The World Today for April 12, 2017


An Appeal to the Masses

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday meeting with King Salman.

On their agenda was the plight of Filipino workers who were kicked out of the desert kingdom without pay, as well as the living conditions of 1 million Filipinos who still work in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.

Few ever envisioned Duterte, a rude-mouthed populist, walking alongside one of the world’s most respected monarchs.

But Duterte is used to surprising folks.

Last week, Duterte hiked tensions in the South China Sea when he bolstered fortifications on islands that Manilla claims in the contentious region.

A day before the announcement, Duterte referred to the situation in the sea as a “race to grab islands,” a blatant challenge to China’s maritime expansion, Voice of America reported.

The move reversed years of relative cooperation between Manila and Beijing that has helped

Duterte attract billions of dollars in Chinese investments, the Wall Street Journal reported.

It also served as another example of the brazen and often unpredictable leadership style of the controversial Philippine president.

Since his inauguration in June, Duterte has strong-armed his way into the international spotlight.

His vitriolic comments about Pope Francis and former-President Barack Obama grabbed international headlines.

His brutal crackdown on drug dealers – police and vigilantes have murdered as many as 7,000 people since he took office – has drawn scathing criticism from human rights organizations both at home and abroad.

Add to that a string of ruthless purges from his inner circle and protesters reportedly comparing him to Hitler, and one could be led to think that things aren’t shaping up so well for the nascent president.

But in spite of a recent slump in the polls, Duterte still remains in high favor among his people – 76 percent of Filipinos trust their president, while his approval rating stands at 78 percent.

Despite the president’s many public admissions of murder and his shoot-from-the-hip rhetoric about annihilating wrongdoers, many hail him as a man of the people.

Neighbors call him a “simple man,” and he’s notorious for having deep pockets for sick and destitute children, the New York Times reported.

While the opposition Magdalo Party seeks to impeach Duterte for his dealings with vigilantes while he served as mayor of Davos City, they have heavily criticized the president for not doing enough to protect the Philippines’ territories in the South China Sea, CNN reported.

His recent moves against Beijing and efforts to bolster the Philippines’ image in the Middle East and beyond might quell those critics, providing yet more proof that his seemingly rash or bizarre political choices play well at home.


Feeling Le Bern

With two weeks to go, the campaign for France’s upcoming presidential election has taken an unexpected turn that ought to sound familiar.

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is staging an eleventh hour surge against the far-right and centrist frontrunners, roiling markets with plans for a 100 billion-euro stimulus program and a promise to renegotiate European treaties to give France more economic control, Bloomberg reported.

Counting Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez among his heroes, Melenchon is more than a tad to the left of former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. But French voters are definitely feeling “le Bern.” After shining in a presidential debate on March 20, Melenchon is now polling within striking distance of reaching the second-round of France’s two-stage election, the agency said.

Though it still seems unlikely, that means a final-round face-off between Melenchon and far-right populist Marine Le Pen is no longer deemed impossible.

So far, however, Melenchon’s gains are coming almost exclusively at the expense of Socialist Party nominee Benoit Hamon – rather than centrist frontrunner Emmanuel Macron.

Those Not Under Investigation, Please Stand Up

Brazil Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin ordered an investigation into a third of President Michel Temer’s cabinet on Tuesday – deepening the country’s all-encompassing crackdown on corruption and raising a new threat to Temer’s efforts to push through austerity measures designed to reboot the ailing economy.

The judge ordered a probe of eight cabinet ministers and dozens of lawmakers allegedly linked to a corruption case against the construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted paying millions of dollars in bribes, Reuters reported.

Among those targeted for investigation is Temer’s chief of staff Eliseu Padilha, an experienced politician vital to negotiations with Congress over a crucial pension reform, the agency said.

Another politician on the list said – convincingly, despite his personal stake in the probe – that the investigation could result in “institutional paralysis” because it is calling the entire Brazilian political system into question. It could also hurt the prospects of a number of potential presidential candidates for elections in 2018 – perhaps with good reason.

Children As Weapons

The terror group Boko Haram is forcing evermore children to carry out suicide bombings.

The group has pushed child bombers to carry out 27 such attacks since January, already topping the total number perpetrated last year, according to the Associated Press citing a new UNICEF report. The group has used children to perpetrate 117 suicide bombings since 2014, the children’s agency said.

The fear of child bombers prompted authorities to detain nearly 1,500 children last year across Nigeria, CameroonNiger and Chad – where the sight of kids near marketplaces and checkpoints now sparks immediate suspicion.

Coinciding with the three-year anniversary of Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 girls from a boarding school in Nigeria, the report highlighted that the terror group has systematically kidnapped other children to use as soldiers, child brides or sex slaves. It also follows news that Washington is poised to sell warplanes to Nigeria to support its fight against the militant group – which has displaced nearly 2.5 million people across the four countries around Lake Chad and raised the specter of a widespread famine.


21st Century Tombstones

“Rest in Peace” is so last century.

Tombstones are getting a 21st Century facelift thanks to a Slovenian company that’s creating memorial slabs with 48-inch interactive video screens.

The Pobrezje cemetery on the outskirts of Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city, recently unveiled a prototype of a weather and vandal-proof digital tombstone – supposedly the world’s first – that can interact with visitors, wrote Reuters.

Visitors that stand in front of the tombstone won’t just see the name, birthdate and date of death of the person buried beneath. Instead, they will activate its sensors after a few seconds, turning on the screen.

“This tombstone makes it possible to put anything next to the deceased person’s name and surname,” Saso Radovanovic, the head of Bioenergija, the company that sells the tombstones, told Reuters. “You can write an entire novel if you like.”

Priced at more than $3,100 apiece, the tombstones might force some families to think twice before marking a loved one’s final resting place with these interactive markers.

But the thrill of scaring unsuspecting cemetery visitors with videos from beyond the grave is, as they say, priceless.

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