The World Today for August 21, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

SPAIN

The Killers Inside

Spanish security officials underwent a period of soul-searching and reform after al Qaeda’s deadly bombings of Madrid commuter trains in 2004.

The resulting tactics worked well for more than a decade, as the New York Times reported. Spanish authorities foiled a number of attacks as it became clear that radical Islamist terrorists wanted to reverse the Reconquista, or Spain’s expulsion of the Moors who invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages.

But the terror attacks in Catalonia late last week brought an end to the Spaniards’ winning streak. Thirteen people died and more than 100 were injured when terrorists mowed down pedestrians on the popular Las Ramblas promenade in Barcelona, the region’s capital, while a 14th victim was killed in related violence in the town of Cambrils. The Islamic State claimed responsibly for the carnage.

Now the infighting has begun.

Citing their unique language and culture, many in Catalonia are seeking independence from the central government in Madrid. A Catalan terrorist group calling for a free country, Terra Lliure, even pulled of a few deadly attacks before it disbanded in the 1990s. Nowadays, regional and central politicians are debating whether Catalonia can hold a legitimate referendum on secession on Oct. 1.

Unfortunately, Catalonia’s hunger for separatism extends to its security forces, according to Bloomberg. After last week’s attacks, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said the region should have its own representation on Interpol and similar international security agencies.

Madrid officials shot back that in the wake of truck attacks in Berlin and Nice last year, they had advised Barcelona to take safety measures to prevent a similar assault on Las Ramblas. Catalan officials didn’t listen, however.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, former Israeli ambassador to Spain, Victor Harel, suggested that both sides might find common ground in their mourning. On Friday, Spain’s King Felipe VI, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Puigdemont stood side by side during a poignant minute of silence to remember the victims.

“Could we be witness to a period in which the referendum in Catalonia and the endless competition between Barcelona and Madrid are postponed?” wrote Harel.

But a day later, Spanish and Catalan police were testily pointing fingers over the search for 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub, a member of the terror cell who was still on the run on Monday morning, noted the Washington Post.

Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido Álvarez said the terror cell was “dismantled.” Catalan police spokesman Albert Oliva cast doubt on that sense of certainty. “We must remember who is the leader of the investigation,” Oliva said.

Terror attacks are always different. But the post-mortems nearly always reveal that politics played a role in letting them happen.

[siteshare]The Killers Inside[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

HONG KONG

Nuts and Bolts

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong Sunday to protest the jailing of three pro-democracy leaders for their involvement in the 2014 “Umbrella Movement.”

It was the largest such demonstration since the 79-day sit-in that blocked major roads in the city in 2014, christened the Umbrella Movement because protesters used umbrellas to ward off tear gas fired to disperse them, CNN reported.

Sunday’s protests came in response to the sentencing of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow to jail terms ranging from six to eight months last week for their efforts to win Hong Kong residents a greater say in the election of the city’s leadership and more autonomy from China.

Since reassuming sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, China has promised to govern the territory with a philosophy of “one country, two systems” so it might retain its historical role as the financial capital of Asia.

But as the Umbrella Movement and subsequent crackdowns have illustrated, the nuts and bolts of those two systems are still hotly disputed.

[siteshare]Nuts and Bolts[/siteshare]

IRAN

Let Them Go

A former Iranian president called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to release two prominent opposition leaders who have been under house arrest since 2011, in the first such call from a senior political figure.

“By citing your issues and your requests and in your name, I would like to ask the Supreme Leader to issue an order to solve the issue of the house arrests,” Reuters quoted former president Mohammad Khatami as saying Sunday after a meeting of former prisoners from the Iran-Iraq war.

Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi remain under house arrest for disputing the results of Iran’s 2009 presidential election, triggering mass protests. Many Iranians were convinced that the polls were rigged to ensure victory for hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who served two terms as president from 2005 to 2013 and was barred from contesting the recent 2017 elections.

Khatami, a liberal reformer, was president from 1997 to 2005. His call for the release of Mousavi and Karroubi echoes the campaign pledge of current President Hassan Rouhani. But hardliners in Iran consider the two men to be traitors.

[siteshare]Let Them Go[/siteshare]

SINGAPORE

Search, Rescue

The US Navy is scrambling to find and rescue 10 sailors lost at sea after a US warship collided with a petroleum tanker near Singapore.

Monday’s collision marked the second crash involving a US naval vessel in Asia in the past few months, as the US Navy and Marine Corps face criticism for stretching resources to keep up with demand for deployments, Bloomberg reported. The total number of naval vessels shrank 20 percent between 1998 and 2015, but the number of vessels deployed overseas remained constant.

The USS John S. McCain collided with the Alnic MC off the Malaysian state of Johor near the Straits of Malacca, a choke point for oil shipping in Asia. The accident follows close on the heels of the US Navy’s decision to relieve the USS Fitzgerald’s commander and two other senior leaders of their duties in connection with the vessel’s collision with a Philippine container ship off the coast of Japan in June.

[siteshare]Search, Rescue[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

The Umbraphilia Epidemic

Vikings howled during solar eclipses to scare off celestial wolves. A solar eclipse spawned bouts of hysteria in the 18th Century. Many believed the astronomical event presaged the apocalypse. In 1979, a solar eclipse triggered “terror and/or elation” in Washington State, CNET reported.

The total solar eclipse scheduled for Monday is inciting buzz, too. It is the first in 99 years.

Space.com listed “last minute” tips to see the eclipse, which will be visible in a band running from Oregon to South Carolina. Tens of millions of people from the north and south are traveling to witness it in its best light. Areas outside the band will see a partial eclipse.

“Umbraphilia,” or love of eclipses, is now sweeping the nation, CBS News confirmed.

Some are capitalizing on the wave.

With days to go before the occasion, Memphis-based American Paper Optics had already sold 45 million pairs of “eclipse glasses,” or spectacles that protect people’s eyes from the unhealthy light of the event.

[siteshare]The Umbraphilia Epidemic[/siteshare]

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