The World Today for July 14, 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 numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 3,364,547 (+1.80%)
  2. Brazil: 1,884,967 (+1.09%)
  3. India: 906,752 (+3.24%)
  4. Russia: 738,787 (+1.76%)
  5. Peru: 330,123 (+1.16%)
  6. Chile: 317,657 (+0.83%)
  7. Mexico: 304,435 (+1.56%)
  8. UK: 291,691 (+0.18%)
  9. South Africa: 287,796 (+4.18%)
  10. Iran: 259,652 (+0.91%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

KOSOVO

Blind Spots

Kosovan President Hashim Thaci had to cancel a trip to the White House recently. The reason? The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague filed a 10-count indictment for war crimes against him, CNN reported.

Known as “The Snake,” Thaci was a soldier in the Kosovo Liberation Army. Between 1997 and 1999, with the help of NATO-led airstrikes, he fought the Serbian army in a war that claimed more than 10,000 lives and displaced 90 percent of Kosovo’s population. In 2008, after Kosovo declared independence, Thaci became prime minister of the small Balkan nation. In 2016, he became president.

One of the country’s founding fathers, Thaci stands accused of heinous crimes. According to the special prosecutor for Kosovo, Thaci was involved in 100 murders of ethnic Albanians, Serbs, Roma and political opponents.

A judge still has to review the indictment. Thaci has said he will step down if the trial moves forward, the Guardian reported. He denies the allegations. “Political mistakes in peace I could have made, but war crimes, never,” he said.

The case would be another milestone in the long road to healing from the Balkan war. Another UN-established tribunal based in the Hague, tried Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbs on charges of war crimes, genocide, human rights violations in Kosovo and also in the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, explained Bloomberg. But Milosevic died in custody in 2006 before a verdict was handed down.

Thaci’s pullout from the talks a few weeks ago, which also included Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, was a disappointment for American officials who hoped to restart the peace process between Kosovo and Serbia, wrote Dean Pineles in Balkan Transnational Justice.

Serbia has yet to recognize Kosovo, leaving the country in a political limbo and harming its economy. American officials had been hoping for a land swap and other measures that would put border issues to rest and allow the region to put the war in the rearview mirror.

Meanwhile, the European Union is stepping up again, already furious at US President Donald Trump for shutting them out of talks between Serbia and Kosovo, Bloomberg reported in another story. European officials fear that not only will EU interests be sidelined but that the two countries’ long-term interests will suffer. Still, the EU-led talks have been occurring for more than nine years, however, and have yet to bear fruit.

Even so, the European Union said the long-stalled talks between Serbia and Kosovo were “back on track” after a video meeting between the two countries’ leaders on Sunday, RFE/RL reported. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a virtual meeting mediated by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. They are scheduled to meet again in Brussels later this week.

Both Kosovo and Serbia are under pressure to come to a settlement. Both aspire to join the EU but can’t without reconciling.

At home, many citizens of both countries oppose such reconciliation.

On Thursday, 99 Kosovo Liberation Army veterans, symbolically representing the year the 1998-99 war in Kosovo ended, gathered at the main square in the capital of Pristina and other cities Thursday to denounce the indictment of Thaci as “unfair” and promoted by Serbia, the AP reported. Analysts say Kosovars have long been opposed to any prosecution of their own countrymen on charges of war crimes, blaming atrocities during the war on Serbs. Now that one of their own is indicted, some Kosovars say it threatens any future peace with Serbia.

“Such acts from this court do not positively impact the reconciliation in the Western Balkans,” the head of a war veterans’ organization, Hysni Gucati, told the AP.

But then, some observers note, reconciliation with other nations over the past comes easier after it happens at home.

WANT TO KNOW

POLAND

Divided, We Become

Polish incumbent President Andrzej Duda won Sunday’s closely watched presidential elections in a tight victory that gave the country’s conservative nationalist government a middling mandate and underscored the growing divisions in the country, leaving it “broken in half,” as Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza put it Monday.

Duda, a conservative, won around 51 percent of the vote, defeating his left-leaning rival, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who won nearly 49 percent, returns released Monday showed.

The election on Sunday was the second round of voting after Duda – initially believed to be a shoo-in – failed to secure enough votes in the first.

Turnout was the highest in 25 years.

Analysts say Duda’s victory gives the ruling Law and Justice party free rein to continue to implement its illiberal policies, some of which have put Poland at odds with the European Union, and clearly almost half of its own electorate.

The EU has criticized Poland – an EU member since 2004 – of damaging its democratic values and institutions as its government has moved to increase control over the courts and the media.

Despite having limited authority, the Polish president can veto laws in parliament: Trzaskowski, had he won, said he would have used his veto power to block bills introduced by Law and Justice, which controls parliament.

MALAYSIA

Vertigo

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin narrowly won a vote to replace the speaker of parliament Monday, the first test of support for his governing coalition which took power less than five months ago, the Associated Press reported.

The near-split vote, 111-109 in favor of replacing Speaker Mohamad Ariff Mohamad Yusof with a candidate aligned with the government, essentially prevents the opposition from launching a no-confidence vote against Muhyiddin, said analyst James Chin.

Muhyiddin’s legitimacy has been challenged since he was sworn in March 1 after taking his ethnic Malay party out of the governing coalition under former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir later resigned in protest and filed a motion of no-confidence against his former ally. Muhyiddin later formed a government with the opposition, including the party of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is facing trial on multiple graft charges.

Mahathir called the removal of the speaker unconstitutional, while Mohamad Arif said it was extraordinary and sets a new precedent in Malaysia.

Chin said, meanwhile, that Muhyiddin’s government is “not stable.”

SPAIN

Strange Bedfellows

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is finally able to pass his first budget in Spain after more than two years in power, following the victory of a key ally in a regional election, Bloomberg reported Monday.

The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) secured 39 percent of the vote in Sunday’s regional elections, making it the largest group in the Basque Parliament.

The center-right PNV has ruled the Basque region with Sanchez’s Socialist Workers’ Party (PDOE), which secured 14 percent of the vote. Sunday’s results will strengthen their alliance.

The victory will also allow Sanchez’s minority government to win support from the Basques in the national parliament in Madrid: The PNV currently holds six seats in the 350-member chamber.

The party previously vowed to support Sanchez’s 2021 spending plans if he delivers on certain pledges, including veto powers for some line items.

Sanchez’s last attempts to pass a budget led to his government’s collapse and an early election.

DISCOVERIES

Brace, and Run

Bees visit up to 5,000 flowers in a single day, and that is no easy feat.

The tiny insects must constantly fly through various obstacles such as shifting leaves, airborne seeds and gusts of wind to get to that sweet nectar, the New York Times reported.

Curious to see how the humble honeybees fare in these situations, a science team studied the pollinators move through nature’s obstacle courses.

To do this, the team set up an obstacle course in their lab comprised of rods, a moving platform and a flight tunnel with fans on both ends, researchers wrote in a recent paper. They then recorded honeybees flying through the course one at a time in various conditions – while the rods were moving or stationary, or when the wind was blowing.

The results revealed a unique behavior in the arthropods: They were generally cautious when flying through moving rods in still air, but more daring when the wind blew from either side.

The findings show that honeybees are complex decision-makers, with the researchers noting that the insects’ behavior is similar to humans when running through rainstorms – or as they termed it, the need to “get through the obstacles as fast as possible.”

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