August 27, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

MONTENEGRO

Breaking Away

The small Balkan country on the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro, holds parliamentary elections at the end of the month. The vote on August 30 will be held against a backdrop of culture, religion and foreign influence.

Elected officials are in a conflict with the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro over a religious property law that requires the church to prove ownership of lands connected to its properties.

Church representatives fear the law will result in the government seizing medieval churches, shrines and monasteries, reported Balkan Insight. Prime Minister Dusko Markovic of the Democratic Party of Socialists, which has run the country for 30 years, has denied those assertions.

But his officials have argued that much of the church’s lands belonged to the sovereign Kingdom of Montenegro before the country became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918 and Yugoslavia in 1941 before gaining independence in an EU-observed referendum in 2006.

Montenegrin leaders have also expressed suspicions about the Serbian Orthodox Church, saying it has acted in the interests of its Serbian masters in Belgrade, the Associated Press reported.

Some Montenegrins think it was a mistake to split from Serbia 14 years ago, ending a union that was the last remnant of Yugoslavia. Almost a third of Montenegrins identify as Serbians. More than 70 percent of Montenegrins are Christians, but around 70 percent follow the Serbian church while the rest follow the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which dates from 1993 after Yugoslavia collapsed, explained TRT World.

Local English-language news website Total Montenegro News laid out the many parties, including ethnic Albanian and Bosniak organizations, running in the elections. There’s little doubt over who will receive sufficient votes to form a governing coalition, however, wrote Emerging Europe.

Human rights group Freedom House recently demoted Montenegro to the status of a non-democracy, describing “increased state capture, abuse of power, and tactic of ruling by fear” from leaders, according to European Western Balkans, a Serbian think tank.

The church has suggested that the property rule is yet another example of the government intimidating someone like a common thug. Two members of the British parliament penned an op-ed in Newsweek exhorting NATO to become involved and protect Christians in Montenegro.

Observers wondered if fears of the coronavirus, which for now has largely spared Montenegro, has diverted voters’ attention away from the church properties controversy. That shift might be a double-edged sword, as it may focus voters on the government’s lockdown, which was well-intentioned but has sent the tourist-dependent economy into a ditch.

Even tiny kingdoms have big challenges.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAN

Access Granted

Iran agreed to give International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to two suspected former nuclear sites after a months-long standoff between the two parties, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported.

Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog said in a joint statement that Tehran was “voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations.”

The move comes after the IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi visited Iran earlier this week amid mounting disputes over access to the two sites to determine whether undeclared nuclear activity took place at them during the early 2000s.

The UN agency passed a rare resolution in June to step up pressure on Iran to “fully cooperate” and allow quick access to the sites.

Wednesday’s agreement also comes after the United States has tried to pressure the UN Security Council to reimpose sanctions on Iran that were previously removed following the 2015 nuclear deal.

The US withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed unilateral sanctions on Tehran.

However, the Security Council has rejected US requests, including demands for “snapback” sanctions on Iran for violating the nuclear deal.

FRANCE

Naval Games

France joined military exercises with Italy, Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Wednesday, amid increasing tensions between Turkey and Greece over energy resources in the disputed waters, Radio France Internationale reported.

French military officials said three Rafale fighter jets and one warship will join the exercise, while emphasizing that the Mediterranean is a “shared asset that should not be a playground for the ambitions of some.”

Tensions between Turkey and Greece have recently escalated as Ankara has sent a warship-protected prospecting mission to the waters around Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a tougher stance on Turkey’s rights in the Mediterranean, after initially offering dialogue with Greece.

Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Athens plans to extend its territorial waters along its western coastline across from Italy, the Voice of America reported.

The military exercises also come as relations between Turkey and France have soured over Ankara’s increasing role in Libya.

European Union foreign ministers are meeting on Thursday and Friday to discuss the matter. Greece is demanding sanctions, but it remains unclear if EU members will back the proposition.

MALI

Nobody to Support

The European Union suspended its training missions in Mali Wednesday following the military coup this month that removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from power, Reuters reported.

The missions are aimed at training Mali’s army and police as part of international efforts to stabilize the West African country and extend the government’s authority.

The bloc said the suspension was temporary, adding that missions were designed to support “the legitimate national authorities.”

Keita was deposed by the military on Aug. 18 after months of protests against his rule: Protesters called for his resignation as public discontent grew over alleged corruption, the poor economy and an ongoing Islamist insurgency in the north, Al Jazeera reported.

The suspension comes after West African mediators and Mali’s coup leaders failed to reach an agreement earlier this week on a transitional government.

No timeline has been established for elections to return the country to civilian rule, but coup leaders said they might occur “within a reasonable time.”

The coup has raised fears that Mali could further spiral into chaos as it is facing a major threat from Islamist militants.

DISCOVERIES

Smart Bricks

Electrical outlets are going to be superfluous in the future, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, were able to turn normal red bricks into energy-storing devices using a special conductive polymer, New Scientist reported.

The research team heated the bricks with acid vapor to dissolve the hematite inside – the mineral that gives bricks their red color. They later added other compounds – including the polymer known as PEDOT – which reacted with the dissolved hematite.

The end result was a dark brownish-blue brick filled with tiny conductive PEDOT fibers.

The authors noted that the small bricks could be charged up and store enough energy to power a green LED light for about 10 minutes on a single charge.

The best part is that the smart bricks could be charged 10,000 times without losing more than 10 percent of their storage capacity.

However, the team isn’t sure if the current bricks are suitable for construction.

“They were exposed to acid, so I would not use them for construction purposes, but we have not carried out mechanical testing,” said co-author Julio D’Arcy.

D’Arcy and his colleagues, however, believe that their device could be used for decorative purposes or connected to solar cells to provide emergency lighting.

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: 5,822,927 (+0.75%)
  2. Brazil: 3,717,156 (+1.29%)
  3. India: 3,310,234 (+2.34%)
  4. Russia: 968,297 (+0.48%)
  5. South Africa: 615,701 (+0.44%)
  6. Peru: 607,382 (+1.16%)
  7. Mexico: 573,888 (+0.93%)
  8. Colombia: 572,243 (+1.80%)
  9. Spain: 419,849 (+1.77%)
  10. Chile: 402,365 (+0.34%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours