The World Today for May 16, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

NICARAGUA

‘We Are Nicaragua’

When the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua overthrew President Anastasio Somoza in 1979, ending an almost 40-year family dictatorship, and arranged for the country’s first free elections in 1984, the Sandinistas hoped their presidential candidate, Daniel Ortega, would lead the country toward a new era of liberal democracy.

That’s called wishful thinking.

Years of violence, failed policy reforms and international vilification have led to the rise of another dictatorship. Since ascending to the presidency again in 2007 – he led Nicaragua from 1979 until 1990 before spending years in the opposition – Ortega has stifled political opposition, extended his grip on power through constitutional changes, and allowed for rampant inequality and corruption in one of Latin America’s poorest nations.

Now, the nation’s youth are rising up and challenging Ortega in what’s being called the “worst political crisis” in Nicaragua’s troubled history, CBS News reported.

The trouble began in mid-April, when Ortega’s government, which once bolstered welfare programs, moved to slash pensions, all the while hiking up social security contributions from citizens.

The proposal ignited protests in the capital city of Managua by a disorganized yet committed group of students and their supporters, which soon spread across the nation when government crackdowns led to dozens of deaths, the New York Times reported.

Faced with the boldest challenge to his power in his tenure, Ortega promptly suspended the social-security changes and opened a commission to investigate the deaths, the BBC reported. He’s also agreed to a negotiation of students’ demands led by the country’s influential Catholic church in order to end the violence, the Associated Press reported.

Ortega has blamed the violence on right-wing opposition groups and the influence of foreign governments like the United States, which has retorted that the violence is an event of Ortega’s own making.

Activists and their supporters also stand firm in their independence from special interests. They appear to be in it for the long haul, the Times reported – they’ve been camping out at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua, in Managua, and assembling Molotov cocktails in the event of another violent showdown.

Though analysts are questioning the staying power of the movement, given its lack of central leadership, there are already indicators of greater momentum for change in Nicaragua, Agence France-Presse reported. Last weekend, the nation’s army called for an end to the violence after another wave of protests. It has said it won’t crack down on anyone for taking part in the protests.

Now it’s up to Ortega to decide how he’ll respond.

Ortega is now “equal to Somoza,” Enrique Saenz, a lawyer and economist, told AFP. “The difference is that Somoza faced an armed insurrection (and) Ortega is acting mercilessly against an unarmed civil insurrection.”

And the kids aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, they say.

“This is not a war; this a struggle we young people are doing,” Freddy Martínez, one of the few people camped out at the Polytechnic University who revealed his face and name, told the Times. “We are not left or right. We are Nicaragua.”

WANT TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

Don’t Talk the Talk

North Korean officials called on the Trump administration Wednesday to rein in its rhetoric ahead of a June 12 meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in Singapore – or else forget the meeting.

Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan warned that the United States must refrain from insisting that North Korea “unilaterally” abandon its nuclear program and stressed reciprocity in the negotiations.

Of particular concern are comments made by national security adviser, John Bolton, in which he insisted that North Korean disarmament be handled like “Libya 2004,” the Washington Post reported, referring to the halting of Libya’s nuclear program by then leader Muammar Gaddafi in exchange for sanctions relief in 2004.

Gaddafi was overthrown and killed by opponents in 2011, a comparison North Korea said doesn’t “address the issue through dialogue.”

Analysts told the Washington Post that the annual military drills between the US and South Korea that began last week likely also played a role in North Korea’s latest threats. It had already canceled a round of talks with South Korean officials scheduled for Wednesday.

MALAYSIA

The Wheels of Justice…

Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian opposition leader imprisoned for years on dubious charges, was pardoned and released from prison Wednesday, and is likely to become the nation’s prime minister after a coalition of his allies won a national election last week.

Anwar was sentenced to five years in prison in 2015 on charges of sodomy – an antiquated colonial-era law still in effect – and was banned for five years from participating in political activity.

Supporters of Anwar believe former Prime Minister Najib Razak was behind the imprisonment and ban. Now, Najib is accused of misappropriating billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a fund he formerly ran. He was ousted in elections last week, allowing the opposition to come to power in Malaysia for the first time since the nation’s independence from Britain in 1957.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, 92 and a former mentor of the opposition leader, has already said he will step aside to allow Anwar to assume the post, the New York Times reported.

ITALY

The Blame Game

Italy’s far-right League missed a deadline to forge a coalition government and blamed the European Union, whose budgetary constraints it says are standing in the way.

Italy has been stuck in political gridlock since its March 4 elections provided no single party with a clear mandate to form a government.

But the situation looked promising when leaders of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the League – once competing populist parties that came in first and second in March’s poll – met separately with Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Monday.

Mattarella’s threats of imposing a caretaker government, however, didn’t force the parties to reconcile their differences – they still can’t agree on a slate of issues ranging from immigration to state spending.

The League is blaming the latter issue on the European Union’s strict financial constraints, which would make the parties’ expensive spending plans virtually impossible, Reuters reported. They plan to both cut taxes and bolster welfare, which could cost the struggling Italian state an extra $38 billion, wrote the BBC.

DISCOVERIES

Coding Against Opium

Here’s a thought experiment: What if the beloved Super Mario Bros. franchise depicted an Afghan man fighting rampant opium production in his country by helping farmers make the switch to growing saffron?

It’s a socially-conscious twist on an old classic that an all-female team of video game developers from Afghanistan has built into a new series, Reuters reported.

Harnessing training provided by Code to Inspire, a nonprofit organization that teaches coding to female students in the western city of Herat, the team’s game is being seen as a milestone in a country where training women as coders is considered a violation of social norms.

“Coders can work from home and it is in this process women are building a new career path for themselves and for the next generation,” said Hasib Rasa, project manager with Code to Inspire.

Thanks to Code to Inspire, more than 20 young women have become proficient in building apps and websites, and have uploaded over 20 games to digital app stores.

Among these is the 2D game “Fight Against Opium.” The team hopes it helps to raise awareness about the persistent drug problem in Afghanistan, known as the world’s largest producer of opium.

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