October 31 global news roundup: A world in conflict, days before US elections

President Donald Trump and a newspaper clipping of the coronavirus

This roundup summarises the most important news stories around the world in the last two weeks (October 16 to 31, 2020).

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Just days before the elections in the United States (US) on Tuesday, over 90 million Americans have already voted early. Former vice president Joe Biden has maintained a steady lead in both national and state polls, even though memories of the 2016 presidential election – when there were polling errors in competitive battleground states – are fuelling continued uncertainty. In the second and final presidential debate, during which each candidate’s microphone was muted when the other made opening statements, the exchanges were less cantankerous than the first, but it also did not significantly alter the direction of the race.

There are also more than nine million confirmed coronavirus cases across all US states.

In the US too, in a landmark move against a tech giant, the Justice Department filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Google for its alleged illegal monopoly over search, which made it impossible for others to compete. And along the judiciary tangent, with a 52-48 vote, the Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, thereby solidifying the court’s 6-3 conservative majority. No Democratic senator voted in support of her confirmation, marking the first time since 1869 that a nominee did not receive any votes from the opposing party.

Rising tensions in France and Nigeria: In France, free-speech demonstrators rallied to honour a high school history teacher who was beheaded near Paris, after he used caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad from the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine during a freedom of expression lesson. Eleven people associated with radical Islamists were later detained. In the aftermath, a woman was beheaded and two others were reportedly killed following a knife attack at a church, which in turn was followed by similar attempts across the country.

In Nigeria, what started as an online #EndSARS campaign against recurring police brutality by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) turned into protests of thousands around the country. In response, the government disbanded SARS but replaced it with a new police unit, a move it has done at least three times in the past. Several people were killed as Nigerian soldiers reportedly opened fire at a protest site, hours after a curfew was declared.

Anti-government protests in Belarus, Iraq, and Pakistan; sanctions in Poland and the United Kingdom (UK): In Belarus, thousands have been joining weekly protests against the president. In Iraq, security forces fired water cannon and tear gas at anti-government protestors. In Pakistan, tens of thousands protested for the resignation of the prime minister, claiming that he had won a rigged election in 2018. A bomb also went off at a religious seminary, killing at least seven people.

In Poland, a court ruled that abortions for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional, resulting in a near-total ban on abortions. Thousands marched to protest the ruling. And in the UK, former Labour Party leader was suspended from the party over a highly critical report on anti-Semitism.

Electoral breakthroughs in Bolivia, Chile, New Zealand, and Seychelles: In Bolivia, the former handpicked candidate of former left-wing president Evo Morales won the country’s presidential election without the need for a run-off. In Chile, thousands took to the streets to mark the one-year anniversary of protests demanding greater equality, a week before a referendum on whether to reject a military dictatorship-era constitution. In the referendum, nearly 80 per cent of voters backed a new constitution which would be drafted over a two-year process by an elected body of citizens.

In New Zealand, in a landslide election securing her second term for the next three years, prime minister Jacinda Arden’s Labour Party – praised for her handling of the COVID-19 outbreak – secured enough seats to govern alone, the first time since 1996 that any party in the country has done so. It was also the party’s biggest victory in at least half a century. And in Seychelles, an opposition candidate was elected as president for the first time since 1977.

Some social, environmental, and geopolitical progress: Socially, in a new documentary and in his strongest statement yet on the issue, Pope Francis voiced his support for same-sex civil unions. However, his comments drew mixed reactions. Environmentally, weeks after China said it would do the same by 2060, Japan and South Korea announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2050. For the first time too, NASA found water on the sunlit part of the moon. Geopolitically, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a humanitarian ceasefire after fighting for the past month. In Yemen, the government and the Houthi rebels exchanged more than 1,000 prisoners, as part of a revival of United Nations-brokered peace talks.

Global natural and man-made disasters: Turkey was struck by an earthquake and Vietnam was affected by weeks of severe flooding. Afghans tragically witnessed a car bomb, a stampede of thousands hoping to get Pakistani visas, an airstrike in a religious school, and a suicide bombing at an education centre. Forty-nine Egyptian prisoners were executed in 10 days, the deadliest shipwreck recorded this year, off the coast of Senegal, resulted in 140 drowned migrants, and a border village attack in Tanzania left 20 dead.

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