The World Today for February 09, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

The Road to Nowhere

Since the 2009 military coup d’état that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya, Honduras has become one of the most dangerous and unjust countries in the world.

“The beneficiaries of corruption are the political and business elite who use criminal means to take advantage of the country’s natural resources and, with the support of state forces, terrorize and kill those who dare to get in the way,” said Billy Kyte, a senior campaigner with Global Witness, a London-based group that recently released an investigation on corruption in Honduras.

Honduras is rich in valuable natural resources, including zinc, lead and copper. But corporate interests often supersede environmental considerations in the Central American country, the Guardian reported.

Some 123 activists – including Berta Caceres, a high-profile, internationally recognized environmentalist – have been murdered since the 2009 coup.

Under President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s crippling austerity measures, the poor are largely relegated to working exclusively for elites. Almost 43 percent of Hondurans live in extreme poverty, World Politics Review reported.

Many low-income families turn to gang activity for their livelihoods. It’s a systemic pattern that’s led to the creation of myriad complex and violent gang empires that spill over international borders.

Recent headlines illustrate the lawlessness. This month, firemen discovered the remains of four teenage boys kidnapped in January, the BBC wrote.

Hernandez has cracked down on gang violence, though the security forces are notorious for human rights abuses, Reuters claimed. The murder rate remains one of the world’s highest: 11 people die violently on average every day in a population that’s a bit larger than New York City’s.

Analysts say that the country is caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, exclusion and violence that could have far-reaching political implications.

Still, Hondurans may have a chance to make their voices heard when they are slated to elect their next president later this year.

President Hernandez has announced his candidacy and enjoys a narrow lead in polls even though he was almost ousted in 2015 on claims that he’d funded his 2013 presidential campaign using a fortune embezzled from the public health fund.

His lackluster track record isn’t the only thing preventing his reelection.

Until a controversial Supreme Court decision in 2015, the Honduran constitution had banned presidential reelection – contention over the rule led to the 2009 coup against then-president Zelaya.

“This is the same situation as in 2009,” Romeo Vasquez, the retired general who led the coup against Zelaya, told Voice of America. “Reelection is illegal in Honduras and puts us on the path to a crisis.”

WANT TO KNOW

When in Romania

In Romania, the people have spoken and the government has listened – and come through unscathed.

Three days after mass protests forced the Social Democrat-led government to withdraw a controversial plan to decriminalize a huge portion of corruption cases, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu and his team easily fended off a no-confidence vote on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Controlling two-thirds of the parliament along with its allies, the party was never really at risk inside the legislature. But as many as 5,000 protesters gathered outside government headquarters late on Wednesday to demand the cabinet’s resignation, the agency said. Fighting a snowstorm, subzero temperatures and power blackouts, they chanted, “We exist, we resist.”

The largest protests since the fall of communism in 1989 have badly shaken the government, prompting a vow from Grindeanu not to consider similar measures “that could awake powerful emotions in society without proper and wide debate”. He’ll also decide Thursday whether or not to sack Justice Minister Florin Iordache, the decree’s architect.

A Tragic Underestimation

United Nations officials suggested that more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims have likely been killed in an ongoing Myanmar army crackdown on the minority group – a far greater number than previously estimated.

“The talk until now has been of hundreds of deaths. This is probably an underestimation – we could be looking at thousands,” a UN official working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh told Reuters.

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman, Zaw Htay, said the latest reports from military commanders were that fewer than 100 people have been killed in the crackdown. “Their number is much greater than our figure. We have to check on the ground,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Last week, a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also accused the army of mass killings and gang rapes, which it said probably constituted crimes against humanity.

The report prompted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government – which had previously denied nearly all such accusations – to say that it would investigate the latest claims. Suu Kyi has faced criticism for not speaking out more loudly against the crackdown. But experts point out the democratically elected leader has little control over the military.

Vote Yes or You’re Fired

Britain’s House of Lords may be abolished altogether if members try to block Britain’s exit from the European Union.

“If the Lords don’t want to face an overwhelming public call to be abolished they must get on and protect democracy and pass this bill,” the BBC quoted an unnamed government source as saying, following the approval in the House of Commons of a bill to allow Prime Minister Theresa May to trigger Brexit proceedings.

The bill – to give the government the authority to trigger Article 50 – was approved by 494 votes to 122 in the House of Commons. It now moves to the House of Lords for a vote. But Liberal Democrats have vowed to continue trying to amend the bill, while pro-Europe Tory and Labor members of the upper house may also try to make changes to the legislation.

DISCOVERIES

A Slippery Find

For more than 150 years, the Geckolepis – a Madagascan lizard that sheds fish-like, regenerative scales – has eluded scientists in their quest to study it closely.

Researchers remained undeterred, however, and they now say they’ve identified a new species in the genus – proving once again that persistence does pay off.

In a new study published in the journal PeerJ, researchers named the lizard Geckolepis megalepis. It is distinguished from other known members of the genus by its larger scales and bone structure.

Those larger scales may make it easier for Geckolepis megalepis to escape from predators – and curious scientists – than its cousins, study lead author Mark Scherz told the Christian Science Monitor.

Scherz added that the discovery of new species goes beyond just finding new fascinating but elusive forms of life. It could also help save them from extinction. “Every time that we describe a new species, we give a little bit of hope for the conservation of that species,” he said.

Check out some pictures of Geckolepis megalepis – with and without its scales – here.

 

CORRECTION: In Wednesday’s DISCOVERIES section, we said in our “Lost at Sea” item that it was some 500 billion years ago when the former supercontinent of Gondwana gave way and splintered into modern-day Africa, Australia, South America and Antarctica. It is in fact about 500 million years ago. We apologize for the error.

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