The World Today for May 15, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

ARMENIA

From Prisoner to Premier

Armenian journalist Nikol Pashinyan was kicked out of college in 1995 for his political activities, and was charged with libel in 2000 during his tenure as editor-in-chief of a liberal daily critical of the government.

He then faced an assassination attempt in 2004, and in 2010, after a series of protests he led against President Serzh Sargsyan turned deadly, he was arrested on charges of murder and inciting political unrest.

Now, this prisoner has turned premier – following a series of showdowns with political strongmen over the past month, Pashinyan was elected prime minister of Armenia last week on a platform of weeding out corruption and nepotism.

It was no easy feat, nor will it be an easy road going forward – Pashinyan must now navigate his nation out of its biggest political test since independence from the Soviet Union, all the while dealing with an ailing economy.

In 2015, Armenia voted in a referendum to rewrite its constitution in the image of a parliamentary democracy, stripping the nation’s president of most of his powers.

Many saw the move as an attempt by President Sargsyan – whose tenure was marred by accusations of ignoring abject poverty to the benefit of wealthy elites and cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin – to remain in power. Even so, Sargsyan vowed he wouldn’t seek the newly powerful post of prime minister once his second term ended.

He quickly changed his mind. When his term as president concluded early last month, his ruling Republican Party quickly voted him in as the nation’s new premier.

Protests ensued, effectively paralyzing the capital Yerevan with roadblocks and widespread strikes, the Los Angeles Times reported. Pashinyan, after demanding Sargsyan’s resignation on television, was quickly detained along with hundreds of others, the BBC reported.

But the protests didn’t stop and, acknowledging defeat, Sargsyan acquiesced. “Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong,” he said in a public address late last month. “I am leaving office of the country’s leader, of prime minister.”

After more protests and votes, Pashinyan was elected prime minister last week.

But now the real test begins: Pashinyan must find a way to fix Armenia’s broken economy and corrupt political system – issues that drove citizens to the streets in the first place.

One-third of the country’s three million citizens live below the poverty level, according to the Asian Development Bank. Unemployment is between 17 and 19 percent, and the average monthly wage is less than $400.

Pashinyan’s many promises lack concrete proposals. He’s called for snap elections in an attempt to ride popular sentiment against the status quo and oust Republican Party candidates, but his slate of economic changes need major reforms, not quick fixes.

“We have a lot of trust in this guy, but he needs to not just destroy corruption, but to construct the new system here,” Artak Manukyan, chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a think tank in Yerevan, told the LA Times.

Armenians are excited about this political Cinderella story – but they might think differently if Pashinyan’s promises vanish into hot air at the stroke of midnight.

WANT TO KNOW

MALAYSIA

Mystery Lingers

An Australian news program’s investigation into the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 suggests that the pilot deliberately crashed the plane into the Indian Ocean in an apparent mass murder-suicide of the 239 people aboard more than four years ago.

As investigators continue to search for the plane, a group of international aviation analysts told “60 Minutes Australia” that the only component of the plane that’s been found, a wing, would have exploded in a high-speed crash.

Moreover, analysts say veteran pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah oddly flew along the Thailand-Malaysia border, weaving in and out of each country’s airspace, in what they say was an attempt to avoid detection and intervention by authorities.

Reconstructing the flight based on military radar, analysts also say it’s likely that Captain Shah dipped the plane’s wing into waters off the coast of his hometown, Penang, Malaysia, as a moribund goodbye.

Aviation research groups call the investigation “very compelling,” but family members of the victims say they won’t be convinced without solid forensic evidence.

ISRAEL/PALESTINE

Coming Storm

At least 58 people were killed and at least 2,700 wounded – at least 1,350 by gunfire – on Monday as violence erupted in the Gaza Strip in the wake of the United States opening its new embassy in Jerusalem.

Palestinians have been protesting an economic blockade by Israel and Egypt at Gaza’s fenced-off border with Israel since March 30, and dozens have been killed since then.

But on Monday, which marked the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel and the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem, the protests turned increasingly violent.

Egged on by Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, tens of thousands charged the border fence yet again, where they were met with live gunfire, rubber bullets and smoke bombs from Israeli soldiers.

Western nations called on Israel to show restraint, but Tuesday’s demonstrations seem poised to be just as deadly, the Guardian reported. May 15 marks what Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, when Palestinians fled their homes during the 1948 war that surrounded Israel’s creation.

SPAIN

Towing the Line

The Spanish government might have succeeded in delaying Catalonia’s secession by tying up former President Carles Puigdemont in legal battles abroad, but his newly elected successor seems ready to pick up the cause with no less enthusiasm.

Catalonian lawmakers elected prominent pro-secessionist Quim Torra to replace Puigdemont on Monday, ending a six-month power vacuum that began when Puigdemont fled prosecution after Spain’s central government shut down Catalonia’s turbulent independence referendum in October.

Torra announced that one of his primary goals is to reinstate Puigdemont, who is currently fighting extradition in Germany, as the “legitimate president” of Catalonia, the Associated Press reported. He went on to promise the creation of a new constitution for the Catalan republic.

With Torra now taking over, the Spanish government will likely end its direct rule over the wealthy region that’s been in place since the referendum, the Wall Street Journal reported. Even so, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to renew oversight if secessionists restart the push for independence.

DISCOVERIES

Better with Age

After an over 200-year hiatus, the Belgian monks of Grimbergen want to bring back their trademark beer.

But it’s a task that’s proving to be more difficult than just tapping a keg.

After a year of searching, volunteer researchers still haven’t found the original recipe for the brew. They’ve already searched through some 35,000 books and files in the abbey’s archive, the Guardian reported.

First made in 1128, the original dark brew was produced for more than 600 years until 1797, when the abbey was destroyed in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The abbey church, located about six miles north of Brussels, survived, and the monks later re-established their abbey.

But they didn’t resume their brewing tradition, and eventually handed over the brand name in 1958 to a Belgian brewing company. That brewer later became a subsidiary of Heineken, and is one of two companies producing Grimbergen-branded beers today. The other is Carlsberg.

A half-century later, the monks want to reclaim their suds.

“Every day we get visitors who ask where the brewery is,” said abbey subprior Karel Stautemas. “And if you come from abroad, they do not understand that we do not brew beer. This is how the idea of re-establishing that tradition came to fruition.”

Volunteers could very well stumble upon the recipe eventually – they’ve only combed through half of the abbey’s archives.

But it remains to be seen whether the beloved recipe will be better with age.

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