The World Today for January 06, 2017


Fighting For Scraps

Zimbabwe appears headed for its second major public health crisis in eight years.

On Thursday, Voice of America said that 126 cases of typhoid had been confirmed in Harare, the capital, and more than 1,000 were suspected nationwide.

Government public health officials said they had control of the situation. But Voice of America cast doubt on those claims.

“Faucets were dry, sewer water could be seen flowing, and some people were using water from open sources like lakes and rivers,” the US-government-operated news agency reported, noting that dirty water carries diseases like typhoid and cholera.

The news was the latest embarrassment for President Robert Mugabe, 92, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980.

Mugabe didn’t learn from the 2008-2009 floods that led to 4,000 Zimbabweans dying from cholera, said angry health activists. Public health laws in the country date from 1924, they added.

Instead, last month, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party unanimously called on him to run for president again in next year’s elections. Mugabe’s supporters chanted “tongai, tongai baba,” or “rule, rule father” as he accepted the party’s nomination.

Should Mugabe win 2018’s election, he could occupy the presidency almost until his 100th birthday.

But the enthusiasm of his most vehement supporters can’t polish Mugabe’s tarnished legacy of tanking Zimbabwe’s public health infrastructure and economy.

Mugabe ordered the expropriation of white-owned farmland in 1997 at an apex of agricultural insecurity in the nation, kicking off a race-relations nightmare and a period of farmland mismanagement that burned Africa’s breadbasket. Prolonged droughts at the time added insult to injury, Quartz reported.

The government printed money for farm subsidies, leading to hyperinflation and unemployment that has persisted to this day. More than 80 percent of Zimbabweans are now unemployed, Reuters reported.

Most Zimbabweans depend on a barter economy or work within the informal sector to survive. The government even recently sold 35 elephants to China to raise money, the Associated Press reported.

People are fed up.

“There is no job, no food, no money for the children to go to school, so things are very tough,” one Zimbabwean told CNN. “Mugabe must leave.”

Britain’s New Statesman says that Mugabe is facing his last days.  In 2016, he faced unprecedented protests.

With no clear successor should Mugabe die in office, his Zanu-PF party has split into two rival factions: one led by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the other by first lady Grace Mugabe.

But, judging from Zimbabwe’s problems, the real question is not who might eventually succeed Mugabe, but why they would want his job in the first place.


Korean Discomfort

The grim history of so-called “comfort women” forced into prostitution by Japan’s occupying army during World War II continues to complicate diplomatic relations across Asia.

In the latest incident, Japan said on Friday it was recalling its ambassador to South Korea over a statue commemorating Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the war, Reuters reported.

It may seem odd that Japan considers itself the injured party here. After all, South Korean activists estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims forced to work in the Japanese brothels.

However, Japan’s objection stems from the fact that the two nations agreed in 2015 to put the issue of “comfort women” to rest, contingent on Japan issuing a formal apology and establishing a fund to help the victims. Japan now says Korea’s recent move to erect a statue in honor of those victims near the Japanese consulate in Busan is a violation of the deal.

Japan will also postpone bilateral “high-level” economic dialogue and suspend talks on a new currency swap arrangement with South Korea as part of the protest, the agency said.

Explosive Cell

While a manhunt continues for the killer who gunned down 39 revelers at a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve, a car bombing killed two people and wounded at least seven others in the Aegean city of Izmir.

Authorities blamed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the car bomb, which was detonated outside the city courthouse and killed a policeman and court worker, Agence France Presse reported. A gun battle ensued between police and the alleged “terrorists,” the agency quoted Turkey’s deputy prime minister as saying. Two militants were killed in the clash and one other escaped.

Separately, Deputy Prime Minister Veysel Kaynak told reporters that the fugitive attacker who carried out the New Year’s Eve shootings was likely a Turkic Uighur. Reports have indicated the authorities are looking into the possible existence of a cell including other jihadists from Central Asia, Reuters said.

Most ethnic Uighurs live in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, though some also live in ex-Soviet Central Asian states. In China, militant Uighurs have been blamed for various terrorist attacks as well.


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a second grilling on suspicions of corruption Thursday night.

The police said Thursday’s session lasted five hours and that Netanyahu had been questioned under caution due to suspicions he took improper gifts and favors, the New York Times reported. Netanyahu had already faced a similar interrogation on Monday.

Local media reported that the gifts in question included boxes of cigars and bottles of costly Champagne he and his wife received from American-Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan – who was an Israeli intelligence operative decades before producing “Gone Girl,” “12 Years a Slave” and many other films.

Netanyahu has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and the police have yet to ascertain whether the gifts amount to anything more than a normal exchange between friends. But that didn’t stop local journalists from “staking out” the prime minister’s residence like a celebrity hideout, the NYT said.

Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is serving a 19-month term for bribery and obstruction of justice.


Carpool Lane

Carpooling of a different sort may become the newest recycled fad.

According to new MIT research, network algorithms and fewer cabs could service commuters more quickly and efficiently than traditional hail-and-ride taxis or apps.

Currently, about 14,000 yellow cabs are open for business in New York City. But over the course of six months, MIT researchers developed a new algorithm suggesting that 3,000 four-seater cars could meet 98 percent of commuter demand – with patrons only waiting 2.3 minutes on average for a cab.

Unlike Uber or Lyft, the algorithm combines user requests to optimize carpooling. It works in real-time to change routes based on requests, meaning that high-demand areas are serviced more quickly.

In addition to improving the quality of life for city-goers by decreasing traffic congestion, Daniela Rus, a professor at MIT, tells the Washington Post that cab drivers could see employment benefits as well.

“Instead of working 12-hour shifts, you could work six or eight-hour shifts,” she said. “And you would make the same amount of money because it’s the same transportation need, it’s the same level of payment that flows through the system.”

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Turkey: Insults, Threats and Tea                                 

The Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet finished out 2016 with luck typical to the year—not surprising in light of the ongoing media crackdown in that country. Columnist Aydin Engin, on trial for allegedly creating terrorist propaganda, said his life was threatened – twice. He was cited in news reports as saying that on Dec. 24, three men stopped him in Istanbul and one of them said, “Take a good look at the sun. This will be the last time you see it.” The next day, he received a phone call in which someone told him, “Your days are numbered.”

The same week, Senol Buran, the head of the cafeteria at the same paper, found roads closed because Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was giving a speech. According to the BBC, Buran told police officers: “I would not serve that man a cup of tea,” prompting police to detain him. Freed after more than a week, he’s now awaiting trial on charges of insulting the president, which carries a sentence of up to four years in prison. In this, he joins thousands of others awaiting prosecution for such insults.

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