The World Today for June 12, 2018

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Wishful Thinking

Though he’d just won a referendum allowing him to remain in office for another 14 years, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza did a startling thing for an African dictator: He announced last week that he will not seek re-election in 2020.

“I swear and am really ready, with all my heart, with all my mind and with all my strength, to support the new president we will elect in 2020,” he told supporters last week. “A man can change his position in the bed, but he cannot change his word.”

Still, considering the brutal path Nkurunziza walked to secure the possibility of remaining in office, many say it’s wishful thinking to believe him.

Political violence and a failed coup attempt in 2015 prompted Nkurunziza, who’d been in office since the end of the nation’s bloody civil war in 2005, to announce his bid for a third term in office.

Critics decried the move as unconstitutional, and violence ensued, resulting in 1,200 deaths. Hundreds of thousands more fled Burundi for neighboring nations, and the International Criminal Court launched an investigation into alleged state-sponsored crimes.

Even with a nation in crisis, Nkurunziza’s cabinet last fall approved a referendum on lengthening presidential terms of office and relaxing a two-term limit, Reuters reported.

Ahead of the vote, held May 17, the nation became even more fissured, and more and more Burundians fled to neighboring Rwanda’s Mahama camp, now home to 64,000 Burundian refugees of Nkurunziza’s “campaign of terror,” the Guardian reported.

And when almost five million people took to the polls to decide on the new term limits, Human Rights Watch documented widespread instances of abuse against those refusing to vote, including the death of a man who didn’t have a voter registration card.

Still, many indicated their support for the president, whom they said provided better access to healthcare and brought more development, the New York Times reported from polling stations around the country.

Ultimately, the amendment passed with 73 percent support, increasing presidential terms from five to seven years, and allowing incumbents to run after a second term after sitting out an election cycle.

Now, only weeks later, Nkurunziza is singing a different song, though the opposition is skeptical.

“I think the message is for his own (constituents) and not the public. He has lied to us since long ago,” Frederic Bamvuginyumvira, a former vice president who leads the opposition party Sahwanya-Frodebu, told The Associated Press.

Nkurunziza may be trying to rewrite the narrative that led to the current change in Burundi, but as the New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief Jina Moore recently wrote on Twitter, there is “time for many people to change many minds about many things between now & 2020.”



Dotard Meets Rocket Man

US President Donald Trump is no stranger to hyperbole. But when he says his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un Tuesday went “better than anybody could have expected,” he might well be understating things.

Amid fears of a disastrous clash of egos, Trump and Kim were able to establish a cordial relationship and sign a formal agreement, which Kim said made “a good prelude to peace,” Reuters reported.

Later, CNBC published the full text of that agreement, in which the leaders agreed “to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.” Moreover, Kim committed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

With experts cautioning that denuclearization will be difficult to push through or monitor effectively, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said separately that the summit should set the framework for “the hard work that will follow.”

While that work is undertaken, crippling US sanctions on North Korea will remain in place until the Hermit Kingdom has reached a point in denuclearization in which it “can’t go back,” Trump told reporters at a press conference after the summit. He mentioned, however, that he “looks forward” to lifting the sanctions.

“Adversaries can indeed become friends,” Trump added.



With the World Cup set to kick off on Thursday, Italy and Spain squared off over the European Union’s refugee crisis this week after Italy’s new government turned away a rescue ship carrying some 629 migrants.

With Spain stepping up to accept the refugees, the dispute likely marks the beginning of further conflict between Italy’s populist government and the EU over the bloc’s immigration policy, the Washington Post reported.

On Monday, Italy’s powerful interior minister, Matteo Salvini of the far-right League party, threatened to turn away more rescue vessels and criticized the other bloc members for failing to help resettle migrants for whom Italy is often the point of entry to the EU.

Under current EU policy, migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter the bloc. Rescue workers said Italy’s stand could make saving stranded refugees more difficult.

“This was a first important signal that Italy cannot go on alone supporting this huge weight,” said Salvini.


Moving Day

Former Panama President Ricardo Martinelli left a prison in Miami for another one in the Central American nation, where he will stand trial on charges that he used public money to spy on more than 150 political rivals during his 2009-2014 term.

Martinelli has been in US custody since June 2017, when Panama requested his extradition, Al-Jazeera reported. He has denied any wrongdoing and claims that the charges are politically motivated.

The supermarket tycoon presided over an infrastructure boom and Latin America’s fastest economic growth in recent years. But he is also under investigation in about 20 other cases of corruption. Under the terms of his extradition, he theoretically cannot be tried in those cases.

He fled to the US in 2015, shortly after Panama’s Supreme Court launched a corruption probe into his activities. Upon arrival in Panama, Martinelli was taken to a “kind of chalet” in the El Renacer prison, which once held ex-dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, reported Panama Today.


History’s Mysteries

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, the famed islet over 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile, is known for its hundreds of giant stone figures, or moai.

The island’s iconic sculptures have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but historians still question how the statues, weighing several tons each, were moved about the island without modern machinery.

More perplexing still: How did those heavy stone hats end up atop the statues?

In a study published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers posit that islanders relied on a technique called “parbuckling,” a simple maneuver of using ropes and ramps to move the massive stone hats known as pukao, some weighing as much as 25,000 pounds, miles and miles to don the moai’s heads.

“Parbuckling was a simple and elegant solution that required minimum resources and effort,” said Carl Lipo, an anthropology professor at Binghamton University.

Researchers believe the parbuckling theory matches the physics of the feat, as well as the archaeological record, Popular Science reported.

And with a simpler theory in play as to how islanders raised the statues – parbuckling requires fewer than 15 people – scientists believe they played a social or even economic role in society, dispelling some theories that they were used for war.

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