The World Today for November 08, 2017



Spanish Netherlands

It was ironic that Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and other officials of the would-be independent republic would flee to Belgium, a country also known as the Spanish Netherlands until around 300 years ago.

On Tuesday, a Belgian judge released Puigdemont and ministers in his cabinet after they turned themselves in to local authorities due to an EU arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge. A crowd of Catalan mayors greeted them to celebrate their freedom, reported the Associated Press.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has declared Catalonia’s October referendum for independence void, imprisoned provincial leaders, sought to detain Puigdemont and his cabinet and assumed control over provincial government, including local police.

Speaking as a leader in exile, Puigdemont said Spain’s crackdown represented tyranny. Catalan voters sought independence, he argued. They opposed Madrid asserting of its authority now, which he charged has included a litany of human rights violations, from squelching free speech to police brutality to illegally surveilling dissidents.

“This is not just about Catalonia,” he told the Guardian. “This is about democracy itself.”

Spain is now asking Belgium to extradite Puigdemont. He could remain in Belgium for a couple months at least if he fights it, the BBC explained.

Puigdemont left home because he feared blood in the streets if he remained. The Local reported that he now hopes to appeal to institutions that uphold the most basic human rights to help win Catalan independence, potentially shaming Spain to let go.

“No one should doubt that all of this will end in international courts, who have already criticized Spain in other cases,” said Puigdemont.

Meanwhile, a recent poll helps explain why Catalonia might be inclined to leave Spain.

Catalan independence is the second-most important issue on the minds of Spaniards. The number one issue is unemployment, according to Reuters.

When finding a job is more important than keeping one’s country together, it’s a terrible indictment of the cohesiveness of a country and the scope of the challenges it faces, many believe.

Rajoy isn’t particularly popular, either. Already ruling with a minority government, his People’s Party would win 28 percent of the vote if an election were held today, down a point from a July poll.

In another irony, back in Brussels, Puigdemont’s presence has sparked new debates over another European crackup, the Associated Press reported.

Politicians from the Flemish and Walloon secessionist movements in Belgium criticized Spain’s crackdown and cheered the Catalans.

Undoubtedly, they hoped Catalonia would set a good precedent for their goal of splitting Belgium between its Dutch and French-speaking halves. Unlike, say, Kosovo.



Mincing Words

President Donald Trump abandoned a brief flirtation with speaking softly in Seoul Tuesday, calling North Korea a “a hell that no person deserves” and dictator Kim Jong-un a “deranged tyrant” presiding over a “cult.”

Speaking before South Korea’s National Assembly, Trump called out China and Russia by name in saying that all responsible nations must band together to deny Kim any form of support, supply, or acceptance, Bloomberg reported.

But he softened his previous allusions to a military solution to the problem by saying North Korea could “make a deal” on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and offering Pyongyang “a path to a much better future” if it complies.

On Wednesday, Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has aided in efforts to isolate Kim but resisted Trump’s my-way-or-the-highway rhetoric. Reports in Chinese state-run media ahead of the meeting were upbeat.

“In realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and protecting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, China and the United States have common interests,” Reuters quoted the People’s Daily as saying.


Fog of War

Russia dismissed a report blaming the Syrian government for a deadly chemical weapons attack as “mythical or invented” at a United Nations Security Council debate on Tuesday, raising serious questions about whether the investigation will be extended or anyone will ever be held accountable.

Washington is keen to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responsible and oust him from power, while Moscow interceded on his behalf in the war and is aiming to keep him in office through parallel peace talks to the US-backed negotiations in Geneva.

Similarly, Russia and the US have circulated rival resolutions to extend the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, charged with investigating the chemical weapons attacks. Its mandate expires Nov. 14.

Two days after Russia vetoed a UN resolution to extend that mandate on Oct. 24, the JIM reported its leaders were “confident” that Syria was responsible for an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 using sarin that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others, the Associated Press reported.


Grim Confusion

Italian prosecutors are working to determine whether 26 young Nigerian women and girls whose bodies were retrieved from the Mediterranean Sea over the weekend were the victims of homicide.

Estimated to be between the ages of 14 and 18, the young women were likely being transported by a sex-trafficking ring, the New York Times reported. The UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 80 percent of Nigerian girls arriving in Italy by sea may be victims of trafficking.

The women apparently departed from Warshefana, near Tripoli, Libya, late last week. The boats carrying them capsized in bad weather. The Spanish vessel Cantabria saved 64 other migrants on Friday, while some 400 landed in Salerno on Sunday along with the bodies of the dead women.

Around 150,000 migrants have entered Europe by sea so far in 2017, mostly arriving in Italy. That’s less than half of the more than 330,000 that arrived over the same period last year. But nearly 3,000 people have died, compared with 4,150 in the first 10 months of 2016.


The Mammoths That Couldn’t

New research from European paleontologists came to an interesting conclusion: Male woolly mammoths weren’t the smartest behemoths on the tundra.

Through an analysis of mammoths’ fossilized genetic make-up, published recently in the journal Current Biology, scientists thawed out a mystery as to why males of the species were so highly prone to death by sinkhole, mudslide and drowning.

Generally speaking, inexperienced male woollies had a tendency to abandon their largely matriarchal societies and strike out on their own with other bachelors. Such groups of drifters were often led through the tundra by other inexperienced males, the New York Times reports.

Poorly guided in treacherous terrain, male woollies stood a higher risk of falling victim to the tundra’s hazards.

And as it turns out, such blind risk taking isn’t just reserved for males of this species, biologist Love Dalén told the New York Times.

“In many species, males tend to do somewhat stupid things that end up getting them killed in silly ways, and it appears that may have been true for mammoths also,” said Dalén.

It seems females aren’t just the fairer sex, as the saying goes.

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