The World Today for August 02, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

WESTERN BALKANS

200 Years Away

Part of a region that saw Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II, the six countries of the Western Balkans – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia and Albania – continue to face economic, geopolitical and legal challenges that pose barriers to their accession into the European Union.

But with the bloc on shaky ground internally, and Russia and China jockeying for influence in the Balkans, there’s much to be gained by giving gas to expansion, wrote Michael Winfrey in an explainer for Bloomberg.

EU membership could boost prosperity and bolster the rule of law and stability in the Balkans. New markets could be opened to stalwart member states. Pushing the bloc’s borders eastward would provide a counterweight to the expansionist ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the economic soft-power of China. The states could also provide a much-needed immigration buffer for Western Europe, helping alleviate one of the sore points between EU members.

There have already been signs that, after years of stalling, the EU is picking up the pace on further integrating the Western Balkans.

Last month, NATO leaders agreed to begin formal talks with Macedonia to allow it to join the US-led defense alliance, long seen as a precursor to EU membership, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Albania and Macedonia were given the green light at the end of June to get their houses in order for EU accession talks next summer, a move prefaced by Albania’s commitments to strengthen the independence of its judiciary, and Macedonia’s promises to end its name dispute with Greece, which had long blocked its application, Deutsche Welle reported.

Even so, not everyone is convinced that expanding the bloc in the near future is the best idea, Reuters reported.

French President Emmanuel Macron worries that the bloc could bite off more than it can chew if inter-EU relations aren’t deepened before taking on new members.

After all, the United Kingdom is on its way out, and illiberal developments in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere indicate that the EU is anything but healthy at the moment.

And even those countries furthest along in accession – Montenegro and Serbia – face huge challenges before they’re slated to join the EU in 2025, Euractiv reported. Those include Serbia’s reluctance to make nice with Kosovo, and Montenegro’s lax democratic standards.

Such worries were only underscored by a recent report from the UK that indicated that it could take as long as 50 or 60 years for the Western Balkans to match the economic standards of the EU, Serbian Monitor reported. The World Bank estimates it could take as long as 200 years.

But if Europe is to step up to the plate and become a powerful actor at a time of increasing instability in the Western alliance, “it starts in the Balkans,” Loïc Tregoures, a lecturer in conflict analysis at the Catholic Institute of Paris, wrote for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

WANT TO KNOW

ZIMBABWE

After Mugabe, the Deluge?

Zimbabwe’s first election since the ouster of longtime President Robert Mugabe erupted into violence Wednesday after supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accused the ruling ZANU-PF party of electoral fraud.

“You said you were better than Mugabe – you are the picture of Mugabe,” shouted one protester, referring to incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe after he was forced out in November, according to Agence France-Presse.

Police confirmed that at least three people died during the protests, while AFP reported witnessing soldiers firing on demonstrators in downtown Harare.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said Wednesday that ZANU-PF had won 144 out of 210 parliamentary seats and the MDC Alliance had won 61, though five seats had yet to be counted.

Blaming the opposition for the violence, the government promised a swift crackdown. But the conflict dented hopes that the election might end Zimbabwe’s isolation and help draw foreign investment, as European Union observers also expressed doubts about the fairness of the polls.

AFGHANISTAN

Changing Alliances

More than 200 Islamic State fighters surrendered to the Afghan government Wednesday after being routed by the Taliban.

The New York Times quoted Afghan commando spokesman Maj. Ahmad Jawid Salim who said on Facebook that the surrenders marked the end of the Islamic State in northern Afghanistan.

The Taliban and IS are bitter enemies in Afghanistan, the Times noted. Meanwhile, the US has opened negotiations with the Taliban that could represent the first breakthrough in the 17-year war, the Washington Post reported, noting that a top US diplomat met Taliban leaders in Doha to try to build on the brief ceasefire observed for the Eid holiday in June.

The meeting represented the first bilateral talks between the US and the Taliban without the presence of the Afghan government – a long-held demand of the Taliban – indicating “how eager US officials are to end the costly war,” the Post noted.

TURKEY

The Pastor and the Cleric

The US State Department sanctioned two senior Turkish government officials over the detention of an American pastor, marking the continuing deterioration of relations between the two NATO allies.

“At the president’s direction, the Department of Treasury is sanctioning Turkey’s minister of justice and minister of interior” over the continued detention of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Wednesday’s briefing.

Brunson was arrested by Turkey’s government in October 2016 on charges of aiding a terrorist organization and for espionage. Some analysts believe Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using his detention as leverage to compel Washington to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric whom the Turkish leader alleges was behind a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

Analysts believe sanctions against a NATO ally represent “a very significant step,” according to Politico, and are likely to invite some kind of retaliation from Erdogan – who also resents the US alliance with Kurdish fighters in Syria.

DISCOVERIES

Living Legacy

The last male northern white rhino, Sudan, passed away peacefully in captivity in March.

It was tragic news for conservationists and for Sudan’s species. Only two northern white rhinos remain. Both are females.

Still, scientists think they may have found a way to keep the species alive, the New York Times reported.

In a recent study, researchers created hybrid northern rhino embryos by combining frozen sperm samples of northern males with eggs of female southern white rhinos, a similar species.

Biologists plan to implant the embryos in surrogate southern white females with the long-term goal of preserving the northern white species.

With only two surviving female northern white rhinos and sperm samples from only four males, the team is also considering using stem-cell technology to produce additional reproductive cells from tissue samples held by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Those samples are from 12 male and female northern white rhinos and would expand the diversity of the genetic material available.

The research comes as other great rhino species are on the decline: Several rhino species are critically endangered around the world.

Recently in Kenya, eight black rhinos were found dead in their new sanctuary after drinking water with high saline levels, according to local wildlife workers.

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