The World Today for April 30, 2018



The Birth of a Nation

When it was founded in 1918, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was one of the first democracies in the Muslim world.

But that status was short-lived. Soviet Russia absorbed Azerbaijan into its sphere of influence only two years later.

Today, after a century of Soviet rule and attempts at recreating a democracy, Azerbaijan is riddled with corruption and authoritarianism at the hands of longtime President Ilham Aliyev, in power since 2003.

It follows a pattern in Azerbaijan that began with Aliyev’s father, Heydar Aliyev, a despot who controlled the nation during three decades of Soviet rule and into the afterglow of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

But democratic conditions didn’t get better after his reign.

International observers condemned repressive voting conditions in the 2003 election that brought Ilham Aliyev to power, as well as the 2008 election that gave him a second term. A referendum the following year scrapped presidential term limits, and another in 2016 gave him new presidential powers and expanded his term in office from five to seven years.

It also lowered the presidential age limit – a move thought to be a ploy to set up Aliyev’s 19-year-old son as the nation’s heir apparent, the BBC reported.

But in the year of the nation’s centennial, citizens had had enough.

In March, demonstrators gathered in the capital of Baku to protest Aliyev’s latest consolidation of power and to demand the release of political prisoners.

The political opposition announced a boycott of April’s presidential elections, accusing the regime of attempting to silence reporters, activists and members of civil society by jailing them, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty reported.

Azerbaijani exiles in Europe fueled protesters’ passions by unveiling a social media campaign of satirical political cartoons titled #KnowYourDictator, prompting a threat from Aliyev’s regime to shut down social media platforms for espousing treasonous rhetoric.

But all the momentum was for naught. Aliyev won the snap election on April 11 and extended his reign for another seven years. He won some 86 percent of the vote, the Associated Press reported.

It’s an unsurprising turn of events – and one that will continue to go unchecked, wrote Richard Kauzlarich, a former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, and David J. Kramer, a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, in Foreign Policy.

While Azerbaijan remains one of the most corrupt and authoritarian regimes in the world, Kauzlarich and Kramer argue, the West continues to enable Aliyev due to the nation’s oil wealth and moderate-Muslim culture.

One hundred years after the birth of a nation, a democracy still hasn’t been born.



No Trespassing

Dozens of Central American migrants who have journeyed across Mexico in a highly publicized caravan to seek asylum in the United States vowed Sunday they would remain outside an immigration processing center until “every last one” is admitted into the country.

Alex Mensing, an organizer with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which assembled the caravan, said 50 migrants were admitted to the immigration processing center on the Mexico side, CNN reported. Another 100 or so were turned away late Sunday because US Customs and Border Protection had exhausted its capacity to handle people traveling without documents, the New York Times said.

Similar caravans have made their way to the border in years past, but this one has gained more attention due to critical tweets from President Donald Trump, who called for officials to deny entry to the asylum seekers.

The US offers asylum to applicants who can prove they have been persecuted or fear persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a particular group.


Plausible Deniability

British Home Secretary Amber Rudd resigned over the weekend, after being forced to backtrack on her claims that the Home Office did not have deportation targets for expelling illegal immigrants.

Rudd tendered a resignation letter that acknowledged she should have known about the deportation targets, following a busy week of attempted damage control, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

On Wednesday, Rudd told the home affairs committee that such targets did not exist. On Thursday, she admitted they existed but claimed she hadn’t known about them. And on Friday, after the Guardian published evidence that her office had been informed about the targets, she said she had not seen the leaked document in question.

The Home Affairs Select Committee questioned Rudd last week over quotas for removal of the Windrush generation, the first large group of Caribbean migrants to arrive in the UK after World War II, CNN reported.

The destruction of “landing records” of the immigrants – eliminating paperwork that would likely have allowed them to stay in Britain – happened under May’s watch as home secretary from 2010 to 2016.


Coming Home

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to make permanent a ban on Filipino workers traveling to Kuwait for work, raising the heat in a dispute between the two countries over the alleged abuse of Filipino housemaids and other workers there.

Kuwait on Wednesday expelled the Philippines’ ambassador and recalled its own envoy from Manila over the dispute, the Associated Press reported.

The ban has been in effect since February, when the body of a Filipino woman was discovered in a freezer in Kuwait City, where it had been hidden for over a year.

The two countries had been negotiating an end to the ban. But last week two Filipinos associated with the embassy were arrested for allegedly convincing maids to flee their employers’ homes. Kuwait expelled Ambassador Renato Villa after he spoke to the local press about the embassy’s efforts to rescue domestic workers.

“There will be no more recruitment for especially domestic helpers. No more,” Duterte told reporters on Sunday.


Elusive Structures

Since the mid-20th century, human DNA has been recognized by its iconic double helix structure.

But scientists recently discovered another DNA structure inside human cells resembling a four-stranded twisted knot, a shape they’ve dubbed the “i-motif,” Newsweek reported.

“This new research reminds us that totally different DNA structures exist – and could well be important for our cells,” Daniel Christ, a co-author of a study on the discovery recently published in the journal Nature Chemistry, said in a statement.

The new structure was detected using an antibody tool that latched itself to i-motifs. Scientists were then able to track the structures using fluorescence.

The structures appear and disappear over time, which made them elusive to researchers in the past. But now that their locations have been pinpointed, researchers are looking at the way they impact how genetic instructions are passed throughout the body.

“These findings will set the stage for a whole new push to understand what this new DNA shape is really for, and whether it will impact on health and disease,” said Marcel Dinger, another author of the study.

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