The World Today for July 17, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

PAKISTAN

Paper Surprise

The Panama Papers haven’t garnered much press recently.

But the leaked documents that revealed graft and corruption between global elites and offshore tax shelters have caused a burgeoning crisis in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court is slated to render a decision today on corruption charges against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that stem from the Panama Papers’ findings. The court could order a trial or remove him from office immediately.

Journalists collaborating in the project claimed to have revealed that Sharif’s family used accounts in the British Virgin Islands to purchase property in London. Investigators who followed up on the reportage said they have found potential evidence of corruption, too.

Now, under Pakistani law, Sharif needs to adequately explain how he acquired his assets, like London apartments, given his comparatively meager salary.

“There exists a significant disparity between the wealth declared by the respondents and the means through which the respondents had generated income from known or declared sources,” read a court-sponsored investigative report issued before the court rendered its decision, according to NBC News. “The court shall presume, unless the contrary is proved, that the person is guilty of the offence of corruption.”

Investigators also allegedly found that Sharif’s daughter, Maryam, screwed up when she submitted documents dating from 2006 to prove she did not own the apartments but was rather only a “trustee” of them. The documents’ font was Microsoft Calibri, which was not commercially available until 2007, the New York Times explained.

Maryam was supposedly being groomed as Sharif’s successor as leader of his center-right Pakistan Muslim League. She vowed to fight the allegations. “Every contradiction will not only be contested but decimated,” she tweeted. “Not a single penny of public exchequer involved.”

The crisis has caused the Pakistani stock market to fall as investors flee instability. The opposition led by former star cricketer Imran Khan is also hammering away at Sharif as he’s fighting for his political life in court.

The stakes of the palace drama are unusually high. In addition to fighting Islamic State militants on the Afghan border, Pakistan is waging a lukewarm war against India as fighting continues in Kashmir and leaders in Islamabad and New Delhi race to counter each other’s nuclear threat.

Pakistan has long been a semi-ally of the US, with cooperation on some fronts while elements of Pakistan’s government are widely believed to have aided Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.

Sharif is the pro-United States camp. It’s ironic, then, that a Caribbean tax dodge, not terrorists, are potentially going to drag him down.

[siteshare]Paper Surprise[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

Choosing Your Democracy

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been resisting protesters’ calls for fresh elections, instead proposing constitutional changes that would increase his powers. This weekend, his opponents responded with an unofficial referendum.

Opposition leaders claimed that millions turned out to reject Maduro’s proposed changes, and  at least one woman was killed and three other people were wounded Sunday when armed motorcyclists fired on a voting booth in Caracas, Agence France-Presse reported.

The informal polls have no enforcement mechanism, but the strong turnout could further galvanize critics calling for Maduro to withdraw the proposed changes, Bloomberg said.

“This will give the opposition the platform they need to demand that the government cancel the constituent assembly,” the agency quoted a political scientist at the Central University of Venezuela as saying.

Opposition volunteers operated more than 1,900 polling stations where hundreds of voters lined up to cast their symbolic votes, many chanting anti-Maduro slogans. But observers say the president is unlikely to back down, considering his response to four months of organized protests that have left 100 people dead.

[siteshare] Choosing Your Democracy [/siteshare]

IRAN

Collateral Damage

Iran detained its president’s brother and sentenced a Chinese-American graduate student to 10 years in prison on espionage charges, illustrating the hard-liners’ continued sway in policy decisions despite the re-election of reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani.

Beijing-born Xiyue Wang, 37, is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the history department at Princeton University, who has been in Iran for research on the history of the late Qajar dynasty for his Ph.D. dissertation, NPR reported.

Sunday’s announcement from Iran was the first official confirmation of Wang’s detainment and prosecution. But he was arrested last summer, a Princeton spokesman said.

In the same announcement, judiciary spokesman Ejehi said the President Rouhani’s brother and close aide, Hossein Fereidoun, has also been detained for alleged financial crimes. Rouhani’s supporters see the arrest as part of an effort to undermine the president before his swearing-in ceremony next month, the Guardian reported.

Fereidoun’s detention comes amid escalating conflict between Rouhani and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over who controls the judiciary and the armed forces.

[siteshare]Collateral Damage[/siteshare]

SOUTH KOREA

Talking Missiles

Seoul has proposed high-level talks between the military leadership of North and South Korea on Friday in the demilitarized zone between the two countries in a bid to defuse rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry has proposed representatives of the two countries’ militaries meet at Tongil-gak on the North Korean side of Panmunjom, the so-called truce village in the DMZ, in a bid to end “hostile acts” that “escalate military tension,” CNN reported.

North Korea has yet to respond to the overture, which follows a string of missile launches that culminated with the successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4. US President Donald Trump has been confrontational in his rhetorical response to Pyongyang’s actions. But South Korean President Moon Jae-in continues to favor the more diplomatic approach to dealing with the North that he advocated during his recent campaign.

Just days after the ICBM test, Moon told an audience in Berlin that he would be willing to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “at any time, at any place,” CNN noted.

[siteshare] Talking Missiles [/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

One Small Step for Man

Technology is often criticized for encouraging laziness. After all, why bother to get off the couch when the world is in the palm of your hand?

But a new Stanford University study amassing “planetary-scale” data from people’s smartphones could give insights to improve people’s health and combat rising obesity levels, reported the BBC.

In the new study – published in the journal Nature – scientists analysed 68 million days of minute-by-minute data to find the average number of people’s daily steps was 4,961.

Hong Kong – where residents averaged 6,880 steps a day – topped the list, while Indonesia came last at just 3,513 steps. In the US, the average number of daily steps is 4,774.

These findings could help researchers tackle obesity by honing in on “activity inequality,” or the difference between the fittest and laziest segments of the population.

Higher levels of activity inequality go hand in hand with higher rates of obesity.

“For instance, Sweden had one of the smallest gaps between activity rich and activity poor… it also had one of the lowest rates of obesity,” Tim Althoff, one of the researchers involved in the study told BBC.

In this sense, designing town and cities that promote greater physical activity – or “higher walkability” – could reduce this inequality, they added.

[siteshare]One Small Step for Man[/siteshare]

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