The World Today for April 18, 2018



Healing Divisions

ABC News had an amazing piece on an American doctor who works in the Nuba Mountains, a remote, war-torn region of Sudan.

The same doctor is featured in a documentary, “The Heart of Nuba,” recently released in US theaters.

The doctor, Tom Catena, treats the sick, the old, and victims of the military of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has banned journalists and international aid while also waging civil war in the Nuba region. ABC described the military’s attacks as a “wide-scale attempted genocide to gain total control of the naturally resource-rich country.”

Al-Bashir came to power in 1989 in an Islamist and military-backed coup. The International Criminal Court wants him to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

“He is an international pariah,” wrote the New York Times.

The country also faces the perennial prospect of border conflicts with South Sudan, which separated and declared independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of bloody warfare.

But Sudan has also purportedly helped the US and European countries fight terrorism – help that led President Donald Trump to lift US sanctions against the country last year.

In the latest example of his rapprochement with the world, al-Bashir recently released dozens of political prisoners to raise his profile among human-rights watchers.

But the US keeps Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that stifles other investment and involvement.

Sudan will probably have to do more to get off that list.

News agency IRIN said al-Bashir is keeping in place his repressive policies in the Nuba Mountains. He also is not letting humanitarian aid into the region, in a further attempt to break the will of those who might oppose him. IRIN lamented how Europe’s concern with its refugee crisis and other humanitarian problems elsewhere had taken attention away from the tragedy unfolding.

Meanwhile, Sudanese government militias are demanding payments from the European Union for preventing migrants from leaving for Libya, a departure point for Italy via the Mediterranean, Bloomberg reported.

The EU has budgeted $123 million to help Sudan cope with migration, but the government does not receive the money directly, the militias complained.

Perhaps the EU is not eager to pay because the same “janjaweed” militias are implicated in the atrocities in Darfur that got their president in hot water with international law enforcement.

Through it all, Tom Catena treats his patients.



Out of the Shadows

The head of America’s Central Intelligence Agency met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over Easter weekend for secret talks laying the groundwork for a direct meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo made the secret trip soon after he was nominated to be secretary of state, the Washington Post reported.

Speaking at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday, where he was discussing North Korea and other matters with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump appeared to allude to the clandestine meeting, saying the US had held direct talks with Kim “at very high levels.”

The revelation makes it more evident that both parties are serious about following through with the planned meeting, which Trump said will happen in early June, if not sooner.

Pompeo’s meeting with Kim marks the highest-level contact between the two countries since 2000, when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s late father.

What might result? Check out this long read from scholars Carla Freeman and Mel Gurtov on 38 North – an analysis site run by The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).


About Face

Armenia’s National Assembly swore in a new prime minister following days of protests against him that an opposition leader has characterized as a “non-violent velvet revolution”.

Demonstrators cordoned off the interior ministry and the prosecutor’s office on Tuesday, though police prevented them from entering the parliament itself, the BBC reported. Tens of thousands took to the streets in the capital, Yerevan, while other protests were reported in cities including Gyumri and Vanadzor, said Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The demonstrators oppose the selection of former President Serzh Sargsyan as the prime minister because they view it as a “power grab” following his pledge not to pursue the post, RFE/RL said.

Beginning in 2008, Sargsyan served two consecutive five-year terms as president – the maximum allowed by law – before stepping down less than two weeks ago. In 2015, however, Armenia modified the structure of its government to grant more powers to the prime minister and less to the president. Sargsyan had said formally he would “not aspire” for the prime minister position.

Protesters also opposed his 2008 election, which they alleged was rigged.


In with the New

Cuba’s national assembly is expected to name Miguel Diaz-Canel as the successor to 86-year-old Raul Castro on Thursday.

The 57-year-old first vice president, an electronics engineer by education, will become the first leader to be born after the country’s 1959 revolution, Reuters reported.

There’s some chance Diaz-Canel will take a more liberal approach than that of Raul and his brother, Fidel, who ruled the Caribbean island for the past six decades, the agency said. Diaz-Canel has supported an LGBT-friendly cultural center and called for broader internet freedoms, as well as more critical coverage of events in state-run media.

However, his recent public statements have focused on the need for continuity and fighting imperialism – an anachronistic hobbyhorse of his predecessors. And a video leaked last year showed him taking hardline views against independent media, dissidents and western embassies.

It remains to be seen whether that was a pragmatic move to gain office. But his scope for maneuvering will be limited in any case, as Castro will remain head of the Communist Party until 2021.


Marine Mammoth

A recent fossil discovery has paleontologists questioning other finds dating back hundreds of years, National Geographic reported.

After self-taught fossil hunter Paul de la Salle discovered a large chunk of fossil bone on a beach in southwestern England, he sent images to marine reptile experts in England and the United States.

Piecing together five other finds that together formed a 3.2-foot-long bone, scientists declared it to be the lower jaw of an ichthyosaur, an oceanic dinosaur that lived some 205 million years ago.

But this find was different from previous discoveries – it was 25 percent larger than the most complete ichthyosaur on record. In a study published recently in the journal PLOS One, scientists estimate that the current specimen was almost as big as a blue whale at 85 feet long.

The animal is thought to be the largest aquatic reptile ever discovered, Reuters reported.

Paleontologists still need more time to determine whether the current find is an offshoot of the existing species, or just a particularly beefy specimen.

Regardless, scientists have already set about re-examining samples collected in England from as early as 1850 to determine whether they too belong to the giant ichthyosaur. Until now, the finds were thought to be limbs or other bones of terrestrial dinosaurs, National Geographic reported.

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