The World Today for January 15, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

JAMMU & KASHMIR

Separate But Not Equal

Heavy snowfall recently inundated the Kashmir Valley, bringing life to a standstill as residents of the politically charged region between India and Pakistan dug themselves out, the Hindu reported. Roads in and out of the region were closed, wrote the Hindustan Times, meaning Kashmir was at least temporarily sealed off from its masters in New Delhi, the capital of India.

The Kashmir conflict begins in 1947 at the end of British rule of India, as the BBC explained. Kashmir was partitioned between Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. The countries have twice gone to war over their competing claims to the entire region and nearly went to a full-fledged war once. Separatist violence has flared up on India’s side of the so-called Line of Control since the 1980s. India has accused Pakistan of fueling the violence. Pakistani leaders, meanwhile, say India is fueling instability on its side of the line.

Kashmiri pro-democracy activists recently held a rally calling for India to hold a referendum on the region’s future, as a 1948 United Nations resolution stipulates, the Associated Press reported.

India recently allowed local elections to take place in Kashmir, but the New York Times suggested that many Kashmiris resented what they perceived as India’s heavy-handed rule. The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a pro-India coalition that wants self-governance for Kashmir, won the most seats in the elections, a snub to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Indian government responded by detaining 75 Kashmiri opposition figures in “preventative custody,” an act that hardly enamored said figures to Indian authority.

Modi has sought to knit India’s portion of Kashmir closer into the larger nation, arguing that assimilating Kashmir would improve the local economy. In 2019, Modi eliminated the region’s autonomy, splitting it into two federally-administered territories, Reuters wrote. The moves sparked protests.

In what’s known as Indian-administered Kashmir, relations between locals and the police are tense. Recently, the families of victims of police violence claimed that police staged the firefights that led to their loved ones’ deaths, Al Jazeera reported.

The families suggested that police have carte blanche on the streets of Kashmiri cities like Srinagar and use separatist violence as an excuse to oppress regular folks. One of the police officers allegedly planted weapons on the bodies and took their identification so they might be more easily portrayed as terrorists, CNN added.

Where people feel as if they are not being recognized, they often find themselves bumping up against those who fail to see.

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

Electric Eyes

France’s privacy watchdog banned the use of drone cameras to enforce coronavirus restrictions and for other law enforcement purposes over concerns that the pandemic has given rise to increased state surveillance, the Washington Post reported.

The watchdog said Thursday that France’s Interior Ministry had conducted drone flights “outside of any legal framework.” Privacy rights activists have hailed the ban as a victory.

France imposed one of Europe’s toughest measures in response to the virus last year and deployed helicopters and drones to ensure people adhered to the rules.

After activists expressed fears that the monitoring could serve as a trial run for broader surveillance programs, France’s highest court ordered the suspension of the practices in May.

Despite the court order, authorities continued to deploy drones during protests the gripped the country last year.

The ban will also prevent officials from using drones in monitoring protests, a move that puts the watchdog at odds with the government’s plan to expand their use.

The proposal is part of a controversial security bill that has been hotly debated in France for weeks, with critics viewing it as a serious threat to civil liberties.

CAMBODIA

The Big Show

A trial of members and supporters of Cambodia’s outlawed opposition party began Thursday, while rights groups blasted the move as another crackdown on government critics, Al Jazeera reported.

The trial is part of two massive prosecutions of individuals linked to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) for allegedly plotting an attack against the government in 2019.

More than 130 defendants are facing charges of “plotting” and “incitement,” with a maximum sentence of 12 years in jail.

The court cases are linked to former CNRP President Sam Rainsy’s unsuccessful attempt to return to the country in 2019: The opposition leader – who had been in exile since 2015 – was blocked from entering Cambodia after the government issued a travel ban against him.

Investigators said that the defendants were planning Rainsy’s return and that citizens had been convinced to gather in large numbers to attack the government.

Former members of the CNRP have denied the accusations, while human rights groups said the mass trials are part of an ongoing crackdown against the political opposition and critics of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

ITALY

A Rock and a Hard Place

Italy was plunged into a new political crisis this week, following the collapse of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s fragile coalition amid the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis, the Financial Times reported Thursday.

On Wednesday, three ministers of the Italia Viva party of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned, citing dissatisfaction with Conte’s handling of the pandemic.

Conte’s two main coalition partners, the Five Star Movement and the Democratic party, strongly condemned the move and voiced their support for the current prime minister.

The resignations leave Conte with a few options, including finding a new coalition partner or reaching some form of agreement with Renzi’s party.

Otherwise, Conte will have to resign, which could prompt President Sergio Mattarella to call snap polls or attempt to put together a broad-based government of national unity to overcome the impasse, Reuters wrote.

Analysts noted that early elections during the pandemic are “technically feasible” but highly unlikely.

They added, however, that early polls could spell the end for Renzi and his party. Italia Viva is polling in the single digits in national opinion surveys, while the opposition center-right bloc headed by Matteo Salvini’s eurosceptic League is on the upswing.

DISCOVERIES

Self-Sabotaging

Scientists are still baffled as to why some people develop severe COVID-19 symptoms, while others have milder ones – or no symptoms at all.

New research suggested, however, that the disease caused by the coronavirus could be a kind of autoimmune disease, according to the Conversation.

Yale University researchers discovered that in patients with severe symptoms, the body produces “autoantibodies:” They act similar to antibodies, but instead of attacking pathogens – in this case the virus – they attack the patient’s immune system and organs.

These types of antibodies are commonly found in autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It’s unclear why they develop in some people, but viral infections have also been linked to the onset of some autoimmune diseases.

In their paper, the science team screened for autoantibodies in 170 hospitalized patients and compared them with autoantibodies in people with mild symptoms, asymptomatic individuals, and people that were never infected.

Their findings showed that autoantibodies in hospitalized patients would attack interferons – immune proteins that are crucial in fighting viral infections – as well as critical cells of the immune system such as natural killer cells and T cells.

Further tests on mice also indicated that these autoantibodies made the disease worse for the rodents.

The team isn’t exactly sure what drives the production of autoantibodies but noted that understanding these driving factors could help in developing better treatments.

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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: 23,313,101 (+1.02%)
  2. India: 10,527,683 (+0.15%)
  3. Brazil: 8,324,294 (+0.82%)
  4. Russia: 3,483,531 (+1.41%)
  5. UK: 3,269,757 (+1.52%)
  6. France: 2,909,723 (+0.74%)
  7. Turkey: 2,364,801 (+0.38%)
  8. Italy: 2,336,279 (+0.74%)
  9. Spain: 2,211,967 (+1.65%)
  10. Germany: 2,015,235 (+1.07%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

Correction: In Thursday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we misstated the cost of the Afghan War as $9 billion. The US war in Afghanistan, began in 2001, and its overall cost has been the source of considerable debate. According to the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute, the total cost to date has been $2 trillion. We regret the error.

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