October 30, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

UNITED KINGDOM

Should I Stay or Should I Go…

Brexit was supposed to happen on Oct. 31.

It won’t.

Britain’s finance chief, Chancellor Sajid Javid, admitted the deadline couldn’t be met, the BBC reported.

Javid’s boss, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, grudgingly requested an extension – he was forced to by law. If the European Union would agree to a new deadline of Jan. 31, he said, he would call a general election in December that would give the British people an opportunity to once again demonstrate their mind on whether to leave the EU or to elect politicians in the Remain camp.

Johnson needs two-thirds of Parliament to schedule a new election. The House of Commons voted to approve the poll Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. That’s even though the main opposition party, Labour, was initially against the idea.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, has opposed lengthy extensions if they’re just to allow more debate. He initially blocked a three-month extension, reported Bloomberg, and suggested a deadline of Nov. 30 or sooner to put pressure on British lawmakers to approve the revised deal Johnson negotiated with the EU.

But Macron later relented, and EU leaders agreed this week to the Jan. 31 deadline. But Donald Tusk, the outgoing European Council president, warned that the UK probably won’t get another chance, the Guardian reported.

Ireland, Britain’s historic problem in Europe, is one of the big factors in the impasse.

“In Ireland, we say the past is never over,” NBC News correspondent Bill Neely wrote.  “And it has come back to haunt us as the prospect of a disorderly Brexit looms.”

The border between the Republic of Ireland to the south and the British territory of Northern Ireland is now inconsequential, given that both are EU members. That helped negotiators conclude the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of internecine fighting and Irish Republican Army terror, David Frum wrote in the Atlantic.

Brexit threatened to bring back a “hard border,” with checkpoints and guards, between south and north, potentially reigniting the fighting in the process.

The Brexit deal negotiated by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, included a “backstop” to avoid a hard border, the Brookings Institution explained. That deal would have kept all of the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent solution was found.

But Johnson abandoned that provision. The new deal he reached with the EU in mid-October would keep only Northern Ireland in the customs union, effectively placing the border between Britain and Europe down the Irish Sea.

Loyalist paramilitary units in Northern Ireland – the largely Protestant groups that fought the Catholic Republicans – were outraged.

“The community is livid,” Jamie Bryson, a so-called unionist who viewed any special cases for Northern Ireland in Brexit as a step toward the territory’s absorption into the south, told the New York Times. “We feel betrayed, and the general consensus in the room on Monday was that we are sick of this one-sided peace process and we will not tolerate an economic united Ireland.”

What will happen between now and the vote – and afterward – is anyone’s guess. But one thing is clear: Johnson’s last allies will be the voters themselves. Or not.

WANT TO KNOW

LEBANON

New Emperor, Old Clothes

Lebanon’s government resigned Tuesday following 13 days of protests in a move which could spell further uncertainty for the troubled country, the New York Times reported.

Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Saad Hariri has tried to calm public rage over poor public services, corruption and austerity measures by introducing reforms, including 50 percent salary cuts for the president, government ministers and lawmakers.

However, his gestures were not enough to satisfy Lebanon’s largest protest movement in 14 years: It says it wants the resignation of every member of the ruling elite, regardless of their allegiance or affiliation, the Nation reported.

“All of them means all of them,” has been a protest chant across Lebanon.

Hariri’s supporters spent much of Tuesday trying to persuade him not to resign, fearing it would spark more instability.

But Hariri said in his resignation speech, “No one’s bigger than the nation.”

President Michel Aoun must now convene a committee to replace the prime minister and the Cabinet but it remains uncertain if a new government will be able to calm protesters.

UKRAINE

Withdrawal Symptoms

Ukraine’s army and Russian-backed separatists began their withdrawal from areas of war-torn eastern Ukraine ahead of a high-stakes summit with Russia, reported Agence France-Presse.

The withdrawal is part of a peace plan that would end the five-year conflict that has killed more than 13,000.

The war began in 2014 after pro-Russian separatists seized control of large swathes of eastern Ukraine shortly after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, reported the BBC.

The pullback was a condition for the first face-to-face talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to be mediated by the leaders of France and Germany.

In the run-up to the talks expected in mid-November, Ukrainian, Russian and separatist negotiators have also agreed on a plan that could give the eastern territories special status if they conduct free and fair elections in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution.

Veterans and political opponents, however, have criticized Zelenskiy’s peace plan saying that the proposal favors Russia. He countered that he would uphold Ukraine’s interests.

GUINEA-BISSAU

A Draw

Guinea-Bissau President Jose Mario Vaz named a new prime minister Tuesday a day after dissolving the government and sacking the previous one, the latest episode in a power struggle between the president and the government less than a month before presidential elections, Reuters reported.

His move comes just days after police violently stopped a rare political protest by the opposition – it wants the election postponed so that voter lists can be checked for irregularities.

Meanwhile, the outgoing Prime Minister Aristides Gomes has refused to give up his position to Faustino Fudut Imbali, a politician from a smaller party who previously served as prime minister in 2000-2003, with Gomes declaring the weekend protests ‘a coup attempt,’ Africa News reported.

The latest impasse has raised doubts as to whether the West African country will be able to hold elections next month.

Since its independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has suffered repeated bouts of instability including nine coups or attempted coups, according to Reuters.

DISCOVERIES

Introducing Le Blob

The Paris zoo recently displayed a new attraction to the public that is neither an animal nor a plant.

It’s a brainless, eyeless, single-celled organism with 720 genders dubbed “le blob,” scientifically known as Physarum polycephalum, or “many-headed slime.”

Named after the 1958 sci-fi horror flick “The Blob” starring Steve McQueen, the yellow creature has been on Earth for 500 million years and has fascinated scientists due to its peculiar nature.

“It has been here for millions of years, and we still do not really know what it is,” zoo president Bruno David told Agence France-Presse. “We don’t really know if it’s an animal, if it’s a fungus or if it’s something between the two.”

The slimy species doesn’t have a brain, yet it’s capable of memorizing from experience and adapting to its surroundings.

It’s also “nigh immortal,” since it starts hibernating and dries out once it is exposed to danger. It only needs a few drops of water to resurrect.

Although it lacks a stomach, it moves around very slowly in search of food, such as mushroom spores, bacteria, and other microbes.

Its slowpoke nature doesn’t make it very attractive to crowds, but the zoo is setting up an interactive display that shows a speeded-up video of how the blob moves around.

Click here to see the odd attraction.