The World Today for August 18, 2017



A Richness in Poverty

Bangladesh is marking its 70th birthday this week, if one recalls that it became East Pakistan immediately after the partition of the subcontinent with the end of the British Raj in 1947.

But that anniversary is less important to Bangladeshis than the bloody 1971 war for independence against Pakistan, wrote Dhaka-based writer Afsan Chowdhury in a moving Al Jazeera piece recently.

Today, Bangladesh – the eighth-most populous, but also one of the poorest countries in the world – is struggling to grow economically, fight extremism and maintain its democracy amid corruption and instability throughout South Asia.

“Bangladesh is a church of the poor, for the poor, poor in spirit, but there is a richness in our poverty,” said the first Bangladeshi Cardinal, Patrick D’Rozario, in a South China Morning Post story on Pope Francis’ visit to the country slated for the fall.

Its precarious position on the coast, where the Bengal Delta is the largest on Earth, also makes floods a serious risk as sea levels rise with climate change, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Politicians aren’t debating those issues before an election that’s supposed to be held next year, however.

The incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League are resisting efforts to bring third-party observers into upcoming elections, the Conversation wrote. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party is refusing to accept the results of an election unless the government relinquishes control of the voting process.

The Hindu’s Business Line noted that a similar conundrum led to election-related violence in 2014 that claimed hundreds of lives. In that election, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and other parties boycotted the vote, allowing Hasina to return to office without an opponent.

To this day, some believe the Bangladesh Nationalist Party stoked the violence to destabilize the Awami League’s regime. Others say the Awami League caused the violence in order to blame the nationalists, the Conversation explained.

“Ever since the 1990-91 transition from military to parliamentary rule in Bangladesh, every general election has taken place in a climate of ominous uncertainty,” the Conversation wrote.

The Awami League is also fighting the supreme court over whether parliament can give itself the power to remove top justices from the supreme court. The court recently nullified an amendment to the constitution that would allow that procedure. The Hindu newspaper headline described the conflict as “government versus judiciary in Bangladesh.”

The country is making some strides, like plans to supply electricity to more households via renewable energy, for example. Currently, more than a fourth of the country has no electricity.

If those efforts continue, Bangladesh might not be only for the poor forever.

[siteshare]A Richness in Poverty[/siteshare]



Coordinated Terror

Spanish police killed five armed attackers as they sought to enter a tourist area in the small coastal town of Cambrils, just hours after a van drove into a large group of pedestrians in a crowded Barcelona street on Thursday, killing 13 and injuring over 100.

The story is still developing. But Spanish authorities have said that they are treating the two attacks as related, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has labeled the Barcelona attack as “jihadi terrorism,” CNN reported. Two suspects have been arrested but the van driver, who fled on foot, remained at large Friday morning, the Associated Press said.

The media wing of the Islamic State claimed the Barcelona attackers were “soldiers of the Islamic State,” but hasn’t explicitly claimed responsibility for the attacks or provided evidence of a direct connection with either of them.

On Wednesday night, too, one person was killed following an explosion in a house in Alcanar, a town to the south of Barcelona and Cambrils. Police said the victim was a Spanish national and the incident was connected to the Barcelona van attack. One person was later arrested.

The Barcelona incident marked the deadliest attack to hit Spain since 2004, when al-Qaida-inspired bombers killed 192 people in coordinated assaults on Madrid’s commuter trains, AP noted.

[siteshare]Coordinated Terror[/siteshare]


Swift Justice

The Philippines grants accused criminals the right to a speedy, impartial and public trial. But critics say President Rodrigo Duterte has translated that into gunning down alleged drug dealers in the street.

Police killed at least 13 people in Manila Thursday night, bringing the total number killed in this week’s escalation of the country’s war on drugs to some 80 people, Reuters reported.

Earlier this week, police gunned down 67 people and arrested more than 200 others in Manila and its adjoining provinces as part of a so-called “One-Time, Big-Time” crackdown, the agency said.

Police say they have received no direct orders from the president to kill criminals, and those who have been shot were gunned down because they fought back. But Duterte has repeatedly sent unequivocal signals that he’d just as soon avoid the trouble and expense of trial and incarceration.

After a raid in the province of Bulacon that killed 32 people on Tuesday, Duterte praised the killings as just what the country needs. “That’s good,” Bloomberg quoted the president as saying. “If we can only kill 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”

[siteshare]Swift Justice[/siteshare]


Course of Study

When you’ve already won the Nobel Peace Prize, that niggling problem of what to write about in your personal statement pretty much solves itself. Nonetheless, it’s a rare bit of good news that Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai – who was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education – has sailed through her A-levels in the UK and accepted a place at the University of Oxford.

The 20-year-old confirmed Thursday via Twitter (naturally) that she has been accepted to study philosophy, politics and economics (PPE), the Washington Post reported.

“So excited to go to Oxford!! Well done to all A-level students – the hardest year. Best wishes for life ahead!” Yousafzai wrote.

It’s been five years since she was flown to Birmingham for medical treatment after being shot. Since then, she’s set up the Malala Fund, which advocates for girls’ education around the world. And of course she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, when she was just 17 years old.

[siteshare]Course of Study[/siteshare]


Ice and Fire

Antarctica is the land of ice and, potentially, fire.

Using technology to scan the bedrock under the South Pole’s ice sheet, University of Edinburgh scientists have discovered 91 volcanoes in Antarctica. That gives the continent a total of 138 volcanoes, the greatest concentration in the world, supplanting East Africa.

The discovery raised an alarming possibility. Scientists are trying to figure out whether those volcanoes could potentially blow and melt the ice cap even more quickly than it is already disappearing due to climate change.

“Anything that causes the melting of ice – which an eruption certainly would – is likely to speed up the flow of ice into the sea,” study author and glacier expert Robert Bingham told the Guardian.

Quartz raised another nightmarish possibility – lava bouncing back after the ice pack melts and sinking down, effectively triggering volcanoes.

Doomsayers can relax, however. Many if not most of the volcanoes might also be inactive, the Independent cautioned.

[siteshare]Ice and Fire[/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.

Unhappy Anniversaries

It’s been a week of tough news and heart-wrenching anniversaries in the press freedom world.

On Aug. 14, the family of US freelance photojournalist Austin Tice marked the fifth anniversary of his disappearance. Tice was taken captive in Syria in August 2012.
“We continue to do everything we can think of to find information about where our son is and what is required to bring him safely home,” the Tice family said in a July 20 statement on their website. “We are willing to engage with any government, group, or individual who can help us in our efforts to secure Austin’s safe release.”

Aug. 14 also marked four years of imprisonment for Egyptian photojournalist, Mahmoud Abou Zeid, also known as “Shawkan.”

Shawkan was arrested while covering the massacre of supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi during the dispersal of a 40-day sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque.

Shawkan was a recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards in 2016.

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