The World Today for June 11, 2018

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Role Models

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery but when it comes to Bangladesh mimicking the Philippines’ deadly war on drugs, there’s not much to be admired.

Since Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a crackdown on drug use last month, an estimated 140 alleged drug dealers have been killed at the hands of security forces, and some 18,000 people have been arrested, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Without a doubt, addiction has become a rampant crisis in Bangladesh, where an estimated seven million people in this nation of 163 million are considered to be addicts, according to the country’s Department of Narcotics Control.

The most prevalent drug is yaba, a cheap methamphetamine cocktail produced in neighboring Myanmar. Media reports have estimated that as many as 2.5 million people are addicted to the substance, 80 percent of whom are adolescents and young men between the ages of 15 and 30, the Hong Kong-based Asia Times reported.

Government authorities launched the crackdown in response to a surge in yaba pills flooding into Bangladesh, which it attributes to the influx of Rohingya refugees fleeing ethnic violence in their native Myanmar.

While narcotics officials say they seized over 40 million yaba pills last year alone, they estimated that as many as 300 million pills had entered the country and that $600 million worth would be consumed this year, Deutsche Welle wrote.

But the prevalence of the problem doesn’t justify the government’s means to end it, writes Human Rights Watch.

Reports tell of kidnappings and gunfights occurring in the dead of night, with casualties falling disproportionately among the poor. Some reports allege that authorities extort cash and other valuables from accused people under the threat of violence and even death.

Meanwhile, a special report by the UK’s Telegraph posits that the wave of drug-related killings is being used as a guise for political intimidation ahead of general elections next year.

The family of one opposition activist, 42-year-old Habibur Rahman, asserts that he had no connection to Bangladesh’s drug underground and was arrested while exiting a mosque on account of political activities. He was later killed while in custody.

Another local official in the town of Cox’s Bazar, Akramul Haque, was shot dead by special forces late last month. The killing was apparently captured on unverified audio recordings shared with reporters by his wife, who maintains that her husband was an opponent of the narcotics trade, not an agent for it.

Despite the condemnations of vigilante justice and political suppression that the Guardian says have created an “atmosphere of terror,” Prime Minister Hasina vows that no drug “godfathers” will be spared, wrote the Telegraph.

“No innocent people are being harassed or targeted but if any such incidents happen, it will be addressed through proper investigation,” she said.

But with the model for Hasina’s drug war, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, telling UN investigators probing the lawfulness of his actions to “go to hell,” there’s no guarantee that her mimicry won’t mirror that step, either.



Talking Tough

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Sunday that the European Union would respond to American tariffs with countermeasures of its own, signaling growing discontent following a chaotic Group of Seven (G-7) Summit in Canada over the weekend.

“We won’t allow ourselves be ripped off again and again. We will act too,” the Hill cited Merkel as saying in an interview with German broadcaster ARD.

Merkel also criticized US President Donald Trump’s handling of a dispute with Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – whom Trump excoriated via Twitter after leaving the summit early, simultaneously warning of new US tariffs on automobiles.

“The withdrawal by tweet is of course sobering and a bit depressing,” Merkel said.

Earlier, Trudeau said Canada would implement its own tariffs on US products in response to Trump’s move to lift an exemption from US tariffs on steel and aluminum at the end of May.

The reality of EU-US trade and tariffs, not surprisingly, is complicated. This drill-down from Reuters provides some illuminating data.


Arab Bailout

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged $2.5 billion in aid to Jordan on Monday in a bid for stability in the wake of the worst protests to hit the US ally in years.

Angry about an austerity program that was to feature tax hikes as well as budget cuts, protesters have so far not resorted to violence, but the unrest forced King Abdullah II to sack the country’s prime minister, the Associated Press reported.

The new five-year aid package will go toward a deposit in Jordan’s Central Bank, cover World Bank guarantees for the kingdom, offer budget support and finance other development projects, the agency said.

The hope is that the added financial cushion will allow the kingdom to come up with a new austerity plan that satisfies both its creditors and its citizens.

As the Economist puts it, Jordan is in trouble because it spends like an oil-rich Gulf state but it has no natural resources. The result: a debt-to-GDP ratio as high as 95%, with one in five citizens living below the official poverty line of $99 per month.


Making Friends

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is reviving his country’s “Look East” policy, wooing Japanese investment to reduce Malaysia’s dependence on China.

Mahathir arrived in Japan this weekend on his first foreign trip since assuming office, further marking a shift away from Beijing following his government’s announcement that some Chinese companies are under suspicion of being implicated in the graft scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Reuters reported.

Malaysia is reviewing a $14 billion local rail line to be built by Chinese companies, and Mahathir is sending the finance minister and anti-graft agents to China this week to investigate discrepancies in a bilateral gas pipeline deal, the agency said.

Originally slated to turn over his post to erstwhile rival Anwar Ibrahim after a year or two, 92-year-old Mahathir told reporters in Tokyo that he’s prepared to stay on longer if that’s what the public wants, Channel News Asia reported.

Attending the Nikkei Conference on the future of Asia, Mahathir will meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a courtesy call on Tuesday.


Fire and Ice

Dwindling supplies of fossil fuels have sparked the hunt for new resources to power society.

According to scientists, there are vast supplies of natural gas trapped in ice crystals under the ocean floor and Arctic permafrost that could extend the “the fossil fuel age by a century or more,” Deutsche Welle reported.

Aptly called “fire and ice,” methane hydrate catches fire when introduced to heat, leaving only a puddle of water in its wake.

“There may be more methane hydrate out there than all of the remaining oil and gas,” said Richard Charter, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation.

But risks come with harnessing this previously untapped fuel source. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, meaning it could potentially exacerbate global warming.

Moreover, when released from its icy prison, the gas expands rapidly, increasing the risk of explosion.

But if scientists were able to find a way to replace the methane in hydrate deposits with excess carbon dioxide, it could actually reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some countries are already racing to develop processes to do so.

Until then, “fire and ice” remains as ominous as its name suggests.

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