The World Today for November 21, 2018

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For Better Or Worse

The United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 as a right under the Constitution.

In Taiwan, the issue is being put to the voters. “Anger and anxiety” are the result, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I am disappointed,” said Chi Chia-wei, an activist who was the first person to come out as gay publicly in Taiwan in 1986.

After years of suffering harassment, Chi won a case in the Chinese-speaking island’s top court last year that recognized same-sex marriage. Instead of passing a law to ratify the court’s decision, the government is holding a series of votes in a referendum that coincides with local elections on Nov. 24.

The referendum includes several questions related to same-sex marriage – posed by groups for and against it – and to sex education.

On the opposing side, the Economist explained, one vote asks whether the law should define marriage as exclusively between a man and woman. Another asks whether same-sex couples’ partnership rights should be limited to civil unions other than marriage. A third would ban teaching meant to encourage “respect and understanding” for homosexual students.

On the other side, one ballot question would mandate LGBT education in the schools. Another would legalize same-sex marriage.

The ballot will also include five questions on other issues, leading to “chaos” as voters face a confusing range of choice, the Japan-based online magazine the Diplomat wrote.

Around 25 countries allow same-sex marriage. In Asia, only the Anglophone nations of Australia and New Zealand permit it. Most East Asian countries are conservative socially.

“What the law must protect is public order and good customs, and same-sex marriage is actually not love for Taiwan,” wrote a same-sex marriage opponent on Facebook, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But the ASEAN Post noted that attitudes towards LGBT folks are slowly changing. Vietnam, for example, decriminalized homosexuality and enshrined transgender rights three years ago.

Taiwan, in particular, has a vibrant homosexual scene. The island hosts the biggest gay pride celebration in the region. Last year’s parade was an especially rapturous event because of Chi’s court win.

The size and organization of the Taiwanese gay community led President Tsai Ing-wen to court the LGBT vote before her 2016 election win. But she back-pedaled as social conservatives groused about the changing times.

The votes are expected to be close.

Chi and others, including Americans who are raising money for the pro-marriage campaigns, are fighting hard. “If you make a promise as a politician, you have to follow through on it,” Chi told the New York Times. “If you don’t, you’re just playing politics; you’re a liar.”

In the US and elsewhere, it’s not certain whether a majority would support same-sex marriage in a nationwide vote. Taiwan will set an example of direct democracy for the world, for better or worse.



Fox in the Henhouse

As Interpol prepares to elect a senior Russian official as its president on Wednesday, US senators and European leaders decried the move as “akin to putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.”

“Russia routinely abuses Interpol for the purpose of settling scores and harassing political opponents, dissidents and journalists,” wrote Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) in a joint statement opposing the likely election of Major General Alexander Prokopchuk, the Hill reported.

The statement accuses Prokopchuk of being personally involved in implementing that strategy.

Interpol confirmed to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Prokopchuk had been nominated for president of the global police agency along with a South Korean official, Kim Jong-yang.

The controversy comes at a tough time for Interpol, following the disappearance of the agency’s former president, China’s Meng Hongwei, in September during a visit to China. Beijing says he’s under investigation for corruption, but he has not resurfaced and issued his resignation by mail.

The president’s role is primarily ceremonial, and Secretary-General Jurgen Stock of Germany will handle daily operations, Reuters noted.


Seeing Red

Colombia has added a public call to what it said was a verbal request earlier this month asking Cuba to arrest and extradite ELN rebel commander Nicolas Rodriguez.

Bogota had asked for information about several rebel leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN) it believes are in Cuban territory on Nov. 6 and asked Havana to act on an Interpol Red Notice against Rodriguez, Reuters reported, citing a foreign ministry statement.

The move could hurt efforts to restart peace talks with the rebel group – which did not lay down its arms in tandem with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016, Reuters said.

After winning election on campaign promises of a tougher stance against current and former guerrillas, Colombian President Ivan Duque in August froze the Cuba-based peace talks with ELN pending the release of about 10 hostages held by the group.

In September, the negotiators returned home as part of a scheduled move to relieve them. But Duque said he wouldn’t send replacements until the captives were freed and the ELN ceased criminal activity.


Age of Aquarius

Italy is opting to “criminalize” the operations of aid workers seeking to save migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean, according to Doctors Without Borders.

This week, an Italian prosecutor ordered the seizure of the Aquarius, a ship jointly operated by Doctors Without Borders that has rescued around 30,000 migrants, NBC News reported. Karline Kleijer, the head of emergencies at the aid group, called the move a “sinister” attempt to “stop humanitarian lifesaving search and rescue capacity at any cost.”

Italian authorities have also frozen bank accounts belonging to the group.

At least nominally, the seizure order was issued over alleged violations of rules for the disposal of waste.

Stranded at sea for 10 days this summer when it was refused a berth by Malta and Italy – where Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has made stopping the arrival of refugees a personal mission – the Aquarius has come to symbolize new efforts to restrict rescue operations.


Feline Mummies

Ancient Egyptians really loved their cats – so much so that they took their feline pals with them into the afterlife.

Egyptian archaeologists have discovered dozens of mummified cats in a 4,500-year-old tomb near Cairo, NPR reported.

While excavating the tomb in Saqqara, archaeologists uncovered 100 gilded wooden cat statues and a bronze statue of Bastet, the goddess of cats.

They also came across a bizarre find: mummified scarabs.

The secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, was unsure about the significance of the dead beetles, which were found in sealed coffins with scarab drawings.

“The (mummified) scarab is something really unique. It is something really a bit rare,” Waziri said.

As for the cats, ancient Egyptians were fond of them but didn’t worship them, according to historians.

“What they did is to observe their behavior, and create gods and goddesses in their image – much as they did with other animals, including dogs, crocodiles, snakes and bulls,” Antonietta Catanzariti, a curatorial fellow with the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery, told NPR last year.

Egyptian authorities hope the new discoveries will help revive tourism, which has suffered since the Arab Spring in 2011 and a recent spate of terror attacks.

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