The World Today for February 09, 2018



Fault Lines

Some islands just don’t seem to get a break: These small nations are often directly in the path of nature’s fury.

But Cyprus hasn’t been hit by a hurricane. The European Union’s easternmost member is embroiled in a financial and political scandal – no surprise, given its recent history, some say.

In late December, the Guardian reported that the FBI is questioning Cypriot officials about FBME Bank, a small, Lebanese-owned institution which operates 90 percent of its business on the Mediterranean isle.

Earlier that month, Bloomberg reported that FBME was the subject of two US criminal investigations: one involving the bank’s credit-card operations, and another involving accusations of laundering money from a Russian fraud.

US regulators severed ties with the institution in 2016 after the Treasury Department accused it of laundering money for international terrorist and criminal organizations.

In a 2014 report obtained by the Guardian, the Central Bank of Cyprus found that FBME had banking relationships with a list of prominent, politically connected Russians, including one close to President Vladimir Putin.

Now US special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and possible Russian collusion is also looking into FBME, according to the Guardian.

Many say the island should have learned its lesson from a decade ago: The European financial crisis forced Cyprus to accept a three-year, multibillion-dollar rescue package from other Eurozone members to avoid insolvency.

Some facilitators of the faulty lending programs that catalyzed the crisis have been imprisoned, while European Investment Bank loans to small and medium-size businesses have helped bring the nation back from the brink, according to another Associated Press report.

Those might have been taken as indicators of a paradigm shift in financial handlings if it weren’t for the revelations over the past two months, say observers.

Meanwhile, UN-sponsored talks to reunite the Turkish and Greek zones of the island after 44 years of division collapsed in July. Now, new fault lines are appearing in Northern Cyprus.

Some residents of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey, worry the area is falling even deeper into its patron’s sphere of influence, Al Jazeera reported.

That influence is being felt, wrote the Guardian, in the deterioration of secularism in the breakaway region, once thought of as the most liberal enclave in the Muslim world.

That worry was reflected in a recent election in Northern Cyprus in which internal concerns overshadowed the island’s divided status and financial troubles, commentators pointed out.

It resulted in no clear parliamentary majority, mainly because many voters believed the leading party is too corrupt – and too subservient to Turkey.

Even so, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades vowed to push on with attempts to reunify the ethnically divided island nation and buoy up the economy after he was re-elected Sunday, the AP reported.

“Tomorrow, a new day, a new era dawns,” he said. “… I call on all Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to understand the current state of affairs cannot be a solution to the Cyprus problem.”

Time will tell if those solutions incorporate lessons learned.



Who’s Stuck with the Tab?

Any thoughts of “you break it, you buy it” are out the window in Iraq as far as Washington is concerned – at least for now.

US and Western officials told Reuters on Thursday that the US won’t volunteer any money at a conference in Kuwait next week to fund Iraq’s reconstruction drive following the war against Islamic State.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could still announce a contribution closer to the conference. But Washington is pushing Iraq’s neighbors and the private sector to lead the rebuilding effort. Saudi Arabia, which aims to counter Iran’s influence in Baghdad, could be especially important, the agency said, noting President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to end “the era of nation-building.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said his country needs up to $100 billion to repair the damage done in the war against the Islamist militants, and experts warned a shortfall in funding could help set the stage for a new insurgency.


Justice on Trial

The International Criminal Court opened a preliminary investigation into the Philippines’ war on drugs for alleged crimes against humanity.

Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor for the international court, said the probe would examine events since July 1, 2016, to determine if there is enough evidence to take the case forward, the New York Times reported.

A spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he welcomed the probe as a way to put the accusations to rest and that the government crackdown was a “legitimate police operation.”

In April, Philippine lawyer Jude Josue Sabio filed a 77-page complaint with the ICC alleging that Duterte was the “mastermind” of a campaign of extrajudicial killings that dated to the late 1980s – beginning when he was mayor of Davao and escalating after he became president.

Philippine police say some 4,000 alleged criminals have been killed in the anti-drug campaign, while rights groups peg the figure at closer to 12,000.


Controversial Conviction

Violence broke out in Bangladesh following the conviction of opposition leader Khaleda Zia in a corruption case.

Thousands of Zia’s supporters clashed with police after a judge found her guilty of embezzling money meant for an orphanage and sentenced her to five years in prison – possibly preventing her from running against her former ally, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Bangladesh Awami League, in national elections slated for December.

Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is expected to appeal against the verdict, which her lawyer called “political vengeance” and a party spokesman called “a false and staged case,” the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

BNP supporters clashed with police and activists from the ruling party across the country, while a BNP spokesman said about 3,500 opposition activists and officials were arrested in a sweep by security forces before the verdict.

Zia faces dozens of separate charges related to violence and corruption. But she insists they, too, are politically motivated and without merit.


Defensive Line

Scientists say the bacteria living on human skin can produce more than 200 unique fragrances. Some are grassy and floral, while others deliver a nose full of funk.

Any given scent may attract or repel a variety of creatures. But one bloodsucker, the mosquito, doesn’t discriminate – it uses natural human odors to sniff out and home in on human targets.

The jury’s still out as to which scents make some people super-attractors and which aren’t quite to the mosquito’s taste. However, a study recently published in the journal Current Biology suggests there’s an effective way to deter the pests.

“Swat them!” Jeff Riffell, a biologist at the University of Washington and lead author of the study, told NPR.

Mosquitoes hate air vibrations. And when they experience an individual’s scent and air vibrations simultaneously, they’ll come to associate the two and take off looking for another victim.

The strategy may only last 24 hours, but some scientists are convinced it works.

Biologist Marten Edwards at Muhlenberg College, who wasn’t involved in the study, said he’ll be slapping at mosquitoes more.

“And I’m going to feel OK if I miss,” he added, “because I know that I’ve taught the mosquito something important.”


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