The World Today for March 08, 2019

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The Times Are A Changin’

The tiny West African country of Guinea-Bissau has been mired in political crises for years.

In 2012, the military seized power in a coup – one of many in the former Portuguese colony’s four decades of independence.

In 2014, President Jose Mario Vaz defeated a military-backed candidate to win office. But since he assumed power, Vaz has fired six prime ministers, including his main political rival, Domingos Simoes Pereira, in 2015. Meanwhile, no president of Guinea-Bissau has finished a full term in the 24 years since the country’s first multi-party elections.

Corruption and drug trafficking are rampant in the impoverished nation. With law and order inhibited, Islamic militants linked to Al Qaeda might be earning money from cocaine trafficking as the drug passes through the country on its way from Latin America to Europe and elsewhere, Bloomberg wrote.

The dismal state of affairs has prevented the United Nations from lifting sanctions on military leaders imposed after the coup, reported Agence France-Presse.

Now things might finally be changing.

After a four-month delay stemming from concerns about hurdles to registering for the ballot, voters are slated to go to the polls to elect new lawmakers on March 10.

“We are going to choose whoever is the best for everyone, so he can govern us,” an unnamed voter told euronews. “Whoever will value us. We don’t want to go through again, what we’ve already been through.”

If the elections take place without serious problems and a presidential election is held later in the year, the UN might rescind its sanctions so the country’s politics can normalize, reported Xinhua, the Chinese newswire.

“It (Guinea-Bissau) has a very high potential in natural resources, agriculture and fisheries, and it could contribute to the economy of West Africa,” wrote PassBlue, a news website that covers the UN.

The country faces a Catch-22, however. Its political and economic institutions are threadbare, issues that in turn undermine faith in the democratic process.

Students, for example, recently staged demonstrations against teacher strikes – a protest against a protest, in other words. One of their main complaints was that political candidates were spending money that could have been used to pay educators.

“They don’t care about us,” said Carlos Badilé, a high school student, in an interview with Agence France-Presse. “All they think about is campaign. Look at all these big cars, these banners deployed all over the country. Don’t you think that the money spent could have taken care of the teachers’ demands?”

One hopes those big cars and banners help elect well-meaning, competent leaders. Time will tell.



Runaway Outbreak

A deadly outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo shows no signs of slowing, despite the promising antiviral drugs and a vaccine that were not widely available in past epidemics.

Following 907 cases and 569 deaths linked to the disease near the country’s borders with Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda, fears are rising that the epidemic could easily spread to those countries, the New York Times reported.

And those trying to help are a big part of the problem, the paper said, as heavy-handed tactics by the police, military and other organizations have alienated the local people, making them less likely to heed warnings about how the disease is spread.

“The existing atmosphere can only be described as toxic,” Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said at a news conference in Geneva on Thursday.

The result has been more than 30 different incidents and attacks on workers and facilities responding to the outbreak in the last month alone, she said.


Melting Wings

Thailand’s Constitutional Court dissolved the Thai Raksa Chart Party (Thai Save The Nation, or TSN) that sought to nominate the elder sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn as its election candidate.

The court ruled Thursday that the party’s decision to nominate Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi made it “hostile to the monarchy institution” and banned the party’s executive members from politics for 10 years, even though the party had already withdrawn the nomination, CNN reported.

The move will come as a blow to the pro-democracy movement associated with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as his Pheu Thai party was counting on smaller allies like Thai Raksa Chart to win seats under new rules that disadvantage larger players.

Moreover, because the deadline to register has now passed, the candidates who’d been planning to contest for Thai Raksa Chart in 174 of 375 constituencies around the country won’t be able to run on another ticket.

It would have been unprecedented in Thailand for a close relative of the king to contest an election – and allied with Thaksin against the military junta, to boot.


Guilty Verdict

A Belgian court on Thursday convicted Mehdi Nemmouche of “terrorist murder” for the killings of four people at Brussels’ Jewish Museum in 2014, providing closure of a sort in the first European attack carried out by a militant returning from Syria.

The 33-year-old was found guilty of committing “four terrorist murders” in the shooting, which transpired in less than 90 seconds, Deutsche Welle reported. The court also found Nacer Bendrer, his accomplice, guilty of supplying the revolver and assault rifle used in the attack.

In a controversial strategy that the European Jewish Congress decried as reprehensible, Nemmouche’s legal team argued that he had been misled by a false flag operation orchestrated by the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad.

The verdict comes as a reminder of Europe’s struggle to deal with returning militants who joined the Islamic State, given the difficulty of identifying and prosecuting them, as well as questions surrounding whether or not to strip them of citizenship.


Rewinding the Clock

Scientists and energy companies are trying to control the amount of carbon dioxide in the air through carbon sequestration – removing the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, converting it to liquid, and locking it away underground.

There is strong public opposition in many countries to this method, which is expensive and some say very risky because of potential leaks.

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, however, have found a way to turn the gas into coal, Forbes reported.

In a recent study, the team electrically charged a vessel holding CO2 and a cerium-containing liquid metal catalyst, which solidified the gas into small flakes of coal. The flakes would then detach themselves from the catalyst, allowing more coal to be formed.

“To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable,” co-author Torben Daeneke said.

Daeneke called the new method “efficient and scalable” since it can be conducted at room temperature, but more research is needed, he said.

“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” he added.

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