The World Today for December 22, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

HONDURAS

The Orchid Revolution

Could unrest in Honduras spark a political revolution like the Arab Spring?

That’s the question that the Los Angeles Times asked in a recent op-ed.

Even though incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared the winner this week, Honduras remains in a political crisis that began with the Nov. 26 election. The opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, was running ahead by 5 percent with nearly 60 percent of the votes counted when election officials suddenly went quiet.

A day later, computers tallying votes updated themselves to show that Hernandez had won by a margin of 1.6 percentage points.

Given that the Honduran constitution bars presidents running for reelection – supreme court justices whom Hernandez appointed determined the rules didn’t apply to him – people were upset.

Protesters took the streets. Some police officers refused to arrest them. Hernandez declared a state of emergency, imposed a curfew and loosed the army to restore order. The soldiers killed a handful of demonstrators. But the protests continue.

Nasralla supporters have put orchids, the country’s national flower, into the barrels of the guns of soldiers dispatched to keep order.

Angry Hondurans weren’t alone in their concerns. As the BBC reported, the Organization of American States said the vote was “marred by irregularities.” European Union observers also said the process was tainted.

The US has respected the ruling of election officials. Critics, including Bloomberg editorial writers, thought that was a mistake.

The New York Times explained that much of the contretemps stems from 2009, when the military ousted leftist President Manuel Zelaya on suspicions he wanted a second term. Zelaya ran for president again in 2013 and lost to Hernandez.

Zelaya’s supporters still hold a grudge. But Hernandez is probably not the victim here. He’s an autocrat with a terrible human rights record.

The murder rate in the country is the highest in the world. Dissidents, journalists, the LGBT community and others face terrible persecution. Honduras garners few headlines. But the murder last year of Berta Cáceres, an environmentalist and indigenous rights leader, thrust the oppressive climate in the country into the spotlight.

Valiant human rights campaigners hope to capitalize on the tumult during the recount. The people must rise up and demand the government they deserve, they said.

“This crisis has to be seen as an opportunity for growth,” Carlos Hernández Martinez of Transparency International told the Christian Science Monitor.

Sounds like an invitation for some creative destruction.

WANT TO KNOW

SPAIN

It’s Not Me, It’s You

Catalan separatists won elections for the regional parliament, dealing a blow to Madrid’s effort to keep Spain united.

The central Spanish government had called early elections in a bid to quell the Catalan separatist movement, hoping to elect a more moderate set of legislators than the crew who voted to unilaterally (and illegally) declare independence earlier this year, CNN reported.

The maneuver was a failure. With more than 99 percent of the vote counted, no single party gained an outright majority but the three separatist parties together took 70 out of 135 parliamentary seats. That’s enough to retain their grip on power, though they’ll need to form a coalition government.

Erstwhile Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who is now in exile in Brussels, declared: “The Catalan Republic has won,” saying “the Spanish government was defeated” and “they lost their coup d’etat.” His Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) party won 34 seats, while the other main separatist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) party won 32.

Look for tough coalition talks on the horizon.

UKRAINE

Watch This

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to work to lay the groundwork for a return of Russian ceasefire observers to east Ukraine over a phone conversation Thursday.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Merkel had pressed Moscow to help resolve the situation, and Putin had agreed that aides to the two leaders would draw up a plan aimed at facilitating the observers’ return, Reuters reported.

Separately, Putin’s envoy for Syria called for a withdrawal of US troops ahead of a new round of peace talks in Kazakhstan.

Moscow had announced it was recalling officers serving at the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) in Ukraine on Monday, accusing the Ukrainian side of obstructing their work and limiting access to the front line. On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials, security monitors and Kiev’s foreign allies warned the move could worsen the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Since a Russia-backed separatist insurgency began in 2014, more than 10,000 people have been killed.

AUSTRALIA

Pre-Christmas Scare

Australian authorities said they have found no evidence that the driver of a vehicle that plowed into a crowd in Melbourne on Thursday had links to any extremist organization.

Acting chief police Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters that the 32-year-old driver is a man of Afghan descent who spoke of “dreams and voices,” but also attributed some of his activities to the mistreatment of Muslims, Reuters reported.

“We haven’t identified any extremist links with this man. We haven’t identified him linked to any groups,” said Patton. “We haven’t identified anyone inciting him to do any actions or any prior extremist activities.”

The suspect had missed a scheduled mental health appointment on Thursday before the attack, ABC News quoted Patton as saying. The suspect had yet to undergo a psychiatric assessment or formal interview by the police.

Just after 4:30 p.m. local time, the man drove a white Suzuki SUV into pedestrians on Flinders Street – a mile-long road that features several historical landmarks – injuring 19 people. Twelve of them remain in the hospital.

DISCOVERIES

A Different Kind of Spirit

Christmas Eve has a whole different meaning in Japan from its meaning in the West: It’s a day for lovers.

On Dec. 24, Japanese couples spend the evening in “love hotels,” short-stay establishments where couples can rekindle their love lives. Demand is so high that they’re often fully booked by 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Forbes reported.

The facilities are equipped with luxurious bathtubs, wide-screen TVs and video games. Some even offer costume rentals and are adorned with sex toy and lotion dispensers. In the past, such rooms even featured rotating beds and themed rooms like subway trains and classrooms, but a 1980s law forced the hotels to tone down the kink factor.

Even before World War Two, Dec. 24 was considered a romantic day for the Japanese. But during the 1980s and 1990s, myriad Japanese songs and movies popularized the idea of a romantic rendezvous on the normally PG-holiday.

That sprig of naughty mistletoe hanging above your door frame is probably looking a lot more tame right about now.

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