The World Today for December 15, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

ITALY

He’s Back

Silvio Berlusconi was recently defending his record on women’s issues during an interview with one of the television networks he owns.

“The defense of women’s rights” is a priority for Forza Italia, his political party, the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Critics were understandably skeptical.

The former Italian prime minister is facing charges of bribing a witness to lie about so-called “Bunga Bunga” sex parties at Berlusconi’s homes that included a Moroccan-born, underage prostitute and belly dancer who called herself Ruby the Heart Stealer. Berlusconi’s assignations got him convicted of paying for sex with a minor, but a court overturned that decision a few years ago, stating that he couldn’t have known the girl’s age.

Given the embarrassing details of the case and Berlusconi’s age – he is 81 – it’s fair to ask whether Berlusconi really expects to return to Italian politics after he resigned in 2011.

The answer is yes.

Even though Italy banned Berlusconi from participating in politics in 2013 after he was convicted of tax fraud, the media mogul has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights so he can run in elections next year.

As the Local explained, his lawyers claim the ban was politically motivated. They described the Senate vote to expel him a “Roman amphitheater in which a majority of thumbs down or thumbs up decide whether one sinks or not.”

But would Italian voters put Berlusconi back in office if they could?

Maybe.

Last month, Forza Italia and a coalition of other parties on the right won 40 percent of the vote in a regional election in Sicily. That’s success in Italy. If the same coalition could win a similar share of votes in 2018, and the European Court rules in his favor, Berlusconi could become the next prime minister. If the court rejects his plea, he might still be a kingmaker who determines who runs Italy next year.

The Sicily vote and polls illustrate the depth of Italians’ frustrations with their politicians, the Christian Science Monitor noted. They’re sick of anemic economic growth, corruption and bickering among the left-wing parties that are now in control. Some think Berlusconi might bring stability to the country, too.

Perhaps most importantly, Italians are also more tolerant toward Berlusconi’s peccadillos than their American, British or German counterparts might be.

“Berlusconi can be vulgar, but he’s not [Harvey] Weinstein,” said Italy expert John Hooper in an interview with the news website. “He’s never been accused of forcing himself on women.”

It’s a low bar, but one that Berlusconi will appear to have little trouble stepping over.

WANT TO KNOW

BRAZIL

Failing Big Reforms

Brazil’s government gave up on passing a vital pension reform this year, delaying any further action until February and raising fears that there won’t be any progress until after next year’s elections.

President Michel Temer’s attempts to fix Brazil’s unsustainable pension system has dominated political debate in Latin America’s largest economy throughout the year, Bloomberg reported.

Analysts view pension cuts as essential to dealing with the country’s rising debt. If nothing changes, the finance ministry says the government will spend 23 percent of GDP on pensions by 2060. As a point of comparison, US spending on social security is expected to rise from 5 percent of GDP in 2016 to 6.3 percent in 2046 if nothing changes, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Brazil’s credit rating is likely to take a hit, though Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles told reporters he planned to explain why the delay makes sense to the ratings agencies. But many are skeptical the reform will be passed even next year.

SYRIA

Victory, But No Peace

Despite declarations of victory over Islamic State in Syria, a peace deal between the various factions fighting for power remains elusive.

The eighth round of UN-brokered peace talks “fizzled to a close” on Thursday without showing any progress toward an agreement, the New York Times reported. Chief UN mediator Staffan de Mistura said that the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad was not “really looking to find a way to have a dialogue.”

Likewise, de Mistura called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to exert pressure on Assad to accept some concessions to prevent a new round of talks planned for January also coming to naught.

Outgunned on the battlefield by a combination of Russian air power, Iranian militias and the Syrian military, the previously fractured opponents of Assad this time brought a common platform to the talks. But they continued to refuse any post-war role for the controversial president – effectively scuttling negotiations before they began.

IRAN

Who, Us?

Tehran blasted US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s claim Thursday that a missile fired at Saudi Arabia from Yemen last month was supplied by the Islamic Republic as “irresponsible, provocative and destructive.”

“This purported evidence … is as much fabricated as the one presented on some other occasions earlier,” the Iran-based Mehr News Agency quoted a statement by Iran’s UN mission as saying. “These accusations seek also to cover up for the Saudi war crimes in Yemen, with the US complicity.”

On Thursday, Haley exhibited missile fragments, charts and photographs at a military base in Washington to deliver what she called proof that Iran is supplying Houthi rebels in Yemen with weapons in “absolute and undeniable violations” of UN resolutions, Bloomberg reported. The fragments indicate the weapon fired at the main airport in Riyadh on Nov. 4 was an Iranian-made Qiam ballistic missile, she said.

If the UN accepts the US claim, it could scupper the 2015 nuclear deal – which was accompanied by a UN resolution barring such sales.

DISCOVERIES

‘Tis the Season

During the holiday season, Germans and tourists take to celebrated Christmas markets to enjoy a piping-hot glass of mulled wine and maybe a wurst or two.

But one secluded Christmas market tucked away deep in a forest in western Germany is spreading a different message this holiday season: locals only.

For 15 years, the Bergische Christmas Market in the Forest, located in Overath district in western Germany, was known as a quiet spot for locals – until it was bombarded one recent weekend by tourists, the Local reported.

As big-city markets have become targets of terror in recent years, holiday cheer-seekers have taken to checking out more local fare, the Local reported.

But in Overath, organizers were caught flat-footed. Overcrowding and low reserves meant a less-than-festive experience for all.

“After a good 1.5-hour traffic jam up to the parking lot, we finally made it,” one attendee wrote on Facebook. “All hell broke loose so we couldn’t even enjoy the Christmas market. Eternal queuing for food and mulled wine stands.”

In response to the sudden influx, the market’s organizers told outsiders to steer clear and “look for other options.”

It’s become a disappointment for those 10,000 Facebook users who responded to the market’s event from near and far, looking for that Christmas spirit.

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