The World Today for April 30, 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 1,040,488 (+2.76%)
  2. Spain 236,899 (+2.06%)
  3. Italy 203,591 (+1.04%)
  4. France 166,543 (-1.48%)
  5. UK 166,441 (+2.52%)
  6. Germany 161,539 (+1.02%)
  7. Turkey 117,589 (+2.56%)
  8. Russia 99,399 (+6.24%)
  9. Iran 93,657 (+1.16%)
  10. China 83,944 (0.00%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



King and Country

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t one to let a good crisis go to waste.

Recently, after three elections in one year where he failed to win a sufficient majority to form a government, Netanyahu, a conservative, reached a deal with his rival Benny Gantz of the center-left Blue and White political alliance.

As the Washington Post explained, Netanyahu would remain prime minister for the next 18 months. Afterward, Gantz would succeed him and Netanyahu would become a cabinet minister. The deal was a remarkable comeback for a prime minister who has come under withering criticism for insisting on remaining in office even though he faces corruption charges.

Luckily for “King Bibi,” as his supporters call him, courts closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, causing officials to postpone his trial on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust from March 15 to May 24. Netanyahu now has some breathing room as he oversees the country’s response to the pandemic, including welcoming new Jewish immigrants to the country while ensuring they don’t bring the virus with them.

But the deal with Gantz has contingencies. Because Israeli law prohibits an indicted cabinet minister to serve in government but doesn’t mention what happens if the prime minister faces criminal charges, Netanyahu expects Gantz to help him change the law so he can switch jobs after the 18 months passes, Quartz reported.

Disappointment was palpable among Netanyahu critics and Gantz supporters. Gantz, a reserved ex-army chief of staff, had pledged never to join Netanyahu in a governing coalition. His two partners in the Blue and White alliance pulled out, causing the once-vaunted organization to collapse, Middle East Eye wrote. But Gantz put the country first, in spite of the political cost, in a sign of true statesmanship, wrote Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, former diplomats and co-authors of a book on Israeli leaders, in Foreign Policy.

Meanwhile, thousands took to Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv to protest Netanyahu remaining in power, reported CNN. Interestingly, the protesters practiced social distancing, standing on X-marks that were around six feet apart. The Atlantic magazine described the event as the future of protesting.

Barring a surprise, however, Netanyahu will be in charge, meaning he’s now free to pursue one of his main policy goals: expanding Israeli influence over the West Bank.

The United Nations and European Union issued warnings against new settlements in those Palestinian territories, Al Jazeera reported. American officials said the decision was Israel’s to make. International affairs experts Philip Gordon and Robert Malley exhorted presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to speak out against more land seizures.

As it stands now, Gantz will likely be in a position to influence Netanyahu one way or the other. But maybe not for a while.



Keeping the Kids In Line

The European Commission started legal action against Poland Wednesday over controversial legislation that aims to silence Polish judges, Reuters reported.

The bloc said that a bill introduced earlier this year by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party would punish judges who criticize the government’s reforms of the judicial system.

The European Union gave the country two months to address the issue.

If Poland fails to act, the bloc would likely take Poland to the European Court of Justice, which could lead to heavy fines and a court order to force the Polish government to change the legislation.

Over the past year, the EU has criticized the PiS for undermining Polish democracy and increasing its control over civil institutions, the judiciary and the media.

The EU also urged Warsaw to postpone presidential elections in May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The PiS-led administration is considering holding a postal ballot. Activists and opposition parties, however, say that such a vote would not be fair and transparent if held on such short notice.


Circling the Wagons

The French government announced Wednesday it will tighten the rules for review of foreign investments to protect domestic businesses weakened by the coronavirus pandemic, Agence France-Presse reported.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that a 10 percent ownership stake in large French companies by a non-European investor would initiate a review by the government.

The aim is to protect industries considered strategic to the nation, such as in the defense, energy and transport sectors.

Earlier this year, France dropped the threshold for a government review to 25 percent from the previous limit of 33 percent.

The country is following Germany, which earlier this month announced it would strengthen protections for domestic businesses in key sectors against foreign takeovers.


An Ignoble Designation

The Indian government blasted a report by a US government watchdog as “biased” after it found that religious freedom in India deteriorated sharply last year, the Washington Post reported.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said that the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi allowed for “campaigns of harassment and violence” against Muslims and other religious groups, according to its annual report.

Of particular concern was the government’s citizenship amendment act that would fast-track citizenship for people of six religions but exclude Muslims.

A spokesman for India’s ministry of external affairs rejected the accusations, saying, “On this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels.”

The report puts India into the “countries of particular concern” category, which are subject to sanctions if they do not improve, according to Al Jazeera.

Countries with that designation include China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea.


I’ve Got Your Back

Africa’s critically endangered black rhinos have poor eyesight making them unable to always discern potential threats.

Luckily for them, there’s a little birdie that sits on their backs and acts as a sentinel, Cosmos magazine reported.

Researchers Roan Plotz and Wayne Linklater discovered that the African red-billed oxpecker loves to sit on the beasties and warn them about approaching predators.

The little birds – known in Swahili as “the rhino’s guard” – live in perfect harmony with the huge mammals: They feed on the rhinos’ lesions and ticks and call out warnings about looming threats.

In their study, the researchers showed that rhinos with oxpeckers having their backs had an easier time detecting and avoiding intruders than those without.

“Those with oxpeckers detected the approaching human in 100 percent of our trials and at an average distance of 61 meters – nearly four times further than when rhinos were alone,” Plotz said.

Plotz noted, however, that the number of birds has significantly decreased, partly because the rhinos have been hunted to the brink of extinction.

He added that most wild black rhinos live without the birds, so reintroducing the guardian angels might ensure the rhinos’ survivability – and the birds’ too.

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