The World Today for May 29, 2019

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Toilets, Hoes and Hammer

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a disruptor in his first five years in office.

He divided Indians, alienating religious minorities especially with his appeals to Hindu nationalism, even though technically his government is secular. He stirred controversy with bold policies, like banning certain denominations of paper currency to crack down on crime, corruption and tax evasion. Critics said he was dangerous when he deployed military planes into Pakistani territory, bringing two nuclear powers to the brink of war. They also said the country’s economy had slid, even though Modi billed himself a pro-business leader.

Perhaps, then, it was no surprise that the opposition Congress Party built up a head of steam in the run-up to parliamentary elections that ended this month. Modi’s rivals were confident on the campaign trail.

But they made a mistake. Last week, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won by a landslide. “Hindu Nationalism Just Won Another Crushing Election Victory in India” was the headline in BuzzFeed.

More than 600 million people voted in the six-week-long elections, the largest democratic exercise in the world, the BBC reported. The BJP won 303 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, increasing its share by more than 11 percent. The Congress Party won only 52 seats. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi even lost his family’s historical constituency in Uttar Pradesh, though he won a place in parliament from another constituency in Kerala.

Modi made the election into a mandate on his vision for India. But he painted his win as a victory for the common person, the New York Times wrote.

“This is the victory of the mother who was longing for a toilet,” he said in a New Delhi rally. “This victory is of the farmers who sweat to fill the stomachs of others. This is the victory of the 400 million unorganized laborers.”

The Congress Party had dominated Indian politics for more than 70 years. Some experts believe that era has come to an end.

“We are in an era where you have, once more, a central gravitational force around which Indian politics revolves,” Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Guardian. “I think 2019 will confirm that the BJP has replaced the Congress as that.”

Modi represents change that makes a lot of Indians nervous. But the majority is more accepting.



A Slow Simmer

Serbia put its troops on full alert Tuesday after a police raid in Serbian-dominated northern Kosovo.

The Kosovo police said the operation was part of a crackdown on organized crime. But Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic alleged that the heavy-handed tactics – which featured Kosovo police firing “live ammunition” over the heads of unarmed Serbs, he claimed – were intended to intimidate minority Serbs in Kosovo, whose population mostly comprises ethnic Albanians, the Associated Press reported.

Relations remain frayed between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO intervened to end the so-called Kosovo War between ethnic Serbs and Albanians. Because 90 percent of the population of northern Kosovo comprises ethnic Serbs who would prefer to be part of Serbia, which still has not recognized Kosovo’s independence, tensions flare anytime Kosovo police conduct operations there, AP explained.

An actual Serbian invasion is unlikely, however, as it would put the Serbs in direct conflict with NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo.


Sea of Green

A sea of green filled the streets outside the National Congress in Buenos Aires on Tuesday as abortion-rights activists held aloft the green handkerchiefs that have come to symbolize the growing movement.

Inside the building, the lower house presented a bill to legalize abortion less than a year after the Senate rejected similar legislation, Reuters reported.

The new bill is essentially the same as the one defeated last year, seeking to decriminalize abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy. It was put forward by 15 lawmakers from a range of parties, including President Mauricio Macri’s ruling center-right Cambiemos coalition and left-wing opposition parties, Agence France-Presse reported.

Currently, Argentine law only permits abortions in cases of rape, or if the mother’s health is at risk. But the country also sees at least 350,000 illegal abortions every year, according to Ministry of Health estimates.

The timing of the bill’s introduction makes it a possible lever in the upcoming elections in October, where a third of Senate seats and half of those in the lower house are up for grabs.


Strike One

Israeli lawmakers took the first step toward dissolving parliament and triggering fresh elections this week, voting 66-44 to wipe the slate clean and hold new polls on Sept. 17. But it will take two more votes to finalize the move: Analysts suggest the first one may have been a maneuver orchestrated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring his fractious coalition to heel.

Netanyahu’s Likud party submitted the bill to dissolve the parliament, as it faces a Wednesday deadline to form the government, the Wall Street Journal reported. But analysts still predict the most likely outcome is another Netanyahu-led government.

Together with his allies, Netanyahu is one seat short of the 61 he needs for a majority in the Knesset. But he’s wrangling with former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose secular Yisrael Beiteinu party has five seats, over his demand for a bill that would force ultraorthodox men to serve in the military, which Netanyahu’s ultraorthodox allies want to see watered down.

Meanwhile, the opposition Blue and White party, with 35 seats, has offered to form a coalition government with Likud – as long as Netanyahu is not its prime minister.


Beer – or Bodies

Archaeologists have discovered 15 new sites in Laos containing over 100 giant stone jars from around 1,000 years ago, Live Science reported.

Previous researchers found similar jars in the Southeast Asian country, but the massive vessels’ origins and purpose remain unknown.

Historians have theorized that the mysterious people who made the jars used them for funerary purposes, since human burials have been found at some of the sites.

The new finds were made by a team of scholars from Laos and Australia in a tiger-infested region known as the Xiangkhoang Plateau. They show that the inhabitants were geographically more widespread than previously thought and even transported the heavy artifacts.

“It’s apparent the jars, some weighing several tons, were carved in quarries, and somehow transported, often several kilometers to their present locations,” said Dougald O’Reilly, one of the team’s leaders. “But why these sites were chosen as the final resting place for the jars is still a mystery.”

Archaeologists also found carved disks that might have served as burial markers, as well as other artifacts, such as miniature versions of the jars.

More research is needed to pinpoint the function of the megaliths. Local legends claim that giants used the jars to brew rice beer for celebrating victory after a war.

But archaeologists think that at least some of the jars were used to hold dead bodies for a time until their bones were buried.

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