October 07, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

ARMENIA & AZERBAIJAN

Simmer, and Boil

Recently, Azerbaijan released a video of Azeri soldiers firing rockets at enemy emplacements in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region in the South Caucasus, Reuters reported. They also released photographs of the alleged damage of Armenian shelling in the Azeri town of Terter.

War has returned to the enclave.

Nagorno-Karabakh’s population is mostly ethnically Armenian but the enclave is within Azerbaijan, explained Al Jazeera. Both countries are former Soviet republics whose borders reflect the whims of communist mapmakers, not the facts on the ground. Rather than delineate the Armenian populations, they divided them from one another.

“In essence, this is a story of a powerful outsider changing history by drawing arbitrary lines on a map that would later spark conflict,” wrote international relations analyst and author, Ian Bremmer in Time.

The region’s status has been disputed since 1918 when the Russian empire fell. During the Soviet era, leaders in Moscow imposed peace from above. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990s, the citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh moved to break away from Azerbaijan and join Armenia, triggering a war between Armenian and Azeri forces that resulted in 30,000 deaths.

Since then, skirmishes have been common for years along the border. This time, though, it’s on a bigger scale, with both sides using armed drones and powerful, long-range rocket artillery, analysts say. Already, civilians have been killed on all sides, CBS News reported Tuesday.

In recent fighting, it appears that Azerbaijan had been planning a long-awaited assault to recover a part of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Economist wrote. Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the UK, Tahir Taghizade, writing in the Guardian, argued that Armenia has attempted to ethnically cleanse the region. Azeri leaders describe Armenian troops in Nagorno-Karabakh as violating Azeri sovereignty, added Newsweek.

Most of the fighting so far has been artillery duels. After fears of a full-fledged war between the two sides, the second concern among international observers is how the conflict might spiral out of control, dragging Turkey, Russia, Europe and others into a potential mire.

French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump have called for an end to the fighting, Bloomberg wrote. Turkey supports Azerbaijan, however, and has backed the offensive to retake a part of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia, meanwhile, has signed a mutual-defense pact with Armenia and has an army base in the country.

The fight could expand like others have done in the region. The Jerusalem Post reported that Turkey has recruited and transported Syrian soldiers to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan, a majority Shiite Muslim country whose citizens are ethnically related to Turkish folks.

Armenia is almost entirely Christian. Armenians also maintain that they suffered genocide under the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th Century, which Turkey’s official version of history denies.

It’s a combustible mix, leaving civilians like Ruzanna Avagyana, a 53-year-old social worker from the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, caught in the middle.

“People are afraid,” she told the New York Times.

WANT TO KNOW

MALI

The Calm After the Storm

West African leaders lifted sanctions against Mali Tuesday, nearly two months after a military coup ousted former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, to support the handover to civilian rule, Al Jazeera reported.

The August coup followed months of nationwide protests over Mali’s deteriorating economy, alleged electoral malpractice and a worsening security situation.

Meanwhile, on Monday, interim president, retired Colonel Bah Ndaw, appointed a 25-member cabinet comprised of civilians and military officials – including members of the anti-Keita protest movement – to lead an 18-month transitional government. The new interim government also includes former rebels that signed a peace agreement in 2015.

The regional power group ECOWAS had warned Mali’s military to hand power back quickly to the civilians or risk isolation.

Mali is currently plagued by an eight-year Islamist insurgency in the north that has spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. The coup sparked concern among regional and international leaders that it would exacerbate the conflict.

EUROPEAN UNION

Privacy: 1, Government: 0

The European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that EU nations cannot collect mass mobile and internet data on citizens, dealing a blow to governments trying to monitor their citizens through controversial surveillance tools, CNBC reported.

The verdict said that EU law dictates that states cannot force internet and phone companies to conduct “general and indiscriminate transmission or retention of traffic data and location data.”

The EU’s highest court added that the exception is for reasons of national security, as long as the surveillance is approved by a judge or an independent administrative body.

The case was initiated by privacy rights campaigners who complained that surveillance practices in Britain, France and Belgium went too far and violated human rights.

The ECJ verdict is the latest in a string of decisions to limit the power of EU governments to keep tabs on their citizens.

In July, the court struck down an agreement that allowed American tech companies to send European user data to the United States: It argued that US laws don’t protect the privacy of EU citizens and that these citizens have no effective way of challenging American government surveillance.

INDIA

Pollution? Call the Helpline

Authorities in New Delhi introduced a new anti-pollution campaign this week with an eye toward winter, a season marked by health issues due to the toxic haze that engulfs the city each year, obscuring the sky and blocking the sunlight, the Associated Press reported.

The capital’s top elected leader, Arvind Kejriwal, said the government would start an anti-dust campaign, reduce smoke caused by agricultural burning and introduce a mobile app to allow citizens to lodge complaints against people suspected of polluting.

Pollution is exacerbated by farmers in neighboring agricultural regions who set fires to clear their land after harvests and to prepare for the next crop season. Adding to that are vehicle and industrial emissions, pollutants from firecrackers linked to festivals and construction dust.

The move is also part of an effort to fight the coronavirus: Scientists say that high levels of air pollution can make viral infections more dangerous. Health officials have noted that prolonged exposure to air pollution has compromised the immunity of New Delhi’s residents, making them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

New Delhi is considered one of the world’s most polluted cities. It also has had about 285,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and about 5,500 deaths.

City officials have tried to tackle pollution in the past by limiting the number of cars on the roads. They have had little effect because neighboring states have not cooperated.

DISCOVERIES

Deadly Sweet Tooth

Licorice lovers might want to cut down their consumption of the black candy: A Massachusetts man’s love for black licorice ended up costing him his life after he consumed one to two bags of the candy a day, Live Science reported.

The 54-year-old man died from ventricular fibrillation, a life-threatening heart rhythm issue that was caused by the compound glycyrrhizin found in the sweet, according to a new medical report.

Glycyrrhizin derives from the licorice root. The sweet-tasting substance can be toxic if ingested in large amounts: Glycyrrhizin lowers the body’s potassium levels, which can lead to high blood pressure and an abnormal heart rhythm.

In the man’s case, doctors found that he had very low potassium levels due to his poor diet, and had been consuming copious amounts of licorice weeks before his demise.

While death is an “extreme case,” the US Food Drug and Administration warned that eating two ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks can mess up the heart’s rhythm.

In another case, an 84-year-old Canadian man experienced high blood pressure after consuming too much homemade licorice tea.

Although many products are advertised as “licorice” or “licorice-flavored,” they are actually flavored with anise oil, which smells and tastes like licorice but lacks glycyrrhizin.

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: 7,501,816 (+0.58%)
  2. India: 6,757,131 (+1.08%)
  3. Brazil: 4,969,141 (+0.85%)
  4. Russia: 1,231,277 (+0.94%)
  5. Colombia: 869,808 (+0.89%)
  6. Peru: 829,999 (+0.22%)
  7. Spain: 825,410 (+1.48%)
  8. Argentina: 824,468 (+1.82%)
  9. Mexico: 794,608 (+0.61%)
  10. South Africa: 683,242 (+0.15%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours