April 01, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

BULGARIA

Heal Thyself

Doctors have become high-profile parliamentary candidates in Bulgaria.

As Balkan Insight reported, the physicians, who represent nearly all sides of the political spectrum, are appealing for votes in the run-up to the country’s April 4 ballot.

“Bulgaria has already seen athletes, showmen and other celebrities join the political sphere as have many other countries,” wrote Euractiv. “This time, with Covid-19 continuing to be the dominant issue facing the country and in the media, Bulgarian politics are experiencing an unprecedented “doctorization.”

People tend to trust doctors, of course, which might be one reason why Bulgaria’s political system is making space for these candidates. Faith in the country’s leadership is at a low point.

Last summer, as a London School of Economics blog post wrote, Bulgarians took to the streets for months to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and early elections. Many were fed up with corruption, feuds between politicians who needed to work together to fight Covid-19 and other issues.

Bizarre leaked photos of Borisov sleeping next to a pile of cash and a gun didn’t help instill confidence in the leader. Instead, they reinforced the perception that the poorest member of the European Union was indeed the “mafia state” that Politico and other outlets have dubbed it over the years.

Many organized crime leaders in Bulgaria inherited their networks from the former communist apparatchiks who ran the country before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and then obtained ownership of state assets and enterprises in the privatizations in the 1990s. That’s allowed them to wield enormous power over government officials.

Similarly, as EU Reporter explained, Borisov – the former bodyguard to Bulgaria’s late communist dictator, Todor Zhivkov – has allegedly weakened state institutions for the benefit of rich and powerful criminals.

In the process, he has also allegedly undercut the free press, allowing shadowy figures to run much of the country’s media, complained Reporters Without Borders. Delyan Peevski, a media tycoon and lawmaker allied with Borisov, owns 80 percent of Bulgaria’s print media, for example, reported Radio Free Europe.

The public might have a different perspective if Borisov appeared competent. But Bulgaria has the world’s 10th-highest death rate, the Sofia Globe, a local English-language publication, wrote. Police recently caught counterfeiters producing euro notes with the Sofia University printing press, according to the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. A number of senior officials were recently caught spying for Russia, added CNN.

Unfortunately, no prescription will make Bulgaria’s fever dream end anytime soon.

WANT TO KNOW

NIGER

Holding a Breath

Nigerien forces foiled an attempted coup Wednesday, just days ahead of the country’s first democratic handover of power, Reuters reported.

Officials said that attackers from a nearby airbase had attempted to seize control of the presidential palace but later retreated after facing heavy gunfire and shelling from the presidential guard.

Dozens were arrested.

The attempted coup comes two days before President-elect Mohamed Bazoum, the ruling party’s candidate, will be sworn in following an election victory disputed by his opponent, Mahamane Ousmane.

Niger has been plagued by jihadist attacks as well as protests following Bazoum’s victory in a February presidential election runoff. Ousmane, a former president, has rejected the results and made accusations of fraud.

Bazoum’s election is the first democratic transition of power in a country that has seen four military coups since independence from France in 1960, including one which toppled Ousmane in 1996.

HONDURAS

Brother’s Keeper

A US federal court sentenced the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to life in prison on drug-trafficking charges in a trial that underscored allegations that the president has helped turn the Central American nation into a narco-state, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former Honduran lawmaker, was convicted in October 2019 on charges of smuggling about 185 tons of cocaine to the United States over more than a decade.

The court said Juan Antonio Hernández acted as a facilitator, providing bribes to politicians in Honduras, including President Hernández. The judge said he must forfeit $138.5 million.

Hernández has denied the charges and pledged to appeal the conviction. His brother, the president, said the conviction was “painful” but also denied involvement in drug trafficking.

President Hernández has recently been accused as a co-conspirator in recent drug-trafficking trials but maintains that the individuals who accuse him are lying in an attempt to reduce their prison sentences.

Analysts said that the conviction is a reminder that Honduras, one of the poorest nations in the Western hemisphere, poses a major problem for US President Joe Biden as he tries to curb the flow of migration from Central America.

BRAZIL

Under Pressure

The Brazilian government was rocked by a political crisis this week following the departure of six members of President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration and three of his top military leaders, the Washington Post reported.

Bolsonaro replaced six ministers earlier this week, including Brazil’s foreign minister, who has been blamed for failing to obtain enough coronavirus vaccines. The changes also included the sacking of Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva, who had taken the virus more seriously and had reportedly chafed under the president’s leadership.

On Tuesday, the navy, army and air force chiefs also announced they were leaving, although it remained unclear whether they resigned or were forced out.

Analysts explained that the cabinet reshuffle is part of Bolsonaro’s attempts to maintain power and quiet calls for impeachment: Earlier this month, the leader of congress suggested that the president might face impeachment.

The embattled leader has been blamed for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused the collapse of Brazil’s health system.

Analysts added that Bolsonaro’s fear of losing power has deepened since the supreme court cleared his main rival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of corruption convictions – effectively allowing the popular leftist leader to run for president in the 2022 elections.

DISCOVERIES

Early Bloomers

Spring in Japan is marked by the beautiful sight of blooming Sakura trees, better known as cherry blossoms.

This March, unusually warm temperatures have caused the beloved trees to flower earlier than usual, raising concerns about the impact of climate change, the Washington Post reported.

Last week, scientists marked a record peak bloom date for Kyoto’s cherry blossom on March 26, the earliest in more than 1,200 years – beating the previous record of March 27 in 1409.

The Kyoto Cherry Blossom record has been maintained for centuries – since 812 CE – by emperors, governors and monks, and served as an important indicator of warming temperatures.

Historical data from 812 to 1800 has shown a relatively stable average peak bloom date of the Sakura tree. But the date began sloping downwards by the 19th century, highlighting the start of an earlier spring.

For example, the average flowering date in Kyoto in 1850 was April 17 but now it’s closer to April 5. Meanwhile, the average temperature in the city has risen by about six degrees Fahrenheit.

But this early bloom is not just seen in Japan.

The Yoshino cherry trees in Washington, DC – gifted by Japan in 1912 – have also started blossoming earlier: A century of records show that the average peak bloom date has advanced six to seven days, from about April 5 to March 31.

Already, officials are bracing for crowds wanting to see the trees’ finery – even though people were requested to stay home because of the pandemic. But the blooming of the cherry blossoms is a celebrated event in the US capital, marked by a parade and other festivities.

While seeing the flowers is a welcome sight, climate scientists warn that early blooms can make the cherry blossoms vulnerable to spring freezes.

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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: 30,460,346 (+0.22%)
  2. Brazil: 12,748,747 (+0.72%)
  3. India: 12,221,665 (+0.60%)
  4. France: 4,705,068 (+1.27%)
  5. Russia: 4,494,234 (+0.18%)
  6. UK: 4,359,984 (+0.09%)
  7. Italy: 3,584,899 (+0.67%)
  8. Turkey: 3,317,182 (+1.20%)
  9. Spain: 3,284,353 (+0.26%)
  10. Germany: 2,843,644 (+0.89%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours