The World Today for October 31, 2018

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By the Numbers

Thousands demonstrated in the tiny West African nation of Guinea-Bissau recently.

At issue was the slow pace of a national census to register voters before the Nov. 18 legislative elections.

“Thousands of people have not yet been registered, it’s too crazy,” a protester told Africanews. “That is why we are demonstrating. The census is not going well. Nothing is going well.”

The census was supposed to begin in late August, but it started a month late. About 220,000 voters had been registered in late October out of the nearly 1 million voters in the former Portuguese colony, wrote Agence France-Presse.

The situation led the government to extend the census until Nov. 20, or two days after the scheduled date of the election.

Hence the protests, as well as a joint statement by the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West Africa imploring Guinea-Bissau officials to step up their game and hold the election on time, with “transparency, regularity and credibility.”

The vote is crucial to ending a political crisis that started three years ago when President Jose Mario Vaz fired his prime minister, Domingos Simões Pereira. That move, which came shortly after the country returned to constitutional rule following a 2012 coup, kicked off a power struggle between Vaz and Pereira that has dominated politics and hobbled government in the country.

Pereira continues to lead the ruling party. After he secured more than $1.1 billion in aid from international donors to help the country overhaul itself, the Irish Times wrote, Vaz allegedly asked him to hand over the money, “believing that his foe carried the cheque in his pocket.”

Such a request wouldn’t be outlandish. Guinea-Bissau is impoverished and has been racked by coups or coup attempts every few years since independence in the 1970s. It’s also become a “major transit point” in the cocaine trafficking routes between South America and Europe, explained Reuters. Military leaders who staged the 2012 coup were key to that lucrative trade.

Vaz has argued that those times are long gone, according to Voice of America’s Portuguese-language service. He recently implored international leaders to lift sanctions imposed on the country after the 2012 coup.

Meanwhile, ordinary folks like teachers are striking for wage increases, and others are struggling to recover from a brutal storm that battered the country this summer.

“I lost almost everything. The entire tin roof was gone, exposing my family and my belongings to the heavy rains,” Ica Lopes Da Silva told ReliefWeb. “Three bedrooms collapsed and until now, I don’t know where the zinc sheets landed.”

Perhaps life would be a little better for Lopes if she could at least cast a ballot on time.



Crossing the Rubicon

With an end to the broader civil war in Syria almost in sight, Turkey said Tuesday it would launch a major assault against Kurdish forces allied with the US in an area where they’re supported by American boots on the ground.

In the fight against Islamic State, the US has provided Syria’s YPG Kurdish militia with air support, weapons, funding and training, as well as the backing of an estimated 2,000 American special forces, Reuters reported. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers the YPG an enemy allied with separatists seeking to carve out a separate state for Turkish Kurds.

Over the past two years, Turkey has driven the YPG out of the area west of the Euphrates, halting their campaigns at the banks of the river in apparent deference to the US. But on Tuesday Erdogan said he’s now prepared to cross the Rubicon, as it were.

“We will destroy the terror structure east of the Euphrates River,” he said. “We will soon come down hard on the terror organization with more extensive and effective operations.”


Under Water

Some Italian homeowners are underwater – and not just because of the country’s longstanding economic crisis.

Violent storms have wrought havoc on the country, killing 11 people and forcing the closure of schools and tourist sites, while floodwaters submerged as much as three-quarters of the canal city of Venice, the BBC reported.

Venice’s central St Mark’s Square was closed Monday afternoon after the high water level reached 5.1 feet, the fourth highest level ever recorded. Elsewhere, wind speeds topped 110 mph, and two tornadoes touched down in the coastal town of Terracina, killing one person and leaving 10 others injured.

As Fortune online points out, climate change isn’t the only culprit for the damage – though some estimates predict the Mediterranean will flood Venice twice a day by the end of the century as the result of rising sea levels. Long-running corruption has also prevented the completion of flood barriers meant to protect Venice from such catastrophic storms.


The Price of Popularity

Long critical of the project, newly elected Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador scrapped plans for a massive new Mexico City airport after voters rejected the scheme in a referendum that had been one of his key campaign promises.

But he could well be hoisting himself on his own petard, Kevin Sieff opined in the Washington Post.

López Obrador ignored warnings that canceling the $13 billion project midway through – which itself could cost $5 billion – would send a message to investors that he is hostile to the private sector and that Mexico might not honor its other public contracts.

Despite voter turnout of only 1 percent, he called the verdict “democratic, rational and efficient” and announced that instead the current international airport would be upgraded and two runways would be added at a military airfield south of the city.

The move dealt a serious blow to the efforts he made to combat his image as a radical leftist during the presidential campaign. It also prompted a 3 percent drop in the peso and a 4 percent stock market plunge.


Ancient Quarantine

Today, a “vampire burial” sounds like a funny stunt for Halloween. But for ancient Romans, it was a serious practice to ward off diseases.

In Lugnano, central Italy, archaeologists discovered the skeleton of a 10-year-old child with a stone in its mouth, possibly placed there in a rite the ancient residents thought would stop the dead from rising and spreading diseases, Newsweek reported.

Researchers found the body in Cemetery of the Babies – which holds remains of toddlers and infants – and believe the carved limestone rock was put in the child’s mouth after death.

Studying the teeth, they determined the age of the child – dubbed the “Vampire of Lugnano” by locals. A tooth abscess suggested that the child died from a malaria epidemic that gripped the area back in the 5th century AD.

Archaeologists said the remains gave clues in exploring how the disease devastated the area and how the Romans controlled its spread.

Apparently, they were very superstitious.

“Raven talons, toads, sacrifices and offerings in large bronze cauldrons, and even five- to six-month-old puppies being split in two and having their jaws ripped off, were part of these rites to try to expiate the unknown disease which we know now was malaria,” said University of Arizona anthropologist David Soren.

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