The World Today for March 25, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

ALGERIA

Has Spring Arrived?

Call them hooligans. Call them activists. Either way, young soccer fans are raising their voices and calling for change in Algeria.

“A marginalized class will always find a way to carve out its own territory and, in Algeria, that space exists in football stadiums,” wrote the Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper.

Earlier this month, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an 82-year-old who suffered a debilitating stroke six years ago, was undergoing treatment in a Swiss hospital. Yet he intended to seek a fifth term to extend his 20-year rule when voters were slated to go to the polls to elect their head of state in April.

Algerians who have lived under Bouteflika have suffered as the price of oil has dropped, tanking the North African country’s economy. Youth unemployment especially is high. His decision to stand for an office he is clearly too frail to occupy renewed the spark that created the Arab Spring, a series of popular uprisings that rocked the region in 2011, the leftwing newsmagazine Counterpunch explained.

Protests erupted. Remarkably, Bouteflika announced that he would drop his candidacy, Al Jazeera wrote. But he also indefinitely delayed presidential elections, a move that appeared designed to shut people up without delivering change. It had the opposite effect.

The protesters began chanting as if they were in a soccer stadium: “Either you leave or we’re going to leave” and “No fifth mandate for you, Bouteflika.”

Algeria is now in a political limbo that Bloomberg warned could be potentially dangerous because no one is stepping up to become the country’s leader. Without a leader to channel the demands of the crowds, the street’s demands are likely to grow more extreme. In that environment, the Algerian military might react with a violent crackdown that could lead to civil war. Or other forces, like militant Islamists, might step into the vacuum. The former occurred in Syria. The latter occurred in Egypt. Both occurred in Algeria in the 1990s.

Bouteflika’s political party, the National Liberation Front, isn’t helping. Interim party leader Moab Bouchareb recently told party honchos that the party supported the protesters, the Associated Press reported. But on the same day, Reuters wrote, he also told local television that the party “values the decisions” of the president.

The country is at an impasse, wrote Abdelkader Cheref, a US-based Algerian scholar, in an op-ed in the National, a Gulf newspaper. Cheref suggested that the army, an institution that wields enormous power, help the country transition to a full-fledged democracy.

The protesters might or might not accept that proposal. Either way, they want real progress soon.

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

A Little Help

Two Russian military planes landed in Venezuela on Saturday loaded with dozens of soldiers and a large amount of equipment to “fulfill technical military contracts,” according to Russia’s Sputnik news agency.

A Venezuelan journalist said via Twitter that he estimated around 100 soldiers and 35 tons of equipment were unloaded from the two planes, the BBC reported.

The influx of support from Venezuela’s long-standing ally comes as the US, Europe and other Latin American nations are pressuring Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down, and the beleaguered president has repeatedly suggested that Washington is attempting to orchestrate a coup to replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido.

As the US has taken a more forceful line against Maduro, Moscow’s relationship with his government has deepened, the BBC said, suggesting Russia might see a similar opportunity in Venezuela to the one it has exploited in Syria by supporting President Bashar al Assad.

THAILAND

Military Time

Without providing a reason, Thailand’s Election Commission delayed the planned announcement of the unofficial results of the country’s first election since the 2014 coup until Monday afternoon.

But with 93 percent of the ballots counted, it appeared that junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha’s Palang Pracharat would likely win enough seats for him to continue as prime minister, Reuters reported.

At that point, the Election Commission had Palang Pracharat leading the race with 7.69 million votes to 7.23 million votes for Pheu Thai, a party linked to the self-exiled ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Those popular vote numbers could still allow Pheu Thai to win more parliamentary seats than Palang Pracharat but lose the election: That’s because the large number of “party seats” – a category that favors small parties – stacks the deck for the military-backed Palang Pracharat.

Critics say the new junta-designed electoral system means Palang Pracharat and its allies have to win only 126 seats to take over the 500-seat House of Representatives, while Pheu Thai and its potential “democratic front” partners would need 376.

MALI

‘Barbarity of Another Age’

Gunmen costumed as traditional hunters killed at least 134 people and injured 55 others in an attack on a village in central Mali on Saturday.

The Malian government vowed “to hunt down the perpetrators of this barbarity of another age and to punish them,” CNN reported.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack on the village of Ogossagou in the Mopti region. But the region’s Fulani ethnic community is frequently targeted, and accused of having ties to jihadist organizations in the area, according to the United Nations.

A day after the incident, Mali’s government announced it was disbanding the Dan Na Ambassagou self-defense group composed of members of the Dogon ethnic group, though it made no direct connection between the Dogon group and the attack.

Violence appears to be intensifying in central Mali and particularly in the Mopti region, where ethnic strife is taking a toll on women and children, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“Since 2017, rising insecurity has led to an increase in the killing, maiming and recruitment of children. Gender-based violence is on the rise,” Fore said.

DISCOVERIES

Cold Cases, Warming

Jack the Ripper terrorized the streets of London during the late 19th century, killing at least five women.

He was never caught, and forensic science at the time was still developing.

In a new study, however, British scientists claim that the infamous Ripper might have been one of the original suspects all along, CBS News reported.

The study’s authors said their analysis pointed to Aaron Kosminski, a 23-year-old barber and one of the prime suspects at the time.

The scientists extracted DNA from blood and semen stains on a shawl said to have been found next to one of the victims, Catherine Eddowes. They compared the DNA from the shawl with samples from descendants of Kosminski and Eddowes, and found a close match to a relative of Kosminski’s.

Critics, however, remain unconvinced, questioning the validity of the type of DNA comparison used and the history of the shawl itself.

“There’s no evidence that a shawl was connected with Catherine Eddowes’ murder anyway,” history author Paul Begg, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science. “Effectively, the provenance of the shawl is extremely bad.”

During the original investigations, Police Sgt. Amos Simpson reportedly took the shawl from the crime scene and passed it down to his descendants – meaning multiple opportunities for contamination of the evidence.

It’s likely the case stays cold. But forensics is still developing…

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