The World Today for September 21, 2016


Of Balconies and Airstrikes

Early on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry was insisting that the ceasefire in Syria that he negotiated with Russia was still alive despite numerous breaches of the agreement.

“The ceasefire is not dead,” Kerry told Reuters in New York, where leaders were meeting at the United Nations to discuss the five-year-old Syrian Civil War.

Late on Tuesday, the United States and others were accusing Russia of bombing a UN aid convoy. The development left many thinking the ceasefire could never resume.

“Just when we think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the New York Times reported.

The UN trucks were reportedly well-marked. They carried wheat flour, nine tons of medicine and clothing for about 78,000 people, the newspaper said.

Russia has denied responsibility for the bombing, CNN reported. However, US President Barack Obama wants to give Russia time to investigate the attack, which destroyed 18 out of 31 trucks traveling with the aid convoy and killed at least 12 people on Monday.

Presumably, Obama wants to give Moscow a chance to admit its error and apologize for killing the UN workers.

That mea culpa would allow Washington and Moscow to move forward and double down on a truce that would allow humanitarian aid into desperate districts of Syria and refocus the Americans and Russians on killing jihadists rather than propping up either of their respective allies in the civil war.

The US is supporting rebels who want to oust Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. The Russians are giving crucial support to Assad.

US officials said sorry for accidentally killing 60 Syrian soldiers on Saturday that they thought were Islamic State fighters, after all.

Regardless, pessimism over the ceasefire is mounting. After all, if neither the US nor Russia can control their own forces in the fighting, how and why should the rebels, the Assad regime or the jihadists do so?

“We will have to reflect if there are ways back to negotiations on a truce, or if this has already become hopeless,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking to Reuters.

For those stuck in Aleppo, the situation has become hopeless even as they hesitantly reveled in the peace they felt – for a few days.

“It was a new feeling for us, we had been deprived of it for five years now,” said Shahoud Hussein, 30, an Aleppo resident and Syrian civil servant about the quiet peacefulness that marked the shattered city until airstrikes resumed this week. “We could sit on the balcony without the constant fear of the falling shells. But now we are back to the nightmare of war and killing.”


Doing – a Little – More

US President Barack Obama unveiled a concrete pledge from the world’s leading nations to take in more refugees in his final address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Some 50 nations agreed to take in 360,000 refugees from war-torn nations in a meeting he chaired on the sidelines of the event, Obama said. Notably, Canada and Germany vowed to double the number of refugees they take in compared with last year – despite clear signs that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy is causing her serious political damage, the BBC reports. The US will take in 110,000 new refugees over 12 months beginning Oct. 1, up from 85,000 refugees in the same period this year.

The pledge comes after a UN declaration to do more was passed earlier this week – though critics had expressed frustration that a version asking member nations to take in 10 percent of the world’s refugees had been scrapped. About 21 million refugees have been forced to flee their countries due to conflict or persecution, according to the UN.

By the Numbers

The leader of one of Africa’s longest-running political dynasties may be ready to accept the realities of democracy after all.

Gabon President Ali Bongo and opposition leader Jean Ping have agreed to a recount to resolve questions surrounding the August presidential vote, AFP reports.

However, there remains some disagreement over how the recount should be conducted. While Bongo’s lawyer said the opposing sides have agreed to a recount of official votes in 2,579 polling stations across the country, a spokesman for Ping said the opposition wanted to see the court sift through all vote counts rather than just those signed off by the electoral commission.

After Bongo won a narrow victory based on suspicious 99 percent voter turnout in his home province last month, EU observers said there was a “clear anomaly” in the results. Meanwhile, Ping threatened an outbreak of violence if his call for a recount went unheeded.

The New McCarthyism

After launching a deadly antidrug campaign causing concern among allies, controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte ousted a key dissenter from the country’s Senate Justice Committee on Tuesday.

Senator Leila de Lima was stripped of her post on the basis of allegations that she took payoffs from drug lords.

But the prominent critic of Duterte’s brutal war on drugs said her ouster was part of a “new McCarthyism” intended to stop her investigation into the president’s alleged role in the extrajudicial killings of around 1,000 suspected criminals and political opponents while serving as mayor of Davao City, according to the New York Times.

Most others remained silent due to Duterte’s high popularity. But de Lima had persisted in her investigation into his alleged role in the killings, last week calling a professed former assassin, Edgar Matobato, to testify before her committee.

Among other things, Matobato said Duterte ordered the killings – including one in which the victim was fed to crocodiles.


Dino Want a Cracker?

The discovery of a remarkably complete set of fossils has revealed a stunning truth about the so-called “parrot lizard” – the dinosaur officially known as Psittacosaurus.

The revelation?

“Our model suggests it was super, super cute,” the University of Bristol’s Jakob Vinther told Reuters. “I think they would have made fantastic pets. They look a bit like E.T.”

The new model, published this month in the journal Cell Biology, reveals never-before-seen physical details, thanks to the discovery of a remarkably complete specimen that included fossilized organelles on the dinosaur’s skin, writes the Christian Science Monitor.

Intact melanosomes, which create and store pigments, allowed the scientists to put together thousands of scales to recreate its coloration.

But it’s the doe eyes and parrot-like beak, shown here, that make it look like the invention of Steven Spielberg.

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