August 15 global news roundup: Lebanon’s Beirut tragedy; over 21 million coronavirus cases around the world

City skyline across Beirut, Lebanon

This roundup summarises the most important news stories around the world in the last two weeks (August 1 to 15, 2020).

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A massive explosion rattled central Beirut, killing at least 154 and injuring thousands. At least 300,000 people were also displaced from their homes. The exact cause of the explosion is unclear, but the improper storage of highly explosive materials in a warehouse has been floated, and 16 Beirut port officials were reportedly arrested.

French president Emmanuel Macron visited the former French colony with a promise to organise an international conference to raise aid money, and further called for reform. In a country already beset by economic and political crises before the explosion, protests erupted, calling for the resignation of government leaders. Later, the prime minister and the whole cabinet resigned.

And in pandemic-related news, the number of coronavirus cases around the world exceeded 21 million, led by the United States, Brazil, and India. The US, Brazil, Mexico, India, and the United Kingdom have the highest number of COVID-19 deaths. In the US, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.

Diplomatic breakthroughs: Brokered by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a historic peace deal which will lead to a full normalisation of diplomatic relations. Israel – which currently has normal diplomatic relations with only two other Arab countries, Jordan and Egypt – will suspend plans to annex disputed West Bank territory.

In Afghanistan, hundreds of Taliban prisoners were released to pave the way for first-ever direct peace talks. And in Taiwan, the US announced its highest-level visits to Taiwan since 1979, with a visit by health secretary Alex Azar.

Political repression and controversies: In Belarus, president Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory against four rivals with 80 per cent of the vote, but critics have claimed that the election was rigged. The opposition refused to accept the result. In China, the country imposed the death penalty on two Canadian citizens for drug-related offences in two days, an episode seen as part of a diplomatic conflict following Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

And in Hong Kong, publisher Jimmy Lai, who runs the city’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, was arrested under a new national-security law on suspicion of foreign collusion. The publisher’s headquarters was also raided.

Tragedy in India: Eight patients died after a fire broke out in the critical care unit of a coronavirus hospital. An Air India Express plane with about 200 passengers crash landed at a Kerala airport, leading to the deaths of at least 14 people. And a landslide triggered by monsoon rains killed at least 29 people.

And other tragedies around the world:

  • Mauritius: An environmental emergency was declared after a massive oil spill from a ship into the Indian Ocean.
  • Niger: Six French nationals, together with their local guide and driver, were killed by jihadist militants in a giraffe park.
  • Scotland: The derailment of a passenger train after stormy weather killed three people.
  • South Korea: Days of heavy rain triggered flooding and landslides which killed at least 30 people.
  • US: Tropical storm Isaias killed at least nine people along the East Coast and left nearly three million people without power.

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