The World Today for March 03, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

GEORGIA

A Dream No More

Police in Georgia, a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus, recently arrested Nika Melia, an opposition politician who claims that the ruling Georgian Dream party stole the parliamentary elections late last year. Officers used tear gas on Melia’s supporters who had barricaded themselves in a building in the capital of Tbilisi, the BBC reported. It was the latest civil unrest in the fraught few months since the contested election.

The leader of the United National Movement, Melia allegedly incited violence in street protests in 2019, when Georgians were angry about Georgia Dream failing to live up to promises to reform the voting process so that it did not favor the ruling party.

Analysts have concluded that Georgia’s democracy is backsliding into authoritarianism because of the broken electoral system, Al Jazeera wrote. In the October elections, for example, Georgia Dream won 48 percent of the vote but secured 90 out of 150 seats in parliament.

A court recently issued an arrest warrant for Melia after he refused to pay an increase in bail fees. He has called the charges politically motivated. Melia took control of the Movement from Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who was in office during the 2008 Russian invasion of the country. Saakashvili is now living in exile in Ukraine in order to avoid corruption charges at home. He has denied the allegations and has long planned to return and serve as a leader in the country.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned rather than enforce the court order, arguing that it would trigger more violence. “I’d like to believe that this step will help de-escalate the polarization on the political stage of our nation,” Gakharia said during a press conference covered by the Washington Post.

His replacement, current Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, vowed that he would uphold justice. A former defense minister, Garibashvili is a controversial figure with ties to former prime minister and tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, who in turn has business ties to Russian oligarchs, explained the Financial Times.

The West should seek to deescalate the crisis in Georgia, according to the Atlantic Council, noting how NATO and the European Union have long sought to improve ties with the country. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili agrees with that sentiment. In contrast, University of Pennsylvania Russian and East European Studies Professor Mitchell Orenstein argues that Ivanishvili wants his country to look to Moscow for direction.

If voters could participate in a fair-and-square election, the question might be decided once and for all.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Tough Love

The United States and the European Union imposed new sanctions against Russia in response to the poisoning and arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, NPR reported Tuesday.

The new sanctions will target officials in the Russian government and will include export controls on 14 parties, including three Germans and one Swiss.

US officials also announced Tuesday that the intelligence community concluded that officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) used the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent to poison Navalny last year.

In August, Navalny fell ill during a trip to Siberia and was later sent to Germany for treatment. Toxicology tests found evidence of Novichok in his system, which analysts said could only be obtained through a state actor.

The opposition leader returned to Russia in January but was subsequently arrested and later sentenced to two years in prison.

Russia has repeatedly denied any role in Navalny’s poisoning but has refused to investigate the matter.

The sanctions mark a tougher stance by the Biden administration against Russia, compared to his predecessor Donald Trump.

The Navalny poisoning is one of four areas of tension between the United States and Russia that President Joe Biden is reviewing including the SolarWinds cyber hack, believed to be of Russian origin.

ISRAEL

A Question of Identity

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled this week that foreigners who convert in Israel to Conservative or Reform Judaism have the right to citizenship, a verdict that strikes a major blow to the country’s Orthodox religious establishment, the New York Times reported.

The ruling, which had been 15 years in the making, will strip away some of the monopoly Orthodox rabbis have held over questions of religious identity in the predominately Jewish state.

The decision, however, remains symbolic because only 30 or 40 foreigners convert to Reform or Conservative – also known as Masorti – Judaism annually.

The verdict, however, comes ahead of this month’s general elections – the fourth in two years – and has struck a chord in Israeli society over the issue of Jewish identity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party criticized the court and asked voters to choose its candidates to “ensure a stable right-wing government that will restore sovereignty to the people.”

One of Israel’s chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef, called the ruling “a deeply regrettable decision.” Meanwhile, non-Orthodox Jews said the ruling was an “important step in guaranteeing religious freedom in Israel and recognizing the diversity of the Jewish people and its practices in Israel and throughout the world.”

EUROPEAN UNION

The Right to Repair

The European Union imposed new rules this week that would require companies that sell home appliances within the bloc to ensure that those items can be repaired for up to 10 years, a move aimed at reducing the enormous amounts of electrical waste that plagues the continent annually, the Associated Press reported.

The “right to repair” will urge manufacturers to ensure that parts are available for up to a decade as well as provide repair manuals for new devices. Companies will also need to make their appliances easier to disassemble using conventional tools when they truly can’t be fixed anymore, to improve recycling.

Environmentalists and consumer rights groups hailed the move as a “big step in the right direction.” They have long complained that the lack of spare parts has frustrated consumers. They are now campaigning to expand the “right to repair” to smaller devices, such as smartphones and laptops.

The new regulation is aimed at cutting the environmental footprint from manufactured goods in the 27-member bloc: Annually, Europeans produce more than 35 pounds of electrical waste per person with half of it being household appliances.

Only about 40 percent of that junk is recycled.

DISCOVERIES

Survivalists

A recent find beneath the Antarctic ice shelf is more proof that life always finds a way even in the darkest, deepest and coldest spots on Earth.

Scientists accidentally discovered multiple unknown organisms living nearly 3,000 feet below the Filchner Ice Shelf at a depth of more than 4,000 feet, according to Science Alert.

Life under ice shelves is extremely unwelcoming but it’s possible: Previous discoveries include evidence of small mobile creatures such as fish, jellies and crustaceans.

But for the first time, a research team has come across a group of stationary creatures, including an unknown species of sponges and other undocumented marine life.

The team reported in their study that the unusual creatures are thriving underwater, despite the lack of available food or sunlight – the latter can be used for photosynthesis.

They suggested that the extremophiles are using chemosynthesis to produce food by using hydrogen or methane found in the Antarctic waters to generate sugars for their survival.

However, this is all speculation for now, scientists caution, until they go deeper – literally.

“This means that as polar scientists, we are going to have to find new and innovative ways to study them and answer all the new questions we have,” said lead author Huw Griffiths.

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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: 28,719,627 (+0.19%)
  2. India: 11,139,516 (+0.13%)
  3. Brazil: 10,646,926 (+0.57%)
  4. Russia: 4,230,707 (+0.25%)
  5. UK: 4,200,717 (+0.15%)
  6. France: 3,843,241 (+0.60%)
  7. Spain: 3,130,184 (- 2.32%)**
  8. Italy: 2,955,434 (+0.58%)
  9. Turkey: 2,723,316 (+0.44%)
  10. Germany: 2,462,061 (+0.26%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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