The World Today for August 21, 2018

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New Faces, Old Faces

Everyone was shocked when a coalition of political parties called the Pakatan Harapan swept to victory in Malaysia’s elections in May, including Pakatan Harapan candidates.

Their win threw out the ruling United Malays National Organization after 61 years in power since the country sloughed off British colonial rule.

Now the country’s new leaders – who, it turns out, aren’t really so new – are struggling to come to grips with the peaceful revolution they instigated.

While the new government has made some economic reforms, the Economist explained, human rights activists are grousing that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is still inclined to authoritarianism and is dragging his feet on civil rights like freedom of speech and other issues.

“Just because we have a more friendly government in power does not mean their powers should go unchecked,” civil society activist Yap Swee Seng told the Christian Science Monitor.

One issue is that 93-year-old Mahathir is a former United Malays National Organization leader who ran the country between 1981 and 2003. Two years ago, he started a new party that joined the Pakatan Harapan.

The new coalition won in part because Mahathir’s predecessor and former ally, Najib Razak, was allegedly connected with graft, abuse of power and money-laundering schemes.

Mohamad is cracking down on corruption. Channel NewsAsia reported that his officials are working to prove that a financier caught up in one of Najib’s scandals purchased a private jet using public money, for example.

The prime minister has also canceled or curbed spending on big infrastructure projects suspected to have been sealed in bad deals. China has helped finance some of those projects, Quartz wrote, leading to expectations of friction between Mahathir and Chinese officials on his recent visit to the world’s most populous country.

He has also made some progress in human rights, like repealing a law banning “fake news” that critics said would be an excuse to silence political critics and dissidents, the Hill said.

But activists want the newly elected officials to repeal other rules, like those prohibiting sedition – another code word for political dissent – and reforming the judiciary, whose judges are often political cronies rather than legal eagles.

Amnesty International similarly condemned the recent sentencing of two women to six strokes of caning and fines after they were convicted of seeking to engage in homosexual acts.

“It’s a work in progress and it’s not easy, because when we took over, we did not have enough information to find out how deep the problems were,” Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail told Channel NewsAsia.

Sometimes now is none too soon.



Back to the Future

Europe recorded more cases of measles in the first half of 2018 than it has in any full year this decade, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 41,000 children and adults contracted measles across Europe between January and June, almost double the number of people infected with measles for all of 2017, CNN reported.

The increase comes amid worries that vaccines like the one that inoculates children against measles cause autism – though those concerns are not supported by scientific studies – and fears that parents’ refusals to allow their children to be vaccinated will result in a return of dread diseases like measles and polio.

At least 95 percent of the population must be immunized against measles to prevent outbreaks of the disease, which kills 450 children each day worldwide. That means the stakes are high for the whole region as anti-vaccine sentiment grows in countries like Italy – where the new government recently suspended a law requiring parents to provide proof that their children had been vaccinated when enrolling them in nurseries and preschools.


White or Wrong?

South Africa began the first land seizures associated with plans to take back land from white citizens and redistribute it among black farmers, targeting two game farms in the northern province of Limpopo.

The government offered owners Akkerland Boerdery a tenth of the 200 million rands ($13.8 million) it asked for the property, prompting Akkerland Boerdery to file an injunction to prevent eviction until a court had ruled on the issue. But the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs refused the application.

Declining to discuss specific cases, African National Congress spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the proposed land seizures are “tied to addressing the injustices of the past,” according to the Johannesburg-based City Press, the UK’s Express newspaper reported. Last week, ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe warned that the government might repossess land from white citizens who own more than 25,000 acres without compensation.

AfriForum, a civil rights group representing the white Afrikaner minority, says the government already has a target list of some 200 farms. Meanwhile, a record number of white farmers have put their property up for sale.


Street Fighting Men

Brazil doubled down on its aggressive strategy for combating drug-related violence Monday in the wake of a report flagging a spike in murders and the number of people killed in confrontations with police since it deployed federal troops in Rio de Janeiro six months ago.

At least five civilians and one soldier died in shootouts in northern Rio de Janeiro Monday and at least six suspected gangsters were killed the same day near a bridge linking Rio and the neighboring city of Niteroi as the authorities deployed some 4,200 soldiers and 70 police, as well as armored vehicles and aircraft, in early morning raids, Reuters reported.

“The operations are ongoing and there could be more deaths,” the army said in an email to the news agency.

President Michel Temer announced emergency measures that allowed the military to assume control of policing in the state of Rio de Janeiro a little more than six months ago to try to quell drug-related violence. Murders rose 5 percent and the number of people killed in confrontations with police spiked 35 percent since the decision.


A Seasonal Diet

Nowadays, people can politely shoo bears off their lawns. But back in prehistory, a cave was a great matter of dispute between the two species.

Still, while ancient cave bears – Ursus spelaus – might have been ferocious regarding territory, they were not particularly fond of human flesh.

According to a new study, the ancient bears were vegetarians, like today’s pandas, Inverse reported.

A team led by Anneke van Heteren of the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology reached this conclusion by analyzing fossils of the cave bear and its ancestor, the Deninger’s bear, and comparing them with those of omnivorous ancient brown bears.

They discovered that the skull and mandibles of the earlier Deninger’s bears were adapted to feed on plants, and similar to those of cave bears.

This cave bear’s vegetarian diet could have led to its demise in a changing environment, while other species, less picky about their food, adjusted by consuming whatever they could in the changing climate.

Other scientists recently noted a similar transition in Alaskan grizzly bears, which switched their favorite summer food from salmon to elderberries after unusually warm summers caused the berries to ripen early.

It’s not suggested that climate change forced the bears to go vegetarian. But if climate change did take away protein sources, large omnivores like Alaskan grizzlies would have an easier time of it than meat-eating polar bears, van Heteren said.

“The current changes may be too fast for them to adapt, possibly resulting in their extinction,” she said.

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