The World Today for August 04, 2017



Big Steps, Small Steps

Rwandans, it seems, would have a lot to criticize about President Paul Kagame.

After all, their long-serving president runs an authoritarian state that suppresses anything resembling a serious opposition, wrote the Boston Globe.

But despite his flaws, when voters head to the polls on today, they will likely re-elect Kagame for a third, seven-year term anyway, and by an overwhelming margin also – it’s a reward for delivering peace and turning this once devastated country into a remarkable African success story, voters say.

Kagame has likewise already claimed victory for himself.

He said the results of this upcoming vote have been clear since 2015, when over four million Rwandans petitioned to amend the country’s constitution, enabling Kagame to seek a third term, wrote the Washington Post.

But while a Kagame victory looks all but certain, it’s less clear where he’ll be taking Rwanda going forward.

For one thing, it’s unlikely he’ll turn to the West.

Kagame has been quick to heap scorn on Western countries for meddling in Rwanda’s affairs and said it was “unacceptable” that Western diplomats summon presidential candidates, wrote the Associated Press.

But wherever he turns, Kagame will need to chart a path that maintains social peace in Rwanda between the Tutsi and Hutu, the two traditional ethnic groups whose ongoing conflict led to genocide in 1994, noted the Boston Globe.

Others warn that peace in Rwanda remains fragile despite the breath-taking progress experienced under Kagame.

For one, Rwanda’s presidential elections are shrouded in a “climate of fear” following two decades of systematic attacks by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front on political opposition, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.

Ordinary Rwandans continue to face “huge, and often deadly, obstacles to participating in public life and voicing criticism of government policy,” said the human rights watchdog.

Critics of the government have been physically attacked or even killed in some cases, with a culture of self-censorship arising as a result, it noted.

Even candidates who are openly opposing Kagame are struggling to find their footing in the race.

The only female presidential candidate to come forward for the election, 35-year-old accountant Diane Shima Rwigara, was disqualified from running for office in early July for lacking enough valid signatures for candidacy, reported Reuters.

But there are signs of progress. Frank Habineza, the opposition leader challenging Kagame with the Democratic Green Party, will be on the ballot for the first time this year, wrote Bloomberg.

That’s a major departure from the last Rwandan elections, when Habineza had to flee to Europe in exile after his deputy was killed.

Habineza said the fact he’s competing at all this time around is a cautious step forward toward greater political freedom in Rwanda, according to Bloomberg.

And to many Rwandans, that’s already a victory in itself.

[siteshare]Big Steps, Small Steps[/siteshare]



Uneasy Peace

A third cease-fire zone went into effect in Syria Thursday, allowing humanitarian aid to reach the 147,000 people living in an enclave north of the city of Homs, the Associated Press reported.

This is the third of four planned cease-fires based on a deal brokered last May by Russia and Iran, both of which support the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Turkey, which supports rebel groups. The agreement has the tacit support of the US and Syrian governments, the BBC noted

The other two cease-fire zones in place are in Eastern Ghouta and in the suburbs of Damascus. Thus far, the agreement has had mixed success.

The government has shelled areas outside Damascus since the cease-fire there went into effect 13 days ago killing 170, saying it is targeting al Qaeda-linked militants, who are excluded from the agreement.

[siteshare]Uneasy Peace[/siteshare]


High Anxiety

The Somali terror group, al-Shabaab, launched an attack in Kenya on Thursday, killing a policeman, in an attempt to make good on a pledge by the al Qaeda linked group to disrupt Kenya’s Aug. 8 presidential elections.

Al-Shabab has killed dozens of Kenyans since last March in retaliation for the country’s decision to send troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the extremists.

The group’s latest attack is adding to tensions in the country over elections: It comes just days after the still unsolved murder of the country’s top election official.

A disputed presidential race 10 years ago led to ethnic unrest in which 1,200 were killed. Many fear a repeat of that violence and are fleeing Kenya’s cities for the countryside, Reuters reported.

[siteshare]High Anxiety[/siteshare]


No Walls Yet

A seemingly minor border tiff between China and India has escalated, prompting the Chinese Foreign Ministry to demand on Thursday that India “withdraw its personnel” from the disputed area, “if it really cherishes peace,” Reuters reported.

The Chinese contend that Indian guards crossed into Chinese territory a month ago and blocked work on a road in a remote frontier region near the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a close Indian ally.

Indian officials say they warned China about building a road near their common border. Indeed, China claims India has not withdrawn its troops and is bolstering forces on the Indian side.

Meanwhile, India says its ambassador to Beijing is looking for a resolution without loss of face to either side.

This is not the first border spat between the two countries, which share a more than 2,000-mile frontier, large parts of which are disputed. Chinese state media have reminded India that China got the upper hand in a brief border war in 1962, according to Reuters.

[siteshare]No Walls Yet[/siteshare]


Deliciously Painful

More often than not, diving into a fresh double-scoop of butter-pecan ice cream can trigger a brain freeze.

While most of us simply shake off the sudden shock, researchers now say that studying the mechanisms that cause brain freeze could eventually lead to treatments for other ailments.

Eating cold foods doesn’t directly impact the brain. Rather, the rush of cold causes bunches of blood vessels, capillaries and nerve fibers on the roof of your mouth to constrict.

That pain message then travels to the brain for a response via the trigeminal nerve, one of the primary nerves in your face.

But instead of registering the pain with what’s just occurred in the mouth, the brain triggers a response in its pain-sensitive covering, the meninges.

“It’s a very similar phenomenon to the referred pain that is experienced by people who have heart attacks,” Dr. Kris Rau of the University of Louisville in Kentucky told NPR. “You don’t feel like your heart is hurting itself; it’s your shoulder that is starting to hurt on your left side.”

Studying this deliciously painful switcheroo could bring relief to some migraine sufferers, although more research is needed, Rau added.

[siteshare]Deliciously Painful [/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.

Under Pressure, Fighting Back

Press freedom is under increasing threat worldwide, and not only from dictators and governments that have long shown antipathy toward free expression, but also in democracies with strong traditions of press freedom such as the United States.

On Wednesday, a coalition of more than 20 press freedom organizations, led by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom of the Press Foundation, launched the US Press Freedom Tracker, a new nonpartisan website dedicated to documenting press freedom abuses across the United States.

In recent months, journalists have been charged with crimes while covering protests in Washington D.C. and North Dakota; stopped at the border and subjected to searches of their electronic devices; and physically assaulted – in one case by a congressional candidate.

The site, which collects data based on news reports and tips submitted by journalists, professional groups and press freedom organizations, will serve as a central repository for data at a time when journalists in the United States face increased hostility.

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