World Newsletter

8 August 2020



Lebanon’s president said an investigation into the Beirut port warehouse

explosion was looking at whether it was caused by negligence, an accident or

possible external interference, his office cited him as telling local media

on Friday.

“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external

interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” President Michel Aoun

said in comments carried by local media and confirmed by his office.

He said the probe into Tuesday’s blast at a warehouse housing

highly-explosive material was being conducted on three levels. “First, how

the explosive material entered and was stored ... second whether the

explosion was a result of negligence or an accident ... and third the

possibility that there was external interference.”

While the United States has said it did not rule out an attack, Israel,

which has fought several wars with Lebanon, has denied any role. Turkish

President Tayyip Erdogan said the cause was unclear, but compared the blast

to a 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite group

Hezbollah, denied what he said were “preconceived” comments both

domestically and abroad that the Iran-backed group had arms stored at the


He called for a fair investigation and strict accountability for anyone

responsible without any political cover.





Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections handed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and

his brother an overwhelming majority, results showed on Friday, giving the

family power to enact sweeping changes to the constitution of the island


The election has been postponed twice already this year because of COVID-19.

Special restrictions are in place to minimize spreading the disease.

Rajapaksa had sought, and achieved, a two-thirds majority for his Sri Lanka

Podujana Peramuna party and its allies to be able to restore full executive

powers to the presidency.

The ruling group won 150 seats in the 225-member parliament, according to a

tally published by the election commission from Wednesday's vote.

The two-thirds majority will see Rajapaksa's older brother and former

president Mahinda Rajapaksa taking over as prime minister as the

tourism-dependent nation struggles to recover from last year's deadly

Islamist militant attacks and, more recently, lockdowns to control the

coronavirus pandemic.

The controversial Rajapaksa family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for two

decades. Mahinda Rajapaksa was previously president, from 2005 to 2015.

The opposition of former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been

trounced, having lost all but one of the 106 seats it held in the outgoing


The main opposition party is now a new group established by the son of

Ranasinghe Premadasa, a former president who was assassinated in 1993.

With their dominant majority, the Rajapaksas could attempt to change the

constitution, increase the powers of the president so reversing the work of

the previous government to introduce more checks and balances.





Amidst vociferous protests from Pakistan’s religious parties, the Parliament

has approved a third Bill related to the tough conditions set by the global

money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog FATF.

The legislation is part of the efforts by Pakistan to move from the

Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list to the white list.

The FATF put Pakistan on the grey list in June 2018 and asked Islamabad to

implement a plan of action by the end of 2019 but the deadline was extended

later due to COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matter) Bill, 2020 — which calls for

exchange of information and criminals with countries — was passed late

Thursday evening in a joint sitting of Parliament after a hectic two-day

consultation with the two major Opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim

League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The Bill was passed after the government agreed to include over two dozen

Opposition-proposed amendments with a majority vote amidst noisy protest by

the religious and nationalist parties, the Dawn News reported.





The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive

Carrie Lam, the territory's current and former police chiefs and eight other

top officials for what Washington says is their role in curtailing political

freedoms in the territory.

The sanctions were imposed under an executive order President Donald Trump

signed last month to punish China for its moves against dissent in Hong Kong

and are the latest dramatic action by his administration against Beijing in

the run-up to his November re-election bid.

As well as Lam, the sanctions target Hong Kong Police commissioner Chris

Tang and his predecessor Stephen Lo; John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong's secretary

of security, and Teresa Cheng, the justice secretary.

Among six other officials targeted were Luo Huining, mainland China's top

official in Hong Kong, and Xia Baolong, the director of the Hong Kong and

Macau Affairs Office in Beijing.

The Treasury Department said Beijing's imposition of ”draconian” national

security legislation had undermined Hong Kong's autonomy and set “the

groundwork for censorship of any individuals or outlets that are deemed

unfriendly to China.”

“Carrie Lam is the chief executive directly responsible for implementing

Beijings policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes,” it


In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the moves

“send a clear message that the Hong Kong authorities actions are

unacceptable” and in contravention of China's “one country, two systems”


The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of the officials and generally bar

Americans from doing business with them.






China on Friday said it firmly opposes President Donald Trump’s decision to

ban US transactions with the Chinese owners of messaging app WeChat and

video-sharing app TikTok, adding that Washington will eventually taste the

“bitter fruit” of choosing self-interest over market principles.

Trump on Thursday signed executive orders targeting the short-video sharing

platform TikTok, owned by Beiijing-based ByteDance, and the messaging

service WeChat - owned by the Tencent conglomerate.

The two apps are used by hundreds of millions globally.

Reacting to the US decision, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang

Wenbin said Washington should provide non-discriminatory business

environment to all countries.

“China urges the US to correct its wrongdoings, stop politicising economic

issues and cracking down on related firms, and provide a fair, just and

non-discriminatory environment for normal operations and investment by

businesses from all countries,” Wang said at the regular ministry briefing

on Friday.

“The US will eventually taste the bitter fruit of choosing self-interest

over market principles, international rules, which will only lead to the

decline of morality, national image, and international trust,” Wang said.

Calling it a “shameless act of hegemony”, Wang said the US frequently uses

national security as an excuse to abuse state power and groundlessly clamp

down on related firms.





Two-time former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced on

Friday that he is forming a new ethnic Malay party more than two months

after he was sacked from his previous party during a political struggle with

his successor.

Mahathir, 95, quit as Prime Minister in protest in late February after

fellow party member Muhyiddin Yassin withdrew their Bersatu party from the

ruling coalition, triggering its collapse less than two years after a

historic victory in 2018 national polls.

Truly Malay: On Mahathir’s legacy

Muhyiddin was sworn in as new Prime Minister in March with a new government

supported by ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak’s corruption-tainted party that

was ousted in 2018.

Mahathir, who was sacked from Bersatu along with his son and three other

senior members, said Muhyiddin had hijacked the party and helped revive what

he called a kleptocratic government.

He accused Muhyiddin of using money to buy support in Bersatu, causing it to

stray from its goal of fighting graft. Mahathir said he believes many

grassroot members are unhappy and still support him.

We feel that we must continue our fight and that is why we are forming a new

party,” Mahathir said at a news conference. He didn’t reveal the name of the

party but said its main agenda will be similar to Bersatu’s original

struggle to eradicate corruption and kleptocracy.

Mahathir said the new party will be independent and not align with the

Opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, who was initially slated to

succeed him in their previous government.





Canada has announced a C$3.6bn ($2.7bn, £2.1bn) tariff on US aluminium

products a day after US President Donald Trump imposed a 10% tariff on some

Canadian aluminium products.

Canada and the US reached a deal last year to lift tariffs on steel and

aluminium imports that had been imposed on grounds of "national security".

Mr Trump reintroduced them on Thursday to protect the US industry.

Friday's retaliatory tariffs by Canada will go into effect on 16 September.

The countermeasure was announced after deputy prime minister Chrystia

Freeland previously promised a "dollar-for-dollar" fight.

"At a time when we are fighting a global pandemic... a trade dispute is the

last thing anyone needs - it will only hurt the economic recovery on both

sides of the border," she said in a news conference.

Ms Freeland called the US tariffs "ludicrous" and denied Canadian aluminium

is a threat to US national security.

"Any American who buys a can of beer or a soda or a car or a bike will

suffer. In fact, the washing machines Trump stood in front of yesterday will

get more expensive," she said.

The tariffs would come into force after a consultation period with Canadian

businesses affected by the US levy.





The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius declared a “state of environmental

emergency” late Friday after a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground offshore

days ago began spilling tons of fuel.

Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the development as satellite

images showed a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near

environmental areas that the government called “very sensitive.”

Mauritius has said the ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tons of fuel and

cracks have appeared in its hull.

Jugnauth earlier in the day said his government was appealing to France for

help, saying the spill “represents a danger” for the country of some 1.3

million people that relies heavily on tourism and has been been hit hard by

the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded

ships, so I have appealed for help from France and President Emmanuel

Macron,” he said. Bad weather has made it impossible to act, and “I worry

what could happen Sunday when the weather deteriorates.”

"We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” the environment minister of

Mauritius, Kavy Ramano, said, calling the Blue Bay Marine Park and other

areas near the leaking ship “very sensitive.”





A traditional council met on Friday in Afghanistan’s capital to decide

whether to release a final 400 Taliban prisoners, the last hurdle to

starting negotiations between Kabul’s political leadership and the Taliban

under a peace deal with the U.S..

The negotiations are a critical step toward lasting peace in Afghanistan.

The talks will decide what a peaceful Afghanistan might look like, what

constitutional changes will be made, how the rights of women and minorities

will be protected and the fate of the tens of thousands of heavily armed men

on both sides of the conflict.

Besides Taliban fighters, warlords in Kabul maintain thousands of armed

militias loyal to them.

The Taliban in a statement on Friday rejected the Kabul gathering, saying it

had no legal status.

A statement by US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued late on Thursday

made it clear that the 400 prisoners had to be released if peace talks with

the Taliban were to move forward.

We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular, Mr. Pompeo

said. But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought

by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks

resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.”





The Swiss federal government has struck a deal with Moderna to supply

Switzerland with 4.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine if the US biotech

firm successfully develops one.

The Federal Office of Public Health says the agreement aims to guarantee

Switzerland early access to the vaccine of Moderna and is one of the first

such deals by any government with the company.

An office statement on Thursday says the government wants to ensure that the

Swiss population has rapid access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

At the same time, it says Switzerland is supporting multilateral projects

for the fair distribution of a future vaccine.

The Moderna deal would make it possible to vaccinate 2.25 million people,

because expectations are that two doses would be needed, it said.

The Swiss government is also in talks with other vaccine companies and has

already allocated 300 million Swiss francs (nearly $330 million) for

purchases of COVID-19 vaccine.

It did not specify the value of the Moderna deal.





A former top Saudi intelligence official publicly accused Crown Prince

Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday of sending a team of agents to Canada to

kill him.

The allegation came in a lawsuit filed in US federal court on Thursday by

the former official, Saad Aljabri, who has accused Crown Prince Mohammed of

seeking to silence or kill him to stop him from undermining the prince’s

relationship with the US and the Trump administration.

The suit marks the first time a former senior Saudi official has publicly

accused Crown Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, of carrying out

a widespread and sometimes violent campaign to silence critical voices.

Aljabri, who was a top aide in the Saudi interior ministry, now lives in

self-imposed exile near Toronto. Crown Prince Mohammed has tried to coax him

to return to Saudi Arabia and in March, Saudi Arabia detained two of

Aljabri’s adult children and his brother, prompting accusations by relatives

and US officials that they were being held hostage to secure Aljabri’s

return. His lawsuit says that Saudi agents attempted to target Aljabri in

Canada less than two weeks after another team of Saudi operatives killed and

dismembered dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in

Istanbul. US intelligence agencies have determined that Crown Prince

Mohammed likely ordered the killing.

Aljabri’s suit contained scant evidence to support its charges, including

about the alleged Canada operation.





Britain braced for record-breaking temperatures on Friday as forecasters

warned the public to take additional care in the heat.

The mercury is set to rise to 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) in

southeastern England amid a heatwave lasting through the weekend.

Britain’s Met Office warned the public to take precautions against

dehydration and sunburn and be ready for a dramatic rise in temperatures

following a rather cool week.

Public Health England issued a heat-health warning and advised people

sheltering indoors to close curtains facing the sun.

This summer, many of us are spending more time at home due to COVID-19,”

said Ishani Kar-Purkayastha, consultant in public health at Public Health


A lot of homes can overheat, so it’s important we continue to check on older

people and those with underlying health conditions, particularly if they’re

living alone and may be socially isolated.

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