The World Today for September 29, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

PORTUGAL

No Time To Relax

A few years ago, many young Portuguese tried to get out of the country, hungry for opportunities and looking to the former colonies of Angola and Brazil.

That’s because Portugal was one of the worst hit countries in Europe during the financial crisis and so shaky that the government actively encouraged the migration.

Now, when Portuguese voters take to the polls for local elections Oct. 1, the ruling Socialist Party hopes solidify their grasp on Portugal’s municipalities – on the back of the country’s massive economic turnaround.

The Socialists and Prime Minister Antonio Costa are enjoying surging popularity, thanks in part to a well-timed reduction of austerity measures that has returned income to the middle-class, kickstarted the economy and boosted consumer confidence, Open Democracy reports.

But while Portugal may be the Eurozone’s poster child of economic turnaround for now, Lisbon shouldn’t relax just yet.

In 2011, Portugal, along with Ireland, Greece and Spain, belonged to a group of states spiraling into economic turmoil known pejoratively by the acronym PIGS.

That year, Lisbon accepted a 78-billion-euro bailout ($92.2 billion) from Europe and the International Monetary fund to keep the state afloat, and the conservative-run government at the time implemented strict austerity measures in line with European recommendations. As the crisis continued, unemployment hit nearly 18 percent on average, and 40 percent among young people, CNBC reports.

Once at risk of drifting off into the Atlantic, the Portuguese economy has found its footing in recent years.

Lisbon freed itself of economic assistance in 2014, and began slowly but surely raising public salaries, while at the same time slashing consumer taxes, after Costa’s Socialists emerged victorious in 2015’s elections. Aided by overall growth in Europe, exports and tourism have boomed as a result, and the economy is growing at a healthy clip again, writes the Financial Times.

But “just because you’re in the right direction, it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods,” David Stubbs, a global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, told CNBC.

The key now is to maintain the success afforded Lisbon by good timing and strategy. Lisbon has become a European hub for private sector startup investment, but the government needs to follow through and prop up business, instead of focusing too heavily on state enterprises, opines Bloomberg View.

“Portugal is still one of the most vulnerable economies,” Stubbs told CNBC.

For now, the Socialists seem poised to sweep the Oct. 1 poll thanks to the economic turnaround: Costa is polling at around 41 percent, some 8 points more than when he came to power.

But if the Socialists rest on their laurels, the long haul over the past six years might be for naught.

[siteshare]No Time To Relax[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

Pyongyang Non Grata

China ordered the shutdown of North Korea-connected companies operating within its borders, indicating Beijing’s support for new United Nations sanctions amid its growing concern over the isolated nation’s recent nuclear test and increasingly bellicose rhetoric.

North Korean companies and joint ventures will be forced to close by early January, the BBC reported. China has already banned textile trade with the North and limited oil exports. Earlier this year, it cracked down on coal purchases from Pyongyang and on seafood and iron trade across the border.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, however, emphasized that aggressive words and sanctions are not enough to force Kim Jong-un to capitulate. “Sanctions and the promoting of talks are both the requirements of the UN Security Council. We should not overemphasize one aspect while ignoring the other,” Lu said.

South Korea’s central bank estimates that the North’s economy grew 3.9 percent despite international sanctions last year, the BBC notes. At the same time, inequality is rife in the purportedly communist nation.

[siteshare]Pyongyang Non Grata[/siteshare]

TURKEY

Eye for an Eye

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan linked the fate of a US pastor who has been detained in Turkey for nearly a year to his demand for the extradition of the Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdogan blames for orchestrating a failed military coup last year.

Christian missionary Andrew Brunson, who ran a small church in Izmir on Turkey’s western coast, was among thousands of people detained in the crackdown following the failed coup. Turkey has been holding him since last October on charges that he is part of Gülen’s group, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization, Reuters reported.

Erdogan linked the fates of the two clerics in a speech to police officers on Thursday.

“‘Give us the pastor back’, they say. You have one pastor as well. Give him (Gülen) to us,” Erdogan said. “Then we will try him (Brunson) and give him to you.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert dismissed the idea of such a swap, saying, “I can’t imagine that we would go down that road.”

[siteshare]Eye for an Eye[/siteshare]

NIGERIA

Shuttered Opportunities

More than half of the schools remain closed in Boko Haram’s Nigerian strongholds, three years after the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls by the jihadist group in the area sparked global outrage.

UNICEF said almost 1,400 schools have been destroyed in the northeastern state of Borno during Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, 57 percent of schools remain shuttered due to damage or the danger of attack, leaving an estimated 3 million children in need of education.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western Education is Forbidden,” is thought to have killed more than 2,200 teachers since 2009. Its effort to topple the government and establish Islamic law has killed more than 15,000 people and displaced some two million others.

“In addition to devastating malnutrition, violence and an outbreak of cholera, the attacks on schools is in danger of creating a lost generation of children,” UNICEF said.

[siteshare]Shuttered Opportunities[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

One Too Many

Despite draconian laws regulating the consumption and production of alcohol in Iran, citizens of this pious nation have easy access to networks that can get them a drink of the hard stuff whenever they like.

After decades of ignoring the rise of Iranians imbibing, the nation is finally admitting it has a drinking problem, the New York Times reports.

Alcohol has been banned since 1979 in Iran, but that hasn’t stopped Iranians from using the social lubricant. While official statistics show that at least 10 percent of the population drinks alcohol, domestic news reports claim that those in Iran who do drink indulge even more so than vodka and beer lovers in Russia and Germany.

Now, with the government’s consent, Alcoholics Anonymous groups, modeled after those in the US, have been established to help addicts. Drinkers used to be lashed and punished almost as severely as bootleggers, but the government has slowly softened its stance on a problem long hidden from the public eye.

“These days there is so much alcohol available, simply punishing everybody and using force is no longer working,” said Reza Konjedi, 36, a former alcoholic who runs several new Alcoholics Anonymous support groups in Tehran. “Now, security officials, the municipality, they all view alcoholics not as criminals, but as patients who need treatment.”

[siteshare]One Too Many[/siteshare]

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