The World Today for June 07, 2018

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Bald Men, Combs and Despots

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki delivered a powerful speech last month to mark the 25th anniversary of his country’s independence from Ethiopia.

“We have confronted the myriad tentacles of adversity with patience, resilience and strong defiance,” he told citizens in Asmara stadium, according to Africanews, a subsidiary of Euronews. “We have not capitulated. The antagonisms unleashed against us have lost their steam to dissipate into oblivion.”

The adversity Afwerki was referring to was Eritrea’s war against Ethiopia, the 1998-2000 conflict between the two countries that stemmed from border disputes dating back to Eritrea’s revolutionary war that ended in 1991. The war claimed more than 100,000 lives, displaced more than one million people and led two of the poorest countries in the world to pour much of what little wealth they possessed into fighting.

Involving artillery, trench warfare and warplanes, the fighting had the dubious distinction of being one of the few full-blown wars in recent history. Ironically, that firepower was brought to bear in order to gain possession of Badme, a small market town with little strategic or economic significance.

At the time, the BBC wrote, observers described the war as “two bald men fighting over a comb.”

On Wednesday, in what was termed a surprise move, Ethiopia announced it will fully accept the terms of a peace agreement with Eritrea, Al Jazeera wrote.

It’s an important step for peace in the region. Even so, the two countries’ militaries are still poised to resume fighting, and the border zone remains in question.

An imminent foreign threat appears to suit Afwerki just fine, however, argued Abraham Zere, the director of PEN Eritrea in Exile, a freedom of expression advocacy group that was established outside the Red Sea country due to the Eritrean government’s repression of civil rights.

Eritrea’s first and only president, Afwerki has failed to fulfill his pledge to implement the country’s constitution, protect civil rights or loosen his party’s grip on power. Instead, he’s instituted a police state. Zere described how citizens must obtain “proof of good standing” from their employers, military authorities and local government officials to receive permission to buy bread.

Deutsche Welle also noted the country’s history of authoritarian rule in an article that asked: How did Eritrea earn its name as the “North Korea of Africa?”

Rebel groups have sprung up in Eritrea’s repressive climate. Afwerki has accused Ethiopia and Sudan of supporting the insurgents, but officials from those neighboring states said the accusations were false, reported Chinese news service Xinhua.

The New Statesman disputed those denials, saying Ethiopia does in fact support Eritrean rebels. But the leftist British magazine also noted that Eritrea supports rebels seeking to change the government in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa as well as Al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab rebels in Somalia who often target Ethiopian troops in that war-torn country.

Some thawing has occurred. Eritrean pilgrims were recently allowed to visit the Ethiopian town of Axum, where the Orthodox Christian leaders claim to keep the Ark of the Covenant, for example.

But real peace won’t be secure until Afwerki and other Eritrean officials decide how to square their interests with those of their constituents.



Time Out

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a ceasefire Thursday in the war against Taliban insurgents until June 20, the remainder of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, though fighting against other groups, such as Islamic State, remains in effect, Reuters reported.

It follows a meeting of Muslim clerics from all over Afghanistan earlier this week, in which Islamic spiritual leaders issued a fatwa on Taliban attacks. Islamic State launched a suicide bombing outside a Kabul peace tent during the meeting, killing 14.

Ghani endorsed the recommendation to halt sparing with the Taliban, posting on Twitter that he hopes the group will take the opportunity to consider an end to their violent campaign. Afghanis, he added, long for a peaceful solution to the decades-long conflict.

In February, the president offered to recognize the insurgent group as a legitimate political party in exchange for bilateral talks on ending the war, but that olive branch was promptly refused.

Last year, more than 10,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict. It shows little sign of stopping through military means: The Taliban have free reign in vast areas of the country, and foreign troop levels are a fraction of what they were in 2014, the news agency reported.


Tit for Tat

Mexico on Wednesday announced a slate of tariffs against US exports amounting to $3 billion in retaliation to President Donald Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminum duties against Mexico and other key American allies last week.

Ranging between 15 and 25 percent hikes, the tariffs will mostly apply to a variety of classically American products, such as pork, apples, potatoes, bourbon and different types of cheese, as well as steel, CNN Money reported.

The new tariffs will only impact a little more than 1 percent of all American exports to Mexico. But the tariffs target specific industries in the second largest market for US goods, such as pork products – about 25 percent of US pork exports go south of the border.

The European Union, the world’s largest trading bloc, announced similar measures on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. Starting in July, so-called “rebalancing” tariffs totaling $3.4 billion will be implemented on US steel, bourbon, peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice entering the EU.


11th Hour

German prosecutors have opened an investigation into a suspected former member of one of Adolf Hitler’s infamous mobile killing squads during World War II, the third case of its kind in recent months, displaying a last-ditch attempt by authorities to bring Nazis to justice before it’s too late, the Associated Press reported.

Germany’s top criminal court recently upheld a decision that made an individual affiliated with a Nazi killing group liable for its actions – even if he or she can’t be held directly responsible for specific deaths.

As such, German prosecutors have begun investigations into suspected members of the Einsatzgruppen, military and police forces who trailed behind army units, mostly in the Soviet Union, killing perceived ethnic or political enemies of the Reich. Some historians estimate they are responsible for more than one million deaths.

The three individuals under investigation, all over 90 years of age, have denied investigators’ claims. They’re a select few individuals who authorities have determined are still alive, although some estimate that dozens more could still be in hiding.


The Pursuit of Happiness

Are dolphins happy?

In France, where the government recently overturned a ban on breeding dolphins in captivity, that’s a big question for those who fret over the quality of life for captive marine life.

But now, thanks to a study published recently in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, scientists better understand captivity from an animal’s perspectives, BBC reported.

French scientists recently undertook a three-year project at Parc Asterix, an amusement park home to one of France’s largest dolphinariums, to assess what activities typical of captivity dolphin’s most looked forward to.

Their observations were surprising: Dolphins “most keenly anticipated interacting with a familiar human,” lead researcher Isabella Clegg told BBC.

In contrast to other activities observed, dolphins displayed higher activity at the pool’s edge and increased “spy hopping,” the act of peering above the service, while interacting with trainers.

“We’ve seen this same thing in other zoo animals and in farm animals,” said Clegg. “Better human-animal bonds equals better welfare.”

However, critics say it’s still unclear whether dolphins are indeed leading fulfilling lives in captivity.

“Just because a dolphin interacts with you doesn’t mean that it would choose that lifestyle if it was given a choice,” said Dr. Susanne Schultz, an animal behavior researcher from the University of Manchester.

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