January 2021 global news roundup: 100 million global COVID-19 cases; President Biden inaugurated amid turmoil; Threats to democracy and elections around the world

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This roundup summarises the most important news stories around the world in the last month (January 2021).

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What a month January was. The total number of COVID-19 infections in the world crossed 100 million, as investigators from the World Health Organisation (WHO) entered China to investigate the situation in Wuhan. In the United States (US), president Joe Biden was elected amid turmoil involving former president Donald Trump trying to reverse his election loss, pro-Trump supporters storming the Capitol, and Mr. Trump being impeached a second time.

Politically, Myanmar and Hong Kong experienced threats to democratic norms, elections were disputed in Kazakhstan and Uganda, the Dutch and Italian prime ministers resigned, and there were protests in India and Russia.

Let’s take a closer look at all these news stories.

100 million global COVID-19 cases

Just over a year since the COVID-19 virus was detected, confirmed infections surpassed 100 million worldwide. The WHO was initially not able to get into China to investigate the situation in Wuhan, where the virus is suspected to have originated, but China later agreed to let a team of experts enter the country.

President Biden inaugurated amid turmoil

Where do we start? Let’s do this over four weeks, shall we?

  • Week 01: Mr. Trump was heard, in a recording and in a bid to reverse his election loss, pressuring and threatening with potential legal action Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn the victory of president-elect Joe Biden. Unfortunately for him and the Republican party. Democrats won control of the Senate after winning both races in Georgia. They have control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in a decade
  • Week 02: After a speech by the then president near the White House where he said he would never concede, an angry pro-Trump stormed the Capitol, halting Congress’s counting of the electoral votes to confirm the victory of president-elect Joe Biden. Nevertheless, Congress confirmed Mr. Biden’s presidential victory, clearing his way to become president.
  • Week 03: Mr. Trump committed to an orderly transition of power thereafter, but Twitter and other major social media platforms permanently suspended his accounts.
  • Week 04: Mr. Trump became the first American president in history to be impeached twice, and Mr. Biden was sworn in as the country’s oldest president.

In tech-related news in the US, more than 200 Alphabet / Google employees formed a union to protect employees who speak out against the company. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will step down as chief executive this summer, transitioning into the role of executive chairman.

Threats to democracy and elections around the world:

Myanmar and Hong Kong experienced threats to democratic norms: In Myanmar, leaders of the ruling National League of Democracy, including Aung San Suu Kyi – remanded in custody over allegations of illegally importing walkie talkies – were detained by the army in a raid without explanation. Parts of the country had their phone lines, Internet lines, and news channels blocked. The country’s military television then announced that the military has taken control for one year. The army-backed opposition party had contested the results of the November 2020 election, claiming it was fraudulent.

In Hong Kong, the police arrested 53 pro-democracy figures under China’s national security law, who were accused of plotting to paralyse the government and subvert state power. It was the biggest sweep of opposition politicians since the law was enacted half a year ago.

Elections were disputed in Kazakhstan and Uganda: In an opposition-free parliamentary election in Kazakhstan, the ruling party won over 70 per cent of the votes. Some parties had boycotted the vote in protest. And a day after the general election in Uganda, government security forces broke into the compound of the country’s leading opposition candidate. President Yoweri Museveni won amid a crackdown on the opposition and accusations of vote rigging.

Dutch and Italian prime ministers resigned: The Dutch prime minister and his cabinet resigned following a report which concluded that tax authorities unfairly targeted low-income families over childcare benefits. An investigation had found that 20,000 families were wrongly accused of tax fraud and told to pay back tens of thousands of euros. And in Italy, the resignation of the prime minister triggered the collapse of the country’s government, following its failure to get an absolute majority during a senate confidence vote.

Protests in India and Russia: In India, farmers have been protesting for months against legislation which would allow private companies to directly buy produce from farmers. On Republic Day, tens of thousands descended upon New Delhi, leading one of the country’s largest protests. And in Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned in August last year, returned to the country and was arrested son arrival. More than 15,000 people took to the streets to support him, for two consecutive weekends. Mr. Navalny was sentenced to more than two years in prison for violating parole, and while he can appeal the government has indicated it will not bow to public pressure.

In other news

  • Aviation accidents: In Indonesia, an Air Boeing 737 plane crashed into the sea, killing all 62 on board. And in Yemen, an airport explosion killed 22 people and almost killed the country’s newly formed cabinet.
  • Geopolitics: Saudi Arabia and Qatar are working to mend geopolitical ties, as the former signed an agreement to end a regional blockade of the latter. Qatar had been accused in 2017 of supporting terrorism and aligning with Iran. In Mexico, asylum was offered to former WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, after a court in the United Kingdom denied an extradition request by the United States.
  • In South Korea, the population decreased for the first time in 2020, a trend likely worsened by COVID-19.
  • And in the United Kingdom, parliament approved a free-trade agreement with the European Union.

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