The World Today for April 11, 2018



Cheeky Disbelief

Russian officials recently suggested they help British investigators trying to get to the bottom of the March 4 poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his 33-year-old daughter in the southern English town of Salisbury.

Unsurprisingly, the British rejected the idea.

“To do so would be perverse,” said John Foggo, the United Kingdom’s representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, in The Hague, Netherlands, according to the Washington Post.

After all, as the BBC explained, Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia, who was recently released from the hospital, and at least 38 bystanders suffered injuries or sickness from a “military-grade Novichok nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.” British leaders have said Russia is “highly likely” to blame for the attack.

The US, UK and a host of other Western countries expelled Russian diplomats recently in protest of the poisonings. Russia denied the claims and expelled Western diplomats in response.

It might seem odd that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be cheeky enough to suggest that he help Britain track down the perpetrator of the attack.

But Putin can afford to be bold. He has plenty of cards to play against Britain in this game of diplomacy and espionage.

First and foremost, Russian oligarchs have been pouring money into London real estate and other British properties for years.

The New York Times wrote that British leaders are scrutinizing those property owners, including reviewing 700 Russians who received visas to live in the UK largely because they could spend millions there.

But the billions of dollars that Russians have brought into the country make British authorities reluctant to root out the Russian networks that have infiltrated the country, Vox argued.

Britain has also fumbled the public-relations battle, which might be less important substantively but is still vital in the row, giving Russian leaders sufficient wiggle room for plausible deniability.

The Guardian reported that British scientists can’t definitely say if the nerve agent came from Russia. That led Britain’s Foreign Ministry to delete a tweet drawing a direct link between Moscow and the chemical weapon.

“U.K. Slip-Up Hands Russia the Initiative in War of Spin Over Spy Poisoning,” was the Bloomberg headline.

One could feel the sense of vindication in Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s statement on Facebook. “They will keep lying, prevaricating, shifting responsibility on each other,” she said, as reported by Russian news agency Tass.

Zakharova could be deceiving herself, of course. But it’s looking increasingly unlikely that she’ll need to reconsider her views.



Who’s Anti-Social?

In the wake of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s response regarding the company’s alleged failure to rein in hate speech in Myanmar, Vietnamese activists have written to him contending that the social network’s policies there could be used to silence dissent.

In an open letter to the billionaire signed by nearly 50 other groups, US-based human rights group Viet Tan said Facebook’s system of automatically pulling content if enough people complained could “silence human rights activists and citizen journalists in Vietnam,” Reuters reported.

The letter cited the government’s creation of a 10,000-person cyber warfare unit tasked with countering “wrong” views on the internet as evidence of the policy’s vulnerabilities.

The criticism comes as Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees regarding the company’s privacy policies, following revelations of the misuse of private data by the British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee

At the same time, critics have slammed government efforts to curb “fake news” in India and Malaysia as attempts to muzzle political opponents.


Welcome Again

The US removed travel restrictions on citizens of Chad, saying the African nation had improved its “identity-management and information sharing practices.”

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a proclamation that will allow Chad nationals to “again be able to receive visas for travel to the United States,” Politico cited a statement from the White House as saying.

The travel ban was applied to Chad in September, along with North Korea and Venezuela, in an effort to address judicial concerns that Trump’s original proclamation unlawfully targeted Muslim travelers. Subject to narrowly defined waivers and exemptions, the current version also bars citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to the Hill. Sudan was removed from the list in September.

Unlike most of the other countries affected by Trump’s executive order, Chad is a key counterterrorism ally of the US. It was included in the ban because of perceived weaknesses in its security system. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Chad’s progress on that front proves that the order can be an effective tool.


Arms and the Man

French President Emmanuel Macron defended his country’s weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for use against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, where both sides have faced allegations of human rights abuses.

Seventy-five percent of French citizens want Macron to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Reuters cited a YouGov poll as saying.

Appearing at a news conference with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Macron said France’s arms sales “are analyzed on a case-by-case basis and on the basis of reinforced criteria that reflect respect for international humanitarian law and the risk of harm to civilian populations.” And he pledged to organize a “humanitarian conference” on Yemen before the summer.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a Yemeni human rights group filed a lawsuit against Prince Mohammed in France, accusing him of complicity in torture and inhumane treatment in Yemen.

No big weapons contracts were announced during Mohammed’s three-day visit, though it did feature contracts worth billions of dollars between French and Saudi businesses, the Los Angeles Times reported.



Despite the battles raging on in the region, Iraqi felines can live a night of luxury at a low cost in the southern port city of Basra at the recently opened “4Cats Pet Hotel,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Created by veterinary student Ahmed Taher, the hotel is situated above an animal clinic that provides several services for feline guests, such as meals of pate, grooming services, toys and even scratching posts.

At the price of 5,000 to 7,000 Iraqi dinars per night – about $4.20 to $5.90 – it’s affordable to most. The shop even offers special discounts for those unable to afford it.

As war continues in the region, there was understandably a bit of shock about the town’s newest business. But cat owners say that the shop provides a crucial service at a time when they’re often very transient.

The hotel even offers social media services and sends photos to owners via WhatsApp to keep them abreast of their pet’s safety.

“I really liked the idea because my family and I travel a lot and it’s always hard to find a place where we can leave our cat,” cat owner Mehdi Fadel told AFP.

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