The World Today for July 21, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

EAST TIMOR

Festa Demokrasia

Democracy can be messy, ugly and sometimes downright inefficient. But the East Timorese don’t seem to know that – or care.

On Saturday, voters in East Timor will embrace it when they go to the polls to elect a new parliament.

And this small southeast Asian country, one of the world’s youngest, will show the resilience of democracy by doing so.

In fact, the Timorese take their civic duty very seriously, having only gained independence 15 years ago after a 400-year history of colonialism, civil war, regime change and bloodshed.

Turnout is expected to be high – as it usually is here. That’s because it’s a party. The election is known locally as “Festa Demokrasia.”

And the East Timorese have reasons to celebrate, they say.

First colonized by the Portuguese in the 1600s, East Timor was released from Lisbon’s rule in November 1975. One month later, Indonesia invaded and annexed the country.

Almost 25 years of a brutal resistance to Indonesian oversight followed, resulting in hundreds of thousands of Timorese deaths.

Portugal and Indonesia allowed East Timor to hold an independence referendum in 1999 – 99 percent of the electorate turned out and 78 percent opted for independence. Still, violent spats between Indonesian-backed militias continued, killing 1,000 and displacing one-quarter of the nation’s small population of 1.2 million.

Finally, in 2002, after years of UN peacekeeping and internal negotiations, East Timor declared its independence and held free elections for its new parliamentary democracy.

Since then, liberal democracy has flourished.

In the past 15 years, East Timor has boasted seven peaceful, constitutional governments. In this year’s elections, some 21 political parties will compete for votes.

Outsiders may see this diversity as an indication of democratic chaos. But quite the opposite is true, writes the Diplomat, a current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region.

The Timorese have struggled so long for democratic independence that, “despite polarizing opinions and varied ideological points of view, they are consistently united.”

All agree on permanent border demarcation with neighboring Australia, drilling for offshore oil, improving tourism and agriculture and becoming a part of the ASEAN regional economic partnership.

But despite consensus on overarching progress, this new country struggles.

Poverty is rife and private investment slow. Meanwhile, this extremely young population – 70 percent of Timorese are younger than 30 – is struggling to reconcile generational differences with their elders, many of whom fought in two separate struggles for independence.

Still, after a long, embattled history, the still-struggling nation looks ahead: It even held its first LGBT pride parade last month, the Associated Press reports.

“From all those issues we have taken lessons on how not to make mistakes, and how to take the country forward,” Timorese President Francisco “Lu’Olo” Guterres, a former guerilla fighter who was elected to office in March, told the Guardian.

[siteshare]Festa Demokrasia[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

It Takes a Nation

Millions of Venezuelans joined a general strike called by the opposition, signaling that the desire to oust President Nicolas Maduro is expanding beyond the ranks of middle-class activists.

The general strike was intended to pressure Maduro to cancel elections for a new constituent assembly that would allow him to rewrite the constitution, the BBC reported. But the protest movement that has been underway since April is also geared toward forcing him to hold fresh presidential polls, as well as a postponed vote for governors of Venezuela’s 23 states that was originally slated for 2016.

Clashes between police and protesters killed at least three people, and more than 300 others were reportedly arrested, the BBC said. Maduro dismissed the strike as inconsequential and said its leaders would be arrested.

Meanwhile, Washington has threatened “strong and swift economic actions” if Maduro goes ahead with rewriting the constitution. But it’s not clear if the US is willing to block oil purchases – which would undermine Maduro but also “produce something resembling state collapse in Venezuela,” the Associated Press noted.

[siteshare]It Takes a Nation[/siteshare]

QATAR

Naming Names

Qatar stopped short of naming suspects in the hacking incident that precipitated its ongoing diplomatic isolation – but just barely.

“The only thing we are sure of is that . . . the anticipation and the benefit from this hacking was in the United Arab Emirates,” the Washington Post quoted the head of an internal Qatari investigation of the events as saying on Thursday.

A cyberattack on Qatari government media sites resulted in the propagation of false statements attributed to Qatar’s leader, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in which he purportedly called for improved regional relations with Iran and defending groups that others in the region consider terrorists.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt quickly broadcast the false story, and despite Qatar’s disavowal of it, the four governments severed relations with Qatar and closed their land, sea and airspace to all Qatari traffic.

Earlier this week, the Post cited US intelligence sources as saying senior UAE officials were involved in planning and orchestrating the cyber-attack, though it might have been carried out by a third party.

[siteshare]Naming Names[/siteshare]

KENYA

This Land Is Our Land

Samburu herders in Kenya are not ready to give up their claim to 17,000 acres of land that a former president sold out from under them to create a national park, despite losing an eight-year court battle last month.

The Samburu claim the sale is invalid because they have been living on the disputed ranch land for 25 years. They have appealed the decision, Reuters reported Friday.

The case comes as protected areas around the globe are expanding in a bid to save endangered wildlife and boost tourism revenues, pitting conservationists against marginalized people facing loss of their traditional lands, the wire service said.

Kenya’s longest serving president, Daniel arap Moi, sold the property in 2008 to the Washington-based African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), which secured half of the funding for the purchase from The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

AWF claims it was vacant when they bought it, and the squatters moved in afterward. However, a report by the International Labor Organization pointed out that the “closed-door” deal, which didn’t conduct adequate due diligence or consultations with the indigenous community, was “a recipe for conflicts.”

The court decision now allows for the creation for Laikipia National Park – in a region that is the second most important for Kenya after Maasai Mara, one where “the Big Five” including rare rhinos roam freely, Reuters reported.

[siteshare] This Land Is Our Land [/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Swans a-Swimming

For most of the year, the River Thames outside London is renowned for its quiet and sleepy pace of life.

But anyone strolling about the banks of the Thames this week would have witnessed a set of ships perusing the river as part of the archaic and annual British ritual known as “upping” – a combined census and health check-up for swans.

During a Swan Upping, teams of uppers patrol the Thames for five days to capture, tag and release families of swans with cygnets, wrote Reuters.

The tradition dates back to the 12th century when swans were an important food source, they added.

But the modern upping is more concerned with rescuing injured swans. The water birds’ numbers have sharply declined in recent years thanks to nest vandalism and attacks by dogs and other predators.

Still, the pomp and ceremony of an upping – swan markers cruise down the river in gold-trimmed blazers with peaked caps topped off with a swan feather, while one team represents Queen Elizabeth – is part of the appeal for many who come to gawk at the uppers’ presence.

Check out some pictures of an upping in action here.

[siteshare]Swans a-Swimming[/siteshare]

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Slow Wheels

Despite Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowing a swift investigation into the killing of Pavel Sheremet, it’s been a year since the prominent journalist and recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award was murdered in a brazen car bombing in Kiev – yet no one has been charged in the case.

Authorities say Russia is behind the killing. But the lack of progress in the case – coupled with evidence pointing to possible Ukrainian involvement and reports that Sheremet was surveilled in the months leading up to his murder – weaken the investigation’s credibility.

During his career, Sheremet embodied an eloquent style and courageous pursuit of truth in the countries he covered: Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.

And despite threats and attacks, Sheremet was not afraid to take on authorities or to stand up for his colleagues. Now, his fellow journalists are returning that favor and demanding justice for Sheremet.

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