The World Today for January 28, 2019

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A Child Left Behind

In the opening of the 2018 Lebanese film “Capernaum,” a little boy who lives in a slum sues his parents for neglect. As the Vulture review explained, he and an Ethiopian immigrant bravely try to create a new makeshift family. Cue the heartbreak.

Nominated for an Oscar, the film unfortunately mirrors many of the travails in the tiny, cosmopolitan country on the Mediterranean Sea.

Last year, rubbish piled up on the streets after the government closed a massive landfill without first arranging an alternative. Today, the situation has not improved much. Economic stagnation and corruption have led to daily protests.

“There are just no openings, no jobs,” Take Zeenat, an unemployed young woman, told Deutsche Welle. “We do not even have the money to live on.”

In fact, the death of an ill 3-year-old boy of Palestinian origin in December has become a symbol of the rot in the country. He might have lived if Lebanese hospitals hadn’t delayed admitting him to an intensive care unit. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency would have paid for his care. Either the hospitals were discriminating or they didn’t have space in their ICU wards for a child.

The boy’s plight reflects how refugees in Lebanon – a million from Syria alone – are straining the country’s resources.

Al Jazeera wrote about the town of Arsal, where refugees are isolated after Lebanese troops and Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed political party and military force that the US considers to be a terrorist group, kicked the Islamic State out of the region. Here, tents flooded or collapsed as winter storms battered the camp. Military checkpoints keep aid workers from gaining access.

If not for a $500 million bailout from Qatar, Lebanon might have descended further into crisis, reported Bloomberg. That move is seen as political as well as humanitarian: Saudi Arabia withheld $3 billion in aid to Lebanon in 2016 over disputes related to Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese politics. Qatar has friendly relations with Iran. Now Saudi Arabian leaders, who oppose Iran and have spearheaded an economic blockage of Qatar, are pledging to renew their support, CNBC explained.

Lebanon’s struggles have big implications. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil explained why. The country emerged from 15 years of civil war in the early 1990s with a government structure that is inclusive of Muslims, Christians and people of other religious affiliations, Bassil told the state-owned National News Agency. The world would be lucky if Syria went the same way, he suggested.

But a roadmap that leaves children behind is one nobody wants to follow.



A Deadline Looms

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido are vying for the support of the military after the US and Europe ratcheted up the pressure on Maduro to step down.

On Sunday, supporters of Guaido distributed leaflets to soldiers explaining a planned law that would offer amnesty for helping to oust Maduro from office, while the beleaguered president appeared on television flanked by his top generals and addressed the troops directly, the Associated Press reported.

As president of the National Assembly, Guaido has cited his constitutional right to replace Maduro because of the widespread contention that his re-election was invalid. But the support of the military will likely be essential to his success.

Maduro blasted Guaido’s efforts as an “imperialist” coup orchestrated in Washington. But he backed off from his demand that all US diplomats exit the country, as US National Security Adviser John Bolton warned of “a significant response” to any violence or intimidation directed at US staff or Guaido himself.

Meanwhile, Germany, France and Spain said Saturday they’re prepared to recognize Guaido as interim president if Maduro doesn’t announce elections within eight days.


Progress at Last?

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul Sunday to try to win the backing of the Afghan government for a tentative roadmap to peace worked out between Washington and the Taliban in Qatar.

Khalilzad and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as top Taliban officials, hailed the latest six-day talks as making significant strides toward peace, Reuters reported. But Khalilzad must now convince Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whom the Taliban insisted be excluded from the negotiations.

The Taliban refuted media reports that a ceasefire agreement had been reached and said, “Until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress in other issues is impossible,” CNN reported.

However, Taliban officials told Reuters the draft pact maps out an 18-month timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops in exchange for assurances that the Taliban won’t allow Afghanistan to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State to attack the US and its allies. Pakistan received similar assurances.


No Foreign Meddling

Nigeria has rejected “foreign meddling” in its affairs, after the US and other world powers expressed concerns over President Muhammadu Buhari’s move to suspend the country’s chief justice in the lead-up to the presidential election on Feb. 16.

Buhari, who is seeking a second term, suspended Chief Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen Friday over accusations that he violated the country’s asset-disclosure rules, Reuters reported. The US, European Union and Britain all expressed worries about the timing of the decision, as in the past Nigerian polls have been marred by violence and vote rigging.

With Onnoghen’s suspension, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, sworn in as his interim replacement, would rule on any legal challenge to the results, CNN reported.

The main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) suspended campaigning for 72 hours in protest, and the president of the Nigerian Senate blasted the move as a “coup against democracy.”

For its part, Buhari’s government said it would ensure free and fair elections. “This government will not bend the rules, and will not allow meddling in our affairs,” read a statement from Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu.


Calamity Versus Opportunity

Scientists foresee climate change causing calamity. South Korean farmers see a business opportunity.

Banana farmers in South Korea are expecting a good harvest around February and March after “planting went smoothly” last year, local media reported, according to the BBC.

Bananas mainly grow on the subtropical Jeju Island off the southern coast. But warming temperatures have facilitated their growth in southern regions of the mainland.

Banana flowers appeared in the southeast town of Heunghae in November, while Haenam County authorities in the southwest are trying to grow mangoes and coffee crops.

South Korea’s Rural Development Department predicts that subtropical areas of the country will increase from about 10 percent in 2020 to 26 percent in 2060 and more than 62 percent in 2080, reported Korean daily Kyunghyang Shinmun.

Authorities believe the changing climate will help farmers boost their income by selling crops other than rice. The farmers, meanwhile, are telling customers that bananas have a higher sugar content and greater yield.

“We expect 50 kilograms of fruit from each tree, as opposed to usual the 30-35 kilogram average,” an unnamed farmer told local reporters.

Farmers might rejoice but not everyone is excited at the prospect of a subtropical Korea.

“Not sure this is awesome or terrifying,” tweeted blogger TK of Ask a Korean.

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