The World Today for April 26, 2016

April 26, 2016


Syria: Saving the Ceasefire or Assad?

Eight weeks into a truce that was supposed to allow negotiators to hammer out a peace deal, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops have stepped up their campaign to capture Aleppo.

The escalating battle put the nominal ceasefire at risk, prompting the UN to call for Moscow and Washington to intercede. And US President Barack Obama, for one, said he’d spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to make sure that we could reinstate the cessation of hostilities” this week.

But from the perspective of the non-jihadist rebels who view Assad, rather than the Islamic State (IS), as enemy number one, the damage may already be done.

Killing dozens of civilians, the assault has all but scuttled the peace talks, as negotiators representing Assad’s main opponents walked out of talks in Geneva last week. Moreover, with US President Barack Obama specifying on Monday that “it would be a mistake…to send in ground troops and overthrow the Assad regime,” it seems ever more likely that the controversial leader will maintain his grip on the country.

That’s the sticking point in the peace talks, of course. Like the more successful revolutions of the Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war began as an effort to unseat Assad – a dynastic leader who took over the presidency after the death of his father ended the patriarch’s 30-year reign over the country. And his ruthless fight to keep control – which prompted UN investigators to accuse him of crimes against humanity in 2013 – has done nothing to endear him to his opponents.

So far, the most the negotiators representing Assad have been willing to offer is a so-called “government of national unity.” His opponents interpret that to mean Assad would remain in charge but they’d be offered some token positions within his regime. But it’s not clear exactly how much wiggle room there might be, or what incentives it offers the rebels to lay down their weapons.

This week’s developments suggest he’s gaining the upper hand.

Putin appears keen to keep Assad in office, despite scaling back Russia’s military involvement in March. And the ongoing fighting could make peace talks irrelevant. If the government – which now controls the western half of Aleppo – can retake the rest of the city and maintain control over the capital, Damascus, it would effectively win the war, Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Obama this week clarified three points: Though he’s boosting the US presence in Syria with 250 more military advisers, Washington remains reluctant to become embroiled in another problematic ground war. He’s still keen for his European allies to shoulder a big part of the burden. And his primary interest is eliminating obstacles in the fight against the Islamic State (IS).

That last point is crucial, because apart from its massive humanitarian costs – including the deaths of some 270,000 Syrians, millions of refugees and mass starvation – the civil war is a huge obstacle. In both Syria and Iraq, America’s strategy is to employ a small force of advisors and get local forces to carry out the actual fighting. But in Syria, the US has been hard pressed to find Sunni Arab groups willing to focus on IS, because they see Assad as their principal threat.


Chernobyl Remembered

Ukraine sounded sirens in the early hours of the morning Tuesday, marking the exact moment that the first reactor exploded, beginning the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster 30 years ago. A memorial service was held in a nearby town built to re-house workers from the plant, and President Petro Poroshenko is due to attend a ceremony near the site later today.

Radiation is projected to cause as many as 4,000 cancer deaths and 5,000 other casualties before the dying ends, according to health and radiation authorities.

Those aren’t the only staggering numbers, however. More than $2.25 billion is being spent to build a long-term shelter over the building that housed the exploded reactor. Some 600,000 “liquidators” sent in to fight the fire and clean up the worst of the spill were exposed to massive radiation, while another 350,000 residents had to be evacuated.

Burundi: General Killed Amid War Crimes Probe

Heavily armed men attacked and killed a top Tutsi general in Burundi on Monday as he dropped his daughter off at school, further stoking fears of a renewed war between the rival Tutsi and Hutu tribes.

The attack came as the International Criminal Court announced a probe into reports of imprisonment, torture, and rape in the troubled East African nation.

Since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in power last year, “at least 3,400 people have been arrested and over 230,000 Burundians forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries,” according to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

Raising the specter of the ethnic conflict that killed 30,000 people between 1993 and 2006, Africa expert Robert Besseling told AFP, “Rival sides in the conflict have become entrenched and violence has become more brutal.”

Saudi Arabia Unveils Post-Oil Plans

Saudi Arabia unveiled ambitious plans to reduce its dependence on oil and generate income from other industries such as mining and tourism.

Called “Saudi Vision 2030,” the scheme involves selling a less than 5 percent stake in state-owned oil giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco. The proceeds will be used to set up a $3 trillion sovereign wealth fund – the world’s largest – which the country will use for non-oil investments abroad.

The move away from oil promises to radically change the “social contract” between the Saudi royal family and ordinary citizens. When oil ruled, the royal family spent heavily on public works and asked no tax in return. But with its increasingly youthful population, the kingdom desperately needs to create jobs, so it plans investments in healthcare, education, manufacturing and alternative energy – as well as luxury and sin taxes.


Even Infants Have Their Price

For enough graham crackers, even babies will embrace evil.

Various studies show that human beings instinctively shun those who cheat or mistreat others – even when they’re very young. But new research proves something that parents have always suspected. Kids will sell their soul if the price is right.

Even in the first months of life, infants don’t like to share with bad apples. So what does it take for a one year old to overcome his or her innate moral code? Eight graham crackers.

Here’s how researchers discovered the sad truth:

They asked 80 toddlers to observe a brief puppet show. Two rabbits pranced onto the stage with plates of graham crackers – one containing a single cracker and the other with two or eight. Invariably, the kids chose the plate with the most crackers.

But when it became clear that one of the rabbits was morally suspect – tormenting a lamb puppet was involved – the toddlers “robustly” shunned the bad guy and chose the crackers offered by the benevolent one. Two graham crackers weren’t enough to get the toddlers to go with the villain. But at eight crackers to one, they broke.

Everybody has his price.


Tue, 04/26/2016 – 06:13

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