The World Today for February 14, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

GUINEA

Mining for a New Leader

International mining companies are circling around massive, high-quality ore deposits in Guinea. As Bloomberg reported, if the companies have their way, the small West African country could become the third-biggest exporter of iron ore in the world after Australia and Brazil.

Mining is already an important industry in Guinea. Undoubtedly, however, investors are waiting to see how the political crisis in Guinea will turn out before they pour billions of dollars into the impoverished country.

Riots have broken out in Guinea over President Alpha Conde’s drive to extend his time in office. Currently, after his second term in office ends at the end of the year, the 81-year-old Conde is supposed to step down. But he’s pushing for a referendum on March 1, when legislative elections will also be held, to change the law to allow him to remain in office.

“This is a constitutional coup,” opposition spokesman Faya Millimono told the Associated Press. “I call on all Guineans to stand up to block the way to this treachery.”

At least 20 people have died since the protests started in October last year. Millimono and others have said they would boycott the vote. Catholic clergy in the country have called on Conde to stop and retire, according to Vatican News. But the president has vowed to continue in his drive to retain power.

The president’s security forces are cracking down. France 24 published a harrowing video of police officers using a woman as a human shield in a confrontation with protesters who were throwing rocks at them. The mother of a six-month-old baby, the woman worked in a nearby market. Three officers were suspended as a result of the incident.

Incidents like those could become more common if Conde and his political rivals stay on the collision course they are currently following, warned Human Rights Watch. The organization urged Conde and regional organizations like the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, to establish measures to prevent violence and compile information on perpetrators of violence so they might face justice in the future.

Guinea has models for such processes. For example, an ECOWAS Court of Justice has been meeting in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, to hear a case accusing Guinean authorities and Brazilian mining company Vale-BSG of conspiring in 2012 to kill six people near N’Zerekore, a remote region in the country’s southeast, reported Agence France-Presse. A verdict is expected in April.

Conde was in charge in 2012. Perhaps a new leader might be in order.

WANT TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

A Step Closer

The Taliban and the United States have negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence, an important step toward ending the nearly 19-year-old war in Afghanistan, Reuters reported.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper made the announcement Thursday during a news conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

The announcement comes a day after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that there had been a possible breakthrough between the US and the militant group during the Qatar talks.

Governmental and diplomatic sources said that a peace deal could be signed this month if the Taliban significantly reduce violence, eventually leading to the withdrawal of US troops from the country, the National reported.

There are about 13,000 American troops as well as thousands of other NATO personnel in Afghanistan.

The news of the proposal comes amid continuous attacks from the Taliban, which controls about 40 percent of the country.

Last month, a US government agency stated that there had been a record number of attacks by the Taliban and other anti-government forces in the last three months of 2019.

UNITED KINGDOM

The Cleanup

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson replaced his Treasury Chief Sajid Javid following a major cabinet reshuffle on Thursday after the country left the European Union last month, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Javid resigned after refusing Johnson’s request that he replace all his senior advisers.

Johnson also fired five other cabinet ministers, including Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, who helped negotiate the return of the British province’s regional parliament, a key part of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord that ended 30 years of violence known as “the Troubles.”

Javid was replaced by Rishi Sunak, a 39-year-old Treasury minister who previously worked for Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Sunak’s arrival comes less than four weeks before Johnson’s government lays out its new tax-and-spending plans that are expected to increase public spending and investment in Britain’s left-behind regions.

Investors believe that Sunak’s ascension means that the Treasury will not block more government borrowing to stimulate the economy.

Since the country exited the EU, Johnson has been trying to calm things down by pushing for several projects, such as allowing Chinese company Huawei to build part of Britain’s 5G telecommunication infrastructure.

IRAN

The Big Test

More than 7,000 candidates on Thursday began campaigning for Iran’s parliamentary elections on Feb. 21, amid a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Next week’s poll is widely considered to be a contest between hard-liners and conservatives since the country’s vetting body disqualified most pro-reform and moderate candidates.

Moderate President Hassan Rouhani criticized the Guardians Council for disqualifying thousands of candidates but urged people to vote in the upcoming elections.

Analysts believe that the elections will be a test of Rouhani’s popularity. He has struggled to deliver on his promises to improve people’s lives under crippling US economic sanctions.

Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated since Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018. The move prompted Iran to further step back from its commitments under the deal.

Relations further worsened last month following America’s killing of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. In response, Tehran launched missile strikes on two bases hosting US troops in Iraq.

DISCOVERIES

Pet Playlist

Spotify, one of the leaders in the audio streaming industry, is trying to appeal to a new audience: pets.

The Swedish-based company recently launched a new feature that will allow pet owners to create customized playlists and podcasts for their animals, Forbes reported.

Owners can access the “Pet Playlists” website and select the type of pet they have, its personality traits, as well as a name and picture of the animal.

The algorithm will then come up with a curated music playlist that is appealing to both pets and their owners.

Separately, Spotify also developed a podcast catered to dogs to help them feel relaxed and calm while left home alone.

The company came up with this novel method after consultations with pet industry researchers and discovering that 71 percent of pet owners surveyed in the US, Britain, Australia, Italy and Spain have played music for their animals.

This is not the first time that companies have created pet-focused content.

YouTube offers anti-anxiety music for dogs, and Spotify has been catering to pet owners with its Pet Life Radio podcasts for some time.

Spotify’s new service, however, is a customized approach aimed to distinguish the platform from competitors and attract new subscribers – pets included.

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