The World Today for September 22, 2016


Resentment and Tulips

At first, Ethiopians protested for minority rights. Now it’s tulips.

Protests in the country started in early summer. But the latest violence, which broke out at the end of August, is an escalation in the worst civil strife that Ethiopia has seen in years. And the movement initially pressing for minority rights has now grown and become a release for Ethiopians and their long-simmering resentment of their authoritarian leaders.

Tulips might seem like an odd target for protesters to direct their outrage. But flowers are one of Ethiopia’s top exports. Therefore, in the protesters view, they are intimately linked to the repressive government that has overseen Ethiopia’s fast economic growth in recent years with the help of foreign capital (some farms are foreign owned).

When the initial protests in the summer began, security forces cracked down, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people. Since then, the government has disrupted satellite and other telecommunications, bringing those demonstrations to a premature end.

But the recent flower plantation assaults are a signal that Ethiopians’ grievances and their resentment at a government that has been in power for more than 25 years are far from being resolved.

Their original cause of complaint was a series of proposed land reforms to expand the capital of Addis Ababa. Local Oromo people, one of the country’s two largest ethnic groups, feared their farmland would be seized.

Even though those reforms have since been pulled from the table, observers say that resentment is spreading to other issues and regions, including among the Amhara, the country’s other large ethnic community.

Many young Ethiopians are angry at a government that has been in power their entire lives – and is seen to favor the minority Tigrean community at the expense of the Oromo and Amhara, who make up 60 percent of Ethiopia’s population of more than 100 million.

Earlier this month, Oromo activists called on the government to release information on inmates who died in a blaze at a prison holding six of their leaders since last year.

The government has remained silent. And since they have banned foreign media outlets from covering the protests and cracked down on local media, much about the situation remains unknown.

Still, against alarming reports of human rights abuses, international agencies have cautioned the government to open up before it’s too late: The UN has urged the government to bring in independent observers to evaluate the situation and begin a process of reform in order to head off greater upheaval.

After all, many of the world’s revolutions first began with flowers.


The Letters of Shame

The so-called Islamic State, or IS, isn’t necessarily known for adhering to traditional rules of engagement.

On Tuesday, ISIS launched a military shell at the Qayyara airbase in Iraq that, upon later examination, tested positive for mustard gas, a deadly chemical that claimed thousands of lives during World War I.

Coalition troops fighting against ISIS haven’t shown any symptoms of mustard exposure yet, which include skin blistering – officials claim this is because the “poor man’s atomic bomb” was “poorly weaponized” and equipped with a “low purity” version of the notorious agent, CNN reports.

This latest chemical attack by IS comes on the heels of an Obama administration proposal for a fresh instalment of 500 US troops into the region, the Wall Street Journal reports.

US troops have been aiding Iraqi coalition forces in gearing up to take back the northern city of Mosul, one of the last IS strongholds in the nation, an offensive expected to begin next month. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under IS control since 2014.

Meanwhile, nobody thought that IS forces, only some 1,000 strong, could hold out in the city for as long as they have.

But the regime was propped up by the local Sunni population, who claimed they had been persecuted by the largely Shia Iraqi army, reports Al Jazeera. New letters released by townspeople beg for forgiveness “for murder” and show that that choice might have been a mistake.

A Debut

Myanmar’s foreign minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, had her coming-out at the United Nations General Assembly in New York Wednesday, marking the first time that a civilian leader of that nation had addressed the council in 50 years.

Suu Kyi, 71, is the daughter of Myanmar’s founder. She’s also a former political prisoner – she was detained for 15 years for her involvement in a pro-democracy faction during the country’s half-century-long military junta.

Myanmar began moving towards democratic change about five years ago, and in November, the country elected Suu Kyi’s party to national office.

Transition has been slow coming, however.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize laureate, has been criticized by human rights organizations for her lack of urgency in addressing the subjugation of the nation’s ethnic Rohingya minority in the majority Buddhist Rakhine state.

Violence broke out in 2012 between the two groups and some 100,000 Rohingya are still in displacement camps, the Washington Post reports.

At the UN, although she didn’t mention the Rohingya by name, Suu Kyi assured the General Assembly that Myanmar was “standing firm against the forces of prejudice and intolerance.”

“We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the state,” she said.

A Pop-Up Event

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are laying down arms and planning for reintegration at their 10th annual conference. The guerrilla group is expected to approve an historic peace deal forged with the country’s government on Friday, formally ending over 50 years of civil war.

The massive pop-up event is a symbol of the group’s military might, but also their nervous anticipation of what’s to come, the Miami Herald reports.

Colombian society is a bit foreign for many soldiers who have fought in the jungle since they were teens, and reintegration may come as a large challenge for both the government and the individuals involved. But political ambitions remain strong.

“If something has characterized us since our birth it is, precisely, our rigorously political nature founded on the broadest of democracies,” said Timoleon Jimenez, the FARC’s maximum commander.

Some points of contention still need to be ironed out before both sides sign the finalized version of the peace accords in Havana on Monday, particularly a clause that would grant amnesty to FARC rebels for crimes committed over the course of the war, CNN reports.

The brutal civil war killed around 220,000 people and displaced millions.

Columbia’s current president, Juan Manuel Santos, promises swift justice for FARC offenders, but FARC leaders have said the deal’s a no-go without amnesty on the table.

“Without this law, well, it is very difficult for the guerrillas to begin their movement into the peace zones or to the transitional points for normalization,” said Ivan Marquez, the FARC’s chief negotiator.

Normalization, say observers, is a long road with sharp curves.


Fill in the blank

A Chinese search engine is providing Americans with some valuable cultural insight.

Baidu uses an autocomplete function similar to Google’s: Its algorithm, based on variables like time and location, suggests a search query based on the first few phrases of a particular question.

Those autocompleted entries concerning questions about Americans are shedding light on some interesting Chinese curiosities, according to Foreign Policy.

So what’s on their minds?

Puzzling questions like: “Why do Americans hate Anne Hathaway?”

The actress received a bit of vitriol on social media from trolls critical of her bid for an Academy Award back in 2013. The Chinese blogosphere purportedly went wild with confusion over the event.

Other things about Americans also mystifying the Chinese include the proliferation of guns, male endowment, seafood tastes and the space race.

Oh, and of course, many, many Chinese wonder: Why don’t Americans eat pigs’ feet?

Read more here.

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