The World Today for May 05, 2017


A Loaded Choice

The French will go to the polls Sunday to vote for a new president, choosing between the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen and the centrist independent Emmanuel Macron.

As a televised debate held Wednesday night between the two candidates showed, voters will also be choosing between two radically different visions for France’s future.

Observers described the two-hour-long face-off as an “acrimonious” affair that threw the contrasts between the two candidates into stark relief.

Macron and Le Pen squared off on issues ranging from France’s stubbornly high unemployment rate and globalization to terrorism and the European Union, wrote Reuters.

Le Pen vowed to pull France out of the Eurozone and hold a referendum on French membership in the EU. Macron favors closer cooperation across the bloc to overcome problems like migration and unemployment.

The candidates also traded personal insults on TV, with Le Pen calling Macron the “candidate of unbridled globalization” and mocking his investment banking background.

Macron, meanwhile, called his foe “a priestess of fear” and “a parasite” and accused her of lying to voters and failing to offer a vision for France, noted the Guardian.

For weeks, polls have shown Macron commanding a double-digit lead over Le Pen in Sunday’s run-off.

Wednesday’s debate seemed to cement Macron’s frontrunner status, wrote the BBC.

Still, some last-minute surprises could still befall the two candidates.

For one, the number of French voters predicted to abstain from the ballot box Sunday – an estimated one-quarter of French voters say they don’t like either candidate – could still put a dent in Macron’s sizable lead, propelling Le Pen to victory, reported USA Today.

A political upset of that caliber would reverberate far beyond France.

Many – like the New Yorker – have written that the French election will decide the “future of Europe.” Others said Macron is the continent’s last stand against radicals who want to tear the EU apart.

Many pundits said the same about Brexit, however. Their fears have yet to be realized.

But even former US President Barack Obama chimed in with a video message Thursday to endorse Macron, praising the 39-year-old’s firm embrace of “liberal values” during his campaign.

It’s unusual for ex-presidents to publicly weigh in on a foreign country’s domestic affairs, noted the Washington Post. But as Obama pointed out, France’s success “matters to the entire world.”

Regardless of which candidate prevails Sunday, his or her first challenge will be to pick up enough seats in June’s parliamentary elections to wield a majority in France’s National Assembly.

Le Pen would surely face resistance from mainstream parties if she becomes president.

But, despite his carefully crafted image as a pragmatist, Macron might also face trouble. His political party En Marche (Forward), founded a year ago, currently doesn’t have one lawmaker in the French parliament.


Wanted: Elections

At least one more protester was killed as soldiers battled demonstrators at the Central University of Venezuela on Thursday, bringing the death toll from the two-month old protest movement to at least 37 people.

Gunfire erupted at a student gathering in El Tigre, a city southeast of Caracas, leaving Juan Lopez, 33, dead and three others injured, the Washington Post quoted the chief prosecutor’s office as saying.

Meanwhile, eight Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay, on Thursday condemned the use of “excessive force” by Venezuelan authorities to put down the protests, Reuters reported.

Tensions had also heightened due to rumors that jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was hurt or dead, but a “proof of life” video issued by President Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government provided a measure of relief.

The opposition and street protesters – frustrated by food shortages, runaway inflation and Maduro’s attempts to undermine the country’s democratic institutions – are demanding fresh presidential elections.

No Difference, No Exit

There’s no end in sight to the conflict in Syria.

The Syrian government is still making chemical weapons, the opposition has rejected a Russian plan for so-called “safe zones” for civilians, and Turkey has threatened to continue air strikes against America’s Kurdish allies even if that puts US troops at risk.

A Western intelligence document says Syria is still making chemical weapons at three sites – Masyaf, in Hama province, and at Dummar and Barzeh, both just outside Damascus, the BBC reported.

Meanwhile, the Voice of America quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying, “We do not differentiate between terrorist organizations –  (Islamic State), YPG, al-Qaeda are all the same for us,” lumping the US-allied YPG in with other targets. One of his top advisers told a radio station that if the Kurdish forces remain in Syria “Suddenly you could happen to see there are few missiles that hit them (Americans) accidentally, too!”

Being German

A prominent government minister has revived Germany’s debate over assimilation in the wake of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s move to support a ban on the full-face veil in certain situations.

In a guest column in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière included an appreciation of Johann Sebastian Bach and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a willingness to shake hands, and pride in Europe among his guidelines for what it means to be German – reviving a longstanding debate over whether the country needs to take steps to foster a “dominant culture” in the face of increasing immigration, the Guardian reported.

Critics accuse the member of Merkel’s Christian Democrat party as offering a thinly disguised rejection of the country’s Muslim immigrants, at least in part to stave off a growing threat from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party.

The salvo comes amid a debate over Germany’s rules on dual citizenship, after German Turks voted heavily in favor of allowing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to increase his powers. But it’s also prompted some different ideas on what it means to be German – such as an obsession with bread and an obsession with punctuality.


The Mystery of Blood Falls

Antarctica’s ominously named Blood Falls – the gruesome-looking red flows that ooze along the Taylor Glacier – has both puzzled geologists and spooked tourists for over a century.

First discovered in 1911, the falls’ flaming-red hues were originally suspected to be the work of red algae – a theory that’s since been debunked.

But scientists recently confirmed a rival theory that explains the mystery of Blood Falls.

A study recently published in the Journal of Glaciology proves that oxidized iron and water drained from an underground saltwater lake are responsible for the falls’ distinctive red tint.

Using echolocation, researchers discovered a 5 million-year-old lake underneath Taylor Glacier.

When lake water finally makes its way to the surface – which takes roughly 1.5 million years – the brine in the saltwater oxidizes when it contacts the air, taking on a fiery-red hue, said researchers.

What’s more, Taylor Glacier helped researchers prove that water can remain in a liquid state even while inside a freezing glacier.

“Taylor Glacier is now the coldest known glacier to have persistently flowing water,” study co-author Christina Carr told News Miner, an Alaska-based newspaper.

Check out some pictures of the gruesome natural wonder here.

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