The World Today for July 02, 2018

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A Tiny Revolution

For almost a year, protesters in the tiny West African country of Togo have been taking to the streets to demand an end to the harsh rule of the Gnassingbé family.

Faure Gnassingbé has been president since 2005. He took over after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who had been head of state for 38 years after a coup d’état.

Such reigns are not unusual in Africa, where many leaders have remained in office for decades even though their country’s laws technically bar them from serving so long.

But the Togolese people appear to be balking at remaining part of that trend. Since last August, demonstrators have held mass protests aimed at ending the presidency of Faure Gnassingbé. They’re not backing down, even though Gnassingbé has gone to great – and sometimes dastardly – lengths to shut them up.

“Imourane Issa braced himself for the next crack of a whip across his back,” wrote the Los Angeles Times, recounting the torture of one man by the Togolese secret police for participating in an anti-Gnassingbé demonstration. “His head felt heavy on the concrete floor. He estimated that he was one of about two dozen men being tortured in the garage.”

The protesters want to impose term limits and prevent Gnassingbé from running for re-election by going back to a 1992 constitution that was overturned in 2002. They also want to reform voting laws to allow expatriate Togolese citizens who joined the refugee wave to Europe to cast ballots.

Sensing the scale of the threat, the government has budged. Last year, Gnassingbé said he would accept a two-term limit, but only if he could still run in 2020 and 2025 – meaning he would exit office around age 64.

The proposal failed to win lawmakers’ approval and is now supposed to go to voters in an as-yet-unscheduled referendum.

The gridlock is hurting a desperately poor country. Doctors, the clergy and neighboring politicians, like the president of Ghana, have been speaking up to end the conflict.

“To get out of this crisis, dialogue has to continue,” implored Catholic bishops in a pastoral letter quoted in Crux. The bishops urged the protagonists to rise above political interests “and to have as the only priority, the general interest of the people.”

Critics of the president are trying a new strategy: calling on their fellow citizens to stay home to express their disfavor with Gnassingbé rather than risking violence by taking to the streets. A recent action of that type was called “Ghost Monday,” reported Al Jazeera.

Togo is little. But its people appear to be willing to make great sacrifices to live in the place they want and deserve.



A Door Opens

Firebrand leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador won Mexico’s July 1 elections with over half of the vote and some 30 points ahead of his nearest competitor, Reuters reported, citing official quick counts.

If the results stick, the 64-year-old López Obrador’s win would be by the widest margin since the 1980s for a presidential election in Mexico, the newswire reported.

“It’s the first time the country feels happy,” NBC News quoted one voter, Emilia Gutierrez, 34, as saying. “It’s about what [López Obrador] represents. So many doors have been closed in Mexico. Now one opens.”

The results were widely expected, as López Obrador had widened his lead in the polls leading up to the vote. The former mayor of Mexico City is also expected to move Mexico in a more nationalist direction, possibly exacerbating an ongoing conflict with US President Donald Trump over trade and immigration.

But López Obrador’s pledge to “uproot the corrupt regime” in Mexico is both inspiring and worrying, the Economist noted. Ending graft and reducing inequality are laudable goals, but some fear the populist leader will undo market-friendly reforms.


Price of Prejudice

A campaign targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Indonesians is undermining the country’s battle against HIV/AIDS, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

Citing a May 2017 raid of a gym and sauna in which 141 people, mostly gay and bisexual men, were arrested and ten eventually prosecuted under the country’s pornography law, the rights watchdog said it had documented at least six similar incidents last year and still others in 2018. Moreover, the Atlantis gym and sauna and other places targeted in the crackdown also offered counseling and other services such as HIV education and testing.

HIV rates among men who have sex with men have increased five-fold since 2007 in Indonesia, according to government and UNAIDS data, and persecution is making it more difficult to address the epidemic.

Police apprehended at least 300 LGBT people in 2017 because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, the highest such number ever recorded in Indonesia, Human Rights Watch said.


Shifting Sands

National Security Adviser John Bolton has suggested that US President Donald Trump is prepared to drop America’s lingering objections to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power in exchange for Moscow’s aid in ousting Iran from the country.

Appearing on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program in the lead-up to Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, Bolton noted that Washington has dropped its rhetorical objections to Assad, saying, “I don’t think Assad is the strategic issue. I think Iran is the strategic issue.”

The news channel cited two Arab diplomats and a senior US official as saying the Trump administration has now accepted that Assad will remain in power for the immediate future.

Following Trump’s agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the unnamed US official expressed worries about the plan for an extended one-on-one meeting between Putin and Trump.

“Nobody knows what Trump will do once he’s in the room with Putin,” the senior official said. “This is on just about every issue.”


Bucket List

People tend to perceive centenarians as frail and unhealthy, but a new study out of Italy suggests that those over the age of 105 are less likely to die suddenly than younger people, NBC News reported.

Genes and lifestyle affect one’s lifespan, but scientists studying the mortality patterns of more than 3,800 Italians older than 105, known as “super-agers,” found that the death rate fell as people got older. They point to human evolution as a possible explanation.

When a mortality curve levels out, that’s called a “plateau,” and after age 105, the curve appears to level out, according to the study, published in the journal Science.

“By using clean data from a single nation and straightforward estimation methods, we have shown that death rates, which increase exponentially up to about age 80, do decelerate thereafter and reach or closely approach a plateau after age 105,” the researchers wrote.

In the United States, 35 super-agers are still kicking it, according to the Gerontology Research Group. But unlike in Italy, life expectancy in the US is in decline, in part due to steep increases in the number of deaths by drug overdose, NBC News reported.

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