May 2021 global news roundup: COVID-19 and violence continue to ravage the world, with some glimmers of hope

Face mask against green background (Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash)

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

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As a result of new variants and loosened restrictions, India continues to be the COVID-19 hotspot of the world. It became the second country after the United States (US) to record over 20 million COVID-19 cases and the number of deaths passed 300,000. Only Brazil and the United States have reported more COVID-19-related deaths. Mitigation efforts were also complicated by a powerful cyclone which left at least 26 dead.

In the US, the Biden administration said it supported the lifting of patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines to facilitate the global production of more doses.

Violence in Israel and Palestine: In the beginning of the month, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu missed a deadline to form a new coalition government, making it likely that the country will head to the polls for the fifth time in less than two-and-a-half years.

Later, hundreds of Palestinians were injured after Israeli police entered the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and fired rubber bullets to disperse protestors throwing stones and fireworks. Violence escalated over a land dispute and possible evictions in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, with Israeli airstrikes and rockets fired by Palestinian militants. Violence was also reported in the West Bank.

Within Israel, there were reports of Arab and Jewish vigilantes carrying out attempted lynching. In a show of solidarity, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank went on strike, resulting in the closure of government ministries and private businesses. After 11 days, Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas then agreed to a ceasefire mediated by Egypt.

Violence, political violence, and political instability: In Afghanistan, explosions targeting a school in Kabul killed at least 40, most of whom were female. Another bus bombing killed at least 11 people. In Colombia, sparked by an unpopular tax reform which has since been scrapped, demonstrations over rising poverty, unemployment, and inequality resulted in the deaths of at least 24 people after police opened fire on protestors.

Next, Europe. Belgium was hit with a cyberattack which left government agencies, universities, and other organisations without access to the Internet for hours. Belarus used false pretences of a bomb threat to force down a Ryanair commercial plane to arrest a 26-year-old dissident and opposition journalist who was travelling onboard. The European Union then urged airlines to avoid Belarus airspace.

Politically, in Samoa, politician Fiame Naomi Mataʻafa was sworn in as the country’s first female prime minister in a makeshift swearing-in ceremony in a tent, after the former prime minister locked the doors to the legislature. And in Syria, president Bashar al-Assad won fourth term in office with 95.1 per cent of the vote, in an election reported to be marked by fraud.

News from the US: The country has recorded 232 mass shootings so far in 2021, after a transit worker opened fire and killed eight in a Californian rail yard. Politically, House Republicans voted to oust representative Liz Cheney – who has continued to criticise former president Donald Trump, having voted to impeach him after the deadly January 6 storming of the US Capitol – as the House Republican Conference Chair, or the party’s number three leader in the chamber. Senate Republicans voted against a bill which would have created an independent inquiry into the January 6 riot.

Some positive news for the environment: Shareholders of energy giant Exxon Mobil voted to oust two company board directors, replacing them with activist picks perceived as better suited to develop a strategy for a low-carbon future and to combat climate change. The campaign was led by a small hedge fund against the largest oil company in the US. And in the Netherlands, oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, was ordered by a Dutch court to cut its carbon emissions by 45 per cent before 2030. However, enforcement is unclear.

And some positive news of accountability for victims and former colonies: Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau apologised for the internment of Italian Canadians during the Second World War. French president Emmanuel Macron, following a French inquiry, said his country took “overwhelming responsibility” in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. However, he did not apologise. Finally, Germany agreed to pay Namibia 1.1 billion (S$1.8) euros as it officially recognised the Herero and Namaqua (or Nama) genocide, waged by the German Empire at the start of the 20th century.

Other tragedies around the world:

  • Bangladesh: A boat accident left 26 people killed.
  • China: As a result of sudden high winds and freezing rains, 21 runners died in an ultramarathon.
  • DR Congo: At least two dozen people have been killed following a volcanic eruption.
  • Israel: At least 44 people were killed in a stampede at a religious festival.
  • Italy: A cable car accident killed at least 14 people.
  • Malaysia: A train collision injured over 200 people.
  • Mexico: The collapse of a raised overpass track carrying a subway train killed at least 23 people.

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