The World Today for March 29, 2019

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The People’s Servant

Ukraine is perhaps the most unfortunate country in Europe.

Five years ago, amid a fraying economy and a political crisis that forced its former president to flee to Moscow, Russia effectively cleaved off half the country, annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and fomenting a separatist movement in the country’s east, where fighting continues to this day. The two countries’ navies recently clashed in the Sea of Azov. Russia still has Ukrainian sailors in custody from the incident.

One would think the March 31 presidential election would therefore be a somber affair. But many Ukrainians appear ready to cast their ballots for a comedian who plays a politician on television.

In the show “Servant of the People,” Volodymyr Zelensky portrayed a schoolteacher whose anti-corruption speech goes viral on YouTube, vaulting him to the highest office in the land.

Around two weeks before the election, 25 percent of voters, the biggest plurality, supported Zelensky, the New York Times reported. Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko enjoyed 17 percent support. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who helped lead the Orange Revolution in 2005 that was Ukraine’s first attempt to slough off corruption and Russian influence, was garnering 16 percent.

The result is what Bloomberg called one of the dirtiest political races ever. “The gloves are well and truly off,” the news agency wrote.

Authorities are investigating whether Poroshenko and Tymoshenko have been bribing voters. Security services reportedly bugged Zelensky’s office. Critics have also said Zelensky is a shill for Ihor Kolomoisky, a billionaire whose television station broadcasts “Servant of the People,” the Washington Times reported.

Perhaps Zelensky is drawing the ire of his rivals because the people – like so many others from Europe to North America – are fed up with career politicians. Gallup reported that only 9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in the national government, the lowest rate in the world.

Zelensky and Poroshenko will likely win sufficient votes to trigger a runoff, according to Foreign Policy. An oligarch who made his fortune in chocolate, Poroshenko is widely perceived as corrupt. But he could scare voters with predictions of collapse and the return of Russian influence in Kiev under Zelensky, whose experience on television might not suit his duties of office.

The Moscow Times noted that Zelensky sometimes appeared “overwhelmed” by his popularity.

The actor might currently not look like a guy who can square off against Russian President Vladimir Putin. But if he wins, he’ll have the power of the people on his side to do so.



Slinging Mud

The embattled government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday it has barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from holding public office for 15 years due to alleged irregularities in his financial records.

Guaido – who has already declared himself interim president claiming that Maduro’s recent re-election was a sham – dismissed the move as irrelevant and said it would not derail his campaign to oust his rival, Al Jazeera reported.

In announcing the ban, state comptroller Elvis Amoroso, a close ally of Maduro, said that Guaido has taken 90 international trips without accounting for the origin of the estimated $94,000 in expenses since he was elected to the National Assembly in 2015. He also said Guaido’s interactions with foreign governments as part of his bid to unseat Maduro are harming the country.

Saying, “We’re going to continue in the streets,” Guaido has called for fresh protests on Saturday. A blackout this week that left the country without power for days has likely stoked people’s anger, though Maduro blamed the outage on a terrorist attack.


Mercy of Convenience

Saudi Arabia granted a temporary release to three women’s rights activists imprisoned nearly a year ago Thursday, in what could be a turning point for other women’s rights activists still in detention.

The official Saudi press agency did not identify the women but the Associated Press reported that two sources had told the agency that Aziza al-Yousef, a grandmother and former professor; Eman al-Nafjan, a mother of four and linguistics professor; and a third woman, Roqaya al-Muhareb, had been granted temporary release.

The move suggests a change in the government’s view of the issue: State-linked media had excoriated al-Yousef and al-Najfan as traitors and foreign enemies in the aftermath of their arrest in May.

Backing down on the imprisonment of women’s rights activists could help Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deflect international criticism related to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

At least 10 other women activists are still behind bars on charges related to their efforts to promote women’s rights and contacts with foreign reporters, diplomats and human rights organizations.


Still Reeling

Mozambique is facing a potentially disastrous outbreak of cholera in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, the deadly storm that killed at least 468 people and affected nearly two million people in the southern African country.

After the cyclone hit the port city of Beira on March 14, thousands of people were trapped in submerged villages without access to clean water for more than a week, raising concerns about water-borne and infectious diseases, Reuters reported.

The World Health Organization has already confirmed five cases of cholera and will begin a vaccination campaign next week with 900,000 doses slated to arrive Monday.

Mozambique has had regular outbreaks of the disease over the past five years, with about 2,000 people infected during the last one, which ended in February 2018. But the massive damage to Beira’s water and sanitation infrastructure has raised concerns that an epidemic among its dense population could spiral out of control.


Clones and Canines

One of China’s top police dogs will have a new colleague in its fight against crime: its own clone.

Chinese scientists recently cloned a puppy using the DNA of an award-winning sniffer dog, the South China Morning Post reported.

Kunxun, a two-month-old female puppy, was bred using the genes of the seven-year-old female Huahuangma, known in the city of Puer for cracking multiple cases for the police.

The young Kunming wolfdog is in good health and adjusting well to her new training regimen at the Kunming Police Dog Base in Yunnan province.

The little pooch has also displayed her originator’s skills by having a strong sense of smell and remaining brave in dark or unfamiliar spaces.

Scientists believe that cloning will be a better alternative in preserving genes of unique police dogs, and hope to create a larger number of specimens in the future.

“We hope in the next 10 years, once the technology becomes more sophisticated, to mass clone exceptional police dogs,” the base’s project analyst Wan Jiusheng said.

This is not the first case of a clone canine army, however.

Back in 2007, South Korea introduced cloned dogs for police and military use, and recently Chinese researchers cloned five genetically edited monkeys to test mental illness drugs.

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