The World Today for March 27, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 170 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest number as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US 85,991 (+24.27%)
  2. China 81,828 (+0.11%)
  3. Italy 80,589 (+8.34%)
  4. Spain 57,786 (+16.70%)
  5. Germany 47,278 (+26.67%)
  6. France 29,567 (+15.50%)
  7. Iran 29,406 (+8.84%)
  8. UK 11,813 (+22.54%)
  9. Switzerland 11,811 (+8.39%)
  10. South Korea 9,332 (+0.98%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentages change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

TAJIKISTAN

Sheltering in Place

As cases of the novel coronavirus mount around the globe, Tajiks have not been following the guidance of public health experts.

Flouting directives on social distancing, around 12,000 Tajiks recently attended rehearsals for celebrations of Nowruz, the Persian new year in Tajikistan, reported Eurasianet.

But the Columbia University-based news service noted that plenty of Tajiks are very worried about the health and economic fallout from the pandemic.

A United Nations report published recently on ReliefWeb described the Central Asian country as among the poorest of the ex-Soviet republics. Almost 30 percent of its people live in poverty. Almost 10 percent live in extreme poverty. A global economic slowdown will hurt the country more than most.

If the coronavirus pandemic exacts a terrible toll on Tajikistan, one man will bear responsibility: President Emomali Rahmon. Ruling for the past 27 years – he’s now the longest-serving head of state in the former Soviet Union – Rahmon has created a cult of personality around his rule, as the New York Times recently described in a travel story.

An authoritarian, Rahmon and his allies have suppressed free speech, the media and political dissent as they have failed to improve the country’s economy. Proxy voting, where the head of a household votes for an entire family, is also common.

Before recent parliamentary elections on March 1, officials arrested 100 people, including journalist Daler Sharipov, for their supposedly radical views, including alleged connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Guardian reported. Banned in Tajikistan in 2006, the transnational Brotherhood briefly led Egypt’s government before a coup. Human Rights Watch claimed the charges against Sharipov were pointless other than to silence critical voices.

Rahmon also banned the only real opposition to his presidency, the Islamic Renaissance Party, in 2015. Possibly the only legal faith-based political party in the region, wrote the Diplomat, it previously sat two lawmakers in parliament. Officials declared the party a terrorist organization with the help of the country’s supreme court.

Voters unsurprisingly elected a legislature that was uncannily similar to the previous one, except without any independent voices. The only other opposition party, the Social Democrats, failed to win a single seat. “No Debate, No Competition, No Surprises: It’s a Tajik Election,” was the headline in Radio Free Europe.

Nobody expects the November presidential election to be much different, unless Rahmon decides to step down so that his son, the mayor of the capital of Dushanbe, can take his place.

Rahmon has ordered Tajikistan’s borders closed to countries where the coronavirus is spreading. He can’t save his people from himself, though.

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

Throwing Down a Gauntlet

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro lashed out against US indictments unsealed Thursday charging him and his close associates with narco-terrorism, part of an escalating US campaign to force the dictator from power, the Washington Post reported.

“There’s a conspiracy from the United States and Colombia and they’ve given the order of filling Venezuela with violence,” Maduro said on Twitter.

The move comes as support for the US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido is fading, especially as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has prevented people from taking to the streets in protest.

Last year, Guaido declared himself interim president and staged protests in a bid to oust Maduro.

The opposition has also unsuccessfully attempted to urge the military and members of Maduro’s inner circle to switch sides.

Some worry the indictments could strengthen support for Maduro.

NEW ZEALAND

A Sigh of Relief

In a surprise reversal, a gunman who murdered 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch last year pleaded guilty on Thursday to all charges, the Associated Press reported.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 29-year-old Australian man, was charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism at the Christchurch High Court. He had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges and his trial was scheduled for June.

He is the first person to be found guilty of terrorism in New Zealand under laws passed after the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

The shooting prompted the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to enact new laws banning certain semi-automatic weapons.

Many feared that Tarrant would use his trial to spread his white supremacist views, which had been highlighted in a 74-page manifesto he published online shortly before the attacks.

Ardern said there was “a certain sense of relief that the whole nation, but particularly our Muslim community, are being spared from a trial that could have otherwise acted as a platform.”

KOSOVO

Collapsing From Within

Kosovo’s new ruling coalition collapsed this week after lawmakers, including those from the governing coalition, voted in favor of a no-confidence motion against the government amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the New York Times reported.

The administration of Prime Minister Albin Kurti collapsed after a disagreement over imposing a state of emergency, which could give more power to his political rival President Hashim Thaci.

Kurti will remain as a caretaker leader, but the vote leaves the small Balkan nation without strong leadership to contain the virus, which has infected more than 60 people and caused one death.

Though the pandemic took center stage in the vote, Kurti’s coalition partner also disagreed with the prime minister’s policy on a decades-old impasse between Kosovo and Serbia.

Kosovo has imposed 100 percent tariffs on Serbian imports in response to Serbian lobbying to restrict Kosovo’s international role.

The United States has been trying to resolve the dispute and has pressured Kurti to remove the tariffs as a sign of goodwill toward Serbia.

The US froze millions of dollars in aid for Kosovo and has threatened to withdraw American peacekeepers, a prospect that terrifies Kosovars who see the US military presence as a guarantor of security.

DISCOVERIES

A Sunbreak

A man from London became the second person cured of his HIV infection, sparking hope of a possible cure against the virus that causes AIDS, CBS News reported.

A science team wrote in a new study how the two patients became HIV-free thanks to an arduous treatment that potentially could have killed them.

The London patient, Adam Castillejo, had to undergo a bone marrow transplant to cure an untreatable type of blood cancer known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The previous HIV patient cured, Timothy Ray Brown, had also undergone a marrow transplant, in his case to cure leukemia.

Both patients received a transplant from a donor with a genetic mutation: a protein normally found on the surface of white blood cells was missing.

HIV uses the protein, known as CCR5, to enter the cells it infects, but the lack of CCR5 means that the virus is unable to infect its host.

Both men ended up receiving new immune systems with built-in genetic resistance to HIV. Doctors theorized that any traces of the virus remaining in their bodies eventually wilted because it couldn’t spread.

The treatment points toward a potential gene therapy to cure HIV, but there are several problems for widespread use among millions of AIDS patients.

Bone marrow transplants are radical procedures reserved for people with fatal conditions. Furthermore, the patient also needs a bone marrow-matched donor who carries the extremely rare mutation.

Still, there is no question it’s a breakthrough that sparks hope for the 38 million people infected with HIV worldwide.

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