April 07, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

KYRGYZSTAN

Hedging Bets

Kyrgyzstan will hold a referendum on April 11 that will alter the constitution to increase the president’s powers.

The changes would allow the Central Asian country’s head of state to run for a second term – currently, Kyrgyz presidents are limited to one term. It would also cut the number of lawmakers and create a People’s Kurultai, or Assembly, under the control of the president that could suggest policies to the government and establish a constitutional court.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said the new constitution would help maintain stability. Japarov became acting president in November after civil unrest led to the downfall of former President Sooronbai Jeenbekov. He won the election in January.

Few observers outside of the ex-Soviet republic agree with Japarov, however.

Japarov and other proponents of a new constitution haven’t given voters enough information or time to either voice their opinions and contribute to the new document or consider the text that has been handed down to them, Human Rights Watch argued. The new constitution would give the president the power to initiate legislation and also veto it. One article in the draft would ban public statements that contradict the “moral values and the public consciousness of the people of Kyrgyzstan.”

The document doesn’t spell out how members of the People’s Kurultai would be chosen. The body, meanwhile, could propose laws, suggest the ouster of cabinet ministers and exercise other powers that parliament already possesses. The Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting worries that the Kurultai could become a tool that would help the president centralize power.

Others worry that clauses in the document calling for more transparency of non-government institutions and other organizations is really a way for leaders to keep tabs on groups that might be working to promote human rights or other causes that might run afoul of the president and his coterie, the Diplomat reported.

Kyrgyzstan has been through major political transitions before, starting with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2005, the so-called Tulip Revolution, spurred by anger over authoritarianism and corruption, led to the ouster of the president at the time. In 2010, amid more civil unrest that led to a president leaving office, voters held a constitutional referendum that changed the country’s presidential system to a parliamentary system. Now Japarov is proposing to switch back.

More anger could be brewing over rising fuel and food costs, noted Eurasianet. Perhaps the new president, learning from the past, is hedging his bets.

WANT TO KNOW

JORDAN

All in the Family

Jordan has imposed a gag order on publishing anything in traditional media and on social media about the royal family drama that has rattled the nation in recent days, CNN reported Tuesday.

Over the weekend, authorities arrested more than a dozen high-profile individuals including former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who has been placed under house arrest.

Officials said they stopped Hamzah and other foreign entities from attempting to “destabilize” Jordan but the royal denied the allegations.

The prince released a video over the weekend criticizing Jordan’s leadership in handling the country’s economic problems and social unrest.

He later signed a letter pledging allegiance to his half-brother, King Abdullah II, following the monarch’s intervention into the matter.

King Abdullah II also ordered the ban on media coverage – which includes social media posts – “to protect the secrecy of the investigations that security apparatuses are carrying out.”

The recent events have sparked concerns about the stable Middle Eastern nation which has a strong alliance with the West, particularly in counterterrorism.

The former crown prince’s alleged detainment has split public opinion. Hamzah is a popular figure and enjoys widespread support from Jordanian tribes.

IRAN

Four-way Chess

Western and Iranian diplomats began negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, amid ongoing tensions between the US and Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The new meetings are aimed at producing a roadmap for the United States and Iran to return to full compliance with the agreement, which placed limits on Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting international sanctions on the country.

In 2018, the Trump administration withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions on Iran. In return, Iran breached the agreement and resumed its nuclear enrichment activities.

Analysts said that Tuesday’s talks mark a diplomatic breakthrough despite suggesting that it is unlikely to have concrete results.

Although the Biden administration has expressed willingness to return to the deal, the president is reluctant to withdraw all the sanctions – some are tied to Iran’s alleged terrorist activities and missile program.

The meetings are expected to last several weeks and include China and Russia, also parties to the 2015 deal.

Since both nations have come under US sanctions, they may be less willing to support Washington in pushing Iran to agree to US demands.

NORTH KOREA

Better Be Safe

North Korea became the first country in the world to withdraw its participation from the Tokyo Olympics in Japan citing coronavirus fears, NBC News reported Tuesday.

Officials said that the decision is aimed to “protect the athletes from the global health crisis created by the Covid-19.”

Although North Korea has not officially reported any confirmed cases, leader Kim Jong-un delivered an unusually tearful apology to the public in October for failing them during the crisis.

The move adds more uncertainty to the international event originally scheduled for 2020. Organizers have already banned international spectators and Japan’s soaring infections have raised questions about whether the Games should be held at all.

Many had hoped that the Olympics would be an opportunity for North and South Korea – which are technically at war with each other – to compete under the same flag as they did during the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Ties between the neighboring nations, and also between the US and North Korea, have soured since the February 2019 summit between former US President Donald Trump and Kim that collapsed over sanction disputes.

The Biden administration has tried to reach out to North Korea through several channels since mid-February but to date hasn’t received any response.

DISCOVERIES

Got Any Tips?

Sharing survival tips isn’t exclusively human behavior – Sperm whales do it, too.

A research team recently discovered that the giant marine creatures taught each other how to avoid harpoons when whalers began hunting them 200 years ago, according to Business Insider.

They analyzed digitized logbooks from 19th century American whalers, which contained detailed descriptions of their expeditions in the North Pacific, including the number of whales spotted and harpooned.

The logs, however, showed that out of almost 80,000 recorded ‘voyage days,’ there were only 2,405 successful whale sightings – a meager three percent success rate.

Researchers also noted that the strike rate of whalers’ harpoons fell by nearly 60 percent within two years after they first began hunting in the region.

“Usually, you expect it (strike rate) to increase as they figure out stuff and become more successful,” said lead author Hal Whitehead. “We become more efficient as we learn how to do it.”

But whales got the best of the hunters this time: The authors believe the cetaceans – who live in tight-knit pods – learned how to avoid whalers by swimming against the wind to outrun the ships.

This evasive tactic helped the mammals survive up until the advent of steam engines and grenade harpoons in the 19th century.

“This was cultural evolution, much too fast for genetic evolution,” said Whitehead.

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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: 30,847,168 (+0.20%)
  2. Brazil: 13,100,580 (+0.67%)
  3. India: 12,801,785 (+0.91%)
  4. France: 4,902,025 (+0.16%)
  5. Russia: 4,546,307 (+0.18%)
  6. UK: 4,379,033 (+0.05%)
  7. Italy: 3,686,707 (+0.21%)
  8. Turkey: 3,579,185 (+1.40%)
  9. Spain: 3,317,948 (+0.20%)
  10. Germany: 2,909,902 (+0.20%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours