The World Today for December 27, 2019

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Light and Shadow

Voters in Guinea-Bissau have had enough.

When they go to the polls to elect a new president in a runoff vote scheduled for Dec. 29, the incumbent President Jose Mario Vaz won’t be among their choices. Instead, they’ll be choosing between two former prime ministers, Domingos Simoes Pereira and Umaro Sissoco Embalo, the Associated Press reported.

Citizens in the West African country are sick and tired of instability, according to Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at the British think tank Chatham House, who recently spoke to World Politics Review.

“As soon as a new president is elected, (Guinea-Bissau) will turn one of the gloomier pages of its history,” homemaker Virginia Mendes told Reuters.

Technically, Vaz was supposed to have left office in June. But he stayed on until the next presidential election after regional African leaders brokered a deal between him and his rivals.

During his five years in office, Vaz sacked six prime ministers. In late October, less than a month before the first round of voting, he fired Prime Minister Aristide Gomes, hoping to cobble together a new coalition to help keep him in office. Instead, Gomes refused to leave and the international community condemned Vaz and threatened sanctions.

In his concession speech, the president inadvertently explained why his tenure was unsustainable. “There were irregularities in the east of the country, including ballot stuffing with pre-ticked ballots before polling day,” Vaz said, according to the Turkey-based Anadolu Agency. “However, despite the irregularities, I accept the results in order to contribute to the pacification of society.”

Vaz is glossing over the fact that, as president, he might have sought to improve voting before campaign season even began. But that’s beside the point. The Council on Foreign Relations noted that there was little or no evidence of ballot tampering.

Either Pereira or Embalo will have plenty of work ahead. In addition to resuscitating faith in government, they face enormous obstacles involving the economy and crime, especially the drug trade. Seventy percent of Guinea-Bissau’s people live below the poverty line.

The country is basically a “narco state,” VICE reported, citing the International Monetary Fund’s standard of concluding that “all legitimate institutions (have) become penetrated by the power and wealth of the illegal drug trade.”

And a truth and reconciliation commission established a decade ago to shine a light on political killings has yet to investigate one murder, Al Jazeera added.

On the bright side, Vaz is the first president of Guinea-Bissau in 25 years to have completed his five-year term without being deposed or killed.

The stage is set for a new day.




Reign of Terror

Officials from India’s most populous state warned protesters Thursday that the state will confiscate their property as a penalty for damages caused during mass protests against controversial new citizenship rules, Al Jazeera reported.

Authorities in Uttar Pradesh demanded over tens of millions of rupees in damages and sent nearly 230 notices to individuals that took part in protests against the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).

Uttar Pradesh has suffered some of the most violent protests against the measure, which facilitates the path to Indian citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from three neighboring countries.

Many protesters consider the law discriminatory against Muslims and unconstitutional.

Civil rights activists, meanwhile, released a report Thursday where they accuse state officials of “employing unlawful and lethal tactics” on protesters, such raiding Muslim neighborhoods, ransacking homes and detaining people “indiscriminately.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, defended the bill and told India’s Muslims that they “don’t need to worry.”


Widening Proxies

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that Turkey will send troops to Libya at the request of the UN-backed Tripoli government, Reuters reported.

Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has been fighting for months against General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, which are supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Erdogan announced he will send troops once parliament approves the deployment bill next month, a move coming less than three months after it launched military operations in northeastern Syria against a Kurdish militia.

In recent weeks, Turkey has been vocal about sending troops to Libya and has signed two separate accords with the GNA related to military cooperation and maritime boundaries.

Russia has expressed concern over the looming troop deployment, but Erdogan said that Turkey won’t tolerate Kremlin-linked mercenaries supporting Haftar.


The Plot Worsens

Iraqi President Barham Salih resigned Thursday after refusing to endorse an Iran-backed nominee as the country’s next prime minister, amid mass protests that have gripped Iraq since October, Dubai-based newspaper, the National, reported.

Salih said that the constitution forbids the president from rejecting a nominee and that he would not approve a candidate rejected by protesters.

Lawmakers from the Iran-backed Binaa bloc nominated Basra governor Asaad al-Eidani earlier this week, but demonstrators hit the streets to protest the nomination.

Salih added that the protest movement should push politicians to look at the interests of the public over personal or political considerations.

His resignation follows one by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi earlier this month after weeks of unrest over corruption, unemployment and poor public services.

More than 450 people have died and over 25,000 have been wounded during clashes with security forces.


Fantastic Beasts

Humans have been depicting strange beasts and mythological creatures in art for thousands of years.

Scientists previously believed that such figurative depictions began in European cave art, but a recent discovery shows the practice started more than 40,000 years ago in Indonesia, Sky News reported.

Archaeologists found the world’s oldest known painting in a limestone cave on the island of Sulawesi.

Researchers wrote in their study that the artwork depicts hunters wielding spears or ropes while chasing after large mammals.

They noted that the hunters, however, were depicted as part-human, part-animal figures, which scientists say may be “the oldest evidence for our ability to imagine the existence of supernatural beings.”

The authors called these figures “therianthropes” and explained they are depicted in almost every modern society “as gods, spirits, or ancestral beings in many religions worldwide.”

The depiction of therianthropes reveals a lot about how humans evolved to invent fictional stories and communicate a narrative.

The Sulawesi cave painting provides the oldest evidence of such ability, which was previously seen in Europe.

“Sulawesi is now home to the oldest image of this kind – earlier even than the ‘Lion Man‘ from Germany, a figurine of a lion-headed human, which, at 40,000 years old, was until now the oldest depiction of a therianthrope,” said study co-author Adam Brumm.

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