The World Today for August 06, 2018

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Bulldozing Hope

Tanzanian President John Magufuli, popularly referred to as “the bulldozer” from his time as the nation’s roads minister, was once viewed as an outsider capable of demolishing the deep-seated corruption that had long plagued one of Africa’s most dynamic economies.

But just three years after taking office, Magufuli is instead showing himself to be the demolisher of a promising African democracy.

A populist with few known enemies and untainted by corruption allegations, Magufuli swept 2015’s elections and became immensely popular once he took office. His unplanned visits to public offices to boost productivity, subsidizing of education and crackdowns on cronyism made him beloved in Tanzania and the greater East African region, the Economist reported.

Soon thereafter, however, the bulldozer went rogue.

Investors, once encouraged by his strong leadership style, were shaken by his punitive taxes on foreign companies, an attempt to redistribute Tanzania’s vast mining wealth, the Wall Street Journal reported. The World Bank subsequently downgraded the nation’s impressive 7-percent growth estimates, the Journal wrote.

Meanwhile, new defamation laws have shuttered at least four newspapers and led to the arrests of dozens of journalists and opposition figures, International Policy Digest wrote.

Such censorship now also extends to the digital realm, where a new cybercrimes law forces bloggers to pay almost $1,000 for a publishing license and allows the government to jail citizens for something as innocuous as a social media post – a move taken by other strongmen in Russia, China and Uganda, Foreign Policy wrote.

The raft of worrisome developments – from the public firing of defiant ministers to the banning of pregnant girls from completing their education – has caused Magufuli’s approval rating to plummet. As high as 96 percent in 2016, his approval has dropped to 55 percent, according to numbers from pollster Twaweza, as reported by CNBC Africa.

But numbers don’t scare the bulldozer, either: Last month, he said that his party would be “in power forever, for eternity,” shoring up such claims by banning all opposition political rallies until 2020 and threating to jail Twaweza pollsters for publishing the unflattering figures.

Society has taken the hint, NPR reported. Many refrain from speaking out against the president out of fear of reprisal. The media and the opposition have censored themselves and no longer attend civil society press conferences. Citizens even worry that there are spies among them.

“It is very bad because it’s something which you don’t expect in this country,” Helen Kijo Bisimba, who runs Tanzania’s Legal and Human Rights Center, told NPR. “We were celebrating 56 years of independence, but I think we’ve gone so back – so back.”



The Survivor

Venezuela has detained six alleged terrorists and residents are braced for a wider crackdown following an apparent assassination attempt against President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Luis Reverol said the alleged “terrorists” had been detained and the “material and intellectual authors inside and outside of the country” had been identified, according to the Washington Post.

Unharmed in the incident, in which at least one drone laden with explosives exploded near the stage where he was delivering a televised address, Maduro accused “far right” extremists linked to Colombia and Venezuelan dissidents living in the US for orchestrating the attack. Officials claimed seven soldiers were injured, and the Post quoted residents of a nearby building as saying they witnessed a drone explode.

After Maduro specifically blamed Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, his office issued an “emphatic denial.” Separately, US National Security Adviser John Bolton told Fox News Sunday that the US had “no involvement” in the incident.


Rial Revolution

As the US moves to re-establish sanctions against Iran Monday, some American allies fear that Washington is bent on regime change in the Islamic republic.

“They’re the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,” the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday, the Associated Press reported. “That’s what America is trying to get Iran to stop doing. That’s the behavioral change that we’re looking for from the Iranian regime.”

However, two European diplomats said many US allies consider that coded language for regime change.

On Monday, US sanctions on Iranian trade in automobiles and metals go back into effect, along with restrictions preventing Iran from buying US and European aircraft. But sanctions on the country’s oil sector and central bank won’t return until Nov. 4.

The rial has already lost half its value since April, helping to spur mass protests against the government. On Sunday, Iran said it would ease restrictions on foreign exchange in a bid to restore confidence, Reuters reported. But it’s unclear its plan for a “managed float” will be enough to stave off collapse.


Reckless Disregard

Violent clashes between police and students protesting for better road safety continued Sunday, with police again resorting to tear gas to disperse thousands of students who have taken to the streets after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus.

“It was a peaceful rally but suddenly police fired tear gas shells aimed at us [that] left several injured,” Al Jazeera quoted a protester as saying. There were also reports of violence against journalists and attacks on protesters by people alleged to be affiliated with the ruling Awami League party.

Earlier, an Awami League leader blamed “criminals” dressed in school uniforms for the violence, the New York Times reported.

Since they began last week, the protests have paralyzed Dhaka, galvanizing the supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, the Times noted. But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pledged to meet the protesters’ demands.

With thousands of unregistered vehicles and unlicensed drivers on the road and cutthroat competition between racing bus drivers, at least 12,000 people die in accidents annually in Bangladesh.


Corals 1, Jellyfish 0

Corals might be pretty but these little creatures have a nasty side: They bring down jellyfish, as scientists were astonished to witness.

Biologists studying orange stony cup corals off the Italian island of Pantelleria suddenly noticed the tiny corals munching on bits of jellyfish.

They were mystified as corals aren’t usually hunters – they typically eat microscopic animals known as zooplankton.

But later, the scientists saw a tiny coral nibbling on a mauve stinger – a jellyfish many times its size and dangerous to humans.

One jellyfish that scientist Fabio Badalamenti was tracking was caught immediately by a “wall of mouths,” he told National Geographic.

In total, the researchers saw 20 mauve stingers eaten by corals over several years. They recorded their findings in the journal Ecology last week.

Corals and jellyfish are both cnidarians, an ancient group of animals with stinging tentacles. And corals have been seen eating jellyfish before – but those corals usually had much larger mouths.

In this case, to overpower the much larger jellyfish, the orange stony cup coral polyps join forces: It’s a synchronized attack that “awed” the scientists, even as they admit they don’t understand how the corals are communicating, or dealing with the venom of jellyfish.

Still, Badalamenti says the corals “looked pretty happy” doing it.

Watch the coral vs. the jellyfish here.

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