The World Today for March 30, 2017


More Than Words

After Germany and the Netherlands blocked Turkish officials earlier this month from lobbying Turkish expatriates in the two European countries to vote in favor of an upcoming constitutional referendum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Dutch and German leaders of behaving like Nazis.

But Foreign Policy on Wednesday suggested Erdogan’s comments were equivalent to the pot calling the kettle black. “Turkey Is a Dictatorship Masquerading as a NATO Democracy,” read the magazine’s headline.

Standing to gain far-reaching powers if voters approve the April 16 referendum, which would convert Turkey from a parliamentary system to a presidential republic, Erdogan appears to be cracking down on all forms of dissent against his authority both inside and outside of his country.

“Turkish foreign policy today — whatever it is, wherever it is, from Syria all the way to the Netherlands and Germany — is related to the domestic political agenda,” Cengiz Candar, a Turkish columnist and academic, told the New York Times. “There is no Turkish foreign policy now.”

The rhetorical back-and-forth between the EU and NATO after Erdogan’s Nazi comments was one example.

This week another sign of Turkish boldness surfaced when news broke that Turkey might have spied on Turks living in Germany even after German officials denied Erdogan’s request for permission for the snooping.

The Turks in question were followers of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Living in exile in Pennsylvania, Gulen has been accused by Erdogan of orchestrating a failed coup in Turkey in July.

Turkey’s relationship with Europe was much different a year ago when Erdogan hoped that staunching the flood of refugees into the continent would help Turkey gain favor there.

In return for visa-free travel to Europe, renewed talks on EU membership and $6.8 billion in aid, Ankara agreed to a controversial deal to accept migrants who’d crossed the Mediterranean to Greece.

Turkey upheld its end of the bargain, reducing the number of refugees arriving in Greece by roughly 90 percent.

Meanwhile, the EU dragged its feet on the deal, especially after the failed coup attempt and Erdogan’s controversial use of emergency powers to crack down on civil society and other human rights violations – tens of thousands of teachers, judges and journalists among others lost were persecuted in the aftermath.

In response to those violations, the European Parliament officially froze talks on Turkish accession into the bloc in November after more than a decade of negotiations.

“If you go any further, these border gates will be opened,” Erdogan said shortly after the announcement. “Do not forget, the West needs Turkey.”

Perhaps. But, if they want their country to remain a democracy, Turks might also need the West.


Shameful Deaths

More than 100 refugees and other migrants died in Malaysia’s immigration detention centers over the past two years – raising fears about similar problems at other regional facilities that don’t disclose such statistics.

Malaysia’s immigration department provided the figures to the government-funded National Human Rights Commission for the first time, showing that 83 migrants died in detention centers in 2015 and at least another 35 died in 2016, Reuters reported. The country’s 13 detention centers held 86,795 detainees for various periods during 2016.

More than half of the dead were from Myanmar, which accounts for tens of thousands of refugees flocking to Malaysia.

A member of the commission called conditions at the centers “appalling” and said a criminal investigation should be launched into the deaths.

The agency could not say whether the total was higher or lower than the death toll in similar detention centers in Indonesia or Thailand because those countries do not disclose that information. But in the US, which has many more immigration-related detainees, the death toll last year was 10 people.

Twin Tragedies

Fighting is heating up in Yemen, even as the Arab world’s poorest nation teeters on the brink of famine.

UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Wednesday urged the UN Security Council to pressure Yemen’s government and Shiite Houthi rebels “to engage constructively” to work out a way to end the war, the Associated Press reported.

The conflict between the internationally recognized government and Houthi rebels has already killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced over 3 million people. Earlier this week, it was reported that Washington is considering ramping up support for Saudi Arabia’s participation in the fighting – in which the Saudis are backing the government and Iran is backing the Houthi rebels.

The possible increase in US support comes in the wake of an alleged attack on a boat carrying 140 Somali refugees by a Saudi-coalition warship and helicopter earlier this month, in which at least 42 people were killed. Because the US supplies helicopters to Saudi Arabia, Washington could be implicated in the civilian deaths, some argue.

Expect the Unexpected

China and the European Union rallied behind the Paris Agreement on climate change on Wednesday, following US President Donald Trump’s moves to roll back measures to reduce US emissions enacted during the previous administration.

The reaction from China, in particular, partly assuages fears that the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US would also slash its domestic targets for reductions – though it’s still not clear if Trump will pull the US out of the Paris Agreement altogether.

“No matter how other countries’ policies on climate change, as a responsible large developing country China’s resolve, aims and policy moves in dealing with climate change will not change,” Reuters quoted a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry as saying.

Similarly, European Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said the Paris agreement was a “growth engine” for creating jobs and new investment opportunities – perhaps in reference to Trump’s pledge to bring back jobs in the US coal industry.


Down Under Dinosaurs

With its marsupials and man-eating crocodiles, Australia has a deserved reputation for being a home to eccentric and awe-inspiring – if terrifying – wildlife.

And that was probably always the case, if a recently discovered collection of dinosaur tracks is anything to go by.

Scientists found a set of more than 20 different types of fossil footmarks – including some more than five feet in size made by sauropods like the brontosaurus – in sandstone rock on beaches on the continent’s western side.

Most of Australia’s dinosaur fossils come from the eastern half of the continent and are considerably younger, wrote the BBC.

As a result, the trackways constitute a “globally unparalleled” find and could be considered Australia’s own Jurassic Park, lead study scientist Steve Salisbury told the BBC.

“This is the most diverse dinosaur track fauna we’ve ever recorded,” said Salisbury. “In this time slice (127 and 140 million years ago) in Australia, we’ve got no other record – there’s virtually no other fossils from any part of the continent.”

Tracks belonging to carnivorous dinosaurs and armored dinosaurs like the stegosaurus – the first of its kind to be discovered in Australia – were also among the find.

Check out some pictures of these fossil footprints here.

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