July 11, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

UNITED KINGDOM

Frenzy and Fatigue

Members of the Conservative Party are voting to decide who next becomes prime minister of Britain. The next prime minister, in turn, is almost certainly going to preside over Brexit, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. Already postponed for six months, Brexit is now scheduled to take place at the end of October.

The Conservative Party poll is slated to end July 23. The race is between ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who helped convince a majority of voters to support Brexit three years ago, and Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary under the much-maligned departing Prime Minister Theresa May, the BBC explained.

With his mop of blond hair, Johnson is the more colorful figure. “Boris Johnson … is barnstorming across the countryside, campaigning on his Latin-quoting, rumple-suited, Oxford-educated, optimistic, populist Englishness,” wrote the Washington Post in a story about how Johnson’s critics contend he’s too reckless to run the country because he would accept a so-called “no-deal” Brexit. That would result in the UK leaving the EU without any trade agreements in place. Commerce could grind to a halt.

Hunt is the mainstream candidate. Former Prime Minister John Major, who opposes Brexit, recently endorsed him. “I cannot vote for someone who was part of the Brexit campaign that misled the country,” said Major, according to the Press Association, a British newswire.

Major was referring to Johnson’s unrealistic predictions on the Brexit campaign trail of easy diplomacy with the EU over the breakup. But European leaders – eager to demonstrate the benefits of membership in a bloc that stretches from Ireland to Cyprus – have taken a tough stance.

Nonetheless, Johnson is the front-runner. He’s likely to face trouble in his cabinet if he wins, however. Bloomberg reported that powerful members of the government, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond and Justice Secretary David Gauke, oppose a no-deal Brexit out of fear of its potentially disastrous effects on trade and the British economy.

Conservatives are scrambling to avoid a no-deal Brexit. A central problem is Northern Ireland, where interreligious violence has waned in the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement removed security checkpoints between the UK member state and the Republic of Ireland.

But if a no-deal Brexit takes place, the two nations sharing the island of Ireland would no longer share EU membership, and officials would technically have to erect a hard border.

Some Tories believe the UK should sign a separate deal with Ireland to adopt the same food and animal health standards, for example, a move that would reduce time at the border, the Irish Times reported.

They’re also seeking to avoid a snap election, after which Labor and the Scottish National Party could conceivably form a coalition, wrote Al Jazeera.

That’s important to many voters, who are annoyed with all the frenzy and upheaval: The UK is about to get its third prime minister in three years and in that time, Brits have voted in EU elections and two referendums – and there is talk of yet more to come, the Washington Times reported.

Understandably, some Brits are annoyed.

“I’m totally fatigued by all these elections,” said Robin Holden, a 72-year-old retired manager from North Yorkshire and a member of the Conservative Party. “Things are too febrile at the moment. We’re all fed up, to be honest.”

WANT TO KNOW

THE WORLD

Big Cats, Big Money

Police and customs officials around the world seized thousands of endangered animals and arrested nearly 600 suspects in what authorities billed as the most widespread anti-wildlife-trafficking operation ever.

The World Customs Organization and Interpol collaborated to conduct nearly 2,000 raids in June, resulting in the recovery of nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, nearly 1,500 live reptiles, 23 live apes, 30 live big cats, hundreds of pieces of elephant tusk, half a ton of ivory and five rhino horns, the Associated Press reported.

The two agencies mobilized a joint network covering 109 countries, Interpol’s wildlife expert Henri Fournel told the agency.

Operation Thunderball, headquartered in Singapore, led to the arrest of 582 suspects, Interpol said.

Wildlife crime is the largest threat to three of the world’s most iconic species, elephants, rhinos and tigers, according to the World Wildlife Fund. At the same time, illegal trade in wildlife is worth as much as $10 billion annually.

ALGERIA

A Win, of Sorts

Algerian legislators elected an opposition leader chairman of Parliament on Wednesday in a bid to appease protesters who continue to demand more significant changes following the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April.

The Parliament chose Slimane Chenine of the Movement of National Construction party to replace former chairman Moad Bouchareb, who resigned last week, Reuters reported. Bouchareb hails from the same party as Bouteflika, the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has ruled Algeria since it won independence from France in 1962.

Chenine, 47, is the youngest lawmaker to be elected as head of the National Assembly, the agency noted. His clout will also be limited, considering his party has only 15 Parliamentary seats out of the total 462 – the FLN and its coalition partners enjoy an overwhelming majority.

In a separate development, the country’s supreme court ordered former industry minister Youcef Yousfi taken into custody over alleged corruption – the latest in a string of such detentions since Bouteflika’s resignation.

CHINA

Sticks and Stones

More than 20 countries signed a joint letter criticizing China’s treatment of ethnic Uighurs in the country’s northwest Xinjiang province at the United Nations Human Rights Council, though they stopped short of reading out a formal statement or submitting a UN resolution for a vote – measures that carry more weight.

Backing earlier claims from UN experts, the letter blasts China for “large-scale places of detention, as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” the BBC reported.

Human rights workers allege that China is holding as many as 1 million Uighurs in detention centers for re-education. However, Beijing claims they are “vocational training centers” designed to fight the spread of radical Islam.

Signed by the ambassadors of 22 countries including Britain, Canada and Japan, the joint statement urged China “to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang” for UN and independent international observers.

Though the joint letter itself was unprecedented, diplomats told Reuters that they avoided a formal statement or UN resolution for fear of political and economic retaliation.

DISCOVERIES

The Forgotten Relative

Crocodiles and alligators of today are ferocious carnivores, but 250 million years ago they had a relative that would look down upon their meat-eating habits.

Paleontologists recently discovered that several species of prehistoric crocodiles and alligators – members of the group known as crocodyliforms – were full-on vegetarians, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Researchers studied over 140 teeth of 16 extinct crocodyliform species using a technique called orientation patch count rotated (OPCR) to distinguish between carnivore and herbivore teeth.

The team noted that the plant-eating lizards of the Mesozoic era had more complex dental forms than their flesh-munching cousins.

“Carnivores possess simple teeth whereas herbivores have much more complex teeth,” explained co-author Keegan Melstrom. “Omnivores, organisms that eat both plant and animal material, fall somewhere in between.”

The results also revealed that herbivore crocs weren’t an anomaly and evolved independently several times through history, in different parts of the world.

“Complex teeth, which we infer to indicate herbivory, appear in the extinct relatives of crocodiles at least three times and maybe as many as six in our dataset alone,” said Melstrom.

It’s possible vegetarian reptiles did leave a living legacy.

In India, a 70-year old marsh crocodile named Babiya swims with Hindu priests of a small temple in Kerala and feeds on rice.