The World Today for October 23, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

LITHUANIA

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Lithuania’s economy has outperformed most of the European Union in spite of lockdowns to control the spread of the coronavirus.

But many of the Baltic country’s 2.8 million citizens are unhappy.

Some voters believe economic inequality is growing, a top issue in the upcoming election, Bloomberg reported. Oh and there’s the little matter of a botched coronavirus response, Reuters added.

As a result, Lithuania’s center-right opposition party, the Homeland Union, is expected to defeat the ruling Farmers and Greens Union-led coalition in parliamentary elections on Oct. 25. The backlash against the populist Farmers and Green Union reflects the disappointment in Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, an agro-business tycoon and celebrity with a hit TV series, and a leader with decidedly authoritarian tendencies, critics say.

And then there were the controversies: For eight months, for example, his entire cabinet was male in equality-minded Lithuania. A court determined he was obstructing the freedom of the press as is typical for populists from Poland to Brazil, critics say. One-third of the country’s high schoolers failed a major mathematics exam. And Skvernelis ran for president in 2019, vowing to step down as prime minister. He lost the presidential race and remained in his job anyway.

Promises, promises…as the saying goes.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian politics have global implications. The former Soviet republic – absorbed into communism involuntarily during World War II – is bitterly opposed to creeping Russian influence in the West.

As Poland-based Visegrad/Insight explained, Lithuanian officials have been outspoken in their support of the pro-democracy movement in neighboring Belarus and their denunciation of dictatorial Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The country gave asylum to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who recently greeted the Canadian foreign minister in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, reported the Independent.

Lithuania is also on the frontlines of a propaganda war with Russia. While there is a sizeable Russian-speaking community in Lithuania, officials are wary of broadcasters that transmit Russian-language shows and Russian-based media into Lithuanian homes in a bid to sway the population to views held in Moscow.

“All of them dutifully support the historic narrative being foisted by the Kremlin: That it is Russia that has liberated everybody, and (their) views reflecting all the major events in the world – be it the clampdown on the Belarusian opposition, the war in Ukraine or any event in any country (or) worldwide — come under the Russian influence,” Lithuanian lawmaker Arvydas Anusauskas told Euronews.

The US and Lithuanian have established a cyber defense center in the country that is expected to open next year. The center is expected to house international experts on cybersecurity issues and threats. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda recently spoke about the close security ties between the countries, the Baltic Times reported.

Still, most national politics play out on bread-and-butter issues. And it’s no different in Lithuania where the ruling party, which bills itself as nationalist, traditionalist and Christian, gave pensioners a $225 extra payout and reductions for drugs in pharmacies in what critics call out-and-out vote-buying, wrote Euronews.

Four years ago, the LFGU was an obscure political party that became the fresh face of politics on a populist wave that swept the globe in 2016, most notably with the Brexit referendum and the election of US President Donald Trump.

Then, people were tired of politics as usual, analysts said. These days, it seems, voters want it back.

WANT TO KNOW

LEBANON

The Comeback Kid

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to power in crisis-stricken Lebanon Thursday, nearly one year after he resigned following a popular uprising against the country’s elite, CNN reported.

Hariri will become prime minister for the fourth time, grappling – again – with the massive problems facing Lebanon, including a deep financial crisis, political infighting and the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people in August.

Hariri promised this time to create an apolitical and technocratic government to enact wide-ranging reforms pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron during his two visits to Lebanon in recent months.

Hariri, the son of the murdered former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, is the most high-profile Sunni Muslim political leader in Lebanon – a country that divides governance among its various religious groups in a delicate power-sharing agreement.

His appointment, however, faces resistance from Lebanon’s Hezbollah-backed parliamentary majority, as well as many anti-establishment protesters who want a complete overhaul of Lebanon’s political system.

NIGERIA

#EndSARS

Nigerian authorities imposed a curfew in the country’s economic hub, Lagos, following allegations that security forces killed individuals participating in anti-police demonstrations earlier this week, CBS News reported Thursday.

Unrest gripped Nigeria’s largest city Wednesday after pictures and videos on social media showed soldiers and police shooting at protesters. Amnesty International said that at least 12 people died.

The incident has sparked an international outcry with many calling for a probe into the shooting and #EndSARS going viral.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has remained silent on the matter. Meanwhile, authorities have denied the allegations.

Mass protests erupted in Nigeria earlier this month over brutality by the police’s loathed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

Buhari previously said he would dissolve the unit and implement reforms but demonstrations quickly spiraled into broader demands for change.

At least 56 people have died since the demonstrations began.

PAKISTAN

Bullying…the Police

As the pro-military government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan faces nationwide protests by the opposition calling for the army to stay out of politics and for regime change, paramilitary troops kidnapped a police chief to force him to take action against protest leaders, Bloomberg reported.

Troops known as Rangers kidnapped Inspector General Ahmed Mahar from his home in the southern Sindh province and forced him to sign an order for the arrest of an opposition leader.

Government officials and the Rangers had no comment on the matter. Meanwhile, Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa ordered an inquiry into the incident.

The kidnapping comes as an alliance of 11 opposition parties have taken to the streets to protest against Khan. Demonstrators are calling for his resignation over food shortages and inflation and demanding the military stop interfering in politics.

The military has ruled Pakistan for about half of its existence since independence from Britain in 1947 and has played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s foreign and national security policy.

It has expanded its role under Khan even as the crackdown on opposition groups and the media has intensified.

Criticism against the army and the judiciary are forbidden under Pakistan’s constitution.

DISCOVERIES

It’s a Gut Thing

Understanding Parkinson’s disease will now require figuring out what’s going in the guts, according to a new study.

Researchers in Denmark found that the neurodegenerative disorder is actually two separate diseases that start either in the brain or the intestines, CTV reported.

Scientists studied a group of 37 patients using advanced imaging techniques for more than six years. The results showed that the disease can be now categorized into “brain first” or “body first.”

“For some patients, the disease starts in the intestines and spreads from there to the brain through neural connections,” explained co-author Per Borghammer. “For others, the disease starts in the brain and spreads to the intestines and other organs such as the heart.”

Borghammer and his team explained that their discovery can help explain why symptoms of Parkinson’s disease differ among patients. They added that it could also help doctors personalize treatment for each case.

“With this new knowledge, the different symptoms make more sense and this is also the perspective in which future research should be viewed,” said Borghammer.

The team also noted that more attention should be placed on the bacteria in our intestines.

Growing research has found a correlation between the microorganisms in the gut and a person’s overall health – including various diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.

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: 8,409,227 (+0.86%)
  2. India: 7,761,312 (+0.71%)
  3. Brazil: 5,323,630 (+0.47%)
  4. Russia: 1,453,923 (+1.09%)
  5. Argentina: 1,053,650 (+1.57%)
  6. France: 1,041,991 (+4.16%)
  7. Spain: 1,026,281 (+2.09%)
  8. Colombia: 990,373 (+0.88%)
  9. Peru: 879,876 (+0.66%)
  10. Mexico: 874,171 (+0.76%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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