November 18, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

BURKINA FASO

In the Heart of the Sahel, Desperation

A firefight in northern Burkina Faso’s troubled Sahel region claimed 16 lives recently – seven army soldiers as well as nine terrorists, reported Xinhua. The attack came a few days after a terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail into a mosque in the capital of Ouagadougou, wounding six people.

The attacks reflect how the landlocked African nation has been fighting al Qaeda and Islamic State militants, especially in its lawless frontier regions near Mali and Niger, displacing 1 million people and creating a growing humanitarian crisis – the world’s fastest-growing one, according to Doctors Without Borders, which, in a discussion, details how dire the situation is. This year, more than 2,100 have perished in the violence, a 700-percent increase in two years.

The incident at the mosque might have reflected anti-Islamic sentiment in a country where about 63 percent of the population are Muslim, 22 percent Christian and 15 percent follow animist/folk traditions, according to a 2020 estimate by the Pew Research Center. Many citizens of Burkina Faso, fed up with violence in their midst, are taking out their anger on the innocent adherents of the militants’ religion. “The attack represents emerging signs of divisions observed in areas of conflict now spreading to the capital and manifesting in violence with an Islamophobic dimension,” researcher Heni Nsaibia told the Associated Press.

That combustible mix has become the backdrop for the country’s presidential elections on Nov. 22.

Lawmakers adopted a controversial law this summer that called for votes to be counted whether or not some voters could reach polling stations in the country’s unsafe northern regions. That could result in the disenfranchisement of large segments of the country and could further alienate citizens in the north, “entrenching the power and legitimacy of jihadist groups,” warned the New Humanitarian.

The government itself has ruled that polling stations that would serve as many as 400,000 people, or 17 percent of the vote, are in unsafe regions where security can’t be guaranteed, Al Jazeera noted.

Recently, the independent electoral commission admitted that the residents of nearly 1,600 villages are unable to be registered. That means about one-third of Burkina Faso citizens face exclusion from the vote, one civil society activist told broadcaster, FRANCE 24.

The situation would also coincidentally make it hard for those who are likely to be the most critical of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore’s failure to contain the terrorist insurgency in the north.

The tragedy is that Kabore took power in 2014 after mass protests helped dislodge President Blaise Compaoré, who resigned after 27 years in power. Now, many of Kabore’s constituents feel as if he has left them to be slaughtered, the New York Times wrote.

There is a bright spot: Women are at the forefront of realizing the benefits and exercising their rights under the democratic regime that Kabore helped create, VICE News reported. Under the law, women must comprise at least 30 percent of the candidates that run for office, for example.

Regardless, running against 13 other candidates, Kabore is expected to win reelection. His troubles are also expected not to go away. Neither are those of the voters in the north.

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

A Picture-perfect Crackdown

French lawmakers began debating a controversial bill Tuesday that would outlaw the publication of certain images of law enforcement officials, a move that has been heavily criticized by journalists and human rights activists, France 24 reported.

The bill’s Article 24 – dubbed the “Guerre des images” (image war) – is aimed at banning anyone from publishing or broadcasting images for “malicious purposes” in which police officers or gendarmes can be clearly identified. People violating the rule face up to one year in prison and a €45,000 fine.

President Emmanuel Macron’s party proposed the legislation following intense lobbying from police unions.

Critics say the bill would essentially censor journalists from doing their work, adding that images depicting police brutality or misconduct could fall under the ban.

The law follows mass anti-police brutality protests which erupted across France over the summer, taking cues from similar demonstrations in the United States sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

A similar case occurred in Paris in January, when delivery driver Cedric Chouviat died after police placed him in a chokehold.

DENMARK

The Culling

Danish lawmakers approved a decision to cull the country’s 15 million minks over concerns that a mutated version of the coronavirus is spreading among the animals and to humans, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The legislation would allow for the culling of all minks, including those outside of northern Denmark where infections have been found.

The mutated version discovered in infected minks can be transmitted to people but there is still no evidence that it is more dangerous or resistant to vaccines.

The Danish government reported that more than 280 farms have recorded infections and 265 have culled their animals. They added that more than 200 people working in six mink pelting companies have tested positive for the virus.

There are more than 1,100 mink farms in Denmark that employ about 6,000 people. Denmark accounts for 40 percent of global mink fur production and is the world’s biggest exporter, with most products going to China.

JAPAN

Old Friends, New Alliances

Japan and Australia agreed on a milestone defense pact Tuesday that would allow reciprocal visits for training and operations amid growing concern over China’s expanding military influence in the South China Sea, Reuters reported.

The agreement marks the first time in decades that Japan has expanded its allowance of foreign forces on its soil: Since a 1960s deal, the United States has stationed warships, jets and troops in the country as part of an alliance that Washington describes as the bedrock of regional security.

The new Reciprocal Access Agreement will strengthen defense ties between the two US allies and it cuts down on bureaucracy and simplifies procedures in case an urgent deployment of defense forces is necessary.

Tensions have been rising as China has moved to expand its military influence in the region. Since mid-August, the United States has repeatedly riled China by sending warships to the South China Sea and has blacklisted 24 Chinese entities over their involvement in the building and militarizing of artificial islands there.

Meanwhile, China said it was conducting military training in the disputed South China Sea from Tuesday until the end of the month.

DISCOVERIES

Fur Baby Boom

Visitors traveling to Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, will notice that the numerous baby strollers on the streets are not carrying babies – but cats and dogs.

In fact, pets in strollers have become an odd if common sight in the country – it’s not even unusual to see dogs wearing tuxedos and sunglasses being wheeled around parks by their owners, the Guardian reported.

The phenomenon reflects the country’s changing attitude toward pet ownership amid declining birthrates – Taiwan has one of the lowest birthrates in Asia, due to delayed marriages, economic barriers and the stigma of having children outside of wedlock.

“The first thing that comes to mind is, we don’t want to have children,” said Taipei resident Syin.

The desire for “fur babies” has increased so much in Taiwan that analysts estimate that the number of pets has overtaken the number of children under 15. As a result, this trend has created a boom in the pet accessory industry with sales increasing more than five-fold between 2002 and 2015.

Wu Hung of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (East), however, cautioned that owners should not treat their pets as “accessories for human fulfillment” by buying these items – they can create “serious welfare problems” for the animals.

Nevertheless, he added it was “heartening” to see more positive interactions between animals and humans.

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: 11,359,804 (+1.38%)
  2. India: 8,912,907 (+0.44%)
  3. Brazil: 5,911,758 (+0.60%)
  4. France: 2,087,183 (+2.25%)
  5. Russia: 1,954,912 (+0.00%)**
  6. Spain: 1,510,023 (+0.88%)
  7. UK: 1,414,359 (+1.44%)
  8. Argentina: 1,329,005 (+0.81%)
  9. Italy: 1,238,072 (+2.67%)
  10. Colombia: 1,211,128 (+0.49%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country