October 21, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

THAILAND

The King and Them

In May 1992, Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej summoned a military leader who had just become prime minister through a coup and a pro-democracy opposition figure who opposed the junta to his palace. Loyalty to the king compelled them both to go, defusing a potential civil war, the BBC wrote.

Protesters have been on the streets again in the southeast Asian nation in recent months. The current monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, might not be able to help this time, however. That’s because protestors have been protesting the royal family, too.

Protesters are angry over the Thai military’s influence on politics, LGBTQ and women’s rights, social welfare and the economy in the wake of the coronavirus, the New York Times explained. Most shockingly to mainstream Thais, the protesters also are critical of the monarchy, which is culturally taboo to criticize as well as illegal.

“Thailand’s unprecedented revolt pits the people against the king,” wrote CNN.

The protesters, who were initially students before the movement broadened, want new parliamentary elections, the end of security forces harassing citizens, a halt to the crackdown on social media, a stop to the abuse of human rights and a new constitution, Foreign Policy reported. Some protesters also want to reform the monarchy and its patriarchal practices.

Attacks on the revered sovereign indicate how the mood in Thailand has shifted as the coronavirus has caused the country’s economy to suffer its biggest contraction in 22 years,  Reuters reported. The country is cutting taxes and increasing spending to boost domestic consumption, a strategy that could entail other problems years down the road.

Tensions are high. Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya recently passed by angry demonstrators in her cream-colored stretch Rolls-Royce limousine. They heckled and yelled, “My taxes” to complain about their personal contributions to the royal treasury.

The reassessment of Thai life has been sweeping. Protesters, for example, are researching the government’s oppressive behavior in the past, including a 1976 university massacre that the monarchy and others have been happy to sweep under the table.

“To dig into what happened in 1976, a lot of people are afraid that it will involve the ruling elite and its associates,” Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University Political Scientists Puangthong Pawakapan told the Associated Press. “They don’t want people to know about it. They want people to forget about it.”

Officials recently declared a state of emergency, banning gatherings of five or more people and prohibiting the publishing of anything that might “harm national security,” Al Jazeera reported. Police also arrested activists and movement leaders. And yet the streets are still full.

The crackdown might work in the short term. But the king won’t be king if the people turn their backs on him.

WANT TO KNOW

SUDAN

In Good Graces

Sudan paid more than $300 million Tuesday to American victims of terrorist attacks and their families, part of a deal to remove the African nation from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism, Reuters reported.

A day earlier, US President Donald Trump said he would remove Sudan from the list, which has isolated the country from the international banking system since the 1990s.

Sudan’s transitional government has tried to improve relations with the West, since the ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir last year, the Wall Street Journal reported. The country is currently facing an economic crisis and is hoping to receive humanitarian aid following the removal of sanctions.

Analysts said the move is also an attempt by the Trump administration to urge Sudan – a predominantly Muslim nation – to normalize relations with Israel, following the example of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

They added that by normalizing ties with Israel, Sudan would have higher chances of accessing international aid without encountering obstacles from the US and its allies

RUSSIA

Back to the Future

Russia offered to freeze the total number of its nuclear warheads for one year if the United States agrees to do the same, an offer that is part of an attempt by Washington to push the two nuclear powers to extend a key arms reduction deal before the US presidential elections, the Washington Post reported.

The warhead freeze comes less than a week after the US rejected Moscow’s offer to extend the New START treaty by one year.

Russian officials said that extending the treaty would allow the two powers to conduct “comprehensive bilateral negotiations on future control over nuclear missile weapons.”

Following the announcement, the US State Department welcomed the offer and requested an immediate meeting of negotiators.

The 10-year treaty, which restricts the number of deployed nuclear warheads, expires in February. If it’s not extended, the US and Russia will return to the arms race that existed during the Cold War.

The new proposal could offer a foreign policy victory for US President Donald Trump, who is running against his Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Biden has proposed a five-year extension of the treaty, which was supported by Russia.

Trump has previously insisted that any replacement treaties should include China, as well as encompass all of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, which includes smaller, “tactical” nuclear weapons that fall outside the New START.

However, Russia rejected those demands and China has refused to join the talks.

PHILIPPINES

I Did It My Way

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accepted responsibility for the thousands of people killed by police during his violent crackdown on drugs, adding that he would “gladly” face jail time for it, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

“If there’s killing there, I’m saying I’m the one … you can hold me responsible for anything, any death that has occurred in the execution of the drug war,” the strongman president said during a televised speech Monday.

After taking office in 2016, Duterte began a tough crackdown on drugs: Police data reports that more than 256,000 people have been arrested and nearly 6,000 have died in police operations. Human rights activists and Western nations, however, say that the death toll is much higher and accuse Philippine authorities of conducting extrajudicial killings during operations.

Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in at least two criminal complaints for crimes against humanity and mass murder: These are currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

He withdrew the Philippines from the court in 2018 following the complaints but ICC prosecutors say the investigation into the killings will continue.

DISCOVERIES

Nature’s Tinkering

Australian scientists say humanity is going through a “micro-evolution,” as more babies today are being born with an extra artery in their arms and without wisdom teeth, BBC Science Focus reported.

Researchers discovered this after reviewing anatomical literature dating back hundreds of years, including records with details on dissected individuals born in the 20th century. They realized that humans began showing a “significant increase” in the prevalence of the additional artery since the late 19th century, according to a recent study.

The blood vessel – known as the median artery – forms while a baby is in the womb and it is usually replaced by the radial and ulnar arteries during gestation. However, some people today have all three.

Meanwhile, human faces are becoming shorter and jaws are also downsizing because many newborns lack wisdom teeth. The human jaw is the fastest-evolving part of the body, say scientists: It has been steadily shrinking over the past 10,000 years as the invention of agriculture and cooking resulted in softer foods that need less chewing.

“This is happening…as we have learned to use fire and (eat) process foods more,” said lead author Teghan Lucas.

Also, some people are being born with additional bones in their arms and legs or with abnormal connections of two or more bones in their feet, the research showed.

Researchers suggest that changes in natural selection could be the major reason for this micro-evolution: Natural selection is constantly tinkering. Meanwhile, Lucas said that the changes show that humans are evolving at a faster rate than at any point in time over the past 250 years.

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: 8,274,797 (+0.73%)
  2. India: 7,651,107 (+0.71%)
  3. Brazil: 5,273,954 (+0.44%)
  4. Russia: 1,438,219 (+2.24%)
  5. Argentina: 1,018,999 (+1.63%)
  6. Spain: 988,322 (+1.42%)
  7. Colombia: 974,139 (+0.85%)
  8. France: 973,275 (+2.17%)
  9. Peru: 870,876 (+0.25%)
  10. Mexico: 860,714 (+0.68%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours