The World Today for January 25, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

THE GAMBIA

Cooling Fires

After 22 years, Yahya Jammeh’s victims of sexual violence, torture, forced disappearances and other crimes in Gambia finally have a chance at justice.

Earlier this month, the 11 members of the tiny West African country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission started their deliberations.

Under the commission’s purview are alleged crimes committed during the regime of Jammeh, a former president who left office in early 2017 after armies from neighboring countries entered Gambia and forced him to recognize the victory of current President Adama Barrow.

The first witness to testify before the commission painted a bleak picture starting from the moment Jammeh seized control in a 1994 coup, reported Reuters.

“He used to come to me to beg for money and other things,” said Ebrima Ismaila Chongan, who trained Jammeh as a police cadet, then spent two years in prison for opposing the coup. “When I knew that he was the leader, I knew that Gambia was going to be in trouble.”

Jammeh went on to hunt alleged witches and wizards, suppressed the media, persecuted the LGBTQ community, and forced HIV sufferers to forego medical treatment and take his self-made cure of herbs instead. It’s not clear how many of them died.

A session on the “Junglers,” a paramilitary group accused of atrocities, is on the commission’s agenda, too.

“We demand that light be shed,” Baba Hydara, the son of slain journalist Deyda Hydara, told Al Jazeera. “They really have to give us facts and do their homework.”

Deyda Hydara’s former colleagues are among the most aggressive trying to rebuild the country as the commission’s work continues, the Associated Press reported. Gambian journalists have set up a self-regulatory body to make sure government officials don’t meddle with the press.

The commission will work for two years. It can give out compensation to victims and recommend charges to prosecutors. That could help avoid the disappointments that followed South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was criticized for too liberally doling out amnesties for offenses committed during the Apartheid era.

Even so, Jammeh will probably not appear before the commission. He’s now safely in exile in Equatorial Guinea under the protection of President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.

Still, many hope that the commission will do enough to “cool the fires burning for justice.”

“You can’t just kill my dad today, and then the next day, I see you passing,” Fatoumatta Sandeng, whose father was killed by security forces six months before Jammeh left office, told Foreign Policy. “There is something that needs to be cooled, like there is some fire in you that needs to be cooled off,” she said. “There needs to be justice. Let them face it.”

WANT TO KNOW

SOUTH KOREA

No To Budget Increase

Seoul rejected Washington’s demand that South Korea shell out a total of $1.2 billion – 40 percent more than it currently pays — to support a continued presence of US troops on the peninsula, despite hints from the US ambassador that a refusal might prompt an American rethink of the two nations’ security treaty.

The tough US stance, leaked to the South Korean media, has angered local residents, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported. Seoul says it’s willing to pay a maximum of $886 million to keep the US forces in place. 

The US demand is in keeping with President Donald Trump’s complaint that Washington has been asked to pay for the defense of foreign countries around the world. However, an editorial in The Korean Times on Thursday called it an “ultimatum,” and argued that “the Trump administration is trying to use the South Korea-US Mutual Defense Treaty as leverage to force its ally to shoulder well over half the total costs”. 

UKRAINE

Yanukovich Sentenced

A Ukrainian court sentenced former President Viktor Yanukovich to 13 years in prison, ruling that his efforts to quell a 2014 popular uprising against his government by seeking the help of Moscow amounted to treason.

“Yanukovich committed a crime against the foundation of Ukraine’s national security,” Judge Vladyslav Devyatko said Thursday.

Yanukovich asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to deploy troops to Ukraine after he fled to Moscow, Al Jazeera reported, noting that the former president is still believed to be living in Russia and was tried and sentenced in absentia.

Kiev’s Obolon district court has been holding hearings on the case since 2017. Yanukovich was also found guilty of “complicity in waging an aggressive war against Ukraine,” according to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. But he was acquitted of charges that he took deliberate actions that violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

His ouster brought to power President Petro Poroshenko, who is fighting for re-election in March.

CONGO

Tshisekedi Sworn In

Despite lingering concerns about his election victory, Félix Tshisekedi was sworn into office as the new president of the Democratic Republic of Congo Thursday.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was the only African head of state to attend the ceremony, though a total of 17 were invited, the BBC reported. However, the US recognized his victory a day earlier, after the Congolese Constitutional Court certified the election results, ABC News reported.

“We are committed to working with the new DRC government,” a US Department of State spokesperson said in a statement. “We encourage the government to include a broad representation of Congo’s political stakeholders and to address reports of electoral irregularities.”

The BBC noted that numerous critics claim that rival candidate Martin Fayulu was the true winner, and Tshisekedi manipulated the results through a backroom deal with Joseph Kabila – the long-serving president he replaces. Though the Constitutional Court rejected Fayulu’s appeal for a recount, they say the court is too close to Kabila to be independent.

DISCOVERIES

Diamond in the Sky

In its final years, the Sun will turn into a white dwarf, whereupon it will shrink in size and become about 200,000 times denser than Earth.

Astronomers calculated that the dead star will eventually crystalize, turning into a giant gem, Space.com reported.

Scientists originally theorized the existence of such a crystallization process half a century ago, but a study only recently provided direct evidence of this process by analyzing the data of 15,000 white dwarfs located 330 light years away from Earth.

The study team noted a large number of stars with peculiar colors and luminance. Further tests confirmed they were releasing energy as they crystallized.

“This means that billions of white dwarfs in our galaxy have already completed the process and are essentially crystal spheres in the sky,” said lead author Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay. “The sun itself will become a crystal white dwarf in about 10 billion years.”

The process is similar to water freezing, but instead of water, it’s oxygen and carbon, and the phenomenon takes place at about 18 million degrees Fahrenheit. The final result is a crystallized oxygen core with a carbon mantle.

“This is the first direct evidence that white dwarfs crystallize, or transition from liquid to solid,” Tremblay added.

Billions of years from now, humans, or whoever replaces them, might live under a cold diamond in the sky.

CLARIFICATION: Yesterday’s Want To Know item on Venezuela was inadvertently misleading. We neglected to explain that the constitution empowers National Assembly President Juan Guaido to take over for the president in the event that the vote that elected him is deemed invalid. Guaido says that is the case, though President Nicolas Maduro, whose loyalists control the supreme court, has claimed it would be a coup d’etat. We apologize for the confusion.

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