The World Today for August 26, 2019

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The 134 migrants were at the “breaking point” as their rescue ship, dubbed the Open Arms, remained anchored off the coast of Italy’s southernmost island for six days earlier this month. Many had been on the Spanish charity-operated ship for 19 days after being rescued from small boats trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe.

“The migrants are living piled on top of each other,” wrote Italian Order of Malta doctors in a report after an inspection. “There is no possibility of walking.”

“Disputes … anxiety attacks … panic … what else do we need? For people to die?” migrant advocate Oscar Camps told Euronews. “Those who didn’t die in the sea need to die here on board Open Arms? Is this what we need? I hope the Italian courts resolve the situation.”

Eventually, an Italian justice official did act, ordering that the migrants be brought ashore at Lampedusa, an island between Sicily and Tunisia. The 83 migrants remaining on the vessel disembarked on Wednesday.

Some migrants had previously jumped into the sea and risked the swim to Italian territory, reported CNN. Others had been evacuated for medical reasons, and 27 unaccompanied teenagers had been allowed to disembark earlier.

As France 24 explained, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had tried to make the ship an example of his tough approach to immigration, refusing to allow it to dock at Lampedusa.

A few weeks earlier, Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, announced that he was tired of serving in Italy’s coalition government and would force snap elections.

“I ask the Italian people if they want to give me full powers to do what we have promised to do, and go all the way without hurdles,” Salvini said at a rally covered by the New York Times.

He argued that differences with his coalition partner, the populist Five Star Movement, over a high-speed rail link with France proved that the coalition couldn’t govern, the BBC noted. Tensions were already separating the two parties, CNBC added. Their rifts are only one example of a trend of political fragmentation in Europe’s governments, Bloomberg wrote.

Amid the squabbling, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is not a member of either party, resigned, effectively collapsing the government, Vox explained. Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, has given lawmakers only days to try to form a new government before he decides on whether to call snap elections.

Regardless of the outcome, Salvini and his anti-immigrant, “Italians first” rhetoric are likely to remain a major force.

As Carmelo La Magra, a priest in Lampedusa, put it, “These are political games, maybe a show of power but what is worse is that this is done on the backs of these poor and vulnerable people.”

The Open Arms will sail on. Unfortunately, the migrant crisis will too.



Crash and Burn

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called an incursion by Israeli drones an open attack on the country’s sovereignty and an attempt to foment regional tensions, following crashes by unarmed reconnaissance drones in the southern suburbs of Beirut that are dominated by Hezbollah.

“The new aggression…constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards further tension,” Hariri said Sunday, according to Al Jazeera.

A Hezbollah spokesperson said earlier that a small reconnaissance drone crashed on the roof of a building housing the group’s media office on Sunday. Soon afterward, a second Israeli drone exploded in the air and crashed nearby, he said, claiming that Hezbollah did not shoot down either drone.

Israel, which along with the US considers Hezbollah a terrorist group, routinely violates Lebanese airspace to stage attacks on neighboring Syria.

Israel said Sunday that such a strike hit “a number of attack drones” in Syria that it claimed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) planned to use to attack targets in northern Israel.


Army Crackdown

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro responded to widespread international criticism of his management of the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest by sending in the military on Saturday.

Bolsonaro deployed military aircraft and about 44,000 troops to fight the flames across six Brazilian states struggling to contain the fire, Vox reported.

The move came two weeks after the fires began, but almost immediately after French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to stymie a trade deal with a South American bloc that includes Brazil over Bolsonaro’s blase approach to the crisis, the news site noted.

Earlier, Bolsonaro blamed nonprofit organizations for starting the fires and claimed Brazil lacked adequate resources to fight them effectively. Though such fires occur regularly, they’re especially intense this year due to drought, extreme heat and deforestation, drawing comparisons to the large-scale forest fires that have hit Russia, Alaska, Greenland, California, and elsewhere this year.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has been busily working to roll back the country’s environmental protection policies, and its main environmental agency’s efforts to fight deforestation reduced dramatically over the first half of 2019, the New York Times reported.


Stop, Or We’ll Shoot

Hong Kong police drew their guns on protesters Sunday, as demonstrations turned violent this weekend for the first time in nearly two weeks.

A group of officers pulled their guns and fired a warning shot after they were attacked by protesters with sticks and rods on Sunday, the Associated Press reported. The protesters reportedly called the police “gangsters” as they chased them following a demonstration in the Tsuen Wan district of the former British colony.

A reporter for public broadcaster RTHK said a uniformed officer fired a shot into the sky.

On Saturday, protesters threw bricks and gasoline bombs at police, who used tear gas to try to disperse them. The clash followed a demonstration against so-called “smart lampposts” that critics said might be used for surveillance, the agency said separately.

Hundreds of black-clad protesters armed with bamboo sticks and baseball bats fought with police officers wielding batons, in a scene that once again raised fears of a crackdown by mainland China.


Unknown Dynasty

French archaeologists made a startling discovery during development works in the town of Cahors, in southwestern France.

Archaeologists uncovered a seventh-century sarcophagus containing the remains of an elderly woman who lived in the lesser-known Merovingian period, the Sun reported.

Regional officials stated that the old woman had arthritis and was buried in a sealed limestone coffin in an area that was once the grounds of a monastery.

Since the coffin’s discovery, city officials have also found pieces of Merovingian pottery and an area that is thought to have been an old kitchen.

Historians hope that the new finds can reveal more about the mysterious period of Merovingian rule, which spanned from the middle of the fifth century AD until 751.

The Merovingian dynasty was a family of “long-haired kings” who ruled over Germanic people known as the Franks following the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

At the height of their power, they controlled most of western Europe and were known for spreading Christianity around the continent.

Few contemporary sources remain, but the most well-known is the tomb of Childeric I, one of the first Merovingian kings, which was discovered in 1653 near the Church of Saint-Brice in Tournai, in Belgium.

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