The World Today for March 19, 2018



No Nail-Biting Here

In a shockingly close vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin narrowly won reelection on Sunday, suggesting he will be a diminished leader in the coming years.

That was a joke. Or Fake News. Nothing about the above sentence is true.

The reality is that Putin handily won reelection to his fourth term as president on Sunday, winning nearly 77  percent of the vote with 99.8 percent of ballots counted, the Associate Press reported His nearest challenger, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, got around 13 percent, according to partial results.

There was nothing shocking about the race or Putin’s victory – which will make him Russia’s longest-reigning leader since Josef Stalin.

It’s surprising, some say, that seven candidates bothered to run for the presidency at all. Among the most popular, at least in the Western press, was a former reality television star, Ksenia Sobchak – the Paris Hilton of Russia, as the Globe and Mail wrote – whose claims to fame include having appeared on the cover of the local edition of Playboy.

Time magazine called the campaign “effectively a one-horse race.”

Almost 27 years ago, when the Soviet Union fell, many Americans believed Russia would embrace democracy and freedom. Today, those hopes appear naïve, to say the least. Russian-style democracy has brought apathy.

In Mozhaysk, a factory town 68 miles west of Moscow, few campaign advertisements appear on billboards, on vehicles or in apartment windows, the Moscow Times reported. Residents are more concerned about the economy, which is dismal outside big cities like the capital and St. Petersburg. They don’t see how Putin or anyone else can fix things.

“The government always promises better jobs, a beautiful country,” said construction worker Semyon Shavenzov. “But look around. There’s nothing here.”

The BBC interviewed Nikita Pavlov, who was six days too young to vote on election day. He wouldn’t have cast a ballot, he said, even if he had the chance. “It doesn’t matter,” Pavlov told the news service. “This is the election with no choice.”

Pavlov knows how tight Putin keeps his grip on power. He was among a wave of Russian youths who joined anti-corruption protests organized by Alexei Navalny. Police cracked down on the demonstration. Teachers “berated” students like Pavlov who attended.

Still, as Pavlov’s comments indicate, Navalny has made a mark in this election even though he was barred from running for president last year after his conviction on what he claims are trumped-up charges of fraud, an Al Jazeera opinion piece argued. Using social media and blogs, Navalny has engaged young people, often leading protests too big for authorities to quash without risking a backlash.

Putin can still use the bully pulpit. His recent two-hour presidential address focused on Russia’s newfangled nuclear weapons in part to further his image as the country’s great protector, claimed a Vox analysis.

Putin’s power is real. It could, however, sit on sandier foundations than he or many Russians realize.



Paving the Way

The top national security advisers for the United States, South Korea and Japan met over the weekend in what could pave the way for a much-debated sit-down between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

South Korea’s National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong met US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Japan’s National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi to discuss “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Reuters quoted South Korea’s presidential Blue House as saying Monday.

Along with the Trump-Kim meeting, they also discussed summit meetings between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the agency said.

Earlier, CNN cited South Korean and Finnish officials as saying that representatives of North Korea, South Korea and the United States will meet in Finland for talks on denuclearization. Bloomberg quoted South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha as saying Kim has already met preconditions for talks by conveying a clear commitment to denuclearization, “but there will be no reward for dialogue,” he added.


Turkish Delight

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels seized control of Afrin on Sunday, scotching Kurdish hopes of establishing a self-administered region there and increasing Turkey’s presence in the war-torn country.

The Syrian rebel forces appeared to take Afrin without a fight as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, withdrew, the New York Times reported. The YPG said that fighting for control of the city was still underway, but various witnesses and social media posts indicated that the Free Syrian Army had taken over.

“This morning at 8.30 a.m., Afrin city center was completely taken under control by F.S.A. members, who are supported by our Turkish military,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said Sunday.

The apparent turning point comes as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked close to crushing other rebel groups struggling to hold on to eastern Ghouta, in the suburbs of Damascus, the paper said.

While some locals see Turkey’s interference as a threat, others hope it will create areas that are free of Syrian government control – and also bombardment.


Say Uncle

China named Harvard-educated Liu He – who is affectionately known as “Uncle He” – vice premier in charge of economic policies and financial issues.

Rumored to have been friends with President Xi Jinping since the two were teenagers, He is credited with directing China’s recent shift in economic policy, geared toward slower but more sustainable consumption-based growth, rather than debt-fuelled investment and exports, the BBC reported.

He was named to China’s Politburo last October. But as one of four vice-premiers, he takes on a “huge and high-profile job,” the BBC said. In a parallel move, Yi Gang, who earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois and taught the same subject at Indiana University at Indianapolis, was named head of China’s central bank, the South China Morning Post reported.

The SCMP quoted Fudan University professor Sun Lijian as saying the appointment signals China’s desire for its central bank to take a larger role in global finance.

“It breaks a tacit rule in China that a person with overseas experiences shouldn’t be appointed as the number one official in a key government division,” said Sun.


Community Outreach

An innovative take on community outreach that doctors are calling a “home run” offered medical screenings in the unlikeliest of places: the barbershop.

According to the American Heart Association, black men in the United States disproportionately suffer from high blood pressure as compared to other racial or ethnic groups. Known as the “silent killer” because symptoms go undetected, high blood pressure can cause strokes or heart attacks if left untreated.

Instead of waiting for the men to get tested on their own, Ronald Victor, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, took medical care to them – at the barbershop.

“Barbershops are a uniquely popular meeting place for African-American men,” he told the Associated Press, adding that many visit weekly over years and develop close relationships with their barbers.

With the men at ease in the barber’s chair, there’s a golden opportunity to talk about improving health, he added.

For the study, pharmacists and doctors fanned out across dozens of Los Angeles barbershops to meet potential patients. After six months, men who were given medical advice and referred to a pharmacist in the barber’s chair saw their top blood-pressure number drop by 27 points on average, compared to a 9-point drop for patrons who only received the medical advice.

Doctors plan to expand the study to 3,000 men in cities nationwide.

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