The World Today for March 12, 2021

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Suffer the Children

Bandits recently released 279 Nigerian girls kidnapped recently from their school in Zamfara, a state in the country’s northwest. The kidnappers had forced the girls to march in the forest, beating them and threatening to shoot them if they stopped, Sky News wrote.

“Alhamdulillah! (God be praised!) It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students,” Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle wrote on Twitter, the Associated Press reported. “I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe.”

These children are safe. For now. Others are not.

In this case, officials claimed they did not pay ransoms in exchange for the girls’ freedom. The kidnappers do not appear to be connected to Boko Haram, the Islamic State-affiliated militant group that abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok in 2014. More than 100 of those girls remain missing.

Regardless, one would think that Nigerians would be happy the girls are now free. Instead, a riot broke out soon after officials brought the girls to their parents, Reuters reported. Nigerians are sick and tired of such incidents. Three mass kidnappings have occurred in the region since December. Late last year, gunmen took 300 schoolboys. Most are now free, the BBC reported. Last month, at least 27 students were abducted and later released, Reuters reported.

Kidnappings are part of Nigerian life. Variety magazine wrote about how the country’s movie industry, called Nollywood, produces films like “The Milkmaid,” which tells the tale of a sister’s search for her missing, kidnapped sibling, for example.

Nigeria’s boarding schools in the remote northern section of the West African nation have become lucrative hunting grounds for armed bands, the New York Times explained. The government has paid $18 million in ransoms from mid-2011 to March 2020 to release victims, according to a Nigerian intelligence report cited in the newspaper. Corrupt government officials have skimmed from those payments, too.

A cycle of poverty, violence, kidnapping, ransoms and corruption have gripped northern Nigeria, argued Wall Street Journal reporter Joe Parkinson, who wrote a recent book on the Chibok kidnappings, in an interview with National Public Radio.

In an op-ed in USA Today, Parkinson and his co-author, Wall Street Journal Reporter Drew Hinshaw, added that foreign drones, special forces and other expensive resources deployed to find the Chibok girls never worked. Kidnapping is a fast-growing part of the Nigerian economy that doesn’t necessarily have a military solution, in other words.

Some think developing the region and providing jobs to these would-be abductors who have taken a page from the militants’ playbook might work. Others say a heavy military presence in the region is the solution. Changing the culture of corruption is an idea tossed into the mix.

Regardless, most are sure that the latest kidnappings of children in an isolated part of Nigeria are far from the last.



Tightening the Noose

Chinese lawmakers voted Thursday to change Hong Kong’s electoral system, the latest move by the mainland to tighten its control over the semi-autonomous territory, the Straits Times reported.

In a near-unanimous vote, legislators approved the creation of a Candidate Qualification Review Committee which will vet the eligibility of anyone seeking to run for public office in Hong Kong.

Specifically, the committee will determine which candidates are “not patriotic enough,” a move aimed at rooting out pro-democracy politicians.

The new proposal will also expand Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and the Election Committee, the body responsible for picking the city’s leader.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam praised the reform while Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said the proposed changes would “fully and accurately” implement the “one country, two systems” principle by which Hong Kong is governed.

The framework has for decades provided the city with a high degree of autonomy, a separate legislature and legal system, as well as civil liberties unseen in mainland China such as freedom of speech.

Critics, however, said that those freedoms have been eroded in recent years as Beijing has moved to expand its control over the territory including the implementation of a controversial national security law last July.


The Scabs

Japan on Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the triple catastrophe that crippled its northeastern region, killed thousands of people, caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and left many survivors trying to piece their lives together a decade later, NBC News reported.

Many Japanese headed to the coast Thursday carrying bouquets or visited graves to pray, while others took part in anti-nuclear protests to mark the anniversary. Meanwhile, Japanese Emperor Naruhito and his wife attended an event in Tokyo along with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to mark the anniversary.

On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a 9.0 magnitude quake – the strongest in the country’s history – which caused a tsunami that leveled towns and resulted in the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, in Ukraine, decades earlier

More than 20,000 people are believed to have died and nearly half a million were displaced.

Since 2011, the Japanese government has spent about $300 billion to rebuild the region but it will take decades and more funding to properly decommission the nuclear plant.

Meanwhile, 40,000 remain displaced from the disaster due to the radiation that lingers.

In a show of rebirth, Fukushima was supposed to host a part of the Summer Olympics scheduled to take place in Japan in 2020. The Games were delayed until July due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Suga hopes that the Olympics will mark Japan’s recovery from the disaster.


The Lesser Evil

Myanmar’s military government removed the rebel Arakan Army (AA) from its list of terrorist groups Thursday, a move aimed at shoring up power in the face of mass protests that have gripped the country following February’s coup, Al Jazeera reported.

Army officials said that the delisting occurred because the armed group has stopped its attacks in order to help establish peace across the country.

Analysts, however, said that the move removes an obstacle for Myanmar’s army – also known as Tatmadaw – as it tries to hold onto power amid ongoing demonstrations.

Myanmar has been gripped by mass protests since the Tatmadaw seized control and arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her government.

Since then, the junta has launched a violent crackdown against protesters which has resulted in the deaths of at least 70 people, according to the United Nations.

Many rebel groups in Myanmar have voiced support for the protest movement but the AA has remained silent. It made no comments on Thursday’s decision.

Over the past two years, the AA has been fighting the Tatmadaw to achieve greater autonomy in the western Rakhine state.

The region gained global attention in 2017, when the military launched a violent campaign there that forced hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.


Wheels of History

Italy’s Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii in 79 CE but the volcanic ash released from the eruption also preserved most of the city’s artifacts including one of the best-preserved chariots ever found, Fox News reported.

Discovered in a suburban villa by Italian archeologists in the north of the ancient Roman city, researchers explained that the four-wheeled chariot was a processional vehicle due to its flamboyant appearance: It was made out of various metals, including bronze and iron and decorated with flowers.

“What we have is a ceremonial chariot probably the Pilentum referred to by some sources, which was employed not for everyday use or for agricultural transport but to accompany community festivities, parades and processions,” said the Archaeological Park of Pompeii’s Director Massimo Osanna.

Osanna suggested that his type of transport was mostly used for marriage rituals or for bringing the bride to the new household – think of today’s fancy vehicles with “Just Married” written in Latin.

Although the chariot displayed mythological figures associated with love, the archaeological team has yet to determine its exact usage.

Click here to see the wheels of history.

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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: 29,286,142 (+0.46%)
  2. India: 11,308,846 (+0.41%)
  3. Brazil: 11,277,717 (+0.67%)
  4. Russia: 4,321,588 (+0.44%)
  5. UK: 4,254,714 (+0.16%)
  6. France: 4,050,558 (+0.70%)
  7. Spain: 3,178,356 (0.00%)**
  8. Italy: 3,149,017 (+0.82%)
  9. Turkey: 2,835,989 (+0.50%)
  10. Germany: 2,546,526 (+0.19%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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