The World Today for November 05, 2018

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Kleptocrats, Militias and Ebola

The Democratic Republic of Congo might change if the country can get out of its own way.

Leaders of the nation’s diverse opposition political parties recently met in South Africa and agreed to choose a single candidate to confront Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary in the Dec. 23 presidential election, Bloomberg reported.

Shadary is the handpicked successor of President Joseph Kabila, a kleptocrat who took over after his father was assassinated in 2001. The US and the European Union included Shadary among a cohort of Kabila loyalists whom they sanctioned last year for human rights abuses.

Corruption, human rights violations and armed conflicts have marked Kabila’s rule and have resulted in the displacement of an estimated 4.5 million Congolese, the Guardian reported.

Where once armies fought in a long-running civil war to assume power or seize the country’s precious metals, today violence for violence’s sake has become routine. “The conflict has splintered, with dozens of rebel groups traumatizing a population that sometimes has little idea who is behind a deadly attack,” wrote the Associated Press.

In that context, researchers believe an opposition candidate could win if he or she received the backing of a broad coalition of parties.

“It’s essential the opposition designate a unity candidate as soon as possible,” Stephanie Wolters, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told Bloomberg. “If you look at recent opinion polls, it’s almost impossible that Shadary could beat a unity opposition candidate in credible elections.”

But many, including the country’s Catholic bishops, worry that the election could be postponed, wrote Crux. That’s already happened once, as the Brookings Institution explained. Election officials called off a ballot set for late 2016, when Kabila was supposed to leave office, claiming they lacked the money to hold one. It was a convenient way for Kabila to remain in power.

International and internal pressure might have led Kabila to decide to step down this time around. But he appears to have already stacked the deck against Shadary’s potential challengers.

Kabila has jailed pro-democracy activists. The courts he controls have banned candidates from running. Demonstrations and politicking have been suppressed, Voice of America reported, prompting the UN to warn about the credibility of the results. Critics have also raised alarms about new touch-screen voting machines, calling them “cheating machines.”

The next president will also need to address a burgeoning Ebola outbreak that could kick off a new national crisis, Reuters reported. A three-year outbreak in West Africa that lasted through 2016 claimed 11,300 lives.

The opposition candidates have plenty of reasons to put their differences aside fast.



Felled Like Toothpicks

The deaths of 12 people in Sicily brought the death toll from a week of flooding and storms in Italy to 29.

Nine of the people killed in Sicily were members of two families dining together when the house was submerged by a flash flood, CNN reported.

Several others were killed last week as 118 mph winds slashed through the famous “Violin Forest” that provided wood for violin maker Antonio Stradivarius’ instruments.

“Tens of thousands of tall trees were felled like toothpicks,” said Roberto Ciambetti, president of the Veneto Regional Council, according to CNN. Around 300,000 trees were flattened after winds swept through the Val d’Assa in the Asiago plateau.

So far, authorities estimate the damages across the country at more than 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion). Some of the cost may be essentially inestimable, however. In Venice, floodwater covered the ancient marble floors of St. Mark’s Basilica, aging the iconic structure by 20 years, said Carlo Alberto Tesserin, head of the board responsible for its management.


Swift Retaliation

Egyptian security forces on Sunday gunned down 19 militants alleged to have been involved in a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in the southern province of Minya days earlier.

Security personnel tracked the men back to a mountainous area in the western part of the province after the attack on Friday, which killed seven Coptic Christian worshipers on their way to a monastery, CNN reported.

Hundreds of mourners had gathered on Saturday for the funeral of the seven Christians, who were shot down when gunmen opened fire on their bus. The group was heading to the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq media agency but provided no evidence in support of its claims.

Attacks on Coptic Christians have been been on the rise over the past few years in Egypt – last year, at least 28 were killed in a similar assault on a bus traveling to a monastery.


Meet the New Boss

Quoting rock band The Who, the new boss is the same as the old boss in New Caledonia following a historic referendum over the weekend.

Final results showed that 56.4 percent of voters in the French Pacific territory chose to remain part of France while 43.6 percent voted to leave, the BBC reported. That was closer than some polls had predicted, but the turnout of more than 80 percent suggests the decision was definitive.

East of Australia, New Caledonia has large deposits of nickel, which is used in making electronic goods, and France sees it as an important political and economic foothold in the region.

First claimed by France in 1853, the islands were once used as a penal colony. Today, New Caledonia is one of the UN’s 17 “non-self governing territories” that have not been decolonized completely. Ethnic Europeans make up 27.1 percent of the population, and indigenous Kanaks comprise 39.1 percent.

The islands get about €1.3 billion ($1.5 billion) from the French government every year.


The Spots That Bind

Scientists recently discovered that the colorful patterns of bird eggs originate from the dinosaurs.

In a study for the journal Nature, they analyzed the fossil eggs of close relatives of today’s birds, noticing similarities in the eggshells of extinct reptiles and modern avian species, NPR reported.

“There is a huge diversity in egg color and pattern,” said paleontologist and study co-author Jasmina Wiemann. “For a long, long time people have assumed that egg color is a trait that is unique to our modern birds.”

Her team first studied the eggs of oviraptors, the first dinosaurs that built open nests and a distant cousin of the velociraptor, familiar (sort of) from the Jurassic Park series.

They discovered the same pigments – including spots and speckles – were present in today’s bird eggs.

“We have, very likely, a single evolutionary origin of egg color,” Wiemann stated.

Ornithologist Mark Hauber, who was not involved in the study, told NPR that the colorful patterns might have served as camouflage or helped parents recognize their broods.

He added that they might have also served as a deterrent to would-be predators, warning them of a parent’s wrath. “Could be that the mama dinosaur comes back, or papa dinosaur comes back, and will beat you up,” he said.

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