The World Today for April 13, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest number as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US 557,590 (+5.20%)
  2. Spain 166,831 (+0.49%)
  3. Italy 156,363 (+2.69%)
  4. France 133,670 (+2.25%)
  5. Germany 127,854 (+1.91%)
  6. UK 85,208 (+6.66%)
  7. China 83,135 (+0.01%)
  8. Iran 71,686 (+2.37%)
  9. Turkey 56,956 (+9.18%)
  10. Belgium 29,647  (0.00%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



The Hidden Victim

Count democracy and human rights among the victims of the novel coronavirus.

Hungary is perhaps the best example. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán enacted emergency legislation that removed the few remaining checks and balances that had curbed his power, wrote the Atlantic magazine. Now, he can jail anyone he deems to have spread misinformation during the public health crisis.

“Orban is dismantling democracy in front of our eyes,” European Parliament member Tanja Fajon of Slovenia told the Associated Press. “This is a shame for Europe, its fundamental values and democracy. (Orban) abused coronavirus as an excuse to kill democracy and media freedom.”

But Orban is not alone.

Russian snoops are considering ramping up their surveillance of the population to levels that might feel familiar to those who lived in the police state of the Soviet Union, the Guardian noted. Now a virus rather than Western capitalism is the contagion they want to contain.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic similarly used the announcement of an emergency to close borders, deploy troops in the streets to enforce 12-hour curfews and ban anyone older than 65 from leaving their homes.

Europe isn’t special, either. At National Public Radio, correspondent Julie McCarthy described “power grabs” all over the world as authoritarians seize power, imposing restrictions that might be plausible reactions to a pandemic but strike many as extreme wishes fulfilled.

In Botswana, officials have proposed extending rules that give them “absolute” power by another six months, Voice of America reported. Defenders of the new policy said courts will still function and hear complaints about undue restrictions on their rights. Members of the Botswana Democratic Party hold the presidency and a majority in the legislature, however. Critics fear that the existence of political opposition is in jeopardy.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni made his latest power grab by moving in mid-March to postpone next year’s elections by two years, the Nairobi Times reported. In power since 1986, he has twice won constitutional changes that benefit himself – scrapping term limits and presidential age limits to stay in power – while clamping down on opponents.

Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the police and security forces to shoot anyone who “creates trouble” during a lockdown designed to halt the spread of coronavirus on the island of Luzon, Al Jazeera wrote. This warning came after residents of a slum in Manila’s Quezon City protested over not receiving any food or other relief supplies since the lockdown began weeks ago.

And invoking the draconian Digital Security Act, which gives officials the right to crack down on free speech, Bangladeshi police have arrested doctors, academics and others who have spoken publicly about the pandemic, Human Rights Watch complained. Officials allegedly want to preclude misinformation but seem often to silence critics of the government’s response.

Meanwhile, there are heightened concerns about human rights violations in China and the belief in Europe and elsewhere that democracy is weakening even in the US.

A commentary in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace asserted that change is bound to come to many countries’ politics as the value and shortcomings of their responses to the virus reveal themselves.

Whether those changes help or hurt people in the long run is an open question.



Risky Business

Israel may be on the verge of its fourth election in just over a year after Israeli President Reuven Rivlin refused to give Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz a two-week extension to form a new coalition government, the Associated Press reported.

Rivlin said Sunday that under the “current circumstances” – the country is grappling with the novel coronavirus pandemic – he could not grant the extension.

Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now have until midnight Monday to reach a power-sharing deal. If they fail, the country could be forced to hold another election.

Last month, Rivlin asked Gantz to form a government after a narrow majority of lawmakers signaled their support for him to become prime minister. Gantz, however, later said that he would try to form an “emergency” government with Netanyahu’s Likud party.

So far, negotiations have stalled and Gantz’s move has fragmented his Blue and White alliance.

The situation could benefit Netanyahu who was due to go on trial on corruption charges. The trial has been postponed until at least May.


Glass and Torture

Russian authorities said Saturday that one inmate died during a riot and ensuing fire in a Siberian penal colony late last week, an event sparking concerns over systematic abuse within Russia’s prison system, Agence France-Presse reported.

Authorities blamed prisoners for the clash but human rights activists say the riot was sparked by a guard beating an inmate.

Activists added that several prisoners also used broken glass to hurt themselves as part of the protest against abuse.

Police prevented independent observers from accessing the colony during the chaos: The prisoners’ relatives have been unable to contact the prison due to quarantine restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.

Following the riot, local activist group, Siberia Without Torture, said Saturday it will launch an independent investigation to “prevent similar things from happening in other colonies.”

Reports of torture in Russians prison have been documented in the past.

In 2018, a videotape showing Russian officers beating a bound inmate sparked outrage, prompting Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service to investigate all complaints of violence by prisoners, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.


And Then There Were Two

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Sunday that two individuals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have died of Ebola, sparking fears that the virus is re-emerging amid the fight against the novel coronavirus, the Independent reported.

Until late last week, the DRC had reported no new Ebola cases in more than seven weeks and was due to mark the official end of the second-deadliest outbreak of Ebola on record.

A new case emerged on Friday, however, with a second one over the weekend. WHO officials are now trying to trace the victim’s contacts – believed to be more than 200 individuals.

The organization said that the new case was not entirely unexpected: Flare-ups or one-off transmissions do occur at the end of an Ebola outbreak, and new cases do not always signal a new outbreak.

Since August 2018, more than 2,200 have died from the Ebola virus.

Although two vaccines have helped contain the virus, public mistrust and militia attacks have hampered the efforts of health workers to treat victims and identify those who are infected.


The Game of Death

The ancient Egyptians enjoyed board games but they weren’t used just to pass the time.

Instead, a new study shows that one particular game, called senet, evolved into a séance of sorts, a way to communicate with the dead, Fox News reported.

Historians believe that senet was ubiquitous and played by all levels of Egyptian society since it first emerged 5,000 years ago. It fell out of favor about 2,500 years later.

Lead author Walter Crist noted that the board game took spiritual overtones about 3,500 years ago.

In his research, he analyzed a senet board in the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in California to better understand its evolution.

He said that over time, Egyptian texts mentioned that the game was used to depict the movement of the soul through the Egyptian underworld.

Crist added that the board also featured a hieroglyphic symbol for water, which represents a river or lake that ancient Egyptians believed the soul encountered on its journey to the underworld.

The game resembles a cross between chess and backgammon as we know them today.

Click here to see how to play it.

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