The World Today for January 12, 2018



Splitting Heirs

Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was never going to have an easy time in office. He squeaked past a tough rival in the June 2016 election, only to face a legislature where that same opponent enjoyed a clear majority and was set on bringing him down.

That looked imminent late last year when 93 out of the 130 lawmakers who make up Peru’s Congress backed an impeachment vote against him over his association with Odebrecht – the Brazilian construction company whose admissions of paying bribes have brought down a series of politicians across Latin America.

At the eleventh hour, however, a family rift split the opposition Popular Force and the impeachment vote was defeated. But demonstrators took to the streets for the fourth time to protest his controversial pardon of longtime President Alberto Fujimori this week – and called for his resignation, the BBC reported.

Kuczynski reshuffled his cabinet to try to shore up support earlier this week. But his handling of the impeachment effort has fanned fears of a resurgence of the right-wing movement whose ruthless tactics defeated the Shining Path insurgency in the 1990s – and resulted in charges of crimes against humanity for Fujimori.

From the outset, Kuczynski raised the specter of that era by calling the impeachment proceedings a “coup disguised as supposedly legitimate legal interpretations.”

Then, many suspected him of offering a quid pro quo when he pardoned Fujimori halfway into a 25-year jail sentence for graft and human-rights convictions a week after the impeachment was defeated. The reason: Fujimori’s son Kenji split with the ex-strongman’s elder daughter Keiko – the leader of the Popular Force party – and abstained from the vote, along with nine followers.

“The pardon’s for President Kuczynski, it’s not for Fujimori,” leftist lawmaker Marisa Glave said on Lima television station Canal N.

While Kuczynski insisted there was no backroom deal, many remained convinced otherwise, Bloomberg reported.

Of greater concern to some observers, Kuczynski also defended Fujimori’s controversial reign as police fired tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters in downtown Lima on Christmas Day, according to Reuters.

Fujimori committed “significant legal transgressions regarding democracy and human rights,” Reuters quoted Kuczynski as saying in a televised address. “But I also think his government contributed to national progress.”

Where the controversy will lead is anybody’s guess.

Unlike a raft of politicians in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru itself, Kuczynski has never been accused of taking bribes.

Instead, he’s accused of lying about payments he received as an advisor for Odebrecht – at a time when he claims he was not the decision maker at his company Westfield Capital Ltd.

If he does go down and his fall triggers new elections, that could pave the way for Keiko Fujimori to replace him, noted the Economist. But her first name is also featured in the paper trail related to the Odebrecht scandal – though she insists it must refer to some other Keiko.



No Means Maybe?

One of the loudest supporters of the United Kingdom’s exit of the European Union surprised everybody by calling for a second Brexit referendum, rekindling hopes that the decision might be reversed.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage suggested on Thursday that a second Brexit vote should be held, saying the result would be more decisive and silence critics of the decision to leave the EU, the Guardian reported.

Prime Minister Theresa May has previously ruled out a second vote. But her opponents see Farage’s flip-flop as a sign that political pressure is building for a poll on the final deal, the paper said.

Only Parliament can authorize a second vote. But before that, the government or a coalition of opposition parties backed by a few Tory lawmakers would have to propose the move.

That might happen if the UK and EU fail to reach an agreement on the divorce deal in the fall and Britain faces either a hard Brexit or no deal, the New York Times said.


Whose Side Are You On?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to end strikes on opposition forces in northern Syria if he wants peace negotiations to succeed.

Though he wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ousted, Erdogan has worked with Iran and Russia – who back the controversial Syrian leader – on a political resolution to the conflict, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s relationship has frayed with Washington, which also wants Assad gone but has during the war supported Kurdish forces that Erdogan sees as a threat to his regime.

Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed last year to a “de-escalation zone” in the opposition-held Idlib province and surrounding region, which borders Turkey. However, a Syrian government offensive against Idlib is gathering steam with the aid of Iran-backed forces.

If the offensive is successful, it will further entrench Russia and Iran in Syria, the Washington Post opined, saying the attacks in the de-escalation zones have again featured war crimes, including the deliberate bombing of hospitals.


Once More Unto the Breach

It’s nearly certain that another military man will be Egypt’s president following elections in the spring.

After former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik pulled out of the race days earlier, former military chief of staff General Sami Anan stepped in to replace him on the ballot for the Arabism Egypt Party, Reuters reported. But the odds-on favorite remains incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was a commissioned military officer until 2014, even though he has yet to confirm his candidacy.

Shafik was viewed as the most serious competition for Sisi, whose popularity has waned due to austerity measures, security problems and a crackdown on dissidents. Shafik lost narrowly to Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2012.

Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali said he would not pull out of the race. But he may be disqualified if he’s found guilty on charges of public indecency related to an allegedly rude hand gesture.

An election commission said Monday the polls would be held March 26-28, with a run-off on April 24-26.


Chocolate Reserves

Chocoholics panicked when it was reported that the cacao plant could disappear by 2050 due to global warming.

But that’s not really the case.

The cacao plant will not go extinct in 40 years, Deutsche Welle reported. Nevertheless, it is threatened by fungal parasites catalyzed by increasing temperatures in chocolate-growing regions.

Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire – which produce over half the world’s cacao supply – face the biggest threat.

But there’s no need to stockpile candy bars just yet.

Scientists from the University of California, Berkley, are teaming up with the candy giant Mars Inc., which pledged $1 billion in September for investments in sustainability, to make sure chocolate survives.

“Chocolate is not ‘on track’ to go extinct in 40 years,” said Megan Hochstrasser, science communications manager at UC Berkley.

Researchers at Berkeley are using the gene-editing technology CRISPR, which can make tiny alterations to an organism’s DNA, to make the plant more resistant to diseases.

Though the technology is controversial, scientists hope to use it someday to manipulate staple crops in impoverished regions to safeguard against famine, keeping bellies full – and that sweet tooth satisfied – for years to come.

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