August 28, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

BELARUS

Let’s Fly the White, Red and White

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is not backing down.

The leader of the opposition in the former Soviet republic of Belarus fled to Lithuania after she lost an election to President Alexander Lukashenko on August 9. She feared for her life and the lives of her family after Lukashenko was declared the winner by an unbelievable landslide.

As the New York Times explained, European Union leaders would not recognize the vote.

But Tikhanovskaya supported the protesters who took to the streets of the capital of Minsk and Belarusian cities to decry election fraud. “They were shouting for their future, for their wish to live in a free country, against violence, for their rights,” she told the BBC. “We have no right to step back now – if not now, we’ll be slaves and our people understand this and I’m sure we will stand till the end.”

National Public Radio produced a photo essay that suggested another so-called “color revolution” like the ones that upended regimes in Ukraine and elsewhere could be in the offing. The country’s dismal economy and Lukashenko’s dismissal of the coronavirus haven’t helped his standing among ordinary people.

“Belarusians have finally emerged as a nation,” Alesia Rudnik, a researcher at the Minsk-based Center for New Ideas, told Slate.

Lukashenko’s security forces have cracked down on the protest, killing at least two and detaining thousands, Reuters wrote. Police summoned Nobel-winning author Svetlana Alexievich to answer questions about her role in the unrest, too.

His actions have only inflamed tensions and potentially lost him allies as factory workers strike in opposition to violence. He’s installed Russian “specialists” in the country’s state-owned television network to change hearts and minds, added Bloomberg.

The role of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Lukashenko’s fate is interesting. The two countries are closely allied militarily and diplomatically, but in recent years Lukashenko has been making overtures to the West in an attempt to improve his obviously inferior status relative to Putin.

Lukashenko is making the case that US- and EU-backed pro-democracy activists are seeking to overthrow him now and move on to Putin later. But, rather than rescuing Lukashenko, Putin is more likely to strike a deal that’s good for Russia with whoever replaces him, argued international analyst Ian Bremmer in Time. Keeping his options open, Putin has, however, put together a police force that could intervene.

Indeed, while Russian officials have said they are vying for control of the country in a long-running conflict with the West, the Financial Times concluded that Putin would opt for a “controlled succession” in Belarus.

That might be better than no succession at all, but the people should be careful what they wish for.

WANT TO KNOW

NEW ZEALAND

A Time to Heal

A New Zealand court sentenced gunman Brenton Tarrant to life imprisonment without parole for the killing of 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch last year, the Guardian reported Thursday.

The court found the 29-year-old Australian man guilty on 51 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and a terrorism charge.

Judges ruled that the attacks had been well planned over a long time and that Tarrant had amassed a cache of semiautomatic weapons, as well as studied the layout of the mosques he planned to attack.

Tarrant remained silent during the trial and offered no opposition when the judges handed down the sentence.

In March, he pled guilty to all charges, and there were fears that he would use the trial as a platform to spread his extremist ideology.

The verdict marks the first time a person has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in New Zealand.

The shocking attack has been considered to be the country’s worst peacetime massacre and generated debate on how to tackle white supremacist terrorism.

CHINA

Dangerous Waters

China denounced the United States Thursday for imposing sanctions against officials and companies involved in Beijing’s militarization of the disputed South China Sea, CNN reported.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the sanctions interfered with China’s internal affairs and were a violation of international law.

Thursday’s announcement comes a day after the US imposed penalties against a number of Chinese officials and 24 state-owned companies for their role in constructing artificial islands in the disputed sea.

China has laid claim to most of the sea, despite contesting claims from Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The contested waterway is home to vital shipping lanes and could be a potential flashpoint for military conflicts between the US and China.

The first time Washington has taken punitive action against Beijing over the South China Sea, the move marks another low point in the bilateral relations between two of the world’s largest economies.

Washington has previously sanctioned Chinese companies and individuals over the detention of ethnic Muslim Uighurs and its efforts to increase its control over semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

BURUNDI

Coming Home

Nearly 500 Burundian refugees started their journey back to their home country from Rwanda Thursday, the first group to return after five years in exile following deadly political turmoil in Burundi, the Associated Press reported.

The refugees said they were voluntarily going back to Burundi, adding that they are hopeful about rebuilding their lives now that President Evariste Ndayishimiye has taken power.

Ndayishimiye took office in June after winning the elections and invited all those in exile to return and rebuild the nation.

Some refugees, however, remained uncertain about the promises of peace and remained wary of the new government.

The United Nations said that hundreds of people died and thousands fled to neighboring countries following the late President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision in 2015 to run for a third term, which critics called unconstitutional.

Nkurunziza died in early June of what the government called a heart attack, a few weeks after Ndayishimiye – his handpicked successor – won the elections.

DISCOVERIES

Equally Endangered

Conservation efforts have mainly focused on larger animal species like rhinos and birds, but there’s one group of creatures that has been left behind: parasites.

Parasites get a bad rap, but they also face the same risk of extinction caused by the loss of habitat and climate change as more charismatic animals, NPR reported.

Now, scientists have created a “global parasite conservation plan” to protect the organisms and give them priority in conservation efforts.

Scientific research hasn’t given much attention to parasites, and it’s estimated that only about 10 percent of them have been formally identified – with millions of species still unknown.

“Parasites have a major public relations problem,” said co-author Chelsea Wood.

Researchers, however, have noted that parasites are integral to the ecosystem and can help balance food webs, which involves keeping animal numbers in check.

But as their host species are threatened with extinction, so are the tiny organisms occupying them: Biologists fear that about one in every three species of parasites could face extinction in the next 50 years.

The new list aims to conduct further research on parasites as well as include them in conservation and restoration plans.

Nevertheless, it will be a long way to go until these little creatures get the same public support as polar bears.

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: 5,869,032 (+0.79%)
  2. Brazil: 3,761,391 (+1.19%)
  3. India: 3,387,500 (+2.33%)
  4. Russia: 972,972 (+0.48%)
  5. Peru: 621,997 (+2.41%)
  6. South Africa: 618,286 (+0.42%)
  7. Colombia: 581,995 (+1.70%)
  8. Mexico: 579,914 (+1.05%)
  9. Spain: 429,507 (+2.30%)
  10. Chile: 404,102 (+0.43%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours