The World Today for March 17, 2016

March 17, 2016


European Refugees – Passing the Buck

European officials desperate for a pat solution to the refugee problem were offered a sweet deal last week – Turkey will take them back.

The catch? Tabula rasa for Turkey.

On Thursday and Friday, the EU will meet again to consider the proposal – and in spite of outrage from many European leaders, the answer will likely be, “we do.”

Forget the money another $3.3 billion for Turkey is a bargain. It's cheaper than dealing with the refugees, the political fallout from them, and the billions lost if the Schengen border-free zone collapses.

But visa-free travel for Turks? Membership to the exclusive EU club (if Cyprus allows it)? Forgiveness for all those human rights sins?

“It's a deal with the devil,” one EU official grumbled privately last week. “And one we will probably have to make.”

Meanwhile, on the periphery, outrage grows. 

Human Rights Watch called the plan “flawed” and “potentially dangerous“: It says Turkey rarely grants non-Europeans the right to asylum. It also sends refugees back to Syria.

“EU leaders are in a panic to stop refugee flows before spring, and they seem willing to throw human rights overboard in the process,” said Judith Sunderland of the group. “It is naked self-interest…”

For Europeans, though, there are other concerns. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long resisted Turkish overtures to become a member – until the refugee crisis came along. But Merkel is under tremendous pressure: State elections Sunday cost her party big losses – and more elections are on the way. She can't risk another million refugees arriving in addition to the 1.2 million who came in 2015.

The key problem is Turkey's long and spotty record on human rights, EU officials said.

Earlier this month, Turkish officials took over the country's largest newspaper, Zaman. Then last week, they took over another. Activists say these are only the latest moves against journalists, artists and critics of the Turkish government.

Consider this: Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said earlier this month that almost 2,000 criminal cases have been filed against Turks accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the past two years. He can't read the details, he added, because the insults would “make him blush.”

So it is no wonder some EU leaders are open in their distaste of the deal some call “the bargain of shame.”

“It can’t be that just because of the migration crisis we throw our other values out the window,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.

But as tens of thousands of refugees remain trapped in Greece – in terrible conditions – that is probably what European leaders will do.  

They will pass the buck.



BRAZIL: What a Mess

Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – under investigation for corruption – will be sworn in Thursday as President Dilma Rousseff's chief of staff, a move many believe is intended to shield him from prosecution.

After the announcement Wednesday – and the release of taped telephone conversations showing Lula and Rousseff considered trying to influence prosecutors and courts in favor of Lula – thousands took to the streets in Brazilian shouting for the president to “resign” and Lula's arrest.

Brazil, once a shining star among the world's emerging economies, is now dealing with its worst recession in a generation. Meanwhile, popular fury at Rousseff is mounting because of her links to those caught up in a bribery and political kickbacks scandal at state oil company Petrobras.

But Rousseff's appointment of her mentor Lula, charged last week with money laundering and fraud as part of the probe, may be one step too far – especially as impeachment proceedings loom over the president. Reuters reported that there are signs Rousseff's main coalition partner is preparing to abandon the government.

Meanwhile, Judge Sergio Moro, who released the wiretaps, is coming under fire for the disclosure, saying he is fanning the flames of discontent. He retorted that the tapes allowed the public to scrutinize Brazil's leaders.

Imagine that.

North Korea: Playing Chicken

President Obama ordered new sanctions on North Korea in retaliation for its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, just as North Korea sentenced an American student to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster.

“The order is…aimed at the government…and its activities that threaten the United States and others,” Obama said after it was announced Wednesday.

The sanctions are in response to North Korea’s nuclear test on Jan. 6, and its ballistic missile test Feb. 7. Sanctions were adopted by the United Nations Security Council and Congress, which passed the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act last month.

Meanwhile, North Korean continues its saber-rattling, boasting it had made another breakthrough in missile technology.

Kurds: We'll Do It Our Way

Oh those Kurds, such good warriors – if only they would behave.

On Wednesday, Kurdish officials announced they would establish a state in northern Syria after being shut out of UN-brokered peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.

In fact, to the horror of governments in two countries – Turkey and Syria – a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) told the Associated Press the group is not hoping to create an exclusively Kurdish zone, but rather “an all-inclusive area with representation for Turkmens, Arabs and Kurds in northern Syria.”

Already, the Syrian government, the opposition and Turkey have slammed the announcement. Kurds in Syria – long repressed by the regime – won default self-rule over their region during the revolution. Turkey, meanwhile, is currently dealing with a renewed Kurdish insurgency at home. The Kurds in Iraq have been key to fighting Islamic State – working with the US and Russia – but friction with the central government continues.

The Syrian Kurdish plan would give Syrian Kurds a similar deal Iraqi Kurds have had since US intervention in Iraq in the 1990s: self-rule in a federal system. It's what Turkish Kurds want, too.   

Both Turkey and the US designate Turkish Kurd organization, the PKK, as a terrorist organization. But the Syrian Kurds are different, the US government says, adding it would not oppose federalism if the Syrian people chose that arrangement.


Storks: For the love of junk food…a staycation

We humans do it – too often – reach for the potato chips instead of a properly balanced meal.

Why should storks be any different?

In fact, the lure of “junk food” is so strong for these birds, they have stopped going south from Europe to Africa for the winter, say researchers. Instead, they are opting to stay in Spain and Portugal, feasting on garbage at landfills.

That's because these landfills give them food security, say researchers. It has helped the population grow 10-fold in 20 years. And they are not getting fat either.

But they don't live at the landfills, oh no – these birds are picky.

Still, their addiction to sugar and preservatives might be short-lived: The EU landfill law dictates that all open sites be closed by 2018.

Staycation over.

–Compiled and written by Jabeen Bhatti

Thu, 03/17/2016 – 05:58

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