The World Today for December 04, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

FRANCE

Marianne’s Fury

Imagine if the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street teamed up against the American ruling class.

The result might resemble the so-called “yellow vest protests” in France, where citizens are staging protests over tax hikes and government policies that appear to help elites at the expense of ordinary folks.

The protests started in mid-November in reaction to a tax on diesel fuel and gasoline designed to curb carbon emissions, explained Bloomberg.

But they have become more of a general expression of dissatisfaction with the state of the country. Demonstrators wearing yellow vests – the high-visibility safety jackets that all French drivers are required to keep in their cars – have blocked roads, fuel depots and city centers, causing a drop-off in economic growth that many protesters might say is the only way to the get the attention of the country’s fat cats.

Recently, they shut down the Champs-Élysées, a symbol of wealth and the most famous avenue in the nation, and damaged a statue of Marianne at the Arc de Triomphe, the symbol of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité since the French Revolution. Violence over the weekend prompted comparisons with the Paris riots of May 1968 and resulted in hundreds of arrests, the Washington Times reported.

Among many other demands, the protesters want the French Senate eliminated – they say it doesn’t reflect the popular will – as well as a reduction in the salaries of lawmakers, more national and local referendums, a reform of the asylum process to make it easier for refugees to gain entry to France, and more government spending, Quartz reported.

Jacobin gave the protesters a thumbs up. “They come from both right and left,” wrote Aurélie Dianara in the left-wing magazine. “But they do have one point in common: this is the France that struggles to make it to the end of the month. Simply put, a movement of the people.”

The protests are the biggest threat to French President Emmanuel Macron since his election last year.

Macron has weathered union protests before. But in recent months, the popularity of his so-called “imperial presidency” has plummeted in the polls as his campaign promises of bureaucratic reforms and new jobs have gone unfulfilled while he appears to have delivered a number of pro-business measures to corporate leaders.

His initial response to the protests was “unyielding,” a Reuters video said. But more recently, he has said his government needs to provide a “clear answer” to the anger of the people, the Guardian reported. And Bloomberg said he’s mulling emergency tax cuts to stop the violence.

The unrest is spreading. Recently, yellow vest protesters clashed with police in Belgium. They also called for reduced taxes and government reforms.

“We want this movement to spread,” said protester Gilles, who declined to provide his surname, in the Telegraph. “It began in France, it is here now, and we want it to continue to Germany and the Netherlands, across Europe, even to England.”

Given the amount of anger in Britain, where Brexit is controversial, and Germany, where far-right parties are on the march, it’s possible, Gilles.

WANT TO KNOW

POLAND

Doom and Gloom

Just after the US reiterated its decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement at the G20 summit, leaders from around the world arrived in Poland to try to hash out plans to meet its goals for global greenhouse gas emissions.

It is the most important climate meeting since 195 countries, including the US, set those targets in Paris in 2015, NPR reported.

And though President Donald Trump has most openly pulled the rug out from under the deal, last week the UN said the gap between current efforts and what’s needed to protect the climate is getting larger, even as global emissions rose again in 2017 after dipping a bit between 2014 and 2016.

With the US providing political cover, Russia and Turkey have abandoned plans to ratify, and Australia has rolled back measures to comply with the Paris deal, the Irish Times reported. Similarly, Brazil’s decision to back out of hosting COP25 next year likely signals president-elect Jair Bolsonaro isn’t keen on reductions, either.

GEORGIA

Let’s Do It Again

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Georgia to protest the results of last week’s presidential run-off vote, insisting that the country’s first woman president, Salome Zurabishvili, won office through widespread vote-buying, voter intimidation and ballot-stuffing.

Around 25,000 opposition supporters demonstrated in the capital, Tbilisi, on Sunday, demanding snap parliamentary elections, Al Jazeera reported.

An independent candidate backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, Zurabishvili won almost 60 percent of the vote to beat the opposition candidate Grigol Vashadze on Wednesday. But Vashadze and other members of the opposition have refused to accept the result, alleging widespread fraud.

Addressing the crowd, Vashadze said the results of the “stolen election” should be annulled and snap parliamentary elections held.

The vote was viewed as a measuring stick for Georgia’s democratic credentials as it seeks to join the EU and NATO, so the fraud claims, as well as hate speech from both campaigns, could have far-reaching repercussions.

IRAQ

Irreconcilable Differences?

Talks have broken down between the two powerful Shi’ite Muslim factions that are key to governing Iraq following the May election, leaving many cabinet posts vacant and paralyzing efforts to rebuild the country.

“We reached a dead end,” said Hanin Qaddo, a leader from the bloc headed by Iranian-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, according to Reuters.

Together with the bloc led by populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Amiri’s supporters formed a tacit alliance in October to pick a president and approve 14 out of 22 cabinet ministers. But the negotiators appear to have given up hope of filling the rest of the posts, and Sadr has threatened to walk out of the political process and stage mass demonstrations, the agency said.

The deadlock has prevented the passage of the 2019 budget, and some analysts suggest Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s time may be running out. A top adviser to Sadr said he would give Abdul-Mahdi up to six months to form a full cabinet before withdrawing support, and he faces similar pressure from Amiri.

DISCOVERIES

The Last Unicorn

Scientists may have figured out where the mythical unicorn originated.

They recently studied the remains of Elasmotherium sibericum, an extinct giant rhino species also known as the “Siberian unicorn.”

The Ice Age giant used to roam the grasslands of Eurasia and sported a large horn on its nose, the BBC reported.

In their study, researchers determined that the animal survived until at least 39,000 years ago – a later period than previously estimated. DNA studies showed it split away from modern rhinos 40 million years ago.

The Siberian giants fed on tough, dry grasses and were very picky about the quality of grass they ate.

Researchers believe that it was this special diet that led to their downfall, since those grasslands started to die out as the Earth became warmer after the Ice Age.

Many other animal species suffered from the climatic shift, vegetation loss and increased human hunting.

Apart from revealing a possible origin story for the mythical unicorn, the study can help scientists understand how modern rhinos adapt to climate change and human presence.

Currently, only five species of rhinos remain, and very few survive outside of captivity.

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