September 2021 global news roundup: Abortion rights; Electoral developments and leadership changes; Technological ramifications; Abuse, violence, and deaths in Africa; Sustained geopolitical tensions

Demonstration to keep abortion legal (Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash)

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

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(Our apologies for sending this out late.)

Abortion rights

September was a busy news month. The Mexican supreme court of the majority Roman Catholic country ruled that the penalisation of abortion is unconstitutional, setting the stage for a nation-wide legalisation. In the United States (US), a law in Texas banned most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. As a result, it is estimated that 85 per cent of annual pregnancies in the state would be outlawed. Subsequently, the US supreme court declined in a narrow 5-4 vote to block the law as legal challenges work through the lower courts.

Electoral developments and leadership changes

There were major elections around the world. In Canada, in his third straight electoral victory, prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party formed a minority government after a snap election. However, his bet to secure a majority government failed to materialise. In Germany, the opposition centre-left Social Democratic Party won the largest vote share, ahead of the centre-right coalition of the outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel. Forming a new government will take many weeks.  And in Russia, in an election where the leading political opponent is imprisoned and the state has prevented the opposition from organising an effective campaign, the ruling party retained its two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament after receiving nearly 50% of the vote. However, the opposition has claimed that the vote is neither free nor fair.

There were other leadership changes. Less than a year into an unpopular stint, the Japanese prime minister said he would not seek re-election. The country’s former top diplomat Fumio Kishida won an internal party run-off vote and is set to be the next prime minister. The president appointed Tunisia’s and the Arab’s world first female prime minister, engineering professor Najla Bouden Ramadhane, who will seek to form a government.

And in France, former president Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to one year in prison after he was found guilty of illegal campaign financing in 2012.

Technological ramifications

In the US, it was revealed that Facebook has been conducting studies in the past three years on the effect of Instagram usage on young users, finding that teenage girls were especially affected. Related changes were made in China. To crack down on the technology sector and ostensibly to curb addiction, children will be banned from playing online games for more than three hours a week. Users will need to register using their real names and government-issued identification. In addition, children under 14 years will also have their daily usage of Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, limited to just 40 minutes.

El Salvador became the first country to make bitcoin its national currency.

Abuse, violence, and deaths in Africa

An independent commission in DR Congo concluded that aid workers of the World Health Organisation sexually abused girls and women while working in the country. In Ethiopia, the first starvation deaths were revealed, months after the government imposed a humanitarian aid blockade and the United Nations (UN) warned of famine. UN inspectors were later ousted from the northern Tigray region, where there are said to be human rights violations.

In Guinea, military officers dissolved the government and stormed the presidential palace in a coup over alleged corruption. In 2020, the president had changed the constitution to run and win the election, resulting in violent protests. In Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, recognised for his 1994 efforts to save victims of the country’s genocide, was found guilty of starting and supporting a supposed terrorist group. The verdict has been characterised as politically motivated. And in Sudan, a failed coup by supporters of the ousted former president led to the arrest of dozens of officers.

Sustained geopolitical tensions

Military tensions have intensified between countries. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles, prompting South Korea to launch submarine-based missile tests of its own. The military displays are part of an intensifying arms race between both countries and amid stalled diplomatic negotiations. Towards the end of the month, North Korea fired another anti-aircraft missile, the country’s fourth missile test in recent weeks. In the region, Taiwan has planned for increased military spending in the next five years to better prepare for a potential attack by China.

Similarly, the US is sharing its nuclear-submarine technology with Australia as part of a new Indo-Pacific trilateral AUKUS partnership – including the United Kingdom – to counter China’s rising influence. Yet, the move has prompted a backlash from France, which was supposed to provide Australia with its submarines instead. France recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the US.

The UK and the US also had its share of domestic challenges. As a result of Brexit, the exodus of European lorry drivers, and fears of a nationwide shortage, thousands of gas stations in the UK ran out of fuel. In the US, Hurricane Ida caused extensive damage in four states, killing at least 43 people. In Louisiana, there were also large-scale power and water disruptions. Finally, the owners of the drug OxyContin, which has contributed to the opioid epidemic, agreed to a bankruptcy settlement, but the Sackler family would be shielded from lawsuits.

In other news

In Afghanistan, the US acknowledged that a drone strike which killed 10 civilians was a mistake, reversing its original claim that the strike prevented an attack on American troops. The Taliban also banned girls from getting a high-school education, and an explosion outside the entrance of a mosque left a few people dead. A French independent commission estimated that about 3,000 paedophiles have operated in the French Catholic Church since 1950, with over 216,000 victims. The number increases to 330,000 after including those abused by lay church members. And Swiss citizens voted to legalise same-sex marriage.

There were other disasters and tragedies around the world:

  • Ecuador: A days-long prison riot left at least 118 dead.
  • India: A shootout in a court left three dead.
  • Indonesia: A prison fire killed at least 41 people.
  • Iraq: An Islamic State attack killed 13 policemen.
  • Mexico: A flood killed 16 patients in a hospital.
  • Pakistan: A suicide blast killed three people.
  • US: The derailment of a train killed at least three people in Montana.
  • Yemen: At least 50 were killed in fighting.

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