The World Today for October 18, 2018

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Ballots, and Shangri-La

Bhutan could be the greenest country in the world.

The forests that cover 70 percent of the Maryland-sized kingdom between China and India absorb around three times more carbon dioxide than the country of around 750,000 people emits, CNN reported.

Bhutan charges visitors a fee of $250 per day to avoid mass tourism – though that includes accommodation and many other services. Agriculture is slated to be entirely organic in two years. By 2030, the country hopes to recycle all of its waste. Television was introduced in 1999. The country’s constitution stipulates that leaders will strive for Gross National Happiness, rather than economic growth alone.

It’s no wonder the country is often called Shangri-La, an allusion to the fictional earthly paradise imagined by author James Hilton in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon.

But, like every other so-called utopia, not all is what it seems. The Bhutanese are not necessarily so keen on absolute harmony. Instead, they want democracy.

The country is in the midst of holding its third elections since 2008, when its monarch ceded power to a prime minister and parliament.

In the first round of voting in September, voters shocked the political class by voting out the party in power, relegating the mainstream opposition party to second place and giving the upstart Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa party front-runner status, the Economist explained. The second round of voting takes place today.

Voters are upset about woes that are the traditional downsides of polities that on first glance are utopias: depression, suicide, drug use, corruption, rural poverty, youth unemployment and criminal gangs. The Diplomat also noted that the paucity of women running for office is a sign of the sexism rampant in Bhutanese society. The same online magazine wrote about the suppression of journalism in Bhutan in August.

China and India also treat Bhutan like a football. The latter wields more power than the former via economic and military ties that reflect Bhutan’s strategic position near the tiny corridor of land that connects mainland India with its northeastern-most provinces. In 2013, India flexed its muscles in Bhutan, cutting its subsidies on kerosene provided to the country, causing prices to skyrocket. The move was widely seen as a bid to undermine the government and sway voters to put a leader in power.

Since then, Bhutan has responded by reaching out for better relations with China. Indian suspicions of those connections stoked an incident last year when Indian troops stopped Chinese border guards from building a road on land claimed by both Beijing and Bhutan.

India is watching the current elections closely because Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, an ally, was knocked out of the second poll. China is also waiting in the wings, coveting the entire region the Washington Times wrote.

Bhutanese leaders need to be careful. But their constituents can hold their heads high. They’re exercising their rights, without apology.



A Different Kind of Terror

At least 19 people were killed and many more injured when an 18-year-old gunman in Crimea ran through the campus of Kerch Polytechnic Wednesday firing at his classmates before turning his weapon on himself, Russian investigators said, according to the BBC. There were also conflicting reports that a bomb exploded and several others were defused, said the Guardian, while at least early on the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAC) said there could have been more than one attacker.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, sparking Western condemnation and a simmering conflict between Kiev and Moscow-backed separatists that continues in Eastern Ukraine. The motives of the alleged perpetrator, Vladislav Roslyakov, remain unclear, but there is some evidence his anger was directed at the college and his teachers.

Initially, the Russian investigative committee termed it a “terrorist attack” but they subsequently referred to it as a “mass murder,” the BBC noted.


#MeToo, You Too

As India’s #MeToo movement claimed a major scalp with the resignation of a highly placed government minister, the broader fight for women’s rights suffered a setback in the southern state of Kerala.

Violent protests erupted Wednesday in an effort to prevent a group of women from entering a renowned Hindu pilgrimage site that was recently opened to women by the Supreme Court, the Huffington Post reported. The protesters also included many women, the news site noted.

In September, India’s Supreme Court ordered that a centuries-old ban that prevented women between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the Sabarimala temple was illegal. But many of the devout are fervent in their belief that menstruating women would defile the site. Others resent the court’s intrusions into religious matters – though Hindu political organizations were keen to see the government act against the Muslim practice of instant divorce, which was made a criminal offense last month.

Kerala’s leftwing coalition government has vowed to enforce the judgment and sent 1,000 police personnel to handle the protests. But it could well become a campaign issue for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.


Huddled Masses

A caravan of Honduran migrants seeking to cross into Mexico and eventually the United States swelled to more than 4,000 people as the group moved through Guatemala.

Mexico has sent 500 additional federal police to its border with Guatemala in anticipation of their arrival, NBC News reported.

Meanwhile, migrants continued to seek to join the caravan despite a plea from government authorities after US President Donald Trump threatened to cut off regional aid if they’re not stopped, Reuters reported.

According to NBC, US Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 41,400 undocumented immigrants in September, up from 37,544 the previous month.

On Tuesday, Trump threatened to cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador if they fail to prevent such migrants from heading to the US. And last week he suggested he would revisit his decision to walk back the controversial “zero tolerance” policy responsible for the separation of migrant families at the US border.


A Little Buzz in Rwanda

Like many young university graduates, Assumpta Uwamariya encountered difficulty finding employment in her native Rwanda.

So she decided to start growing beetroot.

Instead of selling it as food, though, she discovered a more profitable use: turning it into wine, Reuters reported.

In a farm in western Rwanda, she and her 17 workers produce more than 150 gallons of red beetroot wine a week and sell around 1,000 bottles per month.

The process is not so complicated: They wash the beetroot, cut it into small pieces, and let it ferment after boiling it.

Uwamariya hopes to double production by next year. Her wine is popular among the locals.

“It doesn’t really get you drunk like when you drink other types of alcohol,” said local bar customer Janvier Muhoza. “It just gives you a little buzz. It’s really tasty.”

Some have also praised the affordability of the drink, which is now also sold in Germany.

“I don’t know how my wine got there but they told me that they tasted my wine and started ordering from me afterward,” Uwamariya told Reuters. “Some of them even came all the way here to see me and buy wine.”

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