The World Today for December 18, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

KYRGYZSTAN

Chaos in the Mountains

In the past two months, the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan has had three presidents and four prime ministers.

The instability kicked off after parliamentary elections on Oct. 4 when protesters took to the streets after three political parties with ties to the ruling elite emerged victorious amid allegations of vote-rigging, as the BBC explained.

Election officials annulled the results as the protests threatened to spin out of control, the Associated Press wrote. A new vote was scheduled for this month. But, amid the chaos, and with their session set to expire in late October, lawmakers voted to extend their terms to next summer, reported the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. They also voted for a package of constitutional reforms for voters to consider in a referendum scheduled for Jan. 10, the same day as the country’s presidential elections.

Kyrgyzstan’s top court ruled that the extended terms were legal given the lack of leadership in the country after the canceled elections, the Diplomat said. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wields significant clout in the former Soviet republic, was also pleased, wrote the Russian state-owned Tass news agency.

That’s not all, though.

During the October unrest, protesters demanded that President Sooronbay Jeenbekov resign. He did so, as the Guardian reported. They also broke into a prison and freed Sadyr Japarov, an opposition politician who had been serving an 11-year jail term for kidnapping. Japarov has always denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated, a plausible allegation, the New York Times granted, given the corruption in the country and a pattern of jailing former leaders.

Lawmakers allowed him to hold both the president and prime minister’s roles to set aright the ship of the state. Japarov resigned a month later, however, to run for president next month. President Talant Mamytov took his place.

Critics said Japarov was behind the constitutional reform referendum that would greatly expand the powers of the presidential office he might win, Radio Free Europe wrote. Human Rights Watch questioned whether parliament had the power to advance such a sweeping measure during a session when its authority, while perhaps legal, is under question.

Someone needs to gain control, analysts say. Eurasianet showed how government capacity was breaking down, revealing that officials were stiffing Kyrgyz health workers who contracted Covid-19. Whoever wins the Jan. 10 presidential election will contend with major international issues, from Moscow’s influence to Kyrgyzstan’s massive debts to China, bne Intelligence noted.

It’s easy to take stability for granted, until it’s gone.

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WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

A Softer Slap

The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld an international sports ban on Russia for doping, the latest chapter in the country’s decade-long drugs saga, USA Today reported Thursday.

The long-awaited ruling will effectively ban the country from the next two Olympic Games and other major sporting events for the next two years.

In 2016, an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found that more than 1,000 Russian athletes in at least 30 fields of sport were involved in, or benefitted from, state-sponsored doping programs from 2011 to 2015.

Two years later, WADA found that drug-test results provided by Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) had been tampered with. Last December, it banned Russia from international competitions for four years.

Russia appealed the case and the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban from four years to two.

As a result, Russian athletes can still compete but only under a neutral flag and only if they are not linked to the country’s doping program. Russia will also be banned from hosting or bidding on hosting any Olympic Games or world championships until Dec. 16, 2022.

The move was hailed by WADA and RUSADA but heavily criticized by US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart as a “significant loss” for clean athletes.

FRANCE

More Than Equal

French authorities imposed a fine on the government of the city of Paris this week for appointing too many women to senior positions, thereby breaking France’s gender-equality rules, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The case dates back to 2018 when Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo appointed 11 women and five men to her senior team. According to government rules, at least 40 percent of new positions should be allocated to each gender: Hidalgo’s team was 69 percent women and 31 percent men.

The mayor, however, said that she was happy to pay the fine, adding that her appointments helped give women a louder voice in the French government. Women in France have long complained of barriers to advancement in politics and business.

The fine underscores how Paris has seen its successes regarding gender-equality even as many countries around the world are trying to encourage more women to enter politics.

Some researchers suggest female leaders in some cases have performed better than their male counterparts during the coronavirus pandemic, at least in the early stages.

Economists Uma Kambhampati surveyed 194 countries and found that by mid-May, female leaders locked down their economies sooner and their countries suffered half as many Covid-19-related deaths on average as those led by men.

WORLD

Funny Money

The US Treasury Department designated Switzerland and Vietnam as currency manipulators for the first time, while keeping China on the watch list, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

The two nations met all three criteria set by the US Congress for determining when other countries are preventing market forces from setting their currency values, according to the Washington Post.

It found that Switzerland had intervened in the currency market by more than necessary to address financial-market volatility earlier this year. Vietnam, meanwhile, was found to have restrained currency appreciation at a time of rising trade surpluses with the US.

Both nations denied the charges. The Swiss National Bank said it was trying to fight a strong Swiss franc to combat deflationary risks. Vietnam said that it doesn’t use its exchange rate “to create an unfair competitive advantage in international trade.”

When a country’s currency is valued lower than market rates, it can mean that its products have a price advantage vis a vis other country’s goods.

Three other Asian countries – India, Thailand and Taiwan – were also added to the agency’s watchlist, which includes Japan, South Korea and Germany.

Meanwhile, US officials urged China to “improve transparency” in its currency management, particularly of its central bank’s relationship with state-owned banks. The world’s second-largest economy was designated as a currency manipulator last year but the label was removed in January.

While the manipulation designation has no immediate consequences beyond short-term market impacts, the US Treasury could penalize offenders such as banning them from bidding on US government contracts.

Analysts said that the objective of current designations are meant “to gain leverage in trade negotiations.”

DISCOVERIES

Of Silver Linings

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has caused massive harm but there is a silver lining, according to new research.

The Global Carbon Project found that pandemic-related lockdowns have cut the world’s carbon dioxide emissions this year by seven percent, the biggest drop ever recorded, the Associated Press reported.

Preliminary results showed that the globe will have put 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide – the main man-made heat-trapping gas – in the air in 2020: That is lower than last year’s 40.1 billion tons.

Researchers explained that the big drop is because most people are staying at home instead of using cars and planes.

Co-author Corinne LeQuere’s team reported that emissions dropped about 12 percent in the United States, 11 percent in Europe, but only 1.7 in China. The latter was mainly because China began its lockdown earlier and had a minor second wave.

The study also noted that CO2 emissions only increased 0.1 percent from 2018 to 2019, much smaller than annual jumps of around three percent a decade or two ago.

While scientists predict that global emissions will rise again after the pandemic, some are optimistic that society “[has] learned some lessons that may help decrease emissions in the future.”

Even so, “Of course, lockdown(s) (are) absolutely not the way to tackle climate change,” said LeQuere.

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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: 17,212,496 (+1.37%)
  2. India: 9,979,447 (+0.23%)
  3. Brazil: 7,110,434 (+0.99%)
  4. Russia: 2,764,843 (+1.03%)
  5. France: 2,483,524 (+0.75%)
  6. Turkey: 1,955,680 (+1.43%)
  7. UK: 1,954,268 (+1.85%)
  8. Italy: 1,906,377 (+0.97%)
  9. Spain: 1,785,421 (+0.68%)
  10. Argentina: 1,524,372 (+0.48%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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