November 26, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

ETHIOPIA

No Quarter

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for resolving a 20-year conflict with neighboring Eritrea, a nation that split from Ethiopia after a bloody war for independence that began in the late 1990s.

The son of a Christian and Muslim, he apologized for his country’s repressive past. He was viewed as a unifier pursuing massive projects like the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and improving other infrastructure to get the country back on its feet. He was also seen as a reformer, releasing political prisoners and promising justice, open government, inclusion and reconciliation.

But Ahmed is now prosecuting a brutal offensive against the rebels in the country’s semiautonomous northern Tigray region: The military has threatened civilians with “no mercy” if they don’t “save themselves.”

In the exploding conflict, at least 600 civilians have already died, according to Ethiopia’s civil rights commission. It said Tuesday that youth from a local group called Samri aided by local officials and security forces went door to door in the town of Maikadra in western Tigray on Nov. 9 to hunt down members of the Amhara and Wolkait minority groups. After finding them, they stabbed, strangled and hacked people to death with hatchets and machetes in what some are calling a crime against humanity and a war crime.

Now, local leaders, including those in the African Union, are worried the conflict could become a full-blown civil war that could further destabilize the Horn of Africa, where Ethiopia’s impoverished neighbors are also struggling to preserve national security, France 24 wrote.

Tigrayan forces have already fired rockets into Eritrea in retaliation for that country’s support of Ahmed, attacks which have sent 40,000 refugees fleeing to Sudan, which can’t handle the influx, noted the Washington Post.

Some are not surprised that conflict erupted – tensions have been brewing since Ahmed took office in 2018 and sidelined the Tigray People’s Liberation Front – the rulers of the small region of mostly ethnic Tigray, six percent of Ethiopia’s 110 million people – which had also dominated all of Ethiopia for 27 years after they toppled the country’s Marxist dictators in 1991, explained the New York Times. But they lost popular support due to corruption, repression of civil rights and crackdowns on dissidents.

In 2018, Ahmed dismantled the long-standing ruling coalition led for years by the TPLF and created the new Prosperity Party. The TPLF opted not to join. And when Ahmed postponed this year’s elections due to coronavirus concerns, Tigrayan officials opposed the move and held their election anyway. Ahmed refused to recognize the results of the September vote and dissolved their legislature. A month later, Ethiopian lawmakers approved a plan to withhold federal funding for Tigray, further inflaming the tensions.

In early November, the government accused Tigrayans of attacking a military base and sent troops to the region, bombing the region soon after to destroy weaponry. Now, Ethiopian forces are advancing on the regional capital of Mekelle, CNN wrote. The rebels, meanwhile, have promised to answer the government troops with “hell.” A showdown looms.

Writing in an op-ed in the New York Times, local journalist Tsedale Lemma blamed Ahmed, who is from the largest ethnic group, the Oromo, for the fighting, saying that when he sidelined the TPLF, he overreached. The Brookings Institution which had hailed Ahmed’s attempt to move the country from a fragile multi-ethnic federation dominated by the Tigray to a more equitable power-sharing system, blamed both sides for the conflict that could hurt a country that is “too big to fail.”

The question, as Al Jazeera pointed out, is whether Ahmed can bring his country back from the brink of a war that will dash much of his progress. But the prime minister is resisting calls for international mediation – and international attention by kicking out the International Crisis Group’s representative in the region and warning the BBC, Reuters and other media outlets about their coverage. He has shut down all communications in Tigray also.

In the end, analysts say, Ahmed wants to bring the rebel leaders to justice to demonstrate the power of the central government. That’s understandable in a country of 10 ethno-regional tribal blocs competing against each other. But if he wins with tanks and bombs, he only shows the power of might over peacemaking. If he loses, Ethiopia squandered its first and best chance at reform, prosperity and peace.

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

Time’s Up

France will require US tech giants to pay a new “digital tax” on their 2020 earnings, a move that could risk a new round of punitive US tariffs on French goods, France 24 reported.

The new GAFA tax – named after Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple – breaks a truce between the United States and France over the long-running tax dispute, which would require American tech multinationals to pay a larger share of their taxes in the countries where they operate.

In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron imposed a three percent levy on the profits from third-party retailers, digital advertising and the sale of private data.

The taxes generated about $415 million but France later agreed with the US to suspend tax collection in return for seeking a global digital tax deal brokered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

However, the US called off the talks in June and the OECD said that no deal would be likely before next year.

European governments have been mulling on taking a tougher stance against large multinationals, especially online retailers such as Amazon which have seen a surge in sales during the pandemic.

The OECD said that if a comprehensive deal is not reached, it would force many countries to take unilateral action that would further raise trade tensions.

INDIA

Of Love and Conspiracies

India’s most populous state passed a law this week that criminalizes interfaith marriages when the purpose is the religious conversion of the bride, a move that will likely deepen divisions along religious lines in the Hindu-majority nation, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

Authorities in Uttar Pradesh said the new law requires anyone seeking religious conversion ahead of marriage to send an application to the district magistrate two months in advance. People who violate the law could face 10 years in jail.

Officials said the law doesn’t outright ban interfaith unions but critics worry that it would discourage mixed marriages and questioned its constitutionality.

States led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, which includes Uttar Pradesh, have also announced their intention to pass similar laws, citing concerns over “love jihad” – a widespread conspiracy theory that involves Muslim men luring Hindu women into marriage for conversion.

Regardless, mixed marriages are very rare in India.

In the capital, New Delhi, only 589 out of 19,250 registered marriages were interfaith unions during the first nine months last year. Another study showed that only 2.2 percent of all women between ages 15-49 had married outside their faith.

UNITED KINGDOM

‘Period Poverty’

Scotland became the first country in the world to make feminine sanitary products available for free to help girls and women struggling during the pandemic, Politico reported Wednesday.

Under the new law, known as the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act, passed late Tuesday, local authorities and educational institutions must ensure free access to tampons, sanitary napkins and other products.

Scottish Labour lawmaker Monica Lennon, who introduced the bill in April 2019, said that menstruation should “never be a barrier to education or push anyone into poverty.”

According to a study in May by NGO Plan International UK, about 30 percent of girls between the age of 14 to 21 have struggled to access sanitary products during the lockdowns in the United Kingdom.

While Scotland is the first jurisdiction in the world to make feminine hygiene products free, some countries have banned the “tampon tax” – the value-added tax imposed on sanitary products.

In Europe, Ireland is the only country with no tampon tax. Hungary imposes a 27 percent tax rate on tampons, the highest in the bloc.

DISCOVERIES

Bird Science

On Thanksgiving, a dry, tough turkey is the nightmare of many a holiday chef – to avert that catastrophe, cooks have been submerging the bird in salt baths known as brine overnight to tenderize in a tradition that goes back centuries.

There’s a complicated chemical process behind the simple practice, according to Discover Magazine.

Casey Owens, a food scientist, explained that brining causes chemical and structural changes in the meat that encourages it to soak up more moisture. Once salt dissolves in water, it creates sodium and chloride ions – positively or negatively charged atoms – that become attracted to the charged regions in the muscle cells of the meat.

As a result, the meat will absorb the dissolved salt and then the water: The negatively charged salt ions will attach to the muscle fibers and eventually repel each other.

This push will open up tiny gaps in the muscle tissue for water to enter –making the meat juicier once it’s cooked. The brine also softens the muscle tissue and makes the meat easier to chew.

Owens said to properly cook a turkey, the meat needs to be brined for eight to 12 hours in the fridge and be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit in its thickest parts, like the thigh or breast.

Then, some say, comes the best part – the gravy and the stuffing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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: 12,777,754 (+1.43%)
  2. India: 9,266,705 (+0.48%)
  3. Brazil: 6,166,606 (+0.78%)
  4. France: 2,221,874 (+0.71%)
  5. Russia: 2,169,424 (+1.18%)
  6. Spain: 1,605,066 (+0.64%)
  7. UK: 1,560,872 (+1.18%)
  8. Italy: 1,480,874 (+1.78%)
  9. Argentina: 1,390,388 (+0.62%)
  10. Colombia: 1,270,991 (+0.67%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours