The World Today for April 15, 2021

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A Stubborn Thorn

Lula is back.

The leftist former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recently received a new lease on life in politics after the country’s Supreme Court annulled his criminal convictions in March, paving the way for him to run for reelection next year.

“This changes the whole picture,” Dharma Political Risk and Strategy analyst Creomar de Souza told Reuters.

Lula ran the largest country in South America from 2003 to 2011. Now 75, he championed the role of the state in lifting up workers and the impoverished, jacked up public spending and became enormously popular with many voters but loathed among Brazil’s business class.

Brazilian lawmakers impeached and ousted his Worker’s Party ally and hand-picked successor, ex-President Dilma Rousseff, in 2016, on corruption allegations. Two years later, a court convicted him on corruption charges that Brazil-based American journalist Glenn Greenwald maintained were politically motivated. Lula spent more than 500 days in jail. It seemed as if his brand of left-wing populism was dead.

Then right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro became president in 2018, kicking off a range of controversies including the failure to take the coronavirus seriously, as well as pro-business reforms such as reducing pensions and the public bureaucracy, and privatizing state-owned companies, actions that market observers like J.P. Morgan welcomed.

Bolsonaro arguably might have welcomed the annulment of Lula’s conviction. He won office on a wave of anti-Lula sentiment. If Lula runs for the presidency, the incumbent will be able to strike a stark contrast between himself and his rival.

Bolsonaro is vulnerable, however. As the coronavirus ravages Brazil – around 2,600 people are dying per day in the country – he’s fired cabinet ministers and military leaders – the military’s top chiefs quit afterward, some believe, because Bolsonaro was planning to use the army against state leaders who imposed restrictions to contain the coronavirus. Regardless, the Washington Post described the actions as those of a desperate man seeking to change direction. The president, who previously derided masks, has even taken to wearing a face covering.

Lula has not said whether he will run when Bolsonaro is up for reelection next year. He’s certainly talking like a candidate, however. Recently he referred to the more than 300,000 deaths in Brazil due to Covid-19 as the country’s “biggest genocide” in history, Al Jazeera wrote.

Lula might not be out of the woods, Bloomberg cautioned. Prosecutors said they would appeal the court’s decision, which focused on the technicalities of his case rather than the substance of the charges against him.

Even if he is not on the ballot, Lula will surely remain a thorn in Bolsonaro’s side.



Shaky Endings

Afghans say they are highly concerned over a US decision this week to withdraw the last remaining American soldiers from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, a move that leaves the war-torn nation in a security quagmire, the BBC reported.

Activists and security analysts said the withdrawal timeframe could either accelerate a push toward peace or plunge the country into another civil war.

Many Afghans believe the Taliban will use the pullout as an attempt to seize power.

“I worry most when timelines are attached to their pullout, but not conditions,” an Afghan human rights activist told the BBC. “The Taliban will just wait them out and won’t get into substantive issues.”

The troop pullout comes after nearly 20 years of US deployment in Afghanistan, following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The US decision comes after a review of the Afghan situation by the Biden administration: Under a US-Taliban deal made during the Trump administration, Washington is to withdraw all troops by May 1 in exchange for Taliban security guarantees and a commitment to pursue peace talks.

Currently, there is an ongoing – yet stalled – peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government. A new round of talks is scheduled to take place in Turkey on April 24.

Despite the withdrawal announcement, the Taliban emphasized that they “will not participate in any conference that shall make decisions about Afghanistan,” if the US doesn’t withdraw by next month.

Meanwhile, the security situation in Afghanistan has been steadily deteriorating over the past few years. The Taliban hold large swathes of the country and that amount is increasing. In the first three months of the year, 573 civilians were killed and 1,210 wounded, a 29 percent increase over the same period in 2020, the United Nations reported. More than 40,000 civilians have been killed since the start of the war.

And the traditional “fighting season” looms amid reports of a blistering Taliban campaign to come, the BBC said.


A Liquid Dump

Countries neighboring Japan condemned the Japanese government’s decision this week to release treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear reactor into the Pacific Ocean, Business Insider reported Wednesday.

Japan is planning to gradually release more than one million tons of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The United States and the UN nuclear watchdog praised the move and said that the procedure was safe. China, South Korea and Russia, however, called it “highly irresponsible,” citing environmental risks to the Pacific Region.

The decision sparked protests from politicians, fishermen and environmental activists in South Korea, with demonstrators demanding the decision be overturned and a ban be instituted on Japanese seafood.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government is looking into referring Japan’s move to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, including filing for an injunction, Reuters reported.

Japan maintains that the wastewater – which is being kept in steel tanks – has been treated to remove most of the radioactive contaminants.

Nevertheless, one contaminant, tritium, remains. Officials say it is fairly harmless in low concentrations and the gradual release of the water over two years will allow for the waste product to be diluted below World Health Organization-recommended levels.


Pay Up

Although the giant ship that blocked the Suez Canal was released by tugboats recently, Egyptian authorities are refusing to allow it to continue on its course until its owners pay almost a billion dollars in compensation for disrupting maritime trade traffic, NBC News reported.

Last month, the Ever Given vessel ran aground in the man-made canal effectively disrupting one of the world’s most important trade routes and holding up about $9 billion in global trade each day.

Salvage operations took one week to free the ship. Even so, Egyptian authorities have been holding the ship until investigators finish their inquiry into the incident. Now they are demanding compensation.

The chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, Osama Rabie, said that the canal suffered shipping fee losses, salvage operation costs and “great moral damage.”

A spokesman for the ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., said the company has been informed of the demand and the parties remain in negotiations.

The compensation includes a $300 million claim for “loss of reputation.”


Jabs for Paws

The coronavirus has infected more than 130 million people even as vaccination efforts have provided a glimmer of hope around the world – albeit with slow rollouts in some nations.

Alongside those fears of infections for humans have come worries over pets – infected cats and dogs are on the rise.

But last month, ‘Carnivac-Cov’ the world’s first coronavirus vaccine for animals was unveiled by the Russian agriculture safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor, reported Sky News.

Agency officials said clinical trials for the inoculation began in October and involved various domestic and wild animals, including cats, dogs and minks.

The new jab is harmless to animals and provides immunity for six months while preventing mutations.

“The results of the trials allow us to conclude that … all the vaccinated animals developed antibodies to the coronavirus in 100 percent of cases,” said watchdog’s deputy head Konstantin Savenkov.

Savenkov added that mass production could begin in April, although researchers are continuing to test the jab’s effectiveness.

The Carnivac-Cov follows multiple incidents of animals being diagnosed with Covid-19. In November, the Danish government culled millions of minks after a mutated version of the virus was found at more than 200 Danish mink farms.

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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: 31,421,367 (+0.24%)
  2. India: 14,074,564 (+1.45%)
  3. Brazil: 13,673,507 (+0.54%)
  4. France: 5,210,772 (+0.84%)
  5. Russia: 4,613,646 (+0.18%)
  6. UK: 4,393,330 (+0.06%)
  7. Turkey: 4,025,557 (+1.58%)
  8. Italy: 3,809,193 (+0.43%)
  9. Spain: 3,387,022 (+0.31%)
  10. Germany: 3,085,142 (+1.02%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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