The World Today for July 27, 2017



The Zero Hour

With violent demonstrations held against his rule on almost a daily basis – one protester died  Wednesday – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro appears ready to quash the civil unrest that has gripped his country.

Now the left-leaning, former acolyte of the late Hugo Chavez might be about to unleash his most audacious move yet: holding a vote July 30 to elect a Constituent Assembly equipped with sweeping powers, including the power to rewrite the country’s constitution.

Maduro’s opponents fear these changes – which also may scrap upcoming elections and dissolve existing state institutions – that would create a single-party, authoritarian state á la Cuba, according to the Associated Press.

In response, the United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions against 13 current or former Venezuelan government officials, CNN reported.

But in Maduro’s eyes, a new assembly is the only means of bringing peace to the country, wrote Reuters.

Welcome to the Zero Hour.

Venezuela has been in economic free-fall for two years due to the plunging price of oil, its main export, and chronic corruption and inefficiency. Food and basic medical supplies are scarce.

Resistance to Maduro’s rule has been mounting for months. At least 84 people have died as a result of government unrest since April.

Earlier this month, Venezuelans turned out in droves – 7.2 million by some estimates – July 17 for an unofficial, non-binding referendum on Maduro’s plans to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution, said CNN. An overwhelming 98 percent rejected the proposed constitutional assembly.

“We are saying enough is enough: leave this country alone,” Mirlena Hernandez, 27, of Caracas, who voted against Maduro, told Canada’s CBC News. “I can’t find diapers or milk in the stores for my baby, despite the fact I work all day long. We want a better future.”

Unsurprisingly, Maduro dismissed the opposition’s referendum as “illegal and meaningless,” wrote the Guardian. He continues to reject calls to step down, even after the strike.

Still, the Venezuelan president would do well to take the opposition’s concerns more seriously.

President Donald Trump has already warned Maduro he won’t hesitate to take additional “strong and swift economic actions” if Maduro goes ahead with his plans to for a new Constituent Assembly.

More US punishment, the Associated Press noted, could help the protesters achieve their goal of ousting Maduro. It could also lead to a scenario that no one wants: an all-out collapse of the Venezuelan state.

[siteshare]The Zero Hour[/siteshare]



Weakening the Strongman

On Wednesday, the upper house of Nigeria’s parliament voted in favor of a series of constitutional amendments that would weaken the presidency and strengthen the legislature.

The measures would offer certain legal immunity to members of the legislature, reduce the president’s veto powers, and strip the president of law-making powers, Reuters reported. The Senate also voted to impose time limits on key presidential decisions such as nominating ministers and proposing federal budgets, both of which have been much delayed under ailing President Muhammadu Buhari.

However, Senate head Bukola Saraki, who is pushing the changes, is also a likely successor to Buhari. Many see the timing of the amendment – while the president is in Britain receiving medical treatment – as an indication it’s intended to raise Saraki’s profile rather than introduce any real changes.

The amendments must be approved by the lower house and two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 regional state parliaments and then be signed off by the president himself. But their thinly veiled criticism has already gone into effect.

[siteshare]Weakening the Strongman[/siteshare]


Small Steps

Pakistani police arrested 20 people on charges of organizing a village council that ordered a man to rape a 16-year-old girl in revenge for the earlier rape of his sister.

The accused could face the death penalty or as much as 25 years in prison under Pakistani law, Al-Jazeera reported.

Both rapes were reported at a government-run Violence Against Women Center in Multan, the first such center set up under a new provincial law passed last year, the news channel said.

The new law criminalized all forms of violence against women, including domestic, psychological and sexual violence, and established a toll-free hotline for reporting abuse.

But as the actions of the village council suggest, further reaching measures designed to change societal attitudes – not just harsher punishments – are needed to address such crimes in a country with one of the world’s worst track records on gender equality.

Still, some pointed out that because the rapes were even reported and that there were arrests in the case shows the law is actually working.

[siteshare]Small Steps[/siteshare]


Going Home

China released four out of six Japanese citizens it had been holding since March on suspicion of illegal activities.

Three of the four men who were released were employees of Japan-based NC Geophysical Survey Co., which sent four employees to China in March for geological research after receiving orders from two Chinese hot spring developers, Reuters reported. The fourth geologist is one of the two men who have yet to be released.

Though China did not provide details about the reasons behind their detention, they were detained in provinces that have big Chinese military bases, and recent wrangling over small islands in the East China Sea has increased suspicions between the two Asian powers, the agency noted.

In 2010, four Japanese nationals were detained in China on suspicion of entering a military zone and taking photographs without permission, two more Japanese citizens were arrested on suspicion of espionage in 2015. And last year, China said it was investigating a Japanese citizen on suspicion of endangering national security.

[siteshare] Going Home [/siteshare]


Wily Rabbits

Ferg Horne has spent more than 40 years shooting rabbits on his farm in New Zealand, where the animals are deemed a pest and the government has vowed to wipe them out by 2050.

But even this seasoned rabbit hunter couldn’t bear to take out a pack of bunnies after they wowed him with their ingenuity in escaping a lethal flood on New Zealand’s South Island.

When Horne went to check up on his neighbor’s sheep following this record-breaking storm, he was relieved to find the sheep still alive – and with a mob of rabbits, drenched and shivering, perched on their backs.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. They were just sitting there keeping out of the water, they must have got to the high spot and then jumped up on to the back of the sheep to stay dry,” Horne told the Guardian. “It shows you how resilient they are and why they survive so well.”

The rabbits’ “pluck” impressed him enough that he couldn’t bear to hurt them.

“I thought those guys deserved to live, so I left them alone,” he added.

Check out some pictures of these clever rabbits here.

[siteshare]Wily Rabbits[/siteshare]

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