The World Today for March 20, 2019

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An Act of Courage

Comoros President Azali Assoumani was recently targeted for assassination as he campaigned ahead of his east African archipelago nation’s March 24 presidential election.

“People left explosives at the top of a mountain to cause an avalanche when it exploded,” campaign director Houmed Msaidie told Agence-France Presse. “The president’s car stopped in time.”

Opposition leaders question that account but the context for the claim explains why killers might have targeted Assoumani.

Political tensions have been rising in the Indian Ocean country since July, when a controversial referendum extended presidential term limits and altered a system where the presidency rotates among the country’s three main islands – altering the period between power transfers to every 10 years instead of five, explained Bloomberg.

Assoumani ruled Comoros from 1999 to 2006, first after leading a military coup and then as an elected president. He won election to the presidency again in 2016 for a term that was set to end in 2021. But under the new rules, he could remain in office through 2029 if he wins re-election.

The July referendum faced fierce opposition, Voice of America reported.

Folks staged protests, clashing with security forces. On the island of Anjouan, which under the old system was slated to nominate a new president in 2021, a brief insurrection flared up.

Assoumani put the insurgency down, then issued an arrest warrant for ex-Vice President Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, a critic of the referendum, for “plotting against the authority of the state.” Hassani was last seen in Tanzania, according to Reuters.

Comoros-watchers sounded alarm bells. After years of stability following the end of military rule, authoritarianism in Comoros was resurgent, wrote the Council on Foreign Relations in a blog post.

In the words of community activist Nadia Tourqui, cited by an op-ed writer in South Africa’s Independent Online, “An atmosphere of terror exists. Comorians are distressed to fall back into the throes of a dictatorship, they feel isolated without any means of protest or recourse.”

But Assoumani’s power grab wasn’t over.

Last month, further cementing the president’s control, the country’s Supreme Court banned the country’s two main opposition leaders from running against the incumbent. “Under the current situation, even if one of our candidates gets 90 percent of the vote, Azali will win,” Mohamed Ali Soilihi, leader of a banned coalition of parties, told Agence-France Presse.

African leaders in Cameroon, Rwanda and Uganda have similarly grabbed power and cracked down on opponents.

Yet Comorians are still preparing to vote. Assoumani faces 11 challengers who are calling for credible, transparent elections. Casting a ballot for one of them could be interpreted as an act of courage.



Remote Control

A German court ruled Tuesday that Germany bears some responsibility in ensuring that American drones operating via Ramstein military base on German territory comply with international law, but rejected a request for a general ban on the use of the base for unmanned drone missions.

The Münster Higher Administrative Court ruled that the German government must take “appropriate measures” to ascertain if these US drone strikes are in line with international law, reported Deutsche Welle.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights lodged the case on behalf of a family from the Hadramawt region of eastern Yemen, who alleged that Germany was partially responsible for a 2012 US drone strike that killed two of their relatives.

Though the strikes targeted members of al Qaeda, the issue in question is whether the targets served a “continuous combat function,” the legal threshold set to prevent civilians associated with militant groups but not fighting with them from being killed.


Déjà Vu

US-Russian talks on resolving the political crisis in Venezuela ended Tuesday without making headway on the fate of President Nicolas Maduro.

With Moscow insisting that Maduro is Venezuela’s only legitimate leader and Washington seeking to replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, there’s an eerie sense of déjà vu to the discussions recalling US-Russia sparring over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” said US special representative Elliot Abrams, according to Reuters.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reportedly warned the US not to intervene militarily, according to Russia’s RIA news agency.

Nevertheless, Abrams said the negotiations were productive and noted that both sides agreed “on the depth of the crisis.”

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature said Tuesday that members of the armed forces who abandon Maduro to facilitate his ouster will keep their rank and be reinstated once a new government is in place, Channel News Asia reported.


Bidding Adieu

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has led the country since shortly before it gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, abruptly announced his resignation Tuesday.

Calling it a “difficult” decision, the 78-year-old Nazarbayev did not give a specific reason for resigning in his televised address to the country, the Associated Press reported. But his sudden departure is bound to cause some tremors in the Central Asian country.

“As the founder of the independent state of Kazakhstan, I see my future task in ensuring the ascent to power of a new generation of leaders, who will continue reforms,” Nazarbayev said. He will remain chairman of the nation’s Security Council and the head of the ruling Nur Otan party.

In line with the country’s constitution, upper house speaker Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will become interim head of state until an election can be held. Tokayev is a former prime minister and foreign minister who also served as director-general of the United Nations office in Geneva between 2011 and 2013.


Forgetting to Remember to Forget

People want to forget bad times but the act of forgetting something is not as simple as just not thinking about it.

Instead, individuals need to put a “moderate level” of brain activity into forgetting past events, Science Alert reported.

Researchers in a new study monitored the brain activity of 24 young adults who were shown pictures of scenes and people’s faces, each with an instruction to remember or to forget.

The team observed that a part of the brain that handles visual stimuli worked harder when participants were trying to forget images than when trying to remember them.

“Pictures followed by a forget instruction elicited higher levels of processing in (the) ventral temporal cortex compared to those followed by a remember instruction,” the authors wrote.

Lead researcher Tracy Wang explained that to properly cancel old memories, people need to put some work into it – but not too much.

“Too strong, and it will strengthen the memory; too weak, and you won’t modify it,” she said.

The experiment could lead to more research in areas like helping victims of trauma to suppress memories that trigger harmful behaviors.

It also helps understand why Elvis Presley had a hard time forgetting the girl in “I forgot to remember to forget.

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