The World Today for April 20, 2016

April 20, 2016


Talking, Not Listening

The ceasefire in the Syrian civil war lasted for around six weeks – if one is being generous with the term “ceasefire.”

Both sides were complaining about breaches of the truce on the day after it took effect.

Now, however, the fighting is back on in full force.

On Tuesday, air strikes in a rebel-sympathizing region of northeastern Syria killed around 40 people, Reuters reported. It wasn’t clear if Russian or Syrian planes launched the strikes.

The attacks came a day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebels seeking to topple him both announced new offensives.

They also came as Syria’s chief negotiator in the talks told a Lebanese television station that Assad’s future was never part of the negotiations: The goal of talks was to produce a new “national government” that would apparently contain the rebels while keeping Assad in power.

The rebels are adamant in their demands for the regime to go.

“There cannot be a political process which prolongs the life of this regime – we will not accept this,” said Riad Hijab, a rebel negotiator who has been speaking with regime representatives in Geneva at United Nations peace talks brokered by the United States and Russia. “We will fight under all circumstances, even with stones. And never give up.”

The situation boils down to another impasse in the Middle East that bears all the hallmarks of other intractable conflicts in the region – great powers backing players for their own ends, local powers pursuing their own agendas, plenty of weapons and sectarian strife.

Russia and Iran are aiding Assad. The West is backing some of the rebels. The Islamic State is against everyone. The Kurds want a separate state. Turkey opposes the Kurds but pays lip service to opposing Assad. Saudi Arabia appears more concerned with countering Iran’s influence in the region than resolving the civil war.

And then there are the Syrian people. The unrest that became the Syrian civil war started in 2011. Now, so many people have perished that some are keeping the war alive not only to achieve their goal of toppling Assad but also to claim revenge for the suffering Syrians have endured in the conflict.

“(Only if) you have some military changes on the ground in Syria will Assad and his backers feel the need to compromise,” Adam Ereli, a former US ambassador to Bahrain, told VOA. “Until they do so, there is no way the opposition is going to agree to keep in power the person who is responsible for the death of close to half a million Syrian citizens.”

Government and rebel negotiators have said they would remain in Geneva to speak if necessary. But, tragically, it looks as if they might always be talking past each other.


The President and the King

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when President Barack Obama meets Saudi Arabian King Salman on Wednesday.

The US-Saudi relationship is not a cozy one these days.

Saudi Arabia has been pumping oil to put American frackers out of work, fighting Iranian-backed forces in Yemen – a fight that’s resulted in 6,400 deaths and 2.8 million displaced people, according to the UN – and opposing efforts in Congress to pass a law that would allow victims of the September 11 attacks to file lawsuits to hold Riyadh liable for their losses.

Obama, meanwhile, has advocated that the Saudis “share” the Middle East with Iran. He failed to live up to his word when he said he would take military action if Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. And he’s allowed the US to export oil, putting more pressure on the Saudi’s oil machine.

The US and Saudi Arabia are still allies. They don’t have much choice in the matter. But they don’t necessarily need to like it.

Quake Toll Rises

The death toll of the Ecuadoran earthquake hit 507 on Tuesday.

The 7.8-magnitude quake on Saturday was one of the most devastating in South America for decades. The heartbreaking human stories are now coming out, too.

In Manta on the Pacific coast, rescuers freed eight people trapped in the rubble of a shopping center for more than 32 hours using sniffer dogs, hydraulic jacks and other equipment.

Meanwhile, the Ecuadoran government pegged the cost of rebuilding at $3 billion, or around 3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, guaranteeing that citizens of the poor country will be paying for this tragedy for years to come.

A Reckoning for PEGIDA

A protester held a sign on Tuesday outside the Dresden courthouse where the co-founder of Germany's anti-Islam PEGIDA group was facing charges of incitement to hatred.

“We want a Germany out of the euro, out of the European Union, out of NATO and with true democracy,” the sign said.

Prosecutors have charged Lutz Bachmann, 43, with sending messages on social media that called refugees “cattle,” “garbage” and “scumbags.” He faces a prison term of as long as five years.

Bachmann claims he’s not racist. But PEGIDA stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. The group has organized massive rallies in Germany to oppose the country accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the violence and poverty of the Middle East and North Africa: Germany took more than one million in 2015.

Unsurprisingly, Bachmann’s backstory is ugly. In addition to his past drug and burglary convictions, he quit as PEGIDA leader last year after photos surfaced of him dressed up like Hitler.

Stunts like that created a kind of anti-PEGIDA movement that mustered similar throngs to oppose PEGIDA’s hate. So not everything Bachmann started is bad.

Unfortunately, PEGIDA is only one of a number of similar movements popping up across Europe these days – and some of these are even uglier.


A Dinosaur Mystery

The dinosaurs weren’t too lucky.

The terrible lizards were already declining for 40 million years before an asteroid smashed into southern Mexico, inaugurating a catastrophe that killed around 75 percent of animal life on the planet.

The revelations by British researchers writing in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences explain what was likely happening – more dinosaur species were dying off than being created. The scientists don’t necessarily know why they were in decline. Volcanos, fluctuating sea levels and other harsh conditions dominated this period. That didn’t help their fortunes. Then the big asteroid came. Or so they think.

Still, science journalist Ed Yong at the Atlantic reminds readers that writing off the dinosaurs because they happened to be in a rough patch before a cataclysmic event rendered them extinct would be unfair.

They ruled the Earth for 140 million years. Modern humans have been around for a mere 200,000 years or so. 


The DailyChatter staff wishes you a great day. Write to us with tips, feedback and suggestions at

Compiled and written by Jabeen Bhatti


Wed, 04/20/2016 – 06:03

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