October 14, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

INDONESIA

Reformers 0, Radicals 1

Indonesia’s security minister was stabbed recently in an attack that authorities blamed on Islamic State “radicalism.” Police arrested a man and woman in the wake of the non-fatal attack on Wiranto, who only uses one name, the BBC reported.

The incident reflected how the giant South Asian archipelago nation is weathering a period of extreme turbulence.

Wiranto’s assailants were allegedly linked to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, which in turn is affiliated with the Islamic State. The group in recent years has been staging attacks in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic country, including a 2018 attack on a church that resulted in 13 deaths.

Terrorism is only one of Indonesia’s problems. Wiranto has overseen the response to protests in West Papua, where 33 people died and 16,000 people have fled their homes due to months of unrest, Al Jazeera wrote. Mostly Christian and ethnic Melanesian residents of Papua have been calling for more autonomy from the central government.

Protests have also flared up in the capital, Jakarta, over legislation to redo the penal code, the first reform since the Dutch colonial era half a century ago.

It gives plenty of nods to conservative Islamic groups.

For example, proposed changes would outlaw premarital sex, limit the sale of contraceptives, and create prison terms for performing black magic or having an abortion for reasons other than a medical emergency or rape.

It would also strengthen blasphemy laws, stretch treason laws to political speech and introduce penalties for insulting the president.

Human Rights Watch called the changes “disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians.”

Protests have also flared over another bill that limits the Corruption Eradication Commission’s independence and restricts its investigative powers, like using wiretaps, which many citizens believe are key to cracking down on endemic graft. Another proposed law, sidelined for now, sought to overhaul the criminal code in a manner that was perceived as benefitting elites and hurting ordinary folks, the New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, economists and human rights advocates disagree over whether the measures will help or hinder Indonesia’s slow but steady economic reforms, reported Nikkei Asian Review.

In an op-ed for Channel NewsAsia, scholars Aninda Dewayanti and Deasy Simandjuntak of Singapore’s ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute worried that the changes affecting the anti-graft commission might take the wind out of ongoing corruption probes. Pushing back on that rhetoric in the Financial Times, SOAS University of London lecturer Michael Buehler cautioned that the corruption commission was flawed from the start and needed reforms.

But there’s no doubt that the administration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, a self-styled outsider who handily won re-election in April due to his reputation for clean government, is in crisis.

“Where did the reformist just re-elected as Indonesia’s president go,” asked the Economist.

Meanwhile, as Widodo prepares for his second inauguration on Oct. 20, it looks as if many of his constituents are suffering from buyer’s remorse.

“A government should be the voice of God to the people, not Satan,” Hamzah Mustaffa, a 22-year-old student protester, told the South China Morning Post.

Even nature appears to be sounding alarms over the direction of the country, the Conversation noted. Massive forest fires are releasing toxic smoke that has turned the sky in parts of the country deep red. “Joko has endured a dreadful month,” the Sydney Morning Herald wrote.

The president will have a chance to start anew after his second swearing-in. It’s his opportunity to squander or embrace.

WANT TO KNOW

SYRIA

Terror Versus Terror

More than 750 people with suspected links to Islamic State fled a refugee camp in northeastern Syria Sunday, raising fears that the Turkish assault on Kurdish forces in the region will strengthen the terrorist group.

As Turkish shelling near the camp began, hundreds of women and children began to riot, while sleeper cells started attacking camp guards, the Guardian reported. As chaos in Kurdish-held northeastern Syria intensified over the weekend, Turkish-backed militias began executing civilians, including a female Kurdish politician.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched attacks last week on the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to create a 20-mile “safe zone” near the border. Turkey considers the SDF a security threat due to their connection with Turkish-based Kurdish separatist groups.

The attacks have been condemned by the international community for triggering a humanitarian crisis and risking the re-emergence of Islamic State.

ECUADOR

Between a Rock and a Fuel Pump

Ecuadorian indigenous groups and the government agreed to cancel the country’s austerity package and end almost two weeks of protests that left seven dead and the streets of the capital in chaos, the Associated Press reported.

The meeting between the two sides came a day after President Lenin Moreno announced a curfew on the capital and the surrounding areas, the first since a dictatorship in the 1970s, adding that he was ready to hold talks with protesters, BBC reported.

Protesters wanted the return of fuel subsidies and Moreno’s resignation.

Moreno withdrew the fuel subsidies as part of public spending cuts the government agreed to implement in exchange for a $4.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Moreno has said the subsidies, in place since the 1970s, weren’t affordable anymore and prevented growth.

Since the unrest began nearly two weeks ago, demonstrators have taken dozen of officers hostage throughout the country, and forced the government to flee the capital.

In Ecuador, indigenous-led protests have brought down three presidents in its recent history.

ETHIOPIA

The Outstretched Hand

Many Ethiopians praised the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to their leader, saying Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s peace deal with Eritrea last year reunited their families divided by a border for more than 20 years.

“He made history by making peace, which is more valuable than anything. He reunited the two brotherly people,” Ethiopian journalist Samson Berhane, who reunited with his Eritrean father, told Reuters on Sunday.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the prize to the Ethiopian prime minister Friday for helping to end his country’s war with Eritrea, CNN reported.

“As Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed has sought to promote reconciliation, solidarity and social justice,” said chair of the committee Berit Reiss-Andersen.

Besides making peace with Ethiopia’s neighbor, Abiy has received international praise for his progressive policies which include the release of political prisoners and journalists, as well as major reforms in the security and justice sectors.

Even so, Ethiopia continues to grapple with ethnic clashes, while also navigating a dispute with Egypt over a hydropower dam that the country is building on the River Nile, Reuters reported separately. It is expected the two countries will meet later this month.

DISCOVERIES

Work Hog

The ability to use tools is mostly native to humans, but has occasionally been seen in other animals, such as chimpanzees, crows and dolphins.

Now pigs have joined the list. Scientists have documented a species of wild pigs employing pieces of bark and wood to build their homes, National Geographic reported.

Researcher Meredith Root-Bernstein and her team videotaped a family of captive Visayan warty pigs using tools during their nest-building process on several instances in 2016 and 2017.

In their study, the researchers said that this was the first time that tool usage had been seen in pigs.

Even though their sample was small and the pigs were living in captivity – in an enclosure at France’s National Museum of Natural History – the researchers suspect that wild pigs might use tools as well. But data is lacking as the creature, native to the Philippines, is rarely studied in the wild.

Root-Bernstein added that this finding of a trait shared with humans could highlight a common evolutionary history. “It brings us closer to animals and helps us realize it’s all connected,” she said.

So why do these pigs use tools instead of their snouts? There may be no functional answer to that question, Root-Bernstein said. “Maybe it just feels like the right thing to do.”

Click here to see the tool-wielding pigs at work.