The World Today for September 17, 2018

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No Way Out

It’s a cliché, but it’s accurate to say Libyans are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Recently, rockets forced the closure of Mitiga International Airport near Tripoli. Earlier shuttered for a week, it had just reopened following a United Nations-brokered cease-fire that ended an outbreak of violence that claimed at least 63 lives and wounded 159 people, Al Jazeera reported.

That tally represents a fraction of the lives lost and ruined since civil war broke out in the North African country after the rebellion against, and the subsequent death of, former President Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The oil-rich country splintered after his fall, with rival administrations based in Tripoli and in eastern Libya, plus a number of militias, vying for control.

But there’s no easy escape from the carnage. In a recent news report, CNN wrote that more than 100 migrants from Libya and other countries died when their rubber boat bound for Europe deflated and sank in the Mediterranean.

“The boat started sinking,” said one of the survivors. “We couldn’t swim and only a few people had life jackets. Those among us who could hold on to the boat’s floating hood stayed alive.”

The Libyan coast guard has saved thousands of such people from the sea. But “save” might not be the word. Human-rights groups have raised concerns about the fate of Libyans, other Africans, Middle Easterners and others who have been remanded to “detention centers” when they are brought back to land.

The chaos led Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Seraj, who leads the UN-backed administration in Tripoli, to maintain that the country can’t hold elections this year. “You cannot vote with instability in the streets,” he said.

That would disappoint French diplomats, who had pushed for an agreement among the principal factions to hold a ballot in December that, hopefully, would end the turmoil. Italy, however, appears to resent France’s moves in Libya, the Dubai-based Gulf News reported, and has added its voice to those saying it’s too soon for a vote.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State fighters who represent another faction in the civil war are claiming that Libya’s oil infrastructure is a legitimate target for attacks. Bloomberg suggested that a recent attack on the national oil company’s headquarters in Tripoli was intended to weaken one of the few national institutions that bind the country together – at the cost, of course, of ruining the last vestige of a productive economy.

The US-led airstrikes that helped bring down Gadhafi were not intended to result in this chaos. That intervention was touted as a step toward a democracy in which the Libyan people could decide their country’s future.

Instead, today Libyans have no good options, which means in a sense they have no options at all.



The Second Storm

As America grapples with Hurricane Florence, Typhoon Mangkhut slammed southern China Sunday after killing at least 64 people in the Philippines.

The same sort of storm by a different name, the typhoon forced the evacuation of more than 2.4 million people from China’s Guangdong province Sunday, CBS News reported. It’s estimated to be the strongest storm to hit neighboring Hong Kong in nearly two decades, the news channel said.

Mangkhut made landfall Saturday on the Philippines’ Luzon island, where sustained winds of 127 miles per hour and gusts of 158 mph caused widespread devastation and heavy rains prompted deadly landslides. While 64 people have been confirmed dead, another 45 were missing and 33 were injured in the storm, the channel said.

By the time it made landfall in the Guangdong city of Taishan at 5 pm Sunday, the winds were clocked at 100 miles per hour. Authorities in southern China issued a red alert, the country’s most severe weather warning.


Not Our Rules

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said Saturday that it’s up to Europe to make up for the damage done by the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal under which Tehran stopped its nuclear enrichment program.

The statement came a day after leaders from France, the UK and Germany confirmed plans to set up a “special purpose” financial company to help Iran circumvent US sanctions, according to Politico.

“The German government is working together with the EEAS (the European External Action Service) and European Commission, as well as France and the United Kingdom, on maintaining financial payment channels with Iran,” a spokesperson for the German finance ministry told the news site.

“The Europeans and other signatories must act to offset the consequences of the US sanctions,” Zarif subsequently told Germany’s Der Spiegel, saying Iran could otherwise resume its enrichment program, Reuters reported.

Zarif also called for an EU “blocking agreement” under which the bloc can punish European firms for withdrawing from Iranian business deals to avoid US sanctions.


Peace, and Disruptions

As Ethiopia’s prime minister signed a second peace accord with Eritrea’s president in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, ethnic violence is escalating on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

A follow-up to an earlier pact signed July 9, the second peace accord “will contribute to strengthening security and stability in the region at large,” said Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Twitter, according to Reuters.

But the encouraging signs of a permanent normalization of ties between the two longtime foes came as rising insecurity inside Ethiopia threatens to derail Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s other groundbreaking reforms, reported.

The Addis Standard portal said Sunday that violence including deadly armed attacks, rape and the torching of buildings is prompting residents to flee the town of Burayu on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital. Adding to the authorities’ concerns, the unrest appears to have ethnic undertones, according to some observers.

Violence has been simmering between the Oromo and Gedeo ethnic groups since Abiy took office, Deutsche Welle reported, noting that such conflicts have long plagued the diverse nation.


Ancient Hashtags

Twitter might have popularized the hashtag but human ancestors were depicting the abstract design tens of thousands of years ago.

Archaeologists recently discovered in a South African cave what they consider to be the world’s oldest drawing, the Washington Post reported.

They came upon a rock flake with red lines in a crosshatch pattern on it – similar to a hashtag – and estimated that the artwork is about 73,000 years old – older by 30,000 years than the Paleolithic animal figures and hand stencils previously found in European and Indonesian caves.

In their study, the researchers stated that ancient residents of the South African cave had used strips of ocher, a soft rock containing natural pigment, to draw the lines, which are believed to be part of a larger design.

“There was absolutely no doubt that these were drawn with an ocher pencil or an ocher crayon,” said co-author Christopher Henshilwood. “We could even tell the direction that the ocher pencil was drawn across the surface.”

The team didn’t attach a meaning to the symbol but argued that its creation had importance in the development of early humans.

“What they could do with symbols is, for the first time, store information outside of the human brain,” said Henshilwood. “That is a major advance.”


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