December 02, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

HONG KONG

A Landslide for Democracy

Pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong won nearly 90 percent of the seats in the local legislature in recent elections.

CNBC called the results a “barometer of public sentiment,” given recent violent confrontations between local activists and police over the status of the former British colony that is a now a major Chinese city and global financial hub. Turnout was a record 71 percent. Folks were clearly making sure their displeasure with the central government in Beijing was heard.

Chinese officials quickly squelched any notion that the elections should somehow lead to greater independence for semi-autonomous Hong Kong. “Any attempt to disrupt Hong Kong and damage [its] stability and prosperity will not succeed,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told NBC News and other reporters in Japan.

But leaders in Beijing were also considering firing and replacing their current representative in Hong Kong, the director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government. Apparently, they see the office as having gone soft. “The Liaison Office has been mingling with the rich people and mainland elites in the city and isolated itself from the people,” a Chinese official told Reuters. “This needs to be changed.”

Beijing officials have also taken to blaming the United States for the election loss, a rhetorical move designed to shore up support from other parts of China while not admitting they have lost control of the southern city, the New York Times reported. President Xi Jinping is now undoubtedly figuring out what to do next, the newspaper added.

A strong hand isn’t likely to help win over anyone’s minds in the city now. “The more tear gas had been used by the increasingly brutal Hong Kong police, the bigger the movement toward the democrats,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine. Unlike Xi’s assertions, popular sentiment in Hong Kong is not so in favor of public order at the expense of civil liberties.

As the Chinese scrambled on how to react to the vote, US President Donald Trump piled on, saying he stood with the protesters as he concluded a trade deal with Chinese diplomats, noted MarketWatch.

Meanwhile, things might finally be simmering down in the city.

After a weeklong siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the protesters retreated, leaving police to pick through the facility: They found only one student in a weak condition, the Associated Press wrote. The BBC ran a photo essay on the living conditions of the activists, including their communal kitchens and store of Molotov cocktails.

The protesters decided it would be better to face voters than a police baton.

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WANT TO KNOW

SURINAME

Made of Teflon

Suriname’s President Desi Bouterse told reporters Sunday that he was the victim of a “political game” after a court found him guilty for the execution of several political opponents in 1982 in the former Dutch colony, Reuters reported.

A military court sentenced Bouterse last week to 20 years in prison for the murder of 15 activists that spoke up against his seizure of power during a 1980 coup.

Bouterse returned to Suriname on Sunday after an official visit in China and promised to consult with his National Democratic Party over the ruling.

The court has allowed him to appeal, and it has not yet issued an arrest warrant. It remains uncertain whether he will serve jail time.

The court also convicted six other former military officers for taking part in the murders, Reuters reported separately.

Bouterse led the South American nation in the 1980s as head of a military government, and later was elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2015.

GERMANY

Heading Toward Divorce?

The future of Germany’s Grand Coalition government became uncertain over the weekend after the Social Democrats (SPD) – the junior coalition partner with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) – elected new left-wing leaders, who vowed to renegotiate the terms of the partnership, the Guardian reported.

New SPD leaders Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken said that they are ready to dissolve the partnership with the CDU, which they blame for the SPD’s decreasing popularity in national and regional elections.

They also demanded major policy changes, such as backtracking on the government’s central fiscal policy of balancing the budget to allow more spending on infrastructure and welfare programs.

The new leaders defeated Finance minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was one of the architects of the grand coalition – and who could now be the one to end it.

If Scholz resigns his ministerial duties as a result of the defeat, the coalition would in effect be over.

There will be little wiggle room for Merkel to keep her government afloat: She will have to choose whether to resign, lead a minority government, or restart negotiations for a new one.

IRAQ

Getting Impatient

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi resigned Sunday following months of anti-government protests, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Abdul-Mahdi first announced his resignation last week after the country’s top cleric criticized his government’s handling of protests, which have claimed the lives of nearly 400 people since October.

His resignation will prompt the country’s president to ask the largest bloc in parliament to nominate a new prime minister.

The process of choosing a new prime minister could drag on for months: Politicians will negotiate backroom deals while the US and Iran try to influence the decision to secure their interests, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, protesters hailed the resignation, but vowed to remain on the streets until the entire political class is gone.

“The problem we face now is that protesters on the street will not wait long,” said lawmaker Wahda al-Jumaili.

DISCOVERIES

Losing Limbs

A long time ago, snakes literally walked the Earth, according to scientists.

Archaeologists discovered that one species of ancient snakes had hind legs for around 70 million years and lived pretty well with them, Newsweek reported.

Between 2012 and 2017, paleontologist Fernando Garberoglio and his team uncovered a trove of well-preserved fossils of the ancient snake species Najash in the Patagonia region of Argentina.

In their paper, they built a 3D image of the species’ anatomy and noted that the ancient animal had both legs and cheekbones – features not found in modern snakes.

It is generally believed that snakes evolved from lizards, but the jury is still out as to why Najash and all other snakes lost their legs.

Garberoglio argued that there could be various reasons why different groups of snakes became limbless.

“It is not exactly clear what those different evolutionary pressures might have been,” he said.

He added that being limbless “is not impediment to their evolution in the least,” but rather has allowed snakes to better adapt to their various environments for more than 100 million years.

He hopes to find more snake fossils in the future to better understand their evolution.