The World Today for February 04, 2021

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The Façade Crumbles

Khing Hnin Wai frequently produces videos of herself doing aerobics to electronic dance music near the road to the parliament building in Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar. Her backdrop rarely provides much drama. But on Monday, the Los Angeles Times detailed how she worked out as black military vehicles launched a coup d’état.

The bloodless coup in the southeastern Asian country formerly known as Burma occurred on Feb. 1. It happened just hours before parliament was set to convene for the first time since the Nov. 8 elections that led to the National League for Democracy winning almost 80 percent of the chamber, Reuters wrote. That election was widely viewed as a vindication for Aung San Suu Kyi, the party’s leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent 15 years under house arrest for her pro-democracy efforts against Myanmar’s junta.

As the Washington Post explained, the Myanmarese military released Suu Kyi in 2010. Since then, she and other civilian leaders have been working with the military to transition the country to a full-fledged democracy.

But military leaders say that Suu Kyi, who held the title of State Counselor of Myanmar before the coup, and other civilian officials ignored their claims of election fraud after the November election, wrote the Associated Press. Local election officials rejected the assertion.

As a result, military leaders arrested Suu Kyi and her deputies. On Wednesday, she was charged with illegally importing at least 10 walkie-talkies under an obscure law, according to an official from her National League for Democracy party. The charge comes with prison time of up to three years.

Folks have been staging protests – honking horns, banging pots and pans – to express their disapproval of the coup. Doctors are at the forefront of the activism, Channel News Asia added. Vice News showed how Myanmarese in the country’s largest city, Yangon, were stocking up on goods in expectation of shortages and instability.

Army general and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing vowed to hold a new election in a year after the state of emergency declaration expires – likely 2022. But Bloomberg noted that Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy would likely win that new election, too.

Suu Kyi is not perfect. She has come under withering criticism for her mistreatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that she and her military rivals have labeled as terrorists. More than 750,000 Rohingya fled a crackdown in Myanmar that has been compared to genocide, becoming refugees in Bangladesh, reported Vox. Unsurprisingly, Rohingya refugees told Al Jazeera that they do not feel sorry for her. They worry, however, that the coup will prolong their misery, the Washington Post noted.

Many observers may have questioned what Suu Kyi did with her power but at least they accepted that she held power legitimately, even if it was shared power.

Still, some say the “men in army green never truly retreated,” the New York Times wrote, illustrating how the country presented a facade of democracy to the world while the generals who had ruled the country for nearly half a century still dominated the economy and the halls of power.

Now, the Myanmarese wonder what is next.

Aye Min Thant, a Reuters journalist writing a personal account of the coup detailed how some are experiencing a sense of déjà vu.

“There was a coup in 1990, and now it is happening again,” her uncle, who is in his mid-60s and is living through his third coup, told her. “We have been free for 10 years – I don’t know how to live like that anymore.”



‘Super Mario’ To The Rescue

Former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi agreed Wednesday to form a new Italian government in the hopes of ending a political crisis in the country over coronavirus recovery funds, Euronews reported.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella asked Draghi to help after negotiations between political parties failed to form a new coalition government.

Draghi – nicknamed “Super Mario” – is credited with playing a large role in preserving the European Union’s common currency, the euro, during the debt crisis more than a decade ago.

He told reporters that his new administration will focus on ending the pandemic, finalizing the vaccination campaign and restarting the country’s economy.

The move follows weeks of political crisis in Italy: Last month, coalition partner Italia Viva left the governing coalition of former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte over disputes regarding the use of the EU’s coronavirus relief package.

Despite surviving two confidence votes in parliament, Conte resigned last week.

Still, analysts said it’s unclear whether the Five Star Movement – which has most seats in parliament – will support Draghi.


Heroes and Villains

Mexican prosecutors accused 12 police officers of involvement in last month’s massacre that left 19 people, mostly migrants, dead, near the US border, a case that is prompting questions about the role of Mexico’s security forces in deterring migration, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The massacre occurred on Jan. 22 in the city of Camargo, just a few miles from the Texas border. Authorities said that at least 13 victims appeared to be Guatemalan migrants on their way to the United States.

On Tuesday, Irving Barrios Mojica, the attorney general of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, said that an investigation had proved that “at least 12 elements of the state police” were present during the massacre. The officers have already been detained on homicide charges but the motive behind the killings is still unclear.

The massacre has driven a wedge between Mexico and Guatemala but it might also affect Mexico’s relationship with the United States.

Mexico has already mobilized security forces on the border at the request of former President Donald Trump. However, human rights groups have criticized the move because of the poor human rights record of Mexico’s security forces.

Under President Joe Biden, the border remains closed to migrants and asylum seekers because of the pandemic.

At the same time, Biden is trying to reshape US immigration policy and the January massacre might force him to reconsider his cooperation with Mexico, analysts said.


Intimidation Tactics

A Russian court sentenced opposition leader Alexei Navalny to two years and eight months in prison, a verdict considered as an attempt to quash dissent against the government, NBC News reported.

The court ruled Tuesday that Navalny had violated the terms of a suspended prison sentence for a fraud case in 2014. The Kremlin critic has denied any wrongdoing, adding that the 2014 case and the current trial were politically motivated.

The ruling follows mass protests against Navalny’s arrest which erupted across Russia over the weekend, with authorities detaining more than 5,000 people. It was the second weekend in a row that protests took place.

Navalny was arrested last month following his return from Germany, where he was hospitalized after being poisoned during a trip to Siberia in August. He blames President Vladimir Putin for trying to assassinate him.

Meanwhile, diplomats from at least 12 countries, including the United States, were in the court during Navalny’s hearing. Western nations condemned the verdict and have demanded his immediate release. Russian officials, meanwhile, accused them of “meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”

The issue is likely to increase pressure on both Putin and US President Joe Biden, as he outlines his policy on Russia.


The Janitors of the Sea

Around eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year even as humans spend millions of dollars cleaning up the mess.

Meanwhile, it turns out that nature has its own janitor – the so-called “Neptune balls,” Smithsonian Magazine reported.

These spherical objects are created when fibers of the Posidonia oceanica – a type of Mediterranean seagrass – get tangled up and form balls that look a bit like brown clumps of steel wool.

Despite their corny name, marine scientists discovered that the puffy spheres – including loose blades of seagrass – can trap small fragments of plastics and then wash ashore during storms.

In their study, a research team assessed the plastic collected in seagrass on four beaches on the Spanish island of Mallorca between 2018 and 2019. Their results showed that half of the loose seagrass leaf samples they collected contained up to 613 plastic items per one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of loose leaves.

However, a kilogram of Neptune balls collected nearly 1,500 pieces of plastic.

Lead author Anna Sanchez-Vidal told New Scientist that the seagrass has the potential to collect nearly 870 million pieces of plastic annually.

Therefore, “Strict measures should be taken to protect these systems,” she said.

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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: 26,557,034 (+0.46%)
  2. India: 10,790,183 (+0.12%)
  3. Brazil: 9,339,420 (+0.60%)
  4. UK: 3,882,972 (+0.50%)
  5. Russia: 3,874,830 (+0.85%)
  6. France: 3,310,051 (+0.80%)
  7. Spain: 2,883,465 (+1.11%)
  8. Italy: 2,583,790 (+0.51%)
  9. Turkey: 2,501,079 (+0.32%)
  10. Germany: 2,252,504 (+0.55%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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