November 24, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

PERU

Too Many Chefs

Recently, Peru had three presidents in one week.

Congress voted to oust popular President Martin Vizcarra on Nov. 9 on corruption charges that he denies. Vizcarra’s replacement, Interim President Manuel Merino, resigned after mass protests against what many Peruvians saw as a parliamentary coup – and the police brutality that followed it, reported CNN. A great photo essay of the protests in the Guardian shows the intensity of Peru’s biggest political crisis in a decade.

Meanwhile, the South American country didn’t have a president for 24 hours. Without a vice president, the top job went to the head of Congress, Francisco Sagasti, 76, who is now the Peruvian head of state. An engineer, Sagasti was among those taken hostage by Tupac Amaru rebels in 1996 at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima.

Sagasti’s job is to bring stability to the country. But he might not last long, either. The next presidential election is now scheduled for April 2021.

Still, he’s trying. After his quick inauguration, President Sagasti sought to address the anger of protesters, paying respect to the two young men who had died in the demonstrations. “We can’t bring them back to life,” he said. “But we can stop this from happening again.”

Protester Paloma Carpio, who was marching in Lima for a new constitution and justice for the victims of government brutality, sounded conciliatory. “I think that Sagasti is someone that gives democratic guarantees, who can (be) a transition toward a new government that will be okay,” Carpio told Al Jazeera.

Peruvian politics is rife with corruption, the New York Times wrote. Amid the coronavirus pandemic and consequent economic crisis, lawmakers who ousted Vizcarra are pushing for narrow special interests while fending off separate corruption investigations into their business.

Last year, former Peruvian President Alan García shot and killed himself as authorities arrived at his home to arrest him on bribery charges.

Also, security forces have few checks on their power. Peru’s constitutional court, for example, has ordered police to release more than 40 people who “disappeared” in custody during the recent protests, wrote National Public Radio.

The coronavirus has exposed how Peruvian leaders are not only corrupt but incompetent, wrote Independent Institute Fellow Álvaro Vargas Llosa in the Washington Post. Around 70 percent of the country’s economy is on the black market, where face-to-face interactions are common, driving up infection rates. Healthcare infrastructure is poor. Long, hard shutdowns don’t appear to be tackling the spread: Peru has one of the highest – if not the highest – per capita death rates from Covid-19 in the world.

Some think Sagasti should immediately focus on solving his country’s massive problems. Unfortunately, he will first need to spend time stabilizing his own position to do that.

WANT TO KNOW

SAUDI ARABIA

Shh!

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Sunday in Saudi Arabia, a first meeting amid US attempts to normalize relations between the longtime foes, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Two Saudi officials told the Journal that Netanyahu and Mossad director, Yossi Cohen, secretly met with the crown prince and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

The leaders discussed a myriad of issues, including normalizing ties and how to handle Iran’s role in the region.

While the meeting was heavily reported on by Israeli media, Saudi Arabia officially denied it ever took place.

Israel normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan earlier this year after a push by US President Donald Trump to elevate the status of the Jewish state in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has previously said it is open to creating a relationship with Israel but only after the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.

If Saudi Arabia and Israel agree to normalize relations before a Palestinian state is established, it could create a shakeup in the region and upend decades of Arab state policy, the newspaper said.

ETHIOPIA

Standoff

Ethiopian government forces surrounded the capital of the northern Tigray region, warning its ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to surrender within 72 hours or face a final assault, Reuters reported Monday.

The ultimatum follows a nearly three-week offensive between federal and regional forces after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the TLPF of ambushing a federal military base.

The conflict has destabilized the country and has spilled into neighboring ones. Hundreds – possibly thousands – have been killed since Nov. 4, and about 40,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Sudan.

TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael denied that the regional capital, Mekelle, has been surrounded but the government said federal forces controlled most of Tigray.

The TPLF has accused Abiy of invading their region to subjugate the ethnic group and alleges that the Nobel Prize-winning prime minister has been marginalizing the Tigray since he took office two years ago.

Abiy denies the allegations.

Human rights groups, meanwhile, expressed concern after Ethiopia’s military warned civilians that there will be “no mercy” during the final offensive. Former US national security adviser, Susan Rice, warned that a brutal offensive by the military would constitute a “war crime,” the Associated Press reported.

TAIWAN

All Natural, Please

Thousands of people rallied in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, this week to protest the government’s decision to allow pork imports from the United States they deem unsafe, the Associated Press reported.

In August, President Tsai Ing-wen lifted a long-standing ban on US pork and beef imports, an effort seen as the first step toward a bilateral trade agreement with Washington. The decision would allow the importation of pork with acceptable residues of ractopamine, a drug added to animal feed that promotes the growth of lean meat in pigs.

The drug is legal in the US but banned in the European Union.

Many citizens and the opposition Kuomintang party criticized the move and demanded the ban be reinstated. The ban is set to be lifted in January.

Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung said Monday that about 80 percent of US pork doesn’t contain the drug but warned that suspicious Taiwanese may reject all US pork anyway, according to Taiwan’s Taipei Times.

DISCOVERIES

Forced to Adapt

Archaeologists have found the first evidence of microevolution – the changes within a population of one species over time – in early hominids, the Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Two years ago, a research team found the well-preserved skull of Paranthropus robustus, an early human cousin who occupied what is now South Africa about two million years ago. It was known for its jutting cheekbone, large teeth and small brain.

The skull, labeled DNH 155, belonged to a male from the Drimolen cave system but scientists were perplexed at its features: Unlike the remains of other males recovered from the nearby Swartkrans cave system, DNH 155 had smaller and more female-like features.

In their study, the team thoroughly analyzed the skull and confirmed that it was male but that it belonged to an earlier population of P. robustus.

The team, meanwhile, noted there was a 200,000-year difference between the occupation by the ancient human cousins of the Drimolen caves and the Swartkrans.

They reported that two million years ago, the area went through a period of climatic shifts that changed the landscape and vegetation. Plants became harder to chew, forcing DNH 155 and other earlier hominids to struggle to eat. As a result, natural selection favored individuals with stronger jaws and teeth.

About 200,000 years later, P. robustus ended up with sturdier jaws, suggesting that environmental pressure led the species to evolve to survive.

“The Drimolen fossils represent the earliest known, very first step in the long evolutionary story of Paranthropus robustus,” co-author Jesser Martin said.

Regardless, scientists say the find is the most compelling evidence that species in the human family tree were able to evolve in response to quick changes in the climate.

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: 12,420,871 (+1.42%)
  2. India: 9,177,840 (+0.42%)
  3. Brazil: 6,087,608 (+0.27%)
  4. France: 2,195,940 (+0.22%)
  5. Russia: 2,120,836 (+1.15%)
  6. Spain: 1,582,616 (+1.66%)
  7. UK: 1,531,267 (+1.02%)
  8. Italy: 1,431,795 (+1.63%)
  9. Argentina: 1,374,631 (+0.31%)
  10. Colombia: 1,254,979 (+0.53%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours