The World Today for May 08, 2017


Viva la Reprieve

As Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency in a landslide on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats beat rivals in a state poll in northern Germany that many viewed as boding well for Merkel as she prepares for federal elections in the fall.

Coupled with Dutch voters rejecting nationalist Geert Wilders in March and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen’s victory over his far-right rival late last year, the weekend’s results suggest it’s now safe to say much of Europe will not succumb to the wave of rightwing nationalism that has taken hold of Hungary, Poland and Turkey.

“The populist contagion that convinced 52 percent of Britons last year that their future would be brighter outside the European Union and made working-class Americans believe that a reality TV star would champion their interests from the White House has been kept offshore, quarantined, away from the heart of mainland Europe,” concluded an Associated Press analysis.

European leaders hailed centrist Macron’s victory as thumbs up for European unity and a rejection of the arguments that led to Brexit, Reuter’s wrote.

“Your victory is a victory for a strong united Europe and for German-French friendship,” tweeted the German chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, to Macron.

But the lead advocate for Brexit, Nigel Farage, the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, suggested Macron would simply be a placeholder.

“Macron offers five more years of failure, more power to the EU and a continuation of open borders,” Farage said. “If Marine sticks in there, she can win in 2022.”

As he assumes power and puts himself to the test, Macron’s biggest challenge might be fulfilling his promise to reform the two institutions that have generated so much of the popular frustration with mainstream politicians in France: the European Union and the French bureaucracy.

For a couple of months, however, Macron has a honeymoon. In that time, many who might not have felt welcome in France under Le Pen are taking a moment to celebrate.

“I’m moved,” Mourad Djebali, 30, an ethnic Tunisian engineer and recently naturalized French citizen told the New York Times. “I recognize the France that has received me. It’s a great symbol of France. It’s a sign of hope. Everyone doesn’t agree with each other, but that one thing we agree on is that we should not open the door to the extremes.”


The Head of the Snake

US and Afghan officials confirmed that a strike team killed the head of the Islamic State terror group in Afghanistan in an operation last month.

Former chief Abdul Hasib was killed in a joint operation by Afghan and US Special Forces on April 27, Reuters quoted the officials as saying on Sunday. Hasib took over last year after his predecessor Hafiz Saeed Khan died in a US drone strike.

The Pentagon had said last month that Hasib was probably killed in the operation, which also resulted in the death of two US rangers, but this is the first confirmation of his death. The US military statement said 35 Islamic State fighters and several high-ranking commanders were killed in the April 27 raid.

Though the Taliban remains Washington’s most potent enemy in Afghanistan, the US has vowed to eradicate the Islamic State there before battle-hardened reinforcements arrive from Syria and Iraq. Step one was dropping the so-called “mother of all bombs” on its Nangarhar base last month.

Great Firewall of China

China’s Great Firewall is getting greater.

Beijing vowed Sunday to strengthen controls over search engines and online news portals in a move to tighten the Communist Party’s grip on the information available to local residents, Reuters reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made China’s “cyber sovereignty” a top priority and reasserted the Party’s role in controlling information and discussion. Already, China blocks many foreign news sites as well as Google and Facebook, though many users circumvent the so-called “Great Firewall” by using a virtual private network (VPN) to disguise their location.

The five-year cultural development and reform plan calls for a “perfecting” of laws and rules related to the internet. It includes the introduction of a qualification system for people working in online news and other measures to “strike hard” against rumors and fake news.

In more certain terms, Xi has said that media must follow the party line, correctly guide public opinion and promote “positive propaganda”.

‘No Price Too High’

Nigeria traded five captured Boko Haram commanders to secure the release of the 82 Nigerian schoolgirls freed this weekend after more than three years in captivity, the authorities confirmed on Sunday.

At least one civil rights activist said “no price is too high” to pay for the release of the hostages. But other Nigerians criticized the government for negotiating with the terror group, USA Today reported. Earlier, rumors speculated that the government also paid a huge ransom.

“I don’t understand how these Chibok girls are more important (than) the whole community around here!” the newspaper quoted a local resident as saying on Facebook.

Founded nearly two decades ago, Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” recently allied itself with the Islamic State. It gained international notoriety with the kidnapping of some 300 female students from a government school in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state in 2014.

The release of the 82 girls was a victory for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who had promised to free the students taken hostage and crush Boko Haram. However, this and other gains come as he battles health problems.


Noisy Waters

It’s not all peace and quiet under the sea – at least not if you’re a seal living in one of the UK’s busy shipping lanes.

That’s because all the underwater noise generated by shipping traffic in British waters is temporarily deafening for seals. It’s comparable to busy city living, said scientists.

Researchers found that the predicted noise from shipping traffic was loud enough to cause temporary hearing loss in 20 of the 28 seals examined in the study, recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

And because those effects extend to seals living in conservation areas, conservationists should take note, said researchers.

“Urbanization of the marine environment is inevitably going to continue, so chronic ocean noise should be incorporated explicitly into marine spatial planning and management plans for existing marine protected areas,” Esther Jones, an ecologist from the University of St Andrews, told the Guardian.

As a next step, scientists now plan to see how seals’ behavior is impacted by noise by tagging them with sound and movement recording devices.

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