The World Today for October 02, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

MAURITANIA

Where Shackles Are the Norm

Things are a little mixed up in Mauritania.

Rape victims don’t report their abuse in this West African country because officials might jail them for having sex outside of marriage, Reuters reported.

Police recently visited a would-be opposition political candidate, Biram Dah Abeid, and threw him in jail for running on an anti-slavery ticket.

As one anti-slavery advocate explained, Abeid is the son of a slave and a Haratin, a minority group. Half of Mauritania’s Haratin population lives as slaves, Joanna Ewart-James of group Freedom United wrote in the Independent. Their owners inherit their descendants. Government efforts to stamp out slavery, like a special court to handle slavery cases, have fizzled.

“Although Mauritania claims that it has abolished slavery, it actually remains one of the world’s only bastions of slavery,” wrote Irwin Cotler and Judith Abitan of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in the National Post, a Canadian newspaper.

Mauritanian activists who decry racism similarly find themselves in the clink facing charges of incitement to violence and rebellion, Human Rights Watch said.

Those examples of oppression show how civil rights are completely compromised in the West African nation.

“No one should be put on trial simply for pointing out the plight of their own community,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa director, said in a dispatch.

Despite those concerns, Mauritania’s ruling Union for the Republic party won local and parliamentary elections recently, Agence France-Presse wrote.

After the returns were announced, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said voters wanted peace and stability at a time when Islamist terror and militancy threaten Mauritania’s government.

“Mauritanians have voted for stability, development and progress,” Aziz said. They “rejected religious extremists and racists who have destroyed the country and tarnished the image of Islam around the world.”

Aziz, who is 61, assumed office in a coup in 2008. He won election a year later and again in 2014. Aziz has said he will abide by term limits and not seek a constitutional change that would allow him to run again next year. But he has also vowed to stay involved in politics and wants to play a role in keeping his party in power.

Critics dismissed his veneer of total control, however. Unemployment, poverty and corruption are souring many on his rule, they said.

“We have a lot of problems, especially the young people,” an unemployed youth told France 24. “They don’t believe in the elections because of the huge unemployment issue, the problem of waste. There are a lot of problems here and not enough solidarity between ethnic groups.”

The young man was taking a chance just speaking to a news organization. And in what is effectively a totalitarian state, it would come as no surprise if people like him someday make their voices heard through violence.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAN

Letting Missiles Fly

Iran fired missiles into Syria on Monday to deliver a message to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia following a recent attack on a military parade that killed some 24 Iranians, including members of the elite Revolutionary Guard.

The Revolutionary Guard said the missiles were aimed at militants blamed for the attack last month, but a missile shown on state TV Monday was emblazoned with “Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to Al Saud,” NBC News reported. And the Revolutionary Guard made no bones about linking the “terrorists” to its three historical enemies in a statement following the missile strike.

Similarly, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has blamed regional countries and their “US masters” for funding and arming the militants Tehran blames for the attack.

Analysts suggest there’s another motive for letting missiles fly, however. “Iran has been using those incidents to test its ballistic missiles, thus circumventing international criticism as its strikes are considered responses against terrorist perpetrators of those attacks,” said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.

KOREAN PENINSULA

Digging and Burying

North and South Korea are burying the hatchet, and the first step involves a whole lot of digging.

The two Koreas began removing landmines along their heavily fortified border on Monday as part of trust-building measures laid out at a summit last month between the North’s Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang, Reuters reported.

In a statement, the South’s defense ministry said the two sides agreed to remove all landmines in the so-called Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom within the next 20 days. Under the same deal, guard posts and weapons will subsequently be removed from the JSA, though unarmed troops will remain in place.

The JSA marks the only spot along the 155-mile demilitarized zone where North and South Korean troops are in close proximity.

It’s not clear whether the US-led United Nations Command, which is also a significant presence at the JSA, will also withdraw its weapons from the area.

UKRAINE

Sea of Troubles

Ukraine has sent additional troops to the Azov Sea and plans to construct a military base there to counter what it perceives as a growing threat from Russia.

Viktor Muzhenko, Chief of the General Staff for Ukraine’s military, said Russia has moved from covert actions in the Donbass region to beefing up its military presence on Ukraine’s borders and harassing Ukrainian ships in the Azov Sea, Reuters reported.

The Azov Sea is a strategically important arm of the Black Sea because Ukraine and Russia share the coastline in that area. It has heated up this year as Ukraine alleges Russia is preventing ships from reaching Ukrainian ports through trumped-up inspections and detentions. The US, too, has accused Moscow of “harassing” ships in the area and supplied Ukraine with US patrol boats in response.

Moscow claims its ships are there to ensure Ukraine doesn’t attempt to blockade Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014.

DISCOVERIES

Writing in DNA

Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others.

A team led by researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Athens believe an ancient virus that lurks in human DNA may help explain why, the Independent reported.

The virus, dubbed HK2, is present in all people’s DNA. But in their study, the researchers determined that some people carry a variant of it in a region close to a gene that affects the brain’s reward system and dopamine levels.

According to CNN, only 5 to 10 percent of people in the general population have this variant. But the team found that intravenous drug users in two test groups they studied were up to 3.6 times more likely to have it.

The researchers say the viral fragment manipulates the workings of the nearby “addiction gene” and could be responsible for addictive behavior in some people.

That same gene has been linked to binge drinking, according to an older study.

HK2 belongs to the retrovirus group, known for writing their DNA into a host’s genes. Two others, HIV and the human T-lymphotropic virus, or HTLV, can cause diseases that can kill their hosts.

Unlike those dangerous companions, HK2 apparently replicates in most individuals with no ill effects.

HK2 is located in the “dark” parts of the DNA, researchers said.

“Looking into this ‘dark’ part of the genome will unlock more genomic secrets,” co-author Gkikas Magiorkinis told the Independent.

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