuesday morning, throwing embers towards homes. 
Online, people reported the "roar" of the fire and posted pictures of a 
black and then deep-red sky. 
Several popular holiday spots along the coast between Sydney and Melbourne 
are currently under threat from bushfires. 
The most serious "emergency-level" blazes span a 500km (310 miles) stretch 
from Batemans Bay in New South Wales (NSW) to Bairnsdale in Victoria. 
Residents in several NSW beachside communities, including Bermagui and 
Batemans Bay, have also been evacuated to the water. 
Authorities had told people in these regions - many of them tourists - to 
stay put because it was too late and dangerous to evacuate. 
The major road in the region - the Princes Highway - has been closed off. 


Tesla delivered its first batch of China-made cars on December 30, less than 
a year after the electric vehicle company broke ground on its first plant 
outside the United States. 
Work began on the firm's multibillion-dollar Shanghai "Gigafactory" in 
January, allowing the company to skirt trade tensions between China and the 
U.S. and sell directly to the world's largest "green" vehicle market. 
The first cars to roll off the assembly line - 15 of Tesla's mid-price, 
mass-market Model 3 design - were given to employees who had placed advance 
orders during a ceremony at the plant. 
Tesla plans to begin large-scale deliveries of China-made Model 3 sedans 
next month, said the firm's China general manager Wang Hao. 
The company was now producing more than 1,000 cars per week in China and 
hoped to double the figure next year, manufacturing director Song Gang told 
Bloomberg News. 
Chief executive Elon Musk has said production could rise to 3,000 vehicles 
per week in the future. 
China typically requires foreign automakers to forge joint ventures with 
domestic firms when establishing manufacturing plants, which means sharing 
profits and technology with local partners. 
But Tesla's China venture is wholly owned by the U.S. company, and Tesla's 
decision to invest in Shanghai has been rewarded with preferential 
Authorities last week announced the waiver of a 10% purchase tax for locally 
made Model 3 vehicles, priced at 355,800 yuan ($50,900). 


German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a her New Year's message she is 
fighting climate change with all her strength to enable future generations 
to live in peace and prosperity. 
"Global warming is real. It is threatening," Ms. Merkel said in the recorded 
speech which will be broadcasted on Tuesday evening. Rising world 
temperatures and the problems created by global warming are all man-made, 
Ms. Merkel added. 
"So we have to do everything humanly possible to overcome this human 
challenge. It is still possible," Ms. Merkel said. 
"At 65, I am at an age at which I personally will no longer experience all 
the consequences of climate change that will occur if politicians do not 
act," the chancellor said. 
"It will be our children and grandchildren who have to live with the 
consequences of what we do or refrain from doing today. That is why I use 
all my strength to ensure that Germany makes its contribution - 
ecologically, economically, socially - to getting climate change under 
Ms. Merkel called on Germans to think out of the box to cope with the 
challenges arising from global warming. 
"To do this, we need more than ever the courage to think in a new way, the 
strength to leave familiar paths, the willingness to try new things, and the 
determination to act faster, convinced that the unusual can succeed - and 
must succeed if the generation of today's young people and their descendants 
should still be able to live well on this Earth," Ms. Merkel said. 


The South Korean Government on Monday announced special pardons to 5,174 
people, including conscientious objectors who refused to do military service 
for religious or personal reasons. 
The move, set to go into effect on Tuesday, includes 1,879 conscientious 
objectors, 267 who have been convicted for breaching election laws, as well 
as two politicians and a labour activist, Yonhap News Agency quoted the 
Justice Ministry as saying. 
The ministry said the special pardons were aimed at relieving the burden of 
convicts whose livelihoods were affected and helping them successfully 
return to society. At present, all able-bodied Korean men are required to 
serve in the army forces. 

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