The World Today for May 27, 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 1,681,418 (+1.12%)
  2. Brazil 391,222 (+4.35%)
  3. Russia 362,342 (+2.52%)
  4. UK 266,599 (+1.54%)
  5. Spain 236,259 (+0.36%)
  6. Italy 230,555 (+0.17%)
  7. France 182,847 (-0.12%)**
  8. Germany 181,200 (+0.33%)
  9. Turkey 158,762 (+0.60%)
  10. India 151,876 (+4.41%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country



Making Pigs Fly

The two men who claimed victory in Afghanistan’s presidential election last year have signed a power-sharing agreement.


Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani will remain in office and oversee the US-supported government in the capital of Kabul. His rival Abdullah Abdullah will appoint half of Ghani’s cabinet ministers and negotiate peace talks with the Taliban militants who want to overthrow the government and impose their ultra-orthodox Muslim rule on the Central Asian country.

Ghani and Abdullah will cooperate against an extremely complicated backdrop.

The US is moving ahead with plans to withdraw American forces that have been in the country since the 2001 terror attacks: Then, President George Bush moved to target the Taliban fighters who had given safe haven to Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. American troops are expected to be gone by this summer, reported the Associated Press.

That decision to pull out came after the US reached an agreement with the Taliban in February. That deal stipulated that the US would quit Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the militant group. Importantly, however, the Taliban didn’t reach a similar agreement with the government in Kabul, where officials are reluctant to release Taliban prisoners who in the past had been killing Afghan soldiers.

Even so, the government said it would release 900 Taliban prisoners Tuesday, part of the deal to free 5,000 in total, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, the Taliban declared a three-day ceasefire to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr earlier this week, with a possibility of extension.

Still, violence against Afghan civilians has not abated in recent months, wrote analyst Kate Clark in the Guardian. On May 12, Islamist fighters attacked a maternity wing in a Kabul hospital, for example, killing 24 people – mostly mothers but also two babies and a midwife. The hospital was in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood, suggesting that Sunni Muslims affiliated with Islamic State were responsible for the deadly incident. No one claimed responsibility. And even though the attack isn’t the usual Taliban style, suspicions were aroused.

Regardless, Ghani ordered the military to go into “offensive mode.”

Complicating matters, some Afghan officials lack confidence in their leadership, too. Recently a retired Afghan general defected to the Taliban, the Washington Post noted. Some fear that members of the Afghan military will switch sides and join the Taliban when the US leaves rather than face them on the battlefield under Ghani’s banner.

That means Ghani is in the unenviable position of letting his main political rival negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban while his army’s knees turn wobbly and the coronavirus spreads throughout the unprepared country, in what some called, “a catastrophe in the making.”

In an op-ed in the Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper, columnist Imran Jan wondered if Ghani’s days might be numbered. The president is increasingly looking like the scapegoat everybody can agree upon. “Ghani should apply for asylum in India while he has the chance,” wrote Jan.

For Ghani, it would be admitting defeat in the face of the almost impossible task before him. Even so, many of Ghani’s constituents would probably envy him. They would jump at the chance to escape.



The Glaring Exception

China is implementing privacy rights for the first time, a nod toward legitimizing and protecting its fast-growing internet sector while putting safeguards on the movement of its citizens’ personal data overseas, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The bill is part of a package of legislation proposed during China’s annual parliamentary session, which began late last week.

According to the bill, individuals will have a right to privacy and to have their data protected. Data collectors, meanwhile, are required to protect an individual’s personal information and cannot obtain, disclose or conduct transactions involving such data without consent.

Analysts say the bill is an important step in allowing individuals whose data is breached to seek compensation. Current laws do not provide adequate protection or sufficient penalties against companies responsible for keeping the data secure.

The bill brings China a step closer to standards in Western countries which have built extensive legal frameworks around data privacy. Still, it fails to protect people from the government’s extensive surveillance measures.


‘Badge of Honor’

An Italian Senate committee on Tuesday rejected a request from prosecutors to indict former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for blocking a migrant rescue ship from landing in Italy last year, Italian-based newswire ANSA reported.

The panel voted 13 to seven against lifting Salvini’s parliamentary immunity in order to prosecute him for “kidnapping.”

In August 2019, Salvini refused to allow a ship operated by Spanish aid group Open Arms to dock on Italian shores. The ship carrying more than 160 migrants spent nearly three weeks at sea until it was finally allowed to disembark on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Meanwhile, the Senate has already authorized prosecutors to press charges against Salvini in a separate but almost identical case concerning migrants on a coastguard ship last summer, Reuters reported.

Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, has welcomed the charges as a “badge of honor,” saying that as interior minister, he was acting to defend Italy’s borders.

Salvini ended his 14-month stint as a minister last year after his party exited the coalition government with the 5-Star Movement in an attempt to trigger snap elections.

His party remains popular but recent polls show a dip in its approval rating since the pandemic began.


Love and Law

Costa Rica legalized same-sex marriage Tuesday, becoming the first Central American country to allow the unions, the BBC reported.

The legislature passed a law Tuesday after being ordered by the constitutional court to do so: The court in 2018 said a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and discriminatory and gave lawmakers 18 months to change the law.

Following the bill’s passage, a lesbian couple on Tuesday became the first to tie the knot under the new law.

Religious groups, however, opposed the law and more than 20 lawmakers had tried to delay the amendment.

Same-sex marriage is already legal in other Latin American countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and some jurisdictions in Mexico.


Living With Neanderthals

Our human ancestors reached Europe from Africa earlier than previously thought, a new study has found.

Archaeologists discovered remains from four Homo sapiens – the present-day species of humans – in a Bulgarian cave dating to about 46,000 years ago, the Associated Press reported.

Previous archaeological studies determined that the first humans arrived from Africa around 40,000 years ago but the new find suggests that our ancestors shared the continent for much longer with the Neanderthals.

“We know that when (humans) arrived, there were Neanderthals,” said lead author Jean-Jacques Hublin. “The Danube Valley might have been a way for modern humans – by the way, at different periods – to move into this part of Europe.”

Researchers stipulate that humans started moving to Europe about 47,000 years ago during a brief warming period and despite encountering the extinct Neanderthals, they didn’t interact much with them.

The team noted, however, that the arrivals made pendants out cave bear bones and could have taught the practice to the other inhabitants of the continent.

The study also suggested that the early group likely consisted of a few hundred people and probably never made it west over the Alps.

Modern Europeans descended from the second wave of Homo sapiens out of Africa, Hublin said.

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