The World Today for September 14, 2016


Grand Delusions, Real Threats

North Korean President Kim Jong-un works hard to keep a tight lid on the internal workings of the so-called Hermit Kingdom.

Lately, he is not doing a great job.

From the high-profile defection of a London-based diplomat to the alleged executions of top-tanking officials – one for the crime of falling asleep in Kim’s presence – a slew of eye-catching reports have emerged from North Korea in recent months.

Kim recently banned sarcasm over concerns he was being mocked by his own people, suggesting that the Supreme Leader’s hold over his country is not as secure as he’d wish.

In what observers said was a rare step for a country that takes great pains to portray itself as a self-sufficient workers’ paradise, Kim’s regime issued a public appeal Sunday for international relief to cope with Typhoon Lionrock’s destruction.

Aid workers claim hundreds have died and more than 100,000 North Koreans are now homeless due to the storm, the Washington Post reported.

Yet it would be rash to conclude that North Korea will become an easier partner for the rest of the world in Pyongyang’s hour of need.

Last Friday’s nuclear test – North Korea’s second this year and fifth in total – exemplifies how the 32-year-old Supreme Leader’s regime copes with rising internal pressures, according to an Associated Press analysis. The blast was roughly the size of the bomb that the US dropped on Hiroshima, according to Quartz.

Analysts warned that the US and its allies should act fast before Kim finally has a nuclear arsenal – or becomes an exporter of nuclear weapons to rogue states like Iran.

Now the US and its allies are struggling to defuse the threat.

Sanctions have proved ineffective in persuading Kim to wind down his weapons program, and the lack of diplomatic and economic ties to Pyongyang gives world leaders little influence over Kim’s ambitions. A Tuesday flyover by American bombers wasn’t likely to change much either.

Even China, arguably North Korea’s only ally and most valuable trade partner, has shied away from confronting Kim directly over concerns that upheaval in Pyongyang will result in millions of refugees pouring across China’s borders.

Talks this week between the US and Japan’s new defense minister could herald a breakthrough in a strategy to handle Kim, but if history is any indication, Kim might pull another trigger before the West makes a move of its own.

Time is on Pyongyang’s side. After all, as South Korean officials warned, the North is ready to conduct another nuclear test “at any time.”

And it likely will.


Pins and Needles

Despite skepticism from all sides, the fragile ceasefire facilitated by the US and Russia in Syria appears to be holding – for now. But aid agencies say that they still have not been able to deliver supplies to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians trapped in besieged areas.

One complication: The Syrian foreign ministry said the regime will not allow any humanitarian assistance to Aleppo unless it is coordinated by the government and UN – especially if it’s coming from Turkey, CNN reported. Up to 275,000 people in east Aleppo have been cut off from assistance since early July, the UN says.

Twenty-four hours after the truce came into effect on Monday, the UN’s special envoy for Syria said the situation had improved dramatically, and aid should soon be available. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that it had not received any reports of combatants or civilians killed by fighting in any areas covered by the ceasefire.

Fighting continues in other areas, such as western-central Hama province, where combatants included jihadists and nationalist rebels fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner.

Doth They Protest Too Much?

Following weeks of near-daily protests in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe is endeavoring to make such demonstrations illegal. But so far the Supreme Court is holding firm.

Zimbabwean police this week announced plans for a month-long ban on street action, following a Supreme Court ruling last week that ruled an earlier, two-week ban was unconstitutional, the New York Times reported. Police say the original ban was never really lifted, because the court’s ruling was not to take effect for seven days.

It’s not clear how – or whether – the police intend to convince the court to change its mind. Like the overturned ban, this one also follows an announcement of a big demonstration Saturday by opposition political groups, according to the paper.

Inspired by Pastor Evan Mawarire’s #ThisFlag social media campaign, Zimbabwe’s citizens have been protesting for months against economic turmoil and corruption – for which they blame the government of 92-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe, who some observers believe is – at last – on his way out.

Orban Grinder

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban took a broadside from an unlikely opponent this week, as a top official from wee Luxembourg called for Hungary to be expelled from the European Union for treating refugees “worse than wild animals.”

“Anyone who, like Hungary, builds fences against refugees from war or who violates press freedom and judicial independence should be excluded temporarily, or if necessary for ever, from the EU,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper in an interview.

Asselborn also called for the EU’s rules to be changed to make it easier to kick out Hungary, which under the government of Orban has been accused of undermining democracy as well as encouraging xenophobia.

In July, Human Rights Watch slammed Hungary for “breaking all the rules” regarding the humane treatment of refugees, following the construction of a 175-kilometer long fence on its border with Serbia. Not only was Hungary throwing out refugees, its police and soldiers had severely beaten migrants before sending them back across the border to Serbia, the rights watchdog said.

Meanwhile, Hungarian prosecutors filed criminal charges last week against a Hungarian camerawoman who was filmed kicking and tripping migrants near the Serbian border last year. Petra Laszlo, who was fired from a local TV station soon after, said the incident “ruined her life” and that she wants to move to Russia.


Crying Wolf

When University of Oxford scientist Claudio Sillero-Zubiri first searched the mountains of Ethiopia for the rare wolves he was studying in 1991, virtually all he found were corpses.

There were fewer than a thousand of the world’s rarest canid, the Ethiopian wolf, left in the world. Worse still, the few remaining were being devastated by an outbreak of rabies, Sillero-Zubiri found.

Now, a new vaccination program based on the ones used to control rabies in the US and Europe offers hope for a comeback for the remaining 500 wolves. The trick to its success? Goat intestines.

At first, the team injects an oral form of the vaccine into dead rats and leaves them around for wolves to eat. But wolves don’t like rats much – but they do like goat meat and especially intestines.

Now, about 86 percent of those animals were successfully inoculated against rabies. What’s still needed is time, and the Ethiopian government’s willingness to roll out the program on a wider scale.

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