The Week in Brief: 9-13 January 2018

14 January 2018

The Week in Brief: 9-13 January 2018

Image credit: CNN

President Trump under fire for “shithole” comments

US President Donald Trump has unleashed a storm of outrage after allegedly making disparaging comments about immigrants.

Amidst discussions over an immigration deal, the President asked why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries”, naming Haiti as an example, instead of countries like Norway.

His comments have been condemned internationally and domestically, with several US ambassadors summoned to clarify the comment to foreign governments.

President Trump denied saying the exact quote in a tweet, however, Senators present at the meeting have either confirmed, denied, or refused to deny that the statements were made.


Inter-Korean talks reopen North-South dialogue

Delegations from North and South Korea met for the first time in two years on Tuesday.

While discussions between the nations were predictably cautious, they have agreed to hold future talks and the North-South military hotline has been restored.

The talks resulted in both nations agreeing to resolve disputes through diplomatic dialogue, and to reopen talks between their militaries to avoid accidental conflict.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has stated that immediate reunification of the peninsula is not a priority for Seoul.

Although South Korea pressed the importance of de-nuclearisation of the peninsula, North Korea’s chief negotiator, Ri Son Gwon, denied any intention that its neighbours would be targets.

“All our weapons, including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles, are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia,” he said.

North Korea will also send a delegation of athletes, officials, performers, journalists and spectators to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang County, South Korea next month, and was receptive to having athletes of both countries march together in the opening ceremony.

The United States, which did not participate in the talks, was initially sceptical, but now supports the ongoing dialogue.

US President Donald Trump has said that the US will get involved “at the appropriate time”, and has agreed with South Korea to postpone joint military exercises until after the Winter Olympics.


Iranian oil tanker explodes off China’s coast

An Iranian oil tanker exploded off China’s coast on Wednesday following a collision with a Chinese freight ship last week, sparking a fire aboard the tanker.

The ship was carrying $60 million of condensate, a highly flammable and toxic ultra-light crude, at the time of the collision.

The blast occurred after rescue crews were attempting to douse the burning ship. The extent of the damage from the incident is unknown.

Iranian officials say there is a chance that some of the missing 31 crew are still alive, who are all Iranian except for two Bangladeshi nationals.

“If the crew have been able to reach (…) some place like the engine room, then the chances of their rescue are high,” said Hassan Qashqavi, an Iranian Foreign Ministry official, as cited by ISNA.


China lodges diplomatic complaint over Pacific aid criticism

China has lodged a diplomatic complaint with Australia after Turnbull Government Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells accused China of building useless buildings, white elephants and “roads to nowhere” in the Pacific.

The complaint calls Ms Fierravanti-Wells’ comments “full of ignorance and prejudice”.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded to the accusations by saying his country’s aid program had “brought real benefits to local people” and was welcolmed by Pacific governments.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop weighed into the row, saying China’s loans to Pacific nations “impose onerous debt burdens on regional governments”.

Australia is the region’s largest aid donor, and focuses on health and education. China, the second largest donor, has focused on infrastructure.


Oprah Winfrey faces calls to run for President in 2020

Following a revered acceptance speech that received a standing ovation at the 2018 Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey is facing calls to run for President in the 2020 US Presidential Election.

The discussion started when Golden Globes host, late night comedian Seth Meyers, joked about how he may have convinced incumbent President Donald Trump to run for office during his 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner gig.

Meyers said: “Some have said that night convinced him to run. So, if that’s true, I just want to say: Oprah, you will never be president! You do not have what it takes. And Hanks! Where’s Hanks? You will never be vice president. You are too mean and unrelatable. Now we just wait and see.”

Winfrey later gave her acceptance speech, which many are calling personal, a call to action and Presidential. A thunderous applause broke out as she finished by saying, “I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon.”

The idea of Winfrey running for President immediately went viral across social media as users expressed both delight and opposition.

However, those close to Winfrey have said while the talk show host has entertained the idea, it is unlikely she will run for President.

Speaking on CBS This Morning on Tuesday, Gayle King, Winfrey’s best friend, said: “I’m thinking she is not going to be running for president. I do think she is very intrigued, and I also say, as I’ve heard for many years on the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show,’ you always have the right to change your mind. But that is certainly not something she’s considering right now.”


Drone swarm attacks Russian military bases in Syria

It was revealed this week that two Russian military bases in Syria, Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility, were attacked by a swarm of drones last week.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement that forces at both bases “successfully warded off a terrorist attack with massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)”.

“As evening fell, the Russia air defence forces detected 13 unidentified small-size air targets at a significant distance approaching the Russian military bases. Ten assault drones were approaching the Khmeimim air base, and another three – the CSS point in Tartus.”

Examination of the UAVs by the Russian Ministry of Defence found the drones were armed, launched within 50km of the bases and had an attacking range of approximately 100km.

Moscow has since said it tracked down the Syrian rebels responsible for the attack using decoded data recorded by the UAVs, and eliminated the Syrian them.

Regardless, this is the first attack of its kind and experts are concerned that this event may signal a new era of warfare.


Door officially opens for same-sex marriages

Same-sex couples around Australia were able to marry from 9 January 2018, with many getting in early and marrying at the stroke of midnight.

Although the law was changed to permit same-sex marriage in December, couples intending to marry had to give at least one month’s notice before they could marry, with only a few couples receiving special dispensation to marry shortly after the change.


Chinese authorities demolish megachurch

The Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi province, one of China’s largest Christian churches, was demolished by Chinese police this week.

The Church, which served a congregation of more than 50,000, was destroyed in an apparent crackdown on religious freedom.

Christianity is viewed as a threat to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party, and the destruction of the Golden Lampstand Church is believed to be part of an ongoing campaign by the government of President Xi Jinping to remove symbols of the faith. It is estimated that more than 60 million Christians live in China, most of whom worship in unregistered churches.

However, Global Times, a Chinese state newspaper, reported that it was part of a campaign to remove illegal buildings from the city, quoting an anonymous government source who claimed the church had been constructed without the required permits and was initially disguised as a warehouse.

The church had been built by evangelist couple Wang Xiaouguang and Yang Rongli, using $4 million in contributions from local Christians.


Scientists make muscle cells from stem cells

In an incredible breakthrough, Nenad Bursac and his team at Duke University, North Carolina, have succeeded in using pluripotent stem cells to generate muscle cells.

After spending weeks making enough cells to create bundles of unified fibres, these were then transplanted into adult mice.

The fibres integrated successfully with their new hosts, and they could see through the release of proteins that the cells were being actively used by the mice.

The stem cells were taken from human skin cells, and Bursac and his team are confident that this is a reproducible and reliable process, publishing their findings in the most recent issue of Nature Communications.

If this is scalable and continues to work in other hosts, it has great implications for stem cell and transplantation therapies.


Pornstar keeps mum about affair after being paid off by Trump lawyer

A pornstar was allegedly paid $130,000 by a lawyer for President Trump to keep silent about an affair she had with him.

Stephanie Clifford was paid the money in October 2016 by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to prevent the story from breaking.

The affair allegedly occurred after Ms Clifford met Donald Trump at a 2006 celebrity golf tournament, soon after Trump’s marriage to Melania Trump in 2005.

The White House dismissed the allegation as “old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.”