The World Today for October 24, 2017



Just a Little Bit Longer

Pay attention to what is happening in Uganda as President Yoweri Museveni tries to change his country’s constitution so that he can run for reelection in 2021 – when he will be 78 years old.

Authorities have already jailed the country’s most prominent opposition figure, Kizza Besigye, on charges of attempted murder, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

The arrest follows violent clashes between police and protesters who want to keep the constitutional prohibition against anyone older than 75 from running for the presidency.

In office since 1986 – he just keeps on winning elections while international observers raise questions about Uganda’s voting process  – Museveni is already one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, Bloomberg noted.

That’s not new on the continent.

Other long timers who keep clinging on are Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya of Cameroon and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, USA Today reported. Those men are 75, 84 and 93 years old, respectively. In other cases, aging strongmen have stepped aside, paving the way for their children to take over. That’s how Togo President Faure Gnassingbé assumed power.

The clashes in Uganda occurred last week when Besigye and others insisted on holding an anti-government rally in a stadium despite a police order not to assemble.

The Independent of Uganda shared the wording of the police order.

“Consultations must not include illegal demonstrations, illegal processions, inciting violence, use of hate campaigns, use of abusive language, acts of hooliganism of any sort, intimidation of any persons perceived to be supporting the removal of the age limit,” said the police statement.

Violence erupted when police tried to block a crowd from entering the stadium. Police claim one person was killed and several were injured. But the demonstrators insisted the police killed two people in the melee.

Opposition figures said Museveni’s response to criticism of his plan to change the constitution, his crackdown on the rally and the jailing of Besigye have all laid bare his “greed for leadership,” as the Daily Monitor reported.

“His true colors have come out,” said Gen. Mugisha Muntu, president of the Forum for Democratic Change coalition that opposes Museveni. “The Bible says we shall see them by the fruits. He has undressed himself vividly. He is now completely naked.”

Clothed or not, Museveni is probably willing to increase the pressure on those who might oppose him. But he’s tamping down a pressure cooker that could also blow up in his and everyone else’s faces.



Lukewarm Welcome

US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson received a less than effusive welcome in Iraq Monday as he sought to secure Baghdad’s cooperation in isolating Iran – a one-time enemy that has aided Iraq in the fight against Islamic State.

Tillerson attempted to smooth differences over Iraq’s Kurdish population and the continued presence of Iranian troops, a week after the Iraqi military seized the city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces with the support of Iran, the New York Times reported.

“We are concerned and have been saddened by the recent differences that have emerged between the Kurdistan regional government and the Iraqi central government,” said Tillerson, referring to the dispute over the Kurdish independence referendum last month.

On Sunday, Tillerson had called for the Iranian-backed militias — known as popular mobilization forces, or Hashad al-Shaabi — to either disband or leave Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had rejected that call in a statement hours before Tillerson’s visit.

As the fight against Islamic State winds down, the US, Russia, and various other players are scrambling for territory and influence in the region.


Phone Calls and Open Secrets

The Pentagon is investigating how US troops were caught in a deadly ambush in Niger this month as President Donald Trump wrestles with criticism over his condolence call to a woman widowed by the incident.

Offering the fullest explanation so far from the Trump administration about the ambush, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the ambushed soldiers may have waited more than an hour before they called for help, the New York Times reported. He was reluctant to speculate about the reasons for the delay, but said, “My judgment would be that unit thought they could handle the situation.”

Four Americans and four Nigeriens were killed when they were attacked by around 50 militants, while two Americans and six Nigeriens were wounded.

The incident raised questions, as US troops in Niger are barred from going on missions that could involve contact with an enemy. Though it’s no secret they’ve been in country since 2013, several US senators claimed they didn’t know the US had any troops in Niger, Newsweek reported.


Unfriendly Fire

Brazil’s militarized approach to policing Rio de Janeiro’s sprawling slums has again come under scrutiny, after police shot dead a Spanish tourist in the Rocinha favela, near the city’s famous beaches.

Police said they opened fire because the car in which 67-year-old victim María Esperanza Ruiz Jiménez was traveling failed to stop at a police roadblock, the Guardian reported. She is the third tourist to have been shot dead in Rio’s favelas in less than a year.

A month earlier, Brazil sent military troops into the favela in a failed attempt to control violence between warring drug gangs. Shootouts between gang members and police have continued on a daily basis, according to residents.

Launched in 2008, Brazil’s once-lauded efforts to take back the favelas from drug gangs by installing police bases inside them has collapsed: The state’s coffers have run dry and it’s unable to pay police salaries.

“Police used to patrol the streets, but they don’t anymore. They stick to the main roads,” CBC quoted a local resident as saying, alluding to budget cuts resulting from a financial crisis that was aggravated by spending for the 2016 Olympics.


Happy Fish

Without stimulation, fish can develop depression, a phenomenon characterized by a lethargic fish spending most its time at the bottom of its bowl.

It’s so easy to spot that scientists are beginning to study fish for clues about the effectiveness of human anti-depressants.

Humans and fish actually share much of the same neurochemistry – so much so that fish are thought to be a “promising animal model for developing anti-depressants,” wrote the New York Times.

Fish exhibit similar depressive behaviors as clinically depressed humans, such as disinterest in food and toys, and exploring their surroundings. Conversely, happy fish tend to stick near the surface of the water and explore what their tanks have to offer.

That’s why Julian Pittman, a professor at Troy University in Alabama, uses the telltale signs of depression in zebrafish to test out the effectiveness of anti-depressants – if a fish becomes active after taking the drug, and spends most of its time at the top of its tank, it’s a surefire sign that the drug could be marketable.

Obviously, it’s no guarantee that what works on fish will work on humans. But holistic solutions to depression could be directly transferable: Give your fish lots of space and redecorate its tank if you want to keep it happy.

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