January 07, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

KYRGYZSTAN

The Fix Is In

Kyrgyzstan’s recent political turbulence began after protests erupted in the wake of the parliamentary election in early October. Angry over how election officials blocked opposition political parties from running for office, opposition supporters stormed government buildings, compelling then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to resign. Election officials then suspended the results and scheduled a new election for January 10.

Today, few observers believe the contest is up for grabs, however. Eighteen candidates are running for the presidency. But nearly everyone believes Sadyr Japarov will win.

Japarov had been in prison for kidnapping, a charge he denies, claiming that prosecutors were politically motivated. But he was among the convicted criminals freed during the civil unrest of October. In a matter of weeks, he became prime minister and then interim president. Because the interim president is barred from running for the presidency under Kyrgyz law, Japarov resigned so that he might hit the campaign trail. So far he’s spent more than any other candidate.

What’s more, he’s probably still in control of the country. “Japarov technically stepped down from his official duties to run for president, but he maintains a strong informal grip on authority,” the Diplomat wrote. His name, for example, will just happen to appear at the top of the ballot.

The problem is that Japarov and his cronies oversee a country whose human rights record led Freedom House to classify it as a “consolidated authoritarian regime.” Press, political and individual freedoms have been compromised, the McGill International Review noted.

Central authorities are seeking to consolidate their power amid the political fog that occurs during elections. Human Rights Watch outlined how officials banned a powerful union from holding a meeting to determine new leaders and launched investigations into key figures within the organization.

Critics of Japarov have reported online harassment from the same trolls and social media figures who helped the presidential candidate rise to power so quickly, openDemocracy wrote. The trolls often disparage all naysayers as foreign or Western-backed forces seeking to undermine the Kyrgyz nation, a nationalist posture that is common in former Soviet republics.

As the officials oppress their people, they engage in corruption they can’t hide. Raimbek Matraimov, for example, is technically a customs official. But he lives a luxurious lifestyle that suggests he receives payments that are far beyond his meager salary, as Radio Free Europe reported in a remarkable series of investigative stories. The US recently imposed sanctions on Matraimov for allegedly laundering $700 million.

Japarov managed to benefit from last year’s protests. He might not be so lucky in the future.

WANT TO KNOW

WORLD

Shock, Horror and Shame

The world watched with shock, dismay and horror as a “surreal scene” at the US Capitol, like little else seen in its history, unfolded on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported.

“Were this a different country on a different continent, we would be talking of a failed state,” BBC correspondent Nick Bryan tweeted.

Broadcasters around the world aired livestreams of the events as they unfolded, with some interrupting regular programming to show minute-by-minute developments as protestors loyal to President Donald Trump stormed through police barricades and mobbed the Capitol to disrupt a vote to formalize Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.

Many foreign observers, already following the elections in Georgia, reacted with alarm and even grief, especially in allied countries that have looked to US democracy for inspiration.

“The United States Congress has been the symbol of freedom and democracy around the world for centuries,” said Armin Laschet, the governor of Germany’s most populous federal state. “The attacks on the Capitol by fanatical Trump supporters hurt every friend of the United States.”

Across much of Europe, top officials echoed these sentiments. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the scenes of chaos “disgraceful.” In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians were “deeply disturbed” and that he was “following the situation minute by minute.”  The Organization of American States noted, “The exercise of force and vandalism against the institutions constitutes a serious attack against democratic functioning.”

The scene at the Capitol also marked an opportunity for countries criticized by the United States to turn the tables. Turkey, a NATO ally that has been widely criticized for jailing thousands of critics, academics, journalists and artists and has seen its relationship with the United States deteriorate, called on “all parties in the USA to show restraint and common sense.”

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said, “And for this country you will be eventually talking only about Russian/Chinese alleged meddling! Man shrugging #KeepCalmAndBlameRussia.”

Many around the world were already closely watching the US, in particular the run-off elections in Georgia. On Wednesday afternoon, those races were called for Democratic candidates – Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff – tipping the Senate to the Democrats and thereby granting the party control of both the White House and Congress. In spite of the lowered standing of the US on the world stage over the past four years, what happens in the US reverberates around the world, say foreign observers and officials.

“How I would like to be a voter of the #DekalbCounty in #Georgia! And vote #Ossoff,” former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta tweeted earlier in the day, referring to a Georgia county with a large number of Democratic voters.

“US and international politics over the next few years will depend on his victory,” he wrote. “Those votes will affect us, too.”

CHINA

Expecting Delays

The World Health Organization delivered a rare rebuke against China this week, after the country has still not allowed United Nations investigators to probe the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reported.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed disappointment over the delay and said some investigators were still waiting for their visas.

China said Wednesday that they are still discussing the details of the probe with the international organization.

The statement shows signs of tension building between the agency and one of its most important members: The WHO rarely criticizes nations that fund its budget and elect its leaders.

For nearly a year, the UN body has negotiated with the Chinese government over an effort to investigate the origins of the disease, as well as access to key sites in the city of Wuhan – where the virus was first spotted.

But Beijing has not been cooperative, despite a majority of WHO members backing a resolution in May that calls for investigating the pandemic’s origin in China.

China, meanwhile, has defended its actions and even cast doubts on whether the virus originally started in Wuhan.

VENEZUELA

Omitting Titles

The European Union dropped its recognition of Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, a major setback for the opposition leader’s campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro from power, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borell, said that the bloc was disappointed that the new government-controlled Venezuelan National Assembly had assumed its mandate on Tuesday following controversial parliamentary elections last month.

Borell’s statement, however, did not refer to Guaido as the country’s interim president or as the head of the assembly. A senior EU diplomat later confirmed that the omission amounted to dropping its erstwhile treatment of Guaido as the country’s leader.

In 2019, the former head of the assembly said that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was fraudulent and declared himself interim president, citing the constitution.

About 60 nations, including the United States, recognized Guaido as president, but the EU never formally recognized him, due to objections from Italy and Cyprus: Instead, the bloc had treated him as the de facto leader, a position supported by most EU nations.

In another blow to his credibility, the Lima Group of mainly Latin American nations also issued a statement that did not mention Guaido as interim president.

Guaido is currently struggling with falling approval ratings, a fresh government clampdown and disagreements over strategy within his opposition alliance.

DISCOVERIES

‘Unique Treasure Box’

Nowadays, it’s quite easy to find Chinese or Lebanese restaurants in cities around the world, but even thousands of years ago foreign cuisine was quite international, according to a new study.

Scientists discovered that people living in the Mediterranean 3,700 years ago were already eating foods that derived from South and East Asia, New Scientist reported.

Researcher Philipp Stockhammer and his team found microscopic food remains in the teeth of 16 people who lived around the Levant area in the Middle East between the 17th and 11th century BCE.

Among the variety of dietary choices, the team found evidence of sesame, soybeans, turmeric and bananas. Their findings push back the timeline for these foods appearing in the Levant by centuries – or millennia in the case of soybeans.

“We had always thought this early globalization was limited to precious stones and metals,” said Stockhammer. “Now we see that this early globalization went hand in hand with the globalization of food.”

The scientists said that the foreign foods were found through studying dental calculus, a form of hardened plaque that archeologists usually remove – but don’t examine – from excavated skeletons to clean them.

They hope that the next archaeological team won’t be so fast to clear away the plaque, which Stockhammer called a “unique treasure box that you can open.”

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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: 21,305,037 (+1.21%)
  2. India: 10,395,278 (+0.20%)
  3. Brazil: 7,873,830 (+0.81%)
  4. Russia: 3,274,615 (+0.00%)**
  5. UK: 2,845,265 (+2.25%)
  6. France: 2,763,116 (+0.92%)
  7. Turkey: 2,283,931 (+0.61%)
  8. Italy: 2,201,945 (+0.93%)
  9. Spain: 1,982,544 (+0.00%)**
  10. Germany: 1,843,624 (+1.47%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country