March 15, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

THE NETHERLANDS

Wanted: Change

The Netherlands will be one of the first countries to hold general elections this year during a Covid-19 lockdown.

As Politico explained, other countries such as France and Poland delayed their votes or switched to mail-in ballots to prevent the franchise from spreading the virus. Dutch officials are adamant about proceeding with the three days of voting that begins on March 15.

The Dutch government under the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy resigned earlier this year over a scandal in which tax authorities falsely accused 10,000 parents of claiming child benefit payments they didn’t deserve – even though they did. The people need to vote to determine who should lead the country.

Still, Prime Minister Mark Rutte managed to remain in his job. Now polls say that he is likely to win reelection despite the collapse of his government. The irony led an opinion writer in Foreign Policy magazine to argue that Rutte has a “legacy of failure – and winning.”

Additionally, Rutte presided over the worst civil unrest in the Netherlands in generations. In January, he imposed a curfew to halt the spread of the virus. The move sparked riots as throngs took to the streets in protest, as the New York Times reported in a video. The curfew survived court challenges. Despite the opposition, Rutte recently extended the curfew.

A “tipping point is coming when the vaccine gains the upper hand over the virus and more will be possible,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the protests go on. On Sunday, about 2,000 people gathered in The Hague to protest against the government and its tough coronavirus lockdown, AP reported in a separate article.

The prime minister’s success rests, in part, on the exhaustion of Dutch voters, the Guardian wrote. The country on the North Atlantic coast of Europe is now facing an almost certain third wave of Covid-19. His pandemic policies might be controversial among some but Agence France-Presse reported that the coronavirus is the biggest issue of the election, suggesting many Dutch support him.

His political rivals are also in disarray.

The xenophobic, populist Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party will win the second-most number of seats in parliament but they won’t have the heft to either stop Rutte or force him to join in a coalition, added Haaretz.

A year ago, the leader of the rightwing Forum for Democracy, Thierry Baudet, was vying with Wilders to become the boss of the Dutch far-right. But some Forum supporters have been outed for sharing Nazi imagery as well as racist, antisemitic and homophobic messages on social media.

Lastly, British-based companies are flocking to the Netherlands due to Brexit, providing an otherwise constrained economy with fresh infusions of cash, Reuters added.

Dutch voters want change. They’re betting that the tipping point will deliver it faster than anything or anyone else.

WANT TO KNOW

BOLIVIA

Spring Cleaning

Bolivian authorities arrested former interim President Jeanine Añez and some of her government’s former ministers over the weekend, a move condemned by the opposition and civil rights group as political persecution by the country’s ruling socialist party, Financial Times reported.

Añez and the ministers were arrested on charges of terrorism and sedition over their roles in the mass protests that forced former President Evo Morales to flee the country in November 2019.

Morales had sought to win a fourth consecutive term during the presidential elections that year but the vote was marred by irregularities. Following the resignation of Morales’ vice-president and head of senate, Añez, then a conservative provincial senator, was sworn in as the interim leader.

The conservative politician criticized the allegations adding that Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party “decided to return to the methods of dictatorship.”

Human rights activists, meanwhile, said that there was no evidence that Añez and her ministers had committed any crimes.

Tensions have increased since MAS candidate Luis Acre won last year’s presidential elections: Morales and his party maintain that the November 2019 events were a “coup d’état.” They have cracked down on opponents and issued arrest warrants for officials of the previous interim administration.

AFGHANISTAN

Lighting a Fire

The Afghan government agreed to attend an international conference with the Taliban in Turkey next month, an event proposed by the United States to speed up talks toward ending the nearly 20-year-old war, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The new negotiations are part of President Joe Biden’s attempts to assert control over the Afghan peace process and to form a new joint interim government between the Taliban and Kabul.

US officials said that the April conference is meant to replicate the 2001 conference in Bonn, Germany, that installed Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s president following the ouster of the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Analysts said the Taliban’s participation in the talks highlights the international consensus that for any peace arrangement to be successful, the armed group must be involved in the political future of the country.

The upcoming conference comes amid stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and insurgents which began in early 2020.

Analysts added that April’s conference will likely delay the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 US troops in the country, which was originally scheduled for May 1 following an agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban.

SRI LANKA

For Your Security

Sri Lanka announced plans to ban the wearing of the burqa and also the closing of more than 1,000 Islamic schools over national security grounds, the latest crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority, Al Jazeera reported Saturday.

Minister for Public Security Sarath Weerasekera said that the new rules are meant to fight religious extremism, but civil rights activists called them “a very political revenge move.”

The wearing of the burqa – garb worn by some conservative Muslim women to cover their entire body and face – was temporarily banned in 2019 following the Easter Sunday bombing of churches and hotels by armed attackers that killed more than 250 people.

The government’s proposal follows an order last year demanding the cremation of Covid-19 victims, which went against the wishes of Muslims, who wanted to bury their dead.

The order was lifted this year following international pressure.

The proposed rules come amid plans by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to use a controversial anti-terror law to deal with religious extremism.

The Rajapaksa administration approved new rules under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which would give authorities sweeping powers to detain suspects for up to two years for “deradicalization.”

DISCOVERIES

Sumo Fish

Japan’s Suruga Bay is one of the most heavily fished areas in the world, as well as a very well-studied zone.

Marine biologists have been building a taxonomy of specimens from the bay for more than a century but a recent find showed they missed something, according to CBS News.

In 2016, Japanese researchers came across four large, odd-looking fish that lacked scales on their heads and gills.

Initially, scientists presumed that they were a previously documented species of fish but a recent thorough study proved the opposite.

The research team explained that the fish was a unique specimen within the alepocephalid family, a deep-sea species known as “slickheads,” because they lack scales on their head and gills.

But unlike its smaller relatives, the new fish is a real monster: It is 55 inches long and weighed about 55 pounds, prompting the team to nickname it “yokozuna slickhead,” after the top rank in sumo wrestling.

Researchers added that yokozuna is also a great swimmer and has a very large mouth packing more than 80 teeth to gulp down other fish – making it an apex predator of the depths.

The discovery of the yokozuna is another addition to the hundreds of new fish species found every year and a reminder of the mysteries that remain in the depths of the sea.

“We have no idea what’s down there,” said lead author Yoshihiro Fujiwara.

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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: 29,438,779 (+0.13%)
  2. Brazil: 11,483,370 (+0.38%)
  3. India: 11,385,339 (+0.23%)
  4. Russia: 4,341,381 (+0.23%)
  5. UK: 4,271,710 (+0.11%)
  6. France: 4,131,874 (+0.64%)
  7. Italy: 3,223,142 (+0.67%)
  8. Spain: 3,183,704 (+0.00%)**
  9. Turkey: 2,879,390 (+0.47%)
  10. Germany: 2,578,842 (+0.35%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country