The World Today for September 10, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

RUSSIA

What Is Irony in Russian?

What a coincidence.

Russian authorities jailed Alexei Navalny for 30 days in late August for organizing unsanctioned rallies against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposed pension reforms.

That meant the country’s most prominent opposition leader was behind bars on Sunday, when Russians went to the polls in local elections. Putin supporters appeared poised to cruise to a landslide victory, Voice of America reported. But more than 1,000 protesters had to be detained as thousands took to the streets – leading to turnout of just 28 percent, RadioFreeEurope / RadioLiberty reported.

It was not the first time Navalny coincidentally ran afoul of the law at the same time he happened to be challenging Putin, the Guardian noted. Late last year, officials barred Navalny from running in March’s presidential election due to a previous fraud conviction that the activist claimed was trumped up.

The widespread protests suggest that jailing Navalny failed to stop his message from hitting home.

Putin is arguably suffering from the worst domestic crisis in his presidency over his pension reform plan.

In June, the president proposed raising the retirement age for men from 60 to 65 and for women from 55 to 63. Considering that Russian men die at 66 on average, the plan sparked an outcry. Then, in an extraordinary move, Putin took to the airwaves and announced that the pension age for women would be raised only to 60 – an obviously cynical tactic to satisfy part of the electorate.

It didn’t quite work. Recently thousands of Russians, including Communist Party members who nostalgically recall the days when the Soviet Union would supposedly never leave a worker behind, staged officially sanctioned protests in Moscow and other cities before the vote, reported the Associated Press.

Even Pravda, a state-owned Kremlin mouthpiece dating from the Communist era, admitted, after calling Navalny a Western agent, that the pension reforms could undermine Putin’s majority support.

But don’t count the president out.

Russian state television is airing “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.” – a new show featuring the Russian leader’s “political acumen, physical fitness and love of children,” the Telegraph reported. The first show included footage of Putin hiking in Siberia.

Moscow functionaries were prepared to blame foreigners if the election didn’t go well, too.

Before voters headed to the polls, Russian authorities accused Google of meddling in the election, the Moscow Times wrote, for letting Navalny buy ads on the Internet search engine, they said.

The authorities didn’t seem to appreciate the irony despite how much attention that allegations of Russian influence in the 2016 US presidential election have received worldwide.

Still, one has to believe some Russians noticed.

WANT TO KNOW

SWEDEN

Half Empty Or Half Full?

Moderate parties managed to prevent the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats from winning as big as some had predicted in Sunday’s parliamentary election even as a period of political gridlock is predicted in the near future.

Neither the governing Social Democrat-led coalition of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven nor the opposition Alliance bloc won enough votes to form majority governments, Bloomberg reported.

A preliminary count showed Lofven’s coalition won 144 of 349 seats, Alliance notched up 143, and the Sweden Democrats managed 62. The razor-thin margin separating the two leaders is especially significant because while Lofven has ruled out aligning with the nationalist Sweden Democrats, his rival in the party that dominates Alliance, the Moderate Party’s Ulf Kristersson, has made no such promise.

Meanwhile, Kristersson could garner support for his plans to cut taxes and reduce social benefits from the Sweden Democrats, making their entry into government more likely. Both the Social Democrats and the Moderates tallied fewer votes than in 2014, while the Sweden Democrats made substantial gains.

SYRIA

Bombs Away, Again

Syria and Russia resumed an intensive assault on Idlib on Sunday, continuing the push to capture the last remaining rebel stronghold after a summit including Russia, Turkey and Iran failed to reach a ceasefire agreement.

Residents and rescue workers said Syrian army helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with high explosives on various villages in the area, a tactic that has earned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a reputation for brutality, though his army continues to deny using them, Reuters reported.

Russian jets also launched airstrikes on the nearby towns of Latamneh and Kafr Zeita in northern Hama according to a monitoring organization and a rebel source. Turkey, the United Nations and various Western countries have warned that a full-scale push to take Idlib could result in tens of thousands of casualties, the agency said.

Meanwhile CNN reported Friday that Moscow had warned the US it was poised to attack areas where dozens of US soldiers are stationed, raising the specter of clashes between Russian and American troops.

AFGHANISTAN

Dominoes Falling

The third major military base in the past month fell to Taliban insurgents on Sunday, as scores of police officers, soldiers and civilians were killed in four separate attacks across Afghanistan.

Between 22 and 40 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in the deadliest of the incidents, in which the insurgents captured an army base in Baghlan Province, the New York Times reported. In Kabul, suicide bombers attacked a procession in honor of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the northern leader who was killed by al Qaeda in 2001, killing seven people.

The capture of the Mangalha base in Baghlan by the insurgents follows the destruction of another Afghan military base and a nearby police post in Baghlan Province on Aug. 15. Those incidents killed 39 soldiers and policemen. A day before that, all 106 soldiers of an Afghan Army company were either killed or captured as the insurgents conquered Chinese Camp, in northern Faryab Province.

Casualties among the Afghan security forces have risen steadily with the withdrawal of international forces from the conflict, the Times noted.

DISCOVERIES

Whales, and Grief

After the death of her newborn, Tahlequah the orca carried the body of her calf through the Pacific Ocean for at least 17 days through mid-August, an unprecedented act, according to scientists.

“Her tour of grief is now over and her behavior is remarkably frisky,” according to an update by the Center for Whale Research.

The mother’s sad and arduous journey began on July 24, when her baby calf passed away half an hour after birth, the Washington Post reported. Tahlequah pushed her lifeless offspring along while traveling with her pod, preventing it from sinking.

Previous studies have recorded intelligence and emotions in orcas. But the mother’s long grieving period astonished researchers. Scientists ruled out attempts to separate them, stating that Tahlequah’s emotional bond with her calf was too strong.

Her mourning drew a lot of attention. People wrote poems and drew pictures. Some lost sleep. Tahlequah’s perseverance also inspired politicians to call for preserving protections of endangered species.

Biologists and government officials are now trying to save the youngest member of the dwindling pod by feeding it antibiotic-laced salmon.

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