November 06, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

ETHIOPIA

No Good Deed…

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize recently for his efforts to end a 20-year-long war with neighboring Eritrea.

But less than two weeks after the announcement, protesters were burning the 43-year-old politician’s book in demonstrations in support of opposition media activist Jawar Mohammed: He claimed that Abiy cut a security detail that had been protecting him from potential threats, the BBC reported.

More than 80 people died in the unrest. Police detained more than 400 people in connection with the turmoil.

Jawar runs the Oromia Media Network, which reported on anti-government protests in recent years and helped bring down Abiy’s predecessor last year, paving the way for the new prime minister to introduce reforms to the country’s centralized economy and loosening obstacles to political dissent.

The Oromia region is the homeland of the Oromo people, who are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but feel marginalized in the country, creating a tense climate that has sometimes led to internecine violence. While Abiy is Oromo, Jawar has been critical of some of his reforms, explained Al Jazeera.

Police denied that they had endangered Jawar. But Abiy has been critical of the activist, who was born in Ethiopia but is an American citizen who lived in the US until he returned to his native land after Abiy became prime minister.

“Those media owners who don’t have Ethiopian passports are playing both ways,” said the prime minister in parliament recently, according to Reuters. “When there is peace you are playing here, and when we are in trouble you are not here.”

Jawar, meanwhile, is considering running against Abiy in next year’s general election.

The controversy is a remarkable sign of how years of oppressive government have made Ethiopians skeptical of their leaders, even when they receive one of the world’s highest honors.

Another illustration of the dynamic comes from Abiy’s decision to renovate the former emperor’s palace and open its grounds and a museum to tourists. Some welcomed the move. But others complained that the revamped palace’s exhibitions ignored the torture and massacres perpetrated by Ethiopia’s monarchs.

Political analyst Seyoum Teshome told the Washington Post that the prime minister has faced massive challenges and is doing his best. “Abiy is trying to create unity, and maybe that can only happen by ignoring certain parts of our history,” said Teshome. “But you must magnify the positive things – the common history and common future. If we don’t do that, we will return to the brink of collapse.”

Transitions don’t always end well. But there’s no chance of anything changing unless they occur. Abiy is a prime example of that.

WANT TO KNOW

POLAND

No to Yes-Men

The European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that Poland broke European Union law when it tried to lower the mandatory retirement age for judges in order to stack the court with supporters of the country’s nationalist government.

The EU’s high court found that the 2017 policy would give too much power to the executive and that it breached EU equality law by compelling female judges to retire earlier than males, the Guardian reported.

The decision is the second landmark judgement against Poland’s judicial policy and yet another blow to the ruling nationalists: In June, the ECJ ruled a 2018 law to force the retirement of 40 percent of supreme court judges as unlawful.

Although the retirement age law was changed last year, Polish authorities never reinstated judges that lost their position due to the original decision.

The European commission, which launched the legal action against Poland, welcomed the ruling and called on the Polish government to reinstate the judges.

Since they came to power in 2015, the ruling Law and Justice party has been butting heads with the EU over justice and the rule of law issues. For example, the government has assumed direct oversight of state prosecutors and the judicial body that appoints, promotes and disciplines judges.

HONG KONG

‘Perfecting’ The System

China’s Communist Party said Tuesday that it would “perfect” the system of choosing the leader of Hong Kong and improve the national security system in the former British colony that has been engulfed by protests for months, Reuters reported.

The party’s statement added that it would support its “special administrative region” of Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, and not tolerate any “separatist behavior” either there or in neighboring Macau, a former Portuguese colony that was given to China two years later.

The party’s statements come a day after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who expressed concern over the protests and voiced support for Lam, CNN reported.

The Hong Kong demonstrations started over a scrapped extradition bill, but have since evolved into anti-government rallies and calls for independence.

Although they pose a great challenge to Xi, the number of protesters have dwindled since June and authorities have refused permits for many recent protests.

IRAN

Upping the Ante

Iran will start injecting gas into more than a thousand centrifuges to enrich its underground nuclear facility in Fordo, moving even further away from the 2015 nuclear deal, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the gas will be injected Wednesday, but did not elaborate on whether the centrifuges would produce enriched uranium.

The step is Iran’s latest move away from the nuclear deal with world powers since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement more than a year ago and reinstated sanctions on the country.

Rouhani stressed that its recent violations, including going beyond the deal’s enrichment and stockpile limitations, can be reversed if European signatories of the deal help Iran overcome US sanctions on its crude oil.

France proposed a $15 billion line of credit to help the country’s ailing economy but so far, nothing has taken hold.

So far, Iran is enriching uranium up to 4.5 percent, topping the accord’s limit of 3.67 percent. This is still far below the weapon-grade levels of 90 percent.

DISCOVERIES

Hero Herd

The raging wildfires causing havoc and destroying homes in California nearly burned down the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library last week, Reuters reported.

Luckily, firefighters saved the library, but they had some help from a group of unsung heroes that contributed to the operation: goats.

A herd of 500 goats munched through flammable brush surrounding the library earlier this year to create firebreak that slowed the blaze and let the firefighters douse the flames.

“We were told by one of the firefighters that they believe that firebreak made their job easier,” said library spokeswoman Melissa Giller. The brush didn’t reach the library, she said, “because the goats ate it all.”

Due to risk of fire, the Reagan Library Foundation hired the herd of Boer goats in May from a local company to clear around 13 acres of scrub.

This is not the first time that goats have been used to curb wildfires.

In Portugal, the government hired goats as an environmentally friendly method to combat wildfires in remote areas where bulldozers can’t reach, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Goats have been used for centuries for this,” said conservationist Antonio Ferreira Borges. “It is a natural way to control the vegetation.”

And with wildfires spreading in other parts of the world, goats might be a sensible alternative to chemicals.