The World Today for August 10, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

ALBANIA

Needed: Miracles

A few months ago, Albanians reelected sitting prime minister, Socialist Party leader Edi Rama, in what some celebrated as a free election.

That’s the good news.

That’s because in spite of real progress since shaking off its communist mantle in the late 1990s, political and ethnic tensions remain rife, and corruption and fraud are hindering progress in the country, the Financial Times reports.

It’s not surprising: Out of all the former communist nations in eastern and southern Europe, Albania boasted one of the most authoritarian and isolated regimes during the Cold War-era, the New York Times reports. Religious cleansing and mysterious disappearances came to define the country.

Even after the communist regime fell, fallout from the Balkan Wars and fraudulent elections stymied democratic and political growth.

Even today, after 15 years of European stabilization efforts, this country of almost three million remains one of Europe’s poorest and most corrupt nations.

Unemployment levels are high – hovering around 17 percent, according to EU statistics – and the private sector is struggling to gain a footing in this former communist society.

Still, Albania’s first privately run stock exchange is opening in October, Balkan Insight reports. Many hope it will open access to more diverse financing opportunities for new businesses – previously, entrepreneurs had to seek financial backing from state-run banks.

A closed-doors business culture has presented issues for Albania’s private sector since the rapid economic transition of the 1990s, giving way to powerful drug cartels who for many Albanians are the only avenue to employment, said the BBC. Some reports note that Albania, with its cannabis trade making up almost half of GDP, is becoming a narco-state – with police and the judiciary in on the deal.

The situation has led the nation’s highly educated youngsters to flee to Western European countries like Germany and France to apply for economic asylum. That’s a brain-drain the country can ill afford if it wants to grow, and grow well.

Most of the powerful elite believe the only way out is to join the European Union – Albania has been a candidate since 2014. But it will have to make great strides before the bloc would seriously consider letting the country into that elite club.

Since taking office in 2013, Prime Minister Rama has worked toward implementing electoral and judicial reforms required for serious talks about Tirana’s EU candidacy. The parliament narrowly agreed to new vetting procedures for judges in the run-up to June’s elections – a process that involved political boycotts and a lot of wheeling and dealing, Reuters reports.

That it happened at all is a miracle, say locals. And now, the young add, it’s time for a few more.

[siteshare]Needed: Miracles[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

KENYA

‘No Raila, No Peace’

The challenger in Kenya’s bitterly contested presidential elections blamed his loss to incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta on the alleged hacking of the electronic voting system, triggering violent protests Wednesday that killed at least three, USA Today reported.

While the violence has not as of yet reached the scale seen 10 years ago after another disputed election, when over 1,100 were killed, supporters of Raila Odinga burned tires, smashed shacks, blocked roads and threw stones at police, yelling, “No Raila, no peace,” according to the newspaper.

The violence was reported in the poor neighborhoods that are the stronghold of Odinga’s support. Many fear the street protests will continue in the days ahead.

With the vote count nearly completed, Kenyatta led Odinga 54.3% to 44.8%, or a margin of 1.5 million votes. This would be Odinga’s fourth loss in a presidential election.

Odinga charged that hackers infiltrated the election commission database and manipulated the results using the identity of Christopher Msando, the election official in charge of the IT systems who was found brutally murdered last week.

The election commission said it will investigate the charges and the Kenya Human Rights commission said it will look into discrepancies it found in the results, USA Today said.

[siteshare] ‘No Raila, No Peace’ [/siteshare]

MALAYSIA

By Land and By Sea

China’s Belt and Road infrastructure juggernaut plowed ahead on Wednesday, breaking ground on Malaysia’s largest rail line, a project that would link the country east to west across 430 miles, Reuters reported.

A joint venture largely financed by China, the $13 billion East Coast Rail Link will connect the South China Sea, much of which is claimed by China, at the Thai border in the east with strategic shipping routes in the Straits of Malacca to the west, the news agency said.

The Malaysian rail link is one of the biggest projects in China’s monumental Belt and Road Initiative, a modern-day “Silk Road” that will connect the Chinese economy by land corridors to Southeast Asia, Pakistan and Central Asia, and by sea routes to the Middle East and Europe.

Despite some resistance over unfavorable financing, Thailand last month approved construction of the first phase of a $5.5 billion railway that links its eastern seaboard with China through landlocked Laos.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called the rail link a “game changer,” but opponents argue the country is too reliant on Chinese funds, the news agency wrote.

[siteshare]By Land and By Sea[/siteshare]

INDIA

New Seeds, Please

Mumbai, India’s financial capital, came to a standstill on Wednesday as at least half a million protesters from the nation’s hard-hit farming community demanded set quotas in government jobs and college places, Al Jazeera reported.

Staged by the Maratha community, which is mainly dependent on farming, the protest was the culminating action in a series of marches over the past year. Organizers put the number of protesters at more than two million, calling it the city’s largest rally ever, the news agency said.

Farmers are seeking a guaranteed number of government jobs and university places to offset the impact of poor rains and crop failures in recent years, which have devastated their livelihoods.

Devendra Fadnavis, the chief minister of the western Indian state, said he would provide the farmers with interest-free loans and training. He also said he promised to consider quotas.

One of the rally organizers said the response fell short.

While two-thirds of India’s population of 1.3 billion are dependent on farming, the sector makes up only 14 percent of gross domestic product, the news agency noted.

[siteshare]New Seeds, Please[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Super Bears

Scientists have long known that so-called water bears, a cuddly term for 0.02-inch long, eight-legged creatures called tardigrades, are nearly indestructible.

They can survive extreme cold, complete dehydration, pressures denser than the deepest trenches in the ocean and radiation, leading many experts to say they are the living organisms most likely to survive an apocalyptic event that would cause a mass extinction for other species.

Now scientists say they know why tardigrades are so tough.

Tardigrades possess a special protein that clings to the animal even when it dissolves in water, preventing it from dying under harsh conditions, researchers claimed in a study published in PLOS Biology. The beasts’ DNA also doesn’t degrade, and its damaged cells don’t die off. Instead, the proteins repair the cells.

They also believe that extraterrestrial beings could possess the same powers.

If water bears evolved on Earth, then it’s likely similarly hardy animals evolved elsewhere, especially in harsh environments that also included water – like Mars, the scientists told Seeker.com.

So get ready for…little green water bears?

[siteshare]Super Bears[/siteshare]

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