The World Today for January 31, 2019

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Lethal Rhetoric

Americans think polarization in Washington is bad. Poland is a close competitor.

On Jan. 13, a deranged man fatally stabbed Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz onstage during a public charity event, the Associated Press reported. The suspect, who was arrested, was an ex-convict who sought revenge against the Civic Platform, an opposition party that he blamed for his imprisonment.

Adamowicz was formerly a member of the Civic Platform before being re-elected as an independent last year. He advocated for progressive causes, including tolerance for the LGBTQ and minority communities. He entered politics in the late 1980s as a student organizer for the anti-communist freedom fighter Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Movement.

His death reflected the increasingly heated political atmosphere in Poland ahead of European and local parliamentary elections in May and November, respectively, wrote the Associated Press. Both sides of the political spectrum are surely escalating temperatures. But some observers believe one side is hotter than the other.

“What the terrified thousands who witnessed the stabbing, and the many thousands who turned out for Mayor Pawel Adamowicz’s funeral on Saturday experienced, was not simply the act of a crazed lone wolf,” the New York Times wrote in an editorial. “It was a consequence of the hatred and malice that have spread through Poland under the ultraconservative, nationalist and increasingly authoritarian Law and Justice Party.”

Critics say that since Law and Justice assumed power in 2015, party leaders have compromised the independence of the courts, purged military officers and civil servants who might oppose their agenda to promote traditional Catholic values, undercut freedom of the press, stoked fears of immigration and sought to reduce the power of the European Union in the country.

Poles in cosmopolitan cities like Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk dislike Law and Justice. But the party’s base in the countryside is unwavering. As a result, opinion polls predict that Law and Justice will receive 40 percent of the vote, while Civic Platform will receive 22 percent, the second-highest amount, in the upcoming EU elections in May.

Civic Platform will find little common ground upon which to build a majority coalition with other opposition parties. “What unites them is their belief that the [Law and Justice] government has been destructive for the country,” said Euractiv, a European news outlet. “What divides them is everything else.”

There are other reasons Law and Justice is winning, argued the New Republic. Polish economic growth stands at 4.6 percent. Voters also appreciate how, in the age of Brexit chaos in Britain, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has not fulfilled his most anti-EU pledges, suggesting he might be using the bloc to score political points rhetorically while technically doing little to jeopardize billions in development aid.

Perhaps that’s true. But, as Adamowicz discovered, rhetoric has consequences.



The Heat Is On

Venezuelans from all walks of life took to the streets of Caracas Wednesday to call for President Nicolas Maduro to step down, even as international pressure mounts on the controversial leader blamed for the country’s economic collapse.

Protesters told the Associated Press they’d turned out in answer to the opposition’s call for further mass demonstrations despite the government’s strict crackdown in reaction to similar protests on Jan. 23.

“We have a lot more faith that this government has very little time left,” said Sobeia Gonzalez, 63.

The demonstrations come as opposition leader and National Assembly President Juan Guaido – who has also declared himself interim president saying Maduro’s re-election was invalid – wrote in an editorial that he has been meeting secretly with the military and security forces to negotiate Maduro’s ouster, Reuters said.

At the same time, while the US on Monday unveiled new sanctions targeting the state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, Russia, China and Turkey continue to back Maduro, and a Russian jet reportedly landed in Caracas to spirit away some $840 million in gold.


Backing Bashir

Sudan’s army issued a statement Wednesday vowing to support President Omar al-Bashir despite weeks of protests demanding an end to his 30-year-rule.

“The armed forces will not allow the Sudanese state to fall or to slide into the unknown,” said General Kamal Abdul Maarouf, chief of staff of the armed forces, according to Reuters.

Earlier this month, Bashir said he would only step down to make way for an army officer or in the event he is voted out of office.

Meanwhile, the government’s security forces briefly detained the daughter of Sudanese opposition leader Sadeq al-Mahdi early Wednesday after releasing 186 protesters from detention the day before, Al Jazeera reported.

Protests have raged across Sudan since Dec. 19 when the government decided to triple the price of bread and quickly morphed into calls for Bashir’s ouster.

As many as 40 people have died due to protest-related violence and more than 1,000 people have been arrested in the associated crackdown, rights groups say.


Vibrant Democracy

Amid battles to re-establish democracy elsewhere, India’s massive, colorful national elections are gathering steam.

The newly rejuvenated opposition Congress Party has worried big business (and most likely Bharatiya Janata Party Prime Minister Narendra Modi) by promising to introduce a minimum income guarantee for the poor if it gains power in elections due before May, Reuters reported.

Hinting at other cracks in Modi’s foundation, the acting chairman of the government body that tracks unemployment and other economic data resigned Wednesday over delays in releasing jobs numbers and concerns about pressure to manipulate backdated gross domestic product figures, the agency said separately. (The BJP and Congress have sparred over the growth rates under Modi and his Congress predecessor Manmohan Singh since Modi’s government rejigged the way India calculates GDP).

And away from arcane economic arguments, a top Hindu priest vowed to lead a throng of followers to begin building a long-desired temple at the purported birthplace of the Hindu god Ram on Feb. 21 – raising the specter of the Hindu nationalist mob that destroyed the 16th Century Babri mosque at the same site in 1992, beginning the rise of the BJP.


The Mysterious Snake

Scientists recently identified a new snake species that was discovered in the stomach of a Central American coral snake.

In a study published in the Journal of Herpetology, researchers said the reptile belonged not only to a new species but also a new genus – the broader rubric that contains individual species.

They amusingly named it Cenaspis aenigma – Latin for “mysterious dinner snake,” Newsweek reported.

The research team noted that the reptile had a distinct skull, set of scales and reproductive organs that set it apart from other snakes in its family.

Study co-author Jonathan Campbell said that most snake species were discovered decades ago and that it’s extremely rare to find one from a new genus.

“Also, to find one that happened to be consumed by another snake is a bit remarkable,” he added.

The newly named “dinner snake” was first discovered in the jungles of southern Mexico in 1976. Campbell speculates that it lived off spiders and insects, but the team needs a live specimen to be sure. Herpetologists have been unsuccessful in finding one so far.

Campbell suspects the snakes have a tendency to burrow, but it’s possible they are slithering in coral snakes’ tummies.

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