November 11, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

POLAND

Enough!

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Warsaw and other cities over the past few weeks in rallies for abortion rights. The demonstrations have been the largest in the former Warsaw Pact country since the fall of communism.

“When the state fails to protect us, I’ll stand by my sister,” said a sign at a protest against a proposal to ban most instances of abortion. Others read: “I think, I feel, I decide” and “This is war.”

A majority Catholic country where the church’s influence is strong, Poland already had some of the most restrictive reproductive rights in Europe, Al Jazeera reported.

But the demonstrations go far beyond abortion rights. The rallies are also a sign of the frustrations with the rightwing government’s social and economic policies, including its failure to protect Poles amid the coronavirus pandemic, wrote Jacobin, a leftwing magazine. Like the rest of Europe, Covid-19 cases have been on a worrisome upward trend in Poland, the Associated Press reported. The protests have occurred despite a prohibition on gatherings of more than five people imposed to stop the spread of the virus.

The country is divided, analysts say. Part of that is because the younger post-communist generation has been chafing at the direction its leaders are setting for the country, an agenda that better reflects the traditionally conservative leanings of their parents and grandparents.

Since they won power in 2015, the rightwing, populist Law and Justice Party has toed a conservative pro-Catholic line on social and cultural issues, suppressed dissident, gutted the state-owned press and other institutions not directly under their control and undermined the judiciary, according to European Union leaders and human rights groups.

The European Parliament earlier this year criticized Poland for “de facto criminalization of sexual education, as well as hate speech, public discrimination, violence against women, domestic violence, and intolerant behavior against minorities and other vulnerable groups, including LGBTQ people.”

Still, the mass uprising stunned the government, wrote Politico. President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who control the Constitutional Tribunal, the country’s highest court, have backed themselves into a corner, however. They can’t pull their support for the ban because the Catholic Church and their political base are now calling for the measure to be enacted.

Nevertheless, the government delayed instituting the ban, though it can take effect at any time, the New York Times reported.

“A discussion is ongoing,” said a representative for the prime minister. “In this situation, which is difficult and causes a lot of emotions, it is good to give ourselves a bit of time for dialogue and for working out a new position.”

No matter the nature of a country’s government, leaders listen when hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets. Especially, when they do so in fury.

WANT TO KNOW

ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN

Peace and Proxies

Russian peacekeepers are deploying to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh following an agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan to stop the deadly military conflict in the breakaway region after six weeks of fighting, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

Under the agreement, Azerbaijan will keep territory in the enclave and the surrounding areas it captured during the conflict. Meanwhile, Armenia will have to give up the Lachin region, where a crucial road connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.

The deal also calls for the creation of a three-mile-wide area in the so-called Lachin Corridor to remain open and be protected by a Russian force of 1,960 peacekeepers under a five-year mandate.

The Russian-brokered deal came a few days after Azerbaijan’s armed forces secured major battlefield gains in the enclave populated by ethnic Armenians. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said that the deal “the best possible solution for the current situation.”

Thousands of people died on both sides during the fighting that began on Sept. 26. The conflict forced many to flee the region to Armenia.

While the deal was heavily celebrated in Azerbaijan, it caused an uproar in Armenia: Thousands stormed government headquarters and parliament, where they ransacked the premises and injured Parliament Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan.

Nagorno-Karabakh is considered part of Azerbaijan but the ethnic Armenians who make up most of the population reject Azerbaijani rule and have been self-governing – with Armenian support – following a war that ended in a ceasefire in 1994.

Meanwhile, some wonder if the peace is sustainable. Russia is an ally of Armenia while Turkey, which also wants to send peacekeepers, is aligned with Azerbaijan.

PERU

Love, Hate and Bribery

Peruvian lawmakers voted to impeach President Martin Vizcarra this week, citing his poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic and allegations of corruption, NPR reported Tuesday.

Lawmakers have blamed the president for the severe shortage of therapeutic oxygen and the government’s strategy of tracking infections through antibody tests – which do not detect the disease in its early stages.

Peru has one of the highest deaths per capita in the world due to the virus: The country of 32 million is approaching one million confirmed cases and nearly 35,000 dead.

Vizcarra has also been accused of taking bribes from construction companies during his term as a regional governor nearly a decade ago.

The president has denied the allegations. Still, he said that he respected the decision of parliament and would not contest it. His supporters, meanwhile, rallied in the capital, Lima, to protest the parliamentary decision.

Vizcarra became president in 2018 following the resignation of then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski over allegations of corruption. He ran on an anti-corruption platform and remains far more popular than Peru’s legislature.

UNITED KINGDOM

No Clear Exit

The British government will press ahead with legislation that breaks a legally binding Brexit treaty with the European Union despite a resounding rejection of the bill by the upper house of Parliament, the Associated Press reported.

The House of Lords voted by large margins late Monday to strip from the Internal Market Bill clauses that give the Conservative government power to break sections of the divorce agreement it signed with the EU before the UK left the bloc in January.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that the bill breaches international law and says he will reinstate the clauses. Meanwhile, the legislation has been condemned by the EU, US President-elect Joe Biden and dozens of British lawmakers, including many from Johnson’s own Conservative Party.

US President-elect Joe Biden said the Internal Market Bill threatens the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of conflict in Northern Ireland. Biden has warned that he would not strike a trade deal with the UK if the peace agreement wasn’t safeguarded, Politico reported Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Conservative lawmakers are urging the British government to abandon its controversial plan. Critics say it could undermine the foundations of Northern Ireland peace by leading to border checks along the currently invisible frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The British government denies that will happen and says the bill is needed as an insurance policy to ensure smooth trade for all parts of the UK – especially Northern Ireland, which shares a border with the EU – no matter what happens to UK-EU trade after Brexit.

The United Kingdom is currently negotiating a trade agreement with the EU before Britain permanently exits the bloc at the end of the transition period on Dec. 31.

DISCOVERIES

Baby Steps

In 2017, archaeologists came across an odd set of human footprints in White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico dating back to the Ice Age.

They counted more than 400 human prints extending more than a mile. Only recently were they able to properly reconstruct the journey, the New York Times reported.

In a new paper, researchers found that the footprints were left either by a young adult female or a teenager of either gender walking through a muddy landscape. After close inspection, the team found another set of smaller footprints every 100 yards, suggesting that the ancient person was carrying a toddler.

“We have many adult tracks, and then every now and again we have these tiny baby tracks,” said study co-author Sally C. Reynolds.

Reynolds’ team believes the toddler was riding on the person’s left hip, and that he or she had to occasionally stop readjust the human load.

The findings show the person was actually walking quite fast, but the researchers aren’t sure why.

They believe that the toddler might have been the reason. It could also be that the pair were trying to escape from animals living around the area – mammoths and giant ground sloths roamed in the region in this period.

“Why else would you travel so fast but encumber yourself with a child?” asked Reynolds.

Regardless, the prints are one of the most extensive Pleistocene-age trackways found to date and underscore how ancient sets of fossilized footprints can reveal more than fossilized bones. Bones don’t usually reveal behavior, says Reynolds, footprints do.

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: 10,257,825 (+1.46%)
  2. India: 8,636,011 (+0.52%)
  3. Brazil: 5,699,005 (+0.42%)
  4. France: 1,857,309 (+0.05%)
  5. Russia: 1,822,345 (+2.26%)
  6. Spain: 1,381,218 (+0.00%)**
  7. Argentina: 1,262,476 (+0.96%)
  8. UK: 1,237,198 (+1.68%)
  9. Colombia: 1,155,356 (+0.55%)
  10. Italy: 995,463 (+3.65%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country