NEED TO KNOW

MEXICO

Unclean Wounds

Masked gunmen stormed a bus in northern Mexico in early March. Carrying a list of names, they abducted 19 passengers and disappeared. Mexican investigators still don’t know who the gunmen were, where they took the abductees or why they might have wanted passengers who appeared to be humble migrants heading to the US, CNN reported.

An estimated 40,000 people have fallen victim to enforced disappearances, torture, secret graves and other human rights violations in Mexico, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. Some are victims of drug cartel violence or other criminals. Some are dissidents who crossed the wrong corrupt politicians.

More than four years ago, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared in southwestern Mexico. Their whereabouts are unknown. At a memorial ceremony for them last year, students and teachers lined up 43 chairs on a stage at the school, the New York Times reported.

An estimated 2,000 unmarked graves dot the countryside, too. Some families put up posters, like those who told NPR how their 71-year-old schoolteacher father disappeared without a trace. Other desperate Mexicans, tired of waiting for corrupt officials to do their jobs, assembled into “collectives” to find their lost loved ones.

“The collectives have relied on a simple technique to locate buried bodies,” wrote Human Rights Watch. “They hammer a metal rod into the ground at a suspected grave site. When the stench of death emerges, they know they have hit their mark.”

But often, after DNA testing, the families discover they’ve dug up someone else’s loved ones. Those remains number among some 26,000 unidentified bodies.

The crisis is emotional and political, argued Bachelet, a former president of Chile who was tortured under her country’s late dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Families can’t move on because they don’t know the fate of their loved ones. Without knowing their fate, they can’t seek justice.

“Wounds that are not clean will not heal,” Bachelet said at the conclusion of a recent visit to Mexico City. “The open wounds of the past, and those that persist in the present, demand truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftist who assumed office late last year, is trying to address the issue. He’s set up a Truth and Justice Commission to investigate the Ayotzinapa students’ disappearances. And he has been critical of the security services.

“There was a time in which the main violator of human rights was the state,” Lopez Obrador said recently, according to Reuters. “That’s over.”

One can’t blame Mexicans for not believing him until they know for sure.

WANT TO KNOW

FINLAND

Bucking Trends

Social Democrat party (SDP) leader Antti Rinne declared victory in Finland’s general election, but the razor-thin margin separating the center-left SDP from the far-right Finns Party is likely to make forming a government a tough challenge.

Even so, voters bucked a trend across Europe of shunning left-center Social Democrats in favor of the right, and the election promises to be a bellwether for future ones across Europe, analysts said.

“For the first time since 1999 we are the largest party in Finland,” Rinne said, according to Reuters.

The SDP won 17.7 percent of the vote, just edging the Finns Party, which garnered 17.5 percent of the ballots in the first Finnish election in more than a century in which no party achieved a vote share of more than 20 percent, the BBC reported.

The vote gives the SDP 40 seats in the 200-seat parliament to the Finns Party’s 39, and most other parties vowed not to join a coalition involving the far-right group before the election. However, the SDP’s campaign focused on promises to undo some of the austerity measures enacted by the outgoing center-right Centre Party – which reduced government debt but alienated voters.

SUDAN

Being Civil

The military council that took over Sudan following the ouster of longtime President Omar al-Bashir said Sunday it would select a civilian prime minister and cabinet, but not a president.

In a nod to protesters that have been agitating for change since December, army spokesman Lt. Gen. Shamseldin Kibashi said in a televised address that the military would not disperse the protests that have continued outside the military headquarters since Thursday’s coup, the Associated Press reported.

However, the protest leaders are calling for an immediate handover to a transitional civilian government, a freeze on the assets of top officials in Bashir’s government and the dismissal of all top judges and prosecutors, among other tough demands.

On Sunday, the military council also replaced the heads of the army and the police and the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service and formed committees to fight corruption and investigate Bashir’s party, the BBC reported. The military council also lifted restrictions on the media and released police and security officers who had been detained for supporting the protesters.

IRAQ

Death and Rebirth

Iraqi authorities have begun the trials of around 900 more citizens suspected of being members of Islamic State, even as the nation continues to grapple with the consequences of the so-called Caliphate and the rule of Saddam Hussein years earlier.

The suspected jihadists were captured as they attempted to flee into Syria and handed over by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Agence France-Presse reported. A court official told the agency that the specialized terrorism court has begun setting dates for their trial in batches.

Iraq has already tried thousands of its citizens for fighting on behalf of Islamic State and ordered hundreds of executions – though far fewer have been carried out, AFP noted.

Meanwhile, just as Bloomberg noted that the oil-rich nation has finally begun pumping enough crude to challenge Saudi Arabia’s dominance of OPEC – a rebirth of sorts – President Barham Salih attended the unearthing of a mass grave of Kurds killed by Saddam Hussein’s security forces and United Nations teams began exhuming the bodies of Yazidis massacred by Islamic State in 2014.

DISCOVERIES

Altered States

Most people are familiar with the three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas.

Physicists, however, have studied other “exotic” phases of matter that can exist under extreme temperatures and pressure.

Recently, they discovered a state that allows atoms to exist as both solid and liquid simultaneously, National Geographic reported.

“It would be like holding a sponge filled with water that starts dripping out, except the sponge is also made of water,” said study co-author Andreas Hermann.

In their experiment, researchers subjected the metallic element potassium to extreme pressures and temperatures and used computer simulations to study the material’s new state.

Under high pressure, potassium atoms arrange themselves into an elaborate lattice structure – five cylindrical tubes organized into an X shape, with four long chains sitting in the crooks of this assembly, almost like two separate and non-intertwining materials.

The simulations revealed that these chains started disappearing once scientists cranked up the heat, pushing the soft metal into a “chain-melted state,” in which the chains liquefied, but the potassium crystals remained solid.

The experiment marked the first time scientists have shown that such a state is thermodynamically stable for any element.

Marius Millot, a physicist who was not involved in the study, said the technique might help model the behavior of other substances.

“Most of the matter in the universe is at high pressure and temperature – for instance, inside planets and stars,” he observed.