The World Today for April 02, 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 216,722 (+14.28%)
  2. Italy 110,574 (+4.52%)
  3. Spain 104,118 (+8.54%)
  4. China 82,394 (+0.11%)
  5. Germany 77,981 (+8.60%)
  6. France  57,763 (+9.33%)
  7. Iran 47,593 (+6.70%)
  8. UK 29,865 (+17.20%)
  9. Switzerland 17,768 (+7.00%)
  10. Turkey 15,679 (+15.87%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

IRAN

A Tin Ear

Iran has become an epicenter of the novel coronavirus. Infection rates, death rates and the number of senior officials who have contracted the illness are high and probably underreported.

Politics might have played a part in the spread, the New Yorker wrote. The outbreak occurred as leaders wanted citizens to celebrate the anniversary of Iran’s revolution on Feb. 11 and vote in the parliamentary elections 10 days later. They even went so far as to prevent doctors and nurses from wearing face masks and taking other protective measures to avoid causing panic, the Washington Post added.

A combination of “cynicism and ideology” kept Iran from acting sooner, Foreign Policy magazine reported. Officials allowed Chinese flights into the country, for example, as other countries blocked them. They likely permitted those flights in part because Iran is dependent on Chinese investment and assistance amid American economic sanctions.

But China can’t help Iran now from the economic consequences of the virus, which might also be worse for Iran than elsewhere because of the mullahs’ inaction. The Iranian economy had already contracted by 9 percent last year due to the sanctions. Recently, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey have closed their borders with Iran, squelching growth even more. Chinese flights stopped Feb. 23.

The pandemic might be the “black swan” event that topples Iran’s conservative mullahs from power, wrote the right-leaning American magazine National Review. In addition to the worsening economic woes, Iran’s ruling class are aging and infirm, a demographic especially vulnerable to the virus. Most importantly, Iran’s leaders appear incompetent and out of touch.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, for example, recently called off a major speech traditionally delivered on Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. The Atlantic magazine wrote how many Iranians asked why Khamenei couldn’t have delivered his speech on television, raising questions about whether the man who succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini either had the virus or had holed up in order to protect himself as his people suffered.

Meanwhile, the American drone strike that killed the military commander Qassem Soleimani and Iran’s slow response to accidentally shooting down a civilian airliner in January had already undermined a lot of popular support for politicians in Tehran.

And when Khamenei has made public statements, he has repeated conspiracy theories alleging that the US created the coronavirus, using Iranian genetic material to tailor it to target Iranians specifically, reported Al Jazeera.

At the same time, researchers at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology have estimated that as many as 3.5 million Iranians could die of the virus, wrote Deutsche Welle.

What to do? The US recently offered help but was rebuffed. That’s even though many believe the US still shouldn’t lift sanctions, such as argued here in this Bloomberg opinion piece.

However, standing by as millions of ordinary Iranians perish won’t lead to closer bonds if the regime falls.

WANT TO KNOW

INDIA

Après Moi, le Déluge

The Indian government introduced a new bill that could alter the demographics of Jammu and Kashmir, setting off outrage in the former autonomous region, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

The new domicile bill will allow those who have lived in the region for a period of 15 years to receive permanent residence. It also grants that status to children of Indian government officials who have served in Indian-administered Kashmir for 10 years.

The bill is the latest move by the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deal with the volatile Muslim-majority region: In August, India abrogated Article 370 of the constitution, which had given the region a “special status.”

Kashmiris and analysts fear that the abrogation and new legislation will lead to “demographic flooding” of the region by allowing outsiders to permanently settle there.

The government, however, has argued that both initiatives are meant to develop the region.

KOSOVO

One Hand Giveth…

Serbian and US officials criticized Kosovo on Wednesday for making it harder for Serbian nationals to enter the country even as it capitulated on demands to remove 100 percent tariffs on Serbian imports, Reuters reported.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced that the tariffs would be removed immediately, following pressure from the European Union and the United States, which last month halted $50 million in economic aid to the small Balkan nation.

The government, however, ordered a series of restrictions, including requiring special permits for Serbians entering Kosovo.

Serbian officials said that the measures were unacceptable, while the US Embassy in Kosovo argued the move would cause more tensions. Even so, the restrictions are similar to those Serbia imposes on Kosovars.

Kosovo imposed the tariffs in 2018 after Serbia blocked the country from joining international organizations, such as Interpol and UNESCO.

Relations between the two countries have been rocky or non-existent since Kosovo in 2008 declared independence from Serbia, a move Serbia does not recognize.

TURKEY

Crimes and Misdemeanors

The Turkish parliament began debating a new bill earlier this week that would provide early release for thousands of prisoners due to COVID-19 but keep political prisoners in jail, the Guardian reported.

The proposed legislation will make 90,000 prisoners eligible for either house arrest or parole. But the bill doesn’t apply to tens of thousands of journalists, academics and opposition politicians arrested under the country’s notorious anti-terrorism laws.

International and local human rights organizations have demanded the immediate release of political prisoners, such as opposition leader Selahattin Demirtas and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

The bill comes due to growing concern over cases of COVID-19 spiking in the overcrowded Turkish prison system.

Coronavirus cases have already skyrocketed in Turkey, jumping from nearly 1,900 a week ago to more than 15,000 – propelling Turkey into the top 10 countries for the first time this week.

Despite the rise in cases, the government has arrested dozens of individuals for “spreading panic” during the pandemic and is investigating 385 people for posting critical items on social media.

DISCOVERIES

Mantis Man

Most ancient rock art shows images of mythical figures or large animals – it’s uncommon to see depictions of invertebrates, such as insects.

A team of researchers, however, discovered an ancient petroglyph depicting a creature that is half man and half mantis (mantid) in central Iran, Newsweek reported.

In a new study, they reported that the rock art dated between 40,000 and 4,000 years. They theorized that the anthropomorphic image was made by nomadic tribes that lived in the area.

The image shows a creature with the upper body of a mantis – probably a local species of the Empusa genus – with human legs in a squatting position.

“The Iranian motif seems to be a combination of ‘praying mantis’ and ‘squatting (squatter) man,’ so it is hereby named ‘squatting (squatter) mantis man,'” the researchers wrote.

The team believes the image might mean that humans at that time were fascinated by the peculiar insect.

The authors explained that praying mantid depictions have been observed in other cultures, such as Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. They added that there could be numerous reasons as to why petroglyphs were made in the mantids’ honor.

“The useless but astonishing praying mantids could have merited petroglyphs of their forms by being part of ancient religions, fears, or admirations,” they said.

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