March 18, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

SENEGAL

To Whom Go The Spoils

Security forces killed at least five men in Senegal recently.

Demonstrators were protesting the arrest of Ousmane Sonko, a politician charged with raping a masseuse as well as disturbing public order, explained Al Jazeera. The charges, the demonstrators argued, were phony. President Macky Sall, they said, routinely uses the judicial system to target his critics.

Sonko denied the charges. He earned only 15 percent of the vote in the 2019 presidential election. But his speeches against corruption and poverty resonated with the nation. He is a clear rival to Sall, who has raised eyebrows by launching a review of the constitutional rule barring him for running for a third term, noted Deutsche Welle.

Meanwhile, Sall has been rounding up opponents, critics, rivals and anyone else who crosses him, claimed Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop and filmmaker Moussa Sene Absa in an Al Jazeera opinion piece. Some are tortured or killed in the notorious Cape Manuel prison. Many other Sall rivals are now in prison, too.

A judge released Sonko, who called for calm. He faces 10 years in jail and a prohibition on running for president in 2024.

Some Senegalese women were torn over the rape allegations. The charges against Sonko were probably trumped-up, they said. But streetcleaner Awa Ndiaye worried that the episode could exert pressure on sexual assault victims to remain silent. “Now women will think twice about coming forward,” she told the Washington Post.

The protests weren’t just about Sonko, of course. People in the French-speaking, West African country are sick and tired of coronavirus lockdowns, corruption and police brutality.

Rapper Oumar Cyrille Touré expressed his frustration with his country during a televised debate. “Nothing is working in this country, while they keep giving us political speeches,” he said. Two days later, he was arrested at a protest and severely beaten, the New York Times reported.

Despite the instability, Bloomberg played down the threat of more significant violence. A coup has never taken hold in Senegal, a rarity for the region. Sall has his supporters, too. The economy has grown 6 percent on his watch. The county is poised to receive a windfall from oil revenues in the coming years.

Many ordinary Senegalese citizens have not seen much of the profits from that economic growth, however, while elites in Sall’s circle have grown rich, Reuters added.

Many of Senegal’s problems echo those in other countries. But where it differs is in its struggle between those who want to benefit from different definitions of a bright future.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Strike Two

The Kremlin rejected accusations of election meddling on Wednesday after a US intelligence report concluded that Russia and Iran attempted to influence the 2020 elections, Newsweek reported.

A 15-page report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and other senior officials “were aware of and probably directed” influence operations that were aimed at helping former President Donald Trump while undermining Joe Biden.

The report said that Iran, meanwhile, had tried to undermine Trump but did not try to promote Biden. It added that Tehran’s efforts were smaller than the Russian operation.

The document concluded that no foreign government had compromised the final results.

Following the report’s release, Russia called the findings “groundless” and said that they were part of the US’s “main goal to maintain a negative image of Russia.”

Iran did not comment.

Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections by using a social media campaign to sway the vote in Trump’s favor.

The Russian government has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Meanwhile, US officials said that Washington is expected to slap new sanctions on Russia: They come just weeks after the US imposed sanctions on Russian officials for the poisoning and imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.

JAPAN

Legalize It

A Japanese court ruled Wednesday that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitution, a landmark verdict in a region where most countries forbid gay and lesbian couples from marrying, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Sapporo District Court in northern Japan said the ban violated the constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment and that the current law was based on now-discredited beliefs of homosexuality as an illness.

The government had initially argued that the institution of marriage was established to protect the right of heterosexual couples to have children and raise them, giving Parliament a rational basis for denying marriage rights to same-sex couples. The court rejected that notion saying parliament “exceeded the bounds of discretion.”

The case was originally brought on Valentine’s Day 2019 when 13 couples in various parts of Japan challenged the constitutionality of the country’s rejection of same-sex unions.

Same-sex relationships are legally permissible in Japan and some cities recognize same-sex unions but they are not legally binding.

Japan also doesn’t have a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the Journal.

AFGHANISTAN

Muted

Afghan officials are investigating an order by the Kabul Directorate of Education that banned schoolgirls over the age of 12 from singing in public, a move that sparked outrage from civil rights activists in the war-torn country, CBS News reported.

Last week, Kabul’s education department instructed school boards across the capital to forbid girls over 12 to attend choir classes or sing at public events, unless the events were attended solely by women.

Afghan activists called the move a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child – they have taken the issue to social media with the hashtag #IAmMySong and uploaded clips of themselves singing in protest over the ban.

The Ministry of Education said earlier this week that the order did not reflect the ministry’s official position and they are investigating the matter.

Most Afghan schoolchildren take part in choirs and are often included in official ceremonies to welcome government officials and foreign representatives.

However, most of these are done without parental consent and expose the children to potential security risks.

The investigation comes as the Afghan government and the Taliban are negotiating a peace deal to end the war in the Central Asian country.

Under the previous Taliban regime, girls were not allowed to go to school and singing was forbidden. Even today in Taliban-held areas, girls often go to school in secret.

DISCOVERIES

Cave-a-roos

Kangaroos are iconic in Australia and reverence for the marsupial goes back to ancient times.

Case in point: Recently, archaeologists discovered the oldest known rock art in Australia depicting a bulky 6.5-foot kangaroo, the BBC reported.

The cave painting was made with red ochre in a rock shelter located in Western Australia’s Kimberley region that’s known for its Aboriginal rock paintings.

The artwork dates back about 17,300 years and researchers were able to determine its age by radiocarbon dating ancient mud wasp nests found above and under the painting.

The team believes that there could be a link between the rock painting and ancient art from other regions.

“This iconic kangaroo image is visually similar to rock paintings from islands in Southeast Asia dated to more than 40,000 years ago, suggesting a cultural link – and hinting at still older rock art in Australia,” said co-author Sven Ouzman.

Cissy Gore-Birch of the Balanggarra Aboriginal Corporation said that the newly found rock art has important significance for Australia’s Aborigines.

“It’s important that Indigenous knowledge and stories are not lost and continue to be shared for generations to come,” 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: 29,607,487 (+0.20%)
  2. Brazil: 11,693,838 (+0.78%)
  3. India: 11,474,605 (+0.31%)
  4. Russia: 4,378,656 (+0.22%)
  5. UK: 4,287,996 (+0.14%)
  6. France: 4,169,274 (+0.02%)
  7. Italy: 3,281,810 (+0.71%)
  8. Spain: 3,206,116 (+0.19%)
  9. Turkey: 2,930,554 (+0.65%)
  10. Germany: 2,611,464 (+0.32%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours