The World Today for December 09, 2019

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Of Eggs, Tomatoes and Ballots

Protesters in Algeria are throwing tomatoes and eggs at politicians’ campaign headquarters ahead of the Dec. 12 presidential election. Others have blocked access to campaign offices to scuttle the vote, which they consider a sham.

As the Associated Press explained, five candidates are running to succeed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who fell from power in April due to peaceful protests. The 82-year-old had been in control of the North African country for 20 years despite frequent and lengthy absences after he suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013.

But the government failed to sufficiently reform. Three of the five presidential candidates are close Bouteflika allies. This France24 video discusses how old-guard figures are dominating the election. That’s why protesters associated with the “hirak” opposition movement want to boycott the vote.

“There will be no vote!” demonstrators chanted in Algiers recently, according to Agence France-Presse. “We swear we will not stop!”

Police answered them with water cannons and armored vehicles.

A 23-year-old protester told Reuters why they throw old vegetables at the campaign offices. The elections are designed to cement the Bouteflika cabal’s powers, he argued, but it’s time to clear out the old. “The election is completely rejected,” he said. “We won’t accept it. This is why it will be rejected as garbage.”

The protester asked for anonymity because he feared police reprisals if his identity were made public. Bouteflika and his allies in the military, which remains Algeria’s most central institution, have hardly been saints on human rights, reported Amnesty International.

Other parts of the oil-rich country’s power structure are making strides, however, suggesting the old timers are not fully in control. In a surprising capitulation to protesters, two former Algerian prime ministers are facing corruption charges in highly anticipated public trials slated to be televised nationally.

It’s a fight over the country’s soul.

“An Election’s Failure Will Be a Democratic Success,” read a headline in Foreign Affairs.

The military is calling for mass turnout of voters in defiance of the protesters’ demands, hoping that crowds at the polls will solidify their legitimacy. In November, Algeria celebrated the 65th anniversary of its liberation from France, said military leader Ahmed Gaid Salah in a recent speech. He added that December 2019 might also go down in the history books.

“December will have the honor of finalizing the construction of a state of law,” said Salah. “The Algerian people will know … how to respond to all its detractors plotting against the fatherland by heading in massive numbers to the ballot stations.”

We’ll see whether populism can overpower the absence of consent, and whether tomatoes and eggs triumph over water cannons and armored vehicles.




Desired Division

Thousands of Belarusians took to the streets of the capital over the weekend to protest a potential union between Belarus and neighboring Russia, as the leaders of both countries held talks on deepening their union, the Associated Press reported.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian leader Vladimir Putin did not reach an immediate deal but said they edged closer to an agreement during the talks in Sochi, Russia.

Protesters fear that a new pact could lead to a merger between the two nations, concerns that were fueled by Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Lukashenko said last week that there were no plans for a union between the two countries, but the Kremlin has been exerting pressure on the dictator, who came to power in 1994.

Belarus relies on cheap Russian energy and loans, and Moscow has been pressuring Lukashenko to accept closer economic integration to benefit from low prices.

Analysts believe that the merger could benefit Putin: They say he wants to rule over the new union after his current presidential term expires in 2024.


Back To The Table

Over the weekend, the United States and Taliban officials announced the resumptions of talks for the first time since US President Donald Trump abruptly halted them three months ago, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar over the weekend, and is reportedly trying to encourage the group to sit down with the Afghan government.

The Taliban have previously declined to talk to the Afghan administration, which they consider a puppet of the US government.

The new meetings focused on a Taliban pledge to reduce the violence in Afghanistan but the main goal is to end the war, raging for almost 19 years.

One of the objectives of the negotiations is the withdrawal of thousands of US troops. They would be replaced by the Afghan army. Political issues, rampant corruption and continuous violence have hampered that goal.

Currently, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is involved in a dispute with his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah – with whom he shares power – over the results of the presidential elections in late September.


No Quarter

Hundreds of thousands hit the streets of Hong Kong Sunday in one of the biggest protest marches since demonstrations began in the city six months ago over a now-scrapped extradition bill, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The peaceful demonstration attracted 800,000 people, according to estimates by protest organizer Civil Human Rights Front. Hong Kong police, however, said that number was just over 180,000.

“Today’s turnout shows the resilience and persistence of the Hong Kong people: They will not rest until their demands are met,” said Eric Lai, an organizer of the protests.

Sunday’s rally comes two weeks after citizens overwhelmingly voted for pro-democracy candidates during Hong Kong’s district elections, with pro-Beijing candidates losing a majority of their seats.

The march is a sign that the movement is not waning in spite of the electoral victory, and protesters said they won’t stop until Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam gives in to their five demands.

These include calls for greater democracy, amnesty for thousands of arrested demonstrators, and an independent inquiry into police conduct during protests.

So far, only one demand – the scrapping of the extradition bill – has been met.


A Win-Win Scenario

Salty soil – an increasing problem around the world – can severely hinder crop growth.

To counter this issue, scientists have developed a seed coating technique to help plants thrive in saline conditions, the Guardian reported.

In a recent study, researchers tested the coating – of bacteria, silk and a sugar – on seeds of a common legume, French beans.

The coating uses microbes called rhizobacteria to trigger the growth of nodules on the legume’s roots, which the microbes then colonize, the scientists explained. The bacteria eventually feed on the sugars produced by the plant and help turn nitrogen from the air into plant nutrients.

The silk and sugar are added to the coating to keep the microorganisms from dehydrating and dying on the seed before it’s planted.

The researchers tested coated and uncoated seeds in both salty and non-salty soil, and noted that coated seeds had a higher chance of sprouting in both types of soil.

The coated legumes in salty soil also grew longer stems and roots with more branches than the uncoated ones.

So far, this experiment hasn’t proved effective with other seeds, such as barley or wheat.

Researchers, however, hope to further explore the potential of rhizobacteria in other seeds.

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