February 2023 global news roundup: Chinese spy balloons and Russian geopolitical transgressions; UK political developments; Deadly Turkish and Syrian earthquakes; West Bank violence and simmering global discontent

Flag of Ukraine (Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash)

This roundup summarises the most important news stories around the world in the last month (February 2023).

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The United States (US) secretary of state cancelled a long-planned trip to Beijing after the detection of a high-altitude Chinese spy surveillance balloon over the US. China has maintained that it was a weather balloon blown off course. Later, the balloon was shot down with a single missile. Later, China also confirmed it operated a balloon detected over Latin America, relying on the same explanation that it was an unmanned airship for research purposes which had been blown off course.

In Ukraine, president Joe Biden paid a surprise visit to Kyiv ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion, which has since become Europe’s largest land war since the Second World War. Relatedly, internal prosecutors reported that president Vladimir Putin had approved a decision to supply long-range missiles to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, leading to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014.

UK political developments

Leader of the Scottish parliament Nicola Sturgeon announced her surprise resignation after more than eight years in the role, amid falling popular support and exhaustion with the job. She has been a supporter of independence from the United Kingdom (UK) and had for weeks been embroiled in a dispute over gender recognition. With the Northern Ireland, prime minister Rishi Sunak struck a deal with the European Union, creating separate customs processes for goods going through the province and those going through to Ireland.

And in Britain, nearly half a million workers coordinated nationwide strikes to protect the government’s proposed anti-strike legislation – targeting workers in the health, rail, education, fire, border security, and nuclear industries – and for pay increases.

Deadly Turkish and Syrian earthquakes

An earthquake – the deadliest to hit Turkey since 1939 – killed more than 47,000 people in Turkey and Syria and resulted in the collapse of tens of thousands of buildings. At least 120 more aftershocks were recorded, and tremors were also felt in Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, and Lebanon. It is one of the worst natural disasters of the century. Little aid has reached Syria because of the ongoing civil war and political divisions. At least two huge aftershocks were reported two weeks later, leading to further casualties and the collapse of already weakened buildings.

In Equatorial Guinea, its first-ever Marburg virus outbreak was declared, as at least nine people have died. No vaccines or anti-viral treatments exist. In New Zealand, a third state of emergency was declared as the country’s strongest storm since the 1990s created widespread disruption. In South Africa, a state of disaster was declared as residents dealt with up to 10 hours of blackouts daily. And in the US, a train derailment of about 50 cars carrying dangerous chemicals in Ohio resulted in a massive evacuation of 5,000 residents.

Other natural disasters included an avalanche (Indian Kashmir), an earthquake (Indonesia), and flooding and landslides (Brazil, Peru). Man-made disasters included vehicular accidents (China, Mexico), a gas explosion (Russia), Israeli air strikes (Syria), an army camp shooting (Philippines), mass shootings (US), mine collapse (China), and the sinking of a migrant boat (Italy).

West Bank violence and simmering global discontent

The West Bank has been the site of Israeli military operations and settler provocations, riots, and deadly clashes. In Israel, approximately 100,000 protestors demonstrated against the right-wing government’s proposed judicial reforms.

Around the world, with political freedoms and expressions (or lack thereof), French demonstrators continued to protest against the government’s proposed pension reform. In India, consistent with past efforts to silence dissent, BBC offices were raised by government tax agents after airing a critical documentary about the country’s prime minister. In Iran, the government continued a deadly crackdown which has led to thousands of arrests and at least four executions. And in Nigeria, elections were marked by logistical problems and violence.

Geopolitically, North Korea fired additional missiles into the Pacific.

There was some news of progress. Hong Kong’s top court ruled that transgender individuals can change the sex marked on their identification cards. An existing surgery requirement was deemed to be unconstitutional. Nicaragua released 222 political prisoners as part of a deal to restart US relations.

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