The World Today for January 15, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

CATALONIA

Virtual Leadership

Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont won’t be on hand when the Catalan regional parliament reconvenes Wednesday to begin choosing a new government. But he will nevertheless likely be the biggest factor in what happens next in Catalonia – where the two separatist parties together won a narrow majority in a snap poll in December.

On Friday, the Spanish government dismissed Puigdemont’s claims that he could rule the region from his self-imposed exile in Brussels as absurd. Moreover, Madrid said it would go to the courts to prevent that from happening if necessary, Reuters reported.

Now, it remains to be seen if the Catalan separatists will push ahead with their plans to re-elect Puigdemont as regional leader – testing his pledge to perform his duties over Skype. Were he to return to Spain, he’d be arrested for sedition and rebellion.

On Wednesday, the regional parliament will endeavor to choose the parliamentary speaker, while the new regional president could be elected as soon as Jan. 31.

The outcome is by no means certain.

Last fall, following an unsanctioned independence referendum in which Catalans backed the separatists, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the regional government and ordered local elections to be held in December to resolve the crisis. But he miscalculated.

“The Spanish government’s attempt to repress the voice of the Catalan people has failed,” Puigdemont opined in Politico.

Not only did the two separatist parties manage to win a slim majority, but also the vote may have left Rajoy with less room to maneuver because his Popular Party came in last, the New York Times reported.

At the same time, the unionist party Ciudadanos, on whose support Rajoy’s own minority government in Madrid depends, won the popular vote.

The separatists’ majority hinges on eight lawmakers who are either in jail or in exile – including Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, the other most likely separatist candidate for president. And Spanish judges have shown no sign of softening their stance toward the separatist lawmakers. They have refused to back away from charges of rebellion, which carry a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, and ruled unanimously on January 5 to keep Junqueras in jail.

As Puigdemont sees it, the December vote showed that “independence sentiment has been consolidated and continues to grow.”

But the crisis has already cost Spain more than $1.2 billion, the BBC cited Spain’s economy minister as saying. Some 3,100 firms have moved their headquarters out of Catalonia due to political uncertainty, and economic growth in the region slowed from 0.9 percent to 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter.

Ironically, now Puigdemont – who emerged as a compromise candidate for the two separatist parties during a postelection deadlock two years ago – could be an obstacle to reaching a similar deal.

“The great paradox is that Puigdemont turned out last month to be a surprising electoral asset,” said Pablo Simón, a professor of politics at the Carlos III University in Madrid. “But his claims now make everything more complicated.”

WANT TO KNOW

IRAQ

Uniting the Troops

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced plans to run for re-election in May at the head of a newly created “Victory Alliance” coalition.

The once little-known prime minister’s stock has risen due to the defeat of the Islamic State, Channel News Asia reported. In December, Abadi declared victory in the three-year war against the Islamist group, which once controlled nearly a third of the country.

He’s rebuilt the country’s armed forces and won the support of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries – including powerful Shi‘ite militias backed by Iran — that were an important factor in the war and now promise to be significant players in politics.

However, his predecessor and fellow Shi’ite Dawa party member Nouri al-Maliki will run against him at the head of the “State of Law” bloc. And Abadi’s tie-up with the Iran-backed militias alienated Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shi‘ite cleric with a large following among the poor, Reuters said.

GERMANY

Not So Grand?

Fresh doubts emerged over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ability to forge a new “grand coalition” between her conservative bloc and the opposition Social Democrats.

Amid fears of a rebellion by Social Democratic Party (SPD) members, Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), on Sunday ruled out making further concessions to the preliminary coalition agreement unveiled Friday.

After the agreement failed its first test over the weekend, SPD lawmakers are angling for a new social security scheme and firmer employee contracts in the deal, reported Deutsche Welle. The SPD regional association in the state of Saxony-Anhalt voted against the coalition. The SPD youth wing has vocally opposed the pact, and influential party figures are beginning to complain that SPD party leader Martin Schulz did not win enough concessions in coalition talks last week, the Telegraph reported.

SPD delegates are set to vote on the preliminary agreement this week, as Merkel’s finance minister seeks simultaneously to iron out a plan for eurozone reform with France.

INDIA

Hugging It Out

A longtime supporter of Palestine, India’s course reversal is nearly complete, thanks to a perceived affinity between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Israel’s conservative Likud party. But there are still bumps in the road.

Modi broke protocol to greet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the airport upon his arrival for a six-day visit over the weekend, delivering his signature bear hug on the tarmac, the Indian Express reported. The leaders are expected to ink deals related to oil and gas, renewable energy, an amended protocol for airports, cyber-security, and co-production of films and documentaries, the paper said.

India recently took umbrage over the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan appearing on stage with Hafiz Saeed – who the US and India say masterminded the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. But New Delhi nevertheless voted in favor of the recent United Nations resolution opposing US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

One vote can’t break a “marriage made in heaven” Netanyahu said in India on Sunday.

DISCOVERIES

Not an Exodus Event

Fear not iguanas falling from the skies.

The phenomenon was no biblical plague – just a cold front sweeping across South Florida.

During the “bomb cyclone” that battered the Eastern Seaboard of the United States last week, strong wind conditions and blizzards from the Florida panhandle to Maine prompted flight cancellations, school closings and power outages – as well as a rainstorm of chilled iguanas and other coldblooded reptiles falling from the trees, the Washington Post reported.

That’s because they’re frozen – or nearly so.

Being coldblooded animals, iguanas are unable to self-regulate their body temperature. That means that they become sluggish at 50 degrees Fahrenheit as their blood slows. At 40 degrees, they become immobile.

The good news is that they’ll return from the “dead” once temperatures – and their bodies – heat up again.

But don’t take on that task yourself, conservationists warn.

“Like any wild animal, it will try to defend itself,” said Kristen Sommers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Click here to see how extreme weather in the United States has affected other tropical creatures.

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