June 11, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

SYRIA

Set in Stone

New statues of the Assad family are going up around Syria.

Rebels tore them down when the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime began in 2011. Now, with the help of Russia and Iran, Assad has largely defeated the insurgency. The sculptures are there to remind Syrians exactly who is in charge.

“The message is very straightforward,” Steven Heydemann, a Syria expert at Smith College, told the Atlantic: “We are back.”

Not everywhere, though. Rebels (including jihadists) still control Idlib, a province in northwestern Syria. How long they can hold out against a massive government assault is a big question that highlights why the rebels sought to oust Assad in the first place. One of the world’s most horrific humanitarian crises is occurring in Idlib today, argued Siobhán Walsh of the aid agency Goal in the Irish Times.

Syrian and Russian warplanes have been pulverizing residential neighborhoods, market districts, agricultural fields and infrastructure to “break the will” of Idlib, the Associated Press reported. At least 300 people have died since April, Al Jazeera wrote. The violence has displaced around 270,000 people. Twenty-four hospitals and clinics and 35 schools have been destroyed.

CNN described how rescue workers in Idlib have become adept at digging through ruined buildings, finding children and quickly determining whether they have a good chance of resuscitating them or should lay them aside so they might focus on others who might live.

“Do you remember what happened?” a medic asked 12-year-old Nour Faham, who had been pulled from the rubble of a bombed building.

“I thought I was dreaming,” the boy responded.

His 9-year-old brother, Zain, didn’t make it.

The Turkish military is also involved, supporting rebels who might today fight against Syria but later turn their guns against the jihadists who are now their allies, France 24 explained. Turkish officials want Syria and Russia to abate their attacks to forestall more refugees seeking safety to the north in Turkey, Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the Associated Press reported. Around 3.6 million Syrian refugees have already fled into Turkey.

Writing in the National’s opinion section, journalist Kareem Shaheen called on world leaders to establish a war crimes tribunal like those convened in Nuremberg, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to make Assad and others answer for their crimes.

But Russia might kill that idea – it did before. The Kremlin has stifled efforts at the United Nations Security Council to sound alarms about the suffering in Idlib, for example.

A century from now, Syrian children might look up at a statue of Bashar al-Assad and wonder who he really was. Or those spots might have new statues – to those who suffered and died in the civil war that broke out under him.

WANT TO KNOW

CANADA

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau aims to ban single-use plastics nationwide as early as 2021.

The ban could affect products like plastic bags, drinking straws and cutlery, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

“We need to cover all of Canada with this decision and that’s why the federal government is moving forward on a science-based approach to establishing which harmful single-use plastics we will be eliminating as of 2021,” Trudeau said Monday.

The CBC reported an unnamed source as saying the ban would likely hit fast food containers and cups made from expanded polystyrene as well as cotton swabs, drink stirrers, plates and balloon sticks.

Trudeau said his government would follow the model adopted by the European Union, which has banned single-use plastics where practical alternatives exist. He also said Canada would make companies that manufacture or sell plastic products responsible for recycling their plastic waste.

Trudeau’s Conservative critics said the ban was announced without attention to the effect it might have on the economy.

MALI

An Eye for an Eye

Unknown assailants slaughtered at least 95 people in a village in central Mali on Monday, marking a possible escalation of an ethnic conflict that has been energized by Islamist extremists.

Nineteen people remained missing after the attack on the ethnic Dogon village of Sobame Da around 3 a.m. Monday, Interior Security Ministry spokesman Amadou Sangho told the Associated Press.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far. But tensions between the Dogon and Peuhl ethnicities have been running high since a Dogon militia was blamed for an earlier massacre of a Peuhl village that killed at least 157 people in March, the agency noted. Following that incident, some Peuhl leaders had vowed they would get revenge.

Mali has long battled Islamist extremism in its northern region, prompting a French-led military intervention in 2012. But now the extremists are influencing communities in the south – with the Dogon accusing the Peuhl of conspiring with Islamic State to attack them and the Peuhl accusing the Dogon of collaborating with the country’s military.

BRITAIN

10 for 10

Ten prominent Conservatives were nominated on Monday to succeed British Prime Minister Theresa May in 10 Downing Street.

At the top of the list was Brexit campaigner and former foreign minister Boris Johnson, Reuters reported. The most likely nominees also included present foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, environment minister Michael Gove, former Brexit minister Dominic Raab, health minister Matt Hancock and interior minister Sajid Javid.

Other candidates include international development minister Rory Stewart, former minister Esther McVey, former leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom and Conservative legislator Mark Harper.

Conservative members of Parliament will begin the first round of voting on Thursday to narrow the field down to two candidates, after which the new party leader and prime minister will be selected through a vote by all party members.

Johnson, the most likely winner, has taken a tough stance on the Brexit talks, insisting he’s not concerned about leaving the EU without a deal and saying he would not tolerate further delays, Yahoo News reported.

DISCOVERIES

Scent Intelligence

On June 12, Brazilians will celebrate their own version of Valentine’s Day, known as “Dia dos Namorados.”

Perfumes are often one of the gifts couples exchange. This year, New York-based fragrance manufacturer Symrise has something special for millennial couples, Deutsche Welle reported.

For the first time, young couples will experience a perfume created entirely by a computer program.

Philyra, an artificial intelligence program developed in a cooperation between Symrise and IBM Research, has created its own unique fragrance, using the power of data.

The developers equipped Philyra with information on almost 1.7 million perfumes and trained her – they see the program as female – to determine which scent is popular among different demographics.

“Between all these creations, she finds space – possibilities that no one has yet exhausted,” explained perfumer David Apel of Symrise.

Perfumers can now simply press a button to come up with a new perfume, which Apel believes will help professionals refine their formulas.

“I get the chance to see perfume formulas that I would never have thought of myself,” he told the news agency.

Despite the prospect of losing his job to a program, he sees the development as a collaboration between man and machine.

“I trained her and now she’s training me,” he said.