The World Today for March 15, 2018



The Curse of Black Gold

Earlier this month, Libya’s massive El Sharara oil field, which supplies about a quarter of national output, halted production for a little over 24 hours. It was a crippling blow to a nation where oil accounts for 95 percent of export earnings.

But it wasn’t militants or armed conflict that affected production; it was an aggrieved farmer protesting pollution run-off from the facility.

“I closed the pipeline that crosses my land. The land is six hectares and it has become wasteland,” landowner Hassan Mohamed al-Hadi told Reuters. “We closed the pipeline last year for the same reason. A number of mediators had intervened to persuade me to reopen it within 20 days for cleaning the land but unfortunately the same thing has returned.”

The case exemplifies the strife that continues to plague the country with the largest proven oil reserves in Africa since the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

At the heart of the conflict: oil.

Libya was once a federal system unified under a single crown, but the discovery of vast oil reserves led it to institute a centralized government in Tripoli in 1963 as a way to ease foreign business relations.

But the riches that poured into the country from the black gold – in 1970 Libya was producing over three million barrels of oil per day – failed to reach outer prefectures, widening geographical and ethnic divides.

Fast forward to 2011 after the fall of Gaddafi: With the new government in shambles and unable to properly oversee the state’s biggest asset, local factions seized some oil facilities and threatened long-term shutdowns to force political acquiescence.

Meanwhile, Islamic State and other armed militants from overflow conflicts in Chad and Sudan began to attack oil fields, adding to the dry spell in production.

And with the nation’s inconclusive elections in 2014 begetting rival governments in different parts of the country – mostly due to qualms about the redistribution of oil wealth, Reuters reported – Libya, once a beefy oil producer, became anemic.

There have been bright spots recently. Libya was allowed to exempt itself from OPEC-led production cuts to boost value, while foreign oil companies have moved in to invest in the nation’s facilities, much needed steps to ramp up production.

For the past few months, production has been churning along at about one million barrels per month, far less than the 1.6 million output before Gaddafi’s ouster, but still respectable given the strife.

Plus, the US and other nations have cracked down on oil smuggling, helping oil money to remain in the government’s pockets.

But with the nation’s south remaining largely ungovernable, foreign interference in Libyan affairs rife, human rights on the decline and dueling governments still at loggerheads, Libya isn’t pulling together anytime soon to save its greatest asset.

“Ironically, almost 50 years after precipitating its transformation into a unitary state, Libya’s vast oil resources are now a threat to its future and its unity,” Guma El-Gamaty, a Libyan academic, wrote in Al Jazeera.



Breaking a Taboo

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has raised hackles in South Africa by proposing special visa policies for “persecuted” white farmers – whom the ruling African National Congress is still trying to replace with their black counterparts, more than 25 years after the end of apartheid.

“We have the potential to help some of these people that are being persecuted,” Dutton said, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported

South Africa called Dutton’s comments “sad” and “regrettable,” the Guardian reported.

A government spokesperson also emphasized that the process of land redistribution “is very important to address the imbalances of the past. But it is going to be done legally, and with due consideration of the economic impact and impact on individuals.”

Australian media has recently featured a series of reports claiming numerous and increasing cases involving the murder and rape of white farmers. The Guardian cited a leading South African tracker of crime statistics as saying there’s no evidence to suggest white farmers are more often targeted for violence than any other group, but that assessment is hotly contested locally, too.


Getting Even

After British Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Moscow for the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter on British soil and expelled 23 Russian diplomats, Russia’s ambassador to the UK said British diplomats would be expelled from Moscow in retaliation.

The incident threatens to worsen already fraught relations between the West and Russia. Yet Moscow was dismissive and cavalier in its response to May’s allegations, the Guardian reported.

“The temperature of Russia-UK relations drops to minus 23, but we are not afraid of cold weather,” the Russian embassy in London tweeted. Meanwhile, the Russian envoy to the United Nations told the Security Council that the attack was a so-called false-flag operation – possibly conducted by the UK itself – geared at damaging Russia’s interests.

Backing the UK in an unusually harsh statement, the White House said the incident illustrates how Russia routinely “undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes,” the BBC said.


Arrested But Unsolved

Mexico has arrested a key suspect in the disappearance of 43 students from the town of Iguala in 2014 – but the grisly crime remains shrouded in mystery.

The authorities allege that Erick Uriel Sandoval formed part of the gang they believe killed the trainee teachers and burned their bodies, and had offered an $81,000 reward to catch him, the BBC reported.

But Mexican police have already arrested more than 100 people in connection with the case and doubts still remain about their explanation of what transpired.

Returning from a protest against alleged discriminatory hiring practices in the town of Iguala, the 43 students were stopped by local police. The police said they opened fire on the students’ buses because they’d been hijacked, but survivors denied that explanation. Following that, an official report concluded that police handed the 43 missing students over to a local gang called the Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), who murdered them and burned their bodies.

But independent experts have questioned that conclusion and many continue to suspect the direct involvement of the Mexican military in the killings.


Permanent Reminder

It’s been estimated that one in five Americans sports a tattoo – a “permanent reminder of a temporary feeling,” as musician Jimmy Buffet sardonically sang.

But a new study by French scientists studying tattooed mice reveals that what occurs on the cellular level beneath inked skin is a more dynamic process than previously believed – a discovery that may help regretful individuals to more quickly erase that permanent reminder.

According to the study, published recently in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the cell most affected by fresh ink is the macrophage, an immune cell that gobbles up foreign substances in the body. That dispels previous beliefs that a tattoo was simply permanently stained collagen cells underneath the skin.

Because the ink particles are likely too large for the macrophages to break down, they preserve the ink, releasing it once the cell dies, whereupon it is gobbled up by a new cell, the New York Times reported.

Because the macrophages are constantly being replaced, the study’s authors speculate that dermatologists may be able to decrease the time it takes to remove a tattoo if they target the cells during laser removal.

That means that permanent reminder may not be so permanent after all.

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