The World Today for November 12, 2018

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A Bloodless Coup

The turmoil in Sri Lanka has been called a “coup without guns.”

In late October, President Maithripala Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Reuters explained.

Action was necessary, Sirisena insisted, because Wickremesinghe had been trying to implement “a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people’s sentiment.”

Wickremesinghe had launched free-market economic policies that included partnerships with Chinese and Indian companies. That foreign investment could obviously help Sri Lanka, but it also ruffled the feathers of Sirisena and others who feared the neighboring powers’ political influence – Sri Lanka is another battleground state where India and China are vying for influence.

But Wickremesinghe and many lawmakers fought back, saying the president had no power to oust him. Wickremesinghe has remained in the prime minister’s official residence in protest.

In response, Sirisena issued a warning that he might deploy the police to take over state assets and take legal action against violators if those assets were not surrendered, and on Friday dissolved the parliament and called for snap polls on Jan. 5. However, it’s questionable whether he has the authority to do that, and Sri Lanka’s three main political parties petitioned the Supreme Court to block the move early Monday.

Some Sri Lankans revere Rajapaksa as a national hero who helped defeat Tamil rebels who were seeking independence from the country’s largely Buddhist central government. He has also come under fire for alleged authoritarianism and human rights violations.

As many as 200,000 people marched in Colombo recently in support of Rajapaksa’s appointment as prime minister. “Foreign countries are trying to take our resources, take our land,” said protester Mithra Kumara Jayasinghe, a wedding photographer, told the Associated Press.

Rajapaksa on Sunday left his longtime political party and joined the Sri Lanka People’s Front, which could spark defections from Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Associated Press reported.

Foreign tourism that is vital to the local economy is taking a hit amid the chaos, the Independent reported.

China and India, meanwhile, are observing the events with keen interest, CNN wrote. For India, Sri Lanka is a close neighbor whom it needs to remain a friend. For China, Sri Lanka is a potential ally in its quest to expand its power throughout the Indian Ocean region. Rajapaksa tends to be viewed as pro-China, while Wickremesinghe is seen as pro-India.

Leaders in Beijing and New Delhi so far have been silent, however.

“They’re hedging their bets,” Bharath Gopalaswamy, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre, told the Associated Press. “Both have stakes in the global system and want to play a bigger role, so they have to signal they’ll work with whomever.”

For now, it’s in the Supreme Court’s hands.



Alt No More

Top Polish officials on Sunday took part for the first time in a march commemorating the restoration of Poland’s independence organized by the far-right National Radical Camp, All-Polish Youth and the National Movement.

In the past, the march has featured racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic and white supremacist slogans, but this year most participants waved the Polish flag and stuck to patriotic chants, Al Jazeera reported. Still, some toted neo-Nazi symbols, denounced communists and refugees and shouted, “White Poland,” according to the New York Times.

Some 200,000 people took part in the march, compared with only 60,000 last year.

Amid reflections on the dangers of nationalism at the commemoration of the World War I armistice in France, Warsaw’s mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, had attempted to ban the march from the capital, saying, “Warsaw has already suffered enough due to aggressive nationalism.” But in the end, a court ruling allowed it to go ahead.

On Saturday, two conferences slated to include speeches by nationalists from across Europe were canceled after Poland’s Internal Security Agency arrested as many as 100 people, and a concert featuring far-right bands was also canceled.


Blown Covert

A risky covert operation in the Gaza Strip Sunday resulted in the deaths of an Israeli soldier and at least seven Palestinians – including a senior Hamas military commander.

The first known Israeli ground incursion into Gaza since Operation Protective Edge in July 2014 set off a seven-week war, the mission’s objectives remain unclear, the New York Times reported. But the debacle threatens to undermine efforts to ease tensions on the Israel-Gaza border.

After the incursion, Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israeli communities near Gaza, and Israel responded with airstrikes, breaking a shaky ceasefire agreement.

In an unusual move, the Israeli military announced that none of its personnel had been captured, and a former Israeli military commander worked to downplay the raid in TV interviews, the paper said.

After reassuring reporters that he was working to restore calm, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his visit to Europe for the World War I armistice centennial and flew back to Israel to try to prevent the incident from spiraling out of control.


Twisted or Manufactured?

The CEO of a hard-hitting Philippines news site Rappler said that charges of tax evasion had been “manufactured” against her to “intimidate and harass” journalists critical of President Rodrigo Duterte.

One of the few news outlets that have been openly critical of the controversial president, Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa are accused of failing to pay tax on 2015 bond sales which resulted in 162.5 million pesos ($3 million) in gains, the BBC reported. On Friday, prosecutors said they have enough evidence for an indictment.

For her part, Ressa denies Rappler made the alleged gains and told the BBC the charges are meant “to intimidate us from doing stories that hold them to account.”

The tax case isn’t the first time Rappler has run afoul of the government. Duterte has called its reports “twisted” and banned its reporter from covering his events. The state revoked its license earlier this year, and it faces several other outstanding legal cases. However, this is the first time that a criminal charge has been leveled against the site or its co-founder.


Chocoholics, Through the Ages

Addicted to chocolate? So was ancient man.

According to a study in Nature Ecology & Evolution, ancient South Americans consumed the cacao plant – from which chocolate originates – about 5,450 years ago, Science Alert reported.

In the highlands of Ecuador, archaeologists discovered residue of Theobroma cacao – the cacao tree – in several ceramic artifacts, suggesting that the ancient locals consumed the plant 1,500 years earlier than the Mesoamericans in Central America.

“No archaeological evidence of cacao use in South America had ever been previously reported … even though botanists had long known that Amazonia held the greatest number of Theobroma species and T. cacao varieties,” said co-author Michael Blake.

Researchers argued the local Mayo Chinchipe people used the domesticated plant as a beverage for ritual ceremonies and practices, but further evidence revealed that average citizens consumed it on a daily basis.

It’s unsure as to how the precious seed went north, but the team speculates that trade might have resulted in its proliferation.

They hope that further study might reveal an earlier origin of cacao usage, with Blake noting that the plant was irresistible to the ancient locals.

“It is such an obvious and alluring plant,” he said.

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