The World Today for May 28, 2018




Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is in the throes of a political migraine – and it’s not only due to the persistence of separatists in the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia.

On Friday, the nation’s primary opposition Socialist Party called for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister’s government in response to a roiling corruption scandal involving his ruling Popular Party, Politico reported.

A day before the announcement, 29 people, some of whom were once leading figures in the Popular Party, were sentenced to a total of 351 years behind bars for crimes including fraud and money laundering.

In their ruling, the sentencing judges also confirmed the existence of a Popular Party slush fund used to pay bonuses to senior party members. In an unprecedented testimony last July, Rajoy, once the party’s vice-secretary general, called allegations of such a fund “absolutely false,” the Guardian reported. The Popular Party was ultimately fined over $280,000 for its activities.

The development only added to the pains caused by politicians in Catalonia.

Catalonia’s regional assembly elected hardline separatist Quim Torra as its leader May 14 following five months of direct rule by Spain after October’s secession referendum, which the Spanish government deemed illegal and quickly shut down.

There was much speculation that Torra’s election would allow Catalonia to cut itself off Madrid’s leash.

But Torra’s proposed government of jailed separatist leaders and brazen calls to restore exiled former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont to power were seen as a provocation, and Rajoy kept the controls in place, wrote the Wall Street Journal.

Spain’s political scandals are flowing over into other public realms as well, Reuters wrote.

The Bank of Spain said last week that political turmoil in Catalonia, which makes up one-fifth of Spain’s economy, is the nation’s biggest economic risk. The longer the uncertainty continues, the weaker the economy will become.

Even so, there’s no sign of abatement.

Spain’s newspaper of record El Pais reported last week that national authorities had raided a series of offices, non-profits and political-party headquarters across Catalonia on suspicions that well-known separatists were diverting funds meant for international aid projects to the secession movement.

Meanwhile, Ciudadanos, a centrist party and switch-hitter on the balance of power in the Spanish Parliament, said it would favor snap elections as opposed to a no-confidence vote against erstwhile ally Rajoy Ciudadanos is polling ahead of Rajoy’s Popular Party in many polls, Agence France Presse reported.

“Rajoy’s chances of completing his term are minimal, it’s a matter of timing now,” Angel Talavera, a European economist at Oxford Economics, told Bloomberg. “Spain seems now on track for fresh elections.”

Unfortunately, there are only a few cures for political ailments – and snowballing crises are not part of any of them.



Failure to Launch

Italy’s would-be prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, resigned his post after Italy’s new anti-establishment alliance failed to form a government on Sunday night when President Sergio Mattarella rejected their choice of a finance minister bent on leaving the Eurozone.

Less than a week after the far-right League and the populist Five Star Movement had apparently worked out a coalition deal, Mattarella argued that such a choice was not appropriate because neither party had openly campaigned on abandoning the euro, the New York Times reported.

Mattarella cited a duty to “safeguard the savings of Italians,” referring to the impact on the stock market and bond yields that would result from the selection of an anti-euro finance minister.

His decision prompted the Five Star leader to suggest a possible impeachment and once again raised the likelihood that a caretaker government is in the offing. But such a government also might not be able to pass a confidence vote in Parliament.

That means that fresh elections – which would likely benefit Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League – are also a possibility.


Deadly Force

Making headlines in recent years for the murders of secular bloggers by religious radicals, Bangladesh is now wrestling with a different sort of killing: Police shootings of alleged drug dealers.

Some 91 people have been killed over less than two weeks of a crackdown on the drug trade that’s already drawing comparisons to the brutal campaign waged by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, the Associated Press reported.

While most of the deaths are claimed to be the result of shootouts with the police, the families of several people killed have said they were arrested by police and died while in custody, the news agency said.

Local news reports suggest many of those killed were ordinary addicts and small-time dealers, sometimes accused of carrying small stashes of drugs and light weapons.

Critics say Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has grown increasingly authoritarian, stifling journalists, jailing political opponents and allowing law enforcement agencies to detain, torture and kill suspected Islamist militants.



As expected, Colombia’s presidential vote failed to deliver a clear winner on Sunday, prompting a runoff between right-wing candidate Ivan Duque and leftist candidate Gustavo Petro.

With nearly all the ballots counted, Duque led the race with 39.1 percent of the votes, Petro had won 25.1 percent and former Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo, a center-left candidate, had garnered 23.8 percent, Al-Jazeera reported.

Because no candidate won an absolute majority, the top two finishers will face each other in a second-round election on June 17.

While Duque was widely expected to come out on top in the first-round vote, the center and center-left candidates performed far better than forecast, the news outlet said.

Both Duque and Petro have criticized incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos’ Nobel-winning peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But Duque has pledged to revise key aspects of the agreement, promising “reparations” and “punishments.”

Under the peace deal, FARC was transformed into a political party called the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force and guaranteed five seats in each of the country’s two chambers of parliament, regardless of their vote share.


Believe It or Not

Seven decades after Adolf Hitler’s death, conspiracy theorists still posit that he survived the World War II by escaping to Argentina – or perhaps to the dark side of the moon.

Those theories, however, can now be put to rest on account of French pathologists’ analysis of the Führer’s teeth, NPR reported.

Russia’s state intelligence service has held Hitler’s dental remains since the end of World War II, and it was only last year that a team of foreign researchers was allowed to study them.

Researchers confirmed that the teeth indeed belonged to the notorious Nazi leader by cross-referencing the sample with descriptions of Hitler’s dental hygiene from those who knew it best – his dentists.

Hitler had such bad teeth that by the time he died only a few of them were original. According to Deutsche Welle, Hitler’s personal dentist, Hugo Blaschke, and his assistant, Kathe Heusermann, described “conspicuous and unusual prostheses and bridgework” that were done to fill the gaps. The researchers said the teeth matched those descriptions.

Moreover, traces of meat were absent from the examined teeth – consistent with reports that Hitler was a vegetarian toward the end of his life.

“The teeth are authentic — there is no possible doubt,” lead pathologist Philippe Charlier was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying. “Our study proves that Hitler died in 1945.”

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