The World Today for March 16, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

SLOVAKIA

Deadly Revelations

The shocking killing of a young Slovakian journalist investigating ties between an Italian organized crime network and the political establishment has transfixed the nation – and destabilized the country.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister Robert Fico resigned.

The Slovakian leader had been able to weather political storms over corruption allegations in the past. But the execution-style murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, both 27, last month caused a tidal wave of anger that flooded Slovakia’s streets with the nation’s largest protests since the fall of communism in 1989, Bloomberg reported.

Kuciak, described by colleagues as one of the nation’s most promising young reporters, had uncovered links between high-level officials in Fico’s government and organized crime gangs out of Italy who were siphoning away EU development funds.

Carrying banners that read “Mafia get out of my country and “An attack on journalists = an attack on us all,” tens of thousands marched for Fico’s head on a pike after the revelations came to light, the Associated Press wrote.

“This murder put political corruption into focus,” Aneta Vilagi, a political scientist with Comenius University in Bratislava, told the Washington Times. “Many are of the point of view that this is too much. People actually lost their lives because somebody tried to hide this level of corruption. The effect is quite tremendous. It’s like an earthquake.”

Many Slovaks remember the days when Soviet-supported apparatchiks ran their country, then part of Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, without regard to civil rights.

But in 2004, Slovakia and its neighbor, the Czech Republic, managed to join the European Union in the bloc’s first major expansion, which helped to at least partially curtail the rise of organized crime figures like those who wield near-absolute power in ex-Warsaw Pact states like Bulgaria.

But Kuciak’s death called into question that progress.

Slovak police released seven people who had been arrested in connection with the murders for lack of evidence, one of whom was an Italian business associate of Fico’s allies. Amid cries that the investigation was being botched, Fico’s protégé, interior minister Robert Kalinak, quit his post.

Two top officials in Fico’s government also stepped down after allegations of their business dealings with the Italians surfaced, reported the Slovak Spectator, a local English-language newspaper. One of those advisers, 28-year-old Maria Troskova, is a former model with little government experience. Kuciak wrote about her in the last story he was working on before his death, Vice News explained, though she and the other official have denied any wrongdoing.

Amid the turmoil, Slovak President Andrej Kiska called on Fico to reshuffle his cabinet or hold new elections so voters could decide whether they wanted a new government. Fico at first dismissed the directive and instead criticized the president for siding with the opposition – he even went so far as to pin public dissent on foreign actors like George Soros, who he said was trying to overthrow the government.

But it was the Slovakian people whose persistence eventually forced out the embattled premier. Fico’s deputy will now stand for a vote of confidence in parliament, but he’s vowed to continue on as chairman of his Smer party.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not saying goodbye yet,” he said after handing in his resignation.

Even so, Kuciak’s colleagues at Aktuality.sk and other prominent journalists around the country are banding together, determined to continue his work: It’s only the beginning of this story, they say.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Piling Up, Piling On

In the wake of denouncing Russia for allegedly orchestrating the poisoning of a former spy in Britain, Washington blamed Moscow for a series of cyberattacks that could have enabled the Kremlin to shut down American and European nuclear power plants, as well as water and electric systems.

The White House issued its toughest sanctions yet against Russia for meddling in the US election and other “malicious” cyberattacks, the New York Times reported. Separately, Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the alleged Russian interference in the election, subpoenaed business records from the Trump organization that may be related to the case.

The US Treasury put sanctions on another 19 Russian citizens and five organizations in response to the alleged interference, Reuters reported. But it continued to eschew sanctions on oligarchs and officials close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think we have hit an inflection point in the current administration’s approach towards Russia,” Reuters quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying.

BRAZIL

Lost Without Hope

The apparent assassination of a liberal Rio de Janeiro politician who was known for her social work in the slums and was critical of police has left her supporters feeling “lost, without hope.”

The killing of Rio city councilor Marielle Franco, 38, was “a very tough blow for anyone who fights for justice, for freedom, for equality,” Camila Pontes a 30-year-old communications officer, told the Guardian.

Police officials said two gunmen fired nine shots into the vehicle carrying Franco and her driver Wednesday night.

The attack comes after the military took charge of policing Rio last month in response to a surge in violence. Franco’s killing sparked protests across Brazil, bringing together union members, feminists, leftists and various poor communities.

Franco, a gay black woman, had spoken out against police killings – which killed 154 people in Rio state in January – carried out in the name of a crackdown on gangs.

SAUDI ARABIA

Free Rein

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appealed to Congress not to restrict America’s support of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the conflict in Yemen, saying a withdrawal of US military personnel could “further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis.”

A bipartisan group of senators, Republican Mike Lee, independent Bernie Sanders and Democrat Chris Murphy, are trying to force a US withdrawal using the 1973 war powers act – which allows any senator to introduce a resolution to withdraw US armed forces from a conflict not authorized by Congress, Reuters reported. A debate is slated for next week, but Republican leaders are aiming to delay a vote on the matter, CNN said.

Mattis argued that would increase civilian casualties and reduce US influence over the Saudis. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting, which pits the Saudi-backed forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi against Houthi rebels supported by Iran.

Separately, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman told CBS that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we would follow suit as soon as possible.”

DISCOVERIES

Daredevils

The Netflix series Daredevil tells the tale of a blind superhero who uses echolocation to fight crime in the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.

While the concept may seem more fiction than fact, a new study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals human echolocation can actually be used by the blind to better adjust to their surroundings.

Similar to bats, skilled human echolocators can emit a series of loud clicks to “see” objects around them, changing the frequency and intensity of their clicks depending on where an object is located, the BBC reported.

“I click using my tongue against the roof of my mouth – it’s an implosive, sharp sound,” said one of the study’s authors, Daniel Kish, a blind echolocator himself. “It can penetrate the background noise and bring information to you from dozens or hundreds of meters away.”

The results of the study, which tested echolocators’ abilities in a sound-deadening room, showed that the tactic can yield startling detail about objects in a room, including size, shape and distance – even the material from which an object is made.

“And the more we understand it, the more we can develop effective methods for teaching and for learning it,” said Kish.

Correction: In Thursday’s WANT TO KNOW section, we said in our “Breaking a Taboo” item that South Africa’s Apartheid system ended nearly 15 years ago. In fact, Apartheid ended more than 25 years ago, in 1991. We apologize for the error.

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