The World Today for April 16, 2021

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Domino Theory

People used stones and bedsheets to write “Help” and “SOS” on the ground in a desperate attempt to gain the attention of an aircraft flying over Palma during an Islamic State attack on the city.

As government forces fled after the surprise attack in late March on the northern Mozambique town, the Dyck Advisory Group, a private military contractor, was trying to evacuate folks in helicopters, Sky News reported. “We won’t survive another night,” South African construction contractor Wesley Nel told CBS News. “If they get in… we’ll be slaughtered.”

The Mozambican military has since regained control of the city of around 70,000, the BBC wrote. But the consequences of the violence are still being felt.

Dozens were killed in the attack. Wesley’s brother, Adrian, was among them, killed during an ambush as he attempted to flee the city in a vehicle convoy along with thousands.

Palma is near French company Total’s oil and gas facilities. The boldness, speed and ferocity of the attack took many by surprise. But Islamic State-affiliated militants calling themselves Ansar al-Sunna also known as al-Shabab (the Youth) have been operating in the region since 2017. Many fear the attack was an opening salvo in a larger campaign to gain control of the former Portuguese colony.

That campaign has claimed at least 2,700 and displaced as many as 600,000 people, the Washington Times wrote. Hunger and famine are growing worse. Impoverished Mozambique was already suffering from a humanitarian crisis stemming from a devastating cyclone in 2019, added Al Jazeera.

The government of President Filipe Nyusi in the capital of Maputo has long resisted foreign help with the crisis. His reluctance could stem from how the militants are less jihadists and more aggrieved citizens who, as Amnesty International says, live in a region that has suffered “decades of under-investment, government negligence, and crushing poverty.”

Some locals welcome the armed groups, feeling fury over the situation: The northern coastal region, with more than 2.3 million people, has enormous natural wealth, including oil and gas reserves, ruby deposits and other gems and minerals. Meanwhile, residents, most of them Muslim, live in one of the poorest districts in the country, which has a per capita income of $503 a year. The region is marked by high illiteracy and unemployment rates.

“This wealth has only benefited a few corrupt politicians and angered residents who are mostly young,” David Salimo, a retired Mozambican soldier who fled to the refugee camp after militants invaded his village, told the Washington Times. “These youth have organized militarily to challenge and control this natural wealth…And they have the support of the local population who are poor and feel marginalized.”

He was referring to people like Claudio Holande, who fled his home when militants attacked his village, looted and burned homes and crops. “It’s not fair at all. We have lived in poverty for a long time and yet we have a lot of natural resources,” said Holande, 45. “This wealth needs to benefit our people, not corrupt and selfish government officials.”

Meanwhile, outside governments are stepping up, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The Pentagon has dispatched military advisors, and Portugal is also sending military help, while encouraging the EU to intervene. Human Rights Watch called on the Southern African Development Community and the African Union to take a stronger role in preventing the militants from growing in strength in Mozambique.

Twenty years ago, Americans and others shuddered at the thought of Islamic terrorists gaining strongholds around the world to spread their hate. In truth, little has changed – especially for those caught in the middle – between militants, mercenaries and government soldiers.

People like Teresa Joaquim, 35, who these days sits outside of her tent at Metuge refugee camp in northern Mozambique and waits for something to change.

When the militants came to her village, they killed her husband and kidnapped her 16-year-old son. She and her 15-year-old daughter were raped and tortured. “I will never forget what they did to us,” she told the Washington Times. “They killed every old man they saw, kidnapped the young men and mercilessly raped the women.”

Afterward, she and her remaining four children walked for seven days to reach the camp, where they struggle with shortages of food and clean water. The children don’t go to school.

Joaquim now wonders what comes next but she, like many of the other refugees here, is very clear about one thing: She doesn’t care about grievances over mineral rights or who is right and who is wrong. “We want peace in our region so that we can go back home,” she said. “The government should find ways to end the attacks so that we are able to live without fear.”



Building Blue Defenses

French lawmakers approved a controversial national security bill Thursday that has sparked mass demonstrations around the country over fears that it will give police an even freer hand to act violently against civilians without fear of consequences, Euronews reported.

The controversy mainly focuses on Article 24, which will make it an offense to share images of police officers or gendarmes if there is an intention to identify them. This means video-taping incidents of police brutality could be prosecuted under this provision.

The government and police unions said that the law would protect police officers from online calls for violence against them. But civil rights activists and journalists fear that it would curb press freedoms and lead to less police accountability.

Since November, thousands of French citizens have clashed with police against the law.

The demonstrations, coupled with criticism from international organizations and the European Union, prompted the government to rewrite the article.

Opponents of the bill, however, maintain that the bill is still vague and subject to interpretation by police officers, the Associated Press reported.

The law must be approved by France’s Constitutional Court before taking effect.


Big Brother’s Eyes

Mexico’s Senate approved a bill this week that would require cellphone companies to gather biometric data and other details from its customers, a move critics say resembles measures in authoritarian regimes, the Associated Press reported.

Lawmakers from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party supported the bill, saying that it will be used to fight crimes like extortion and kidnapping that frequently involve the use of cellphones.

Under the legislation, Mexican telecoms will need to gather biometric data such as fingerprints or eye scans from millions of citizens and make it available to the government.

Lopez Obrador – who still has to approve the bill – said “it is just a registry to care for the population,” adding that “we will never spy on anybody.”

Activists and opposition politicians, however, condemned the law, citing fears that the data could leak or be sold, even to criminals.

The civic group Network for the Defense of Digital Rights said a similar registry was created between 2008 and 2011 but later abandoned it after user data was leaked.

Opponents of the bill said they will contest the measure in court.


The Jail Card

German authorities have started prosecuting individuals that jump the coronavirus vaccine line, amid a slow rollout of the inoculations in the European Union nation, the Washington Post reported.

The probes follow multiple incidents where politicians and police officers received vaccines earlier than scheduled, prompting prosecutors to charge them with fraud, embezzlement or accepting an undue advantage.

One of the biggest cases involves hundreds of police officers in the city of Dresden, who prosecutors say, illegally accepted early vaccinations.

Line-jumping has also prompted lawmakers to propose fines of up to $30,000. Even so, critics say the authorities should focus their attention on boosting public support for vaccines.

Germany has vaccinated about 16 percent of its population, compared to the nearly 40 percent of Americans who have received at least one shot.

Authorities have been blamed for the slow rollout – the country has held back about 20 to 40 percent of its supply.

This backlog also includes vaccines from AstraZeneca: Almost one-third of about 5.6 million AstraZeneca doses delivered to Germany have not been used.

Meanwhile, some German cities have reported that half of all people with appointments to receive the vaccine do not show up.

Europe’s shifting stances regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine have not helped with the rising vaccine skepticism in Germany: Less than 70 percent of Germans say they want to get vaccinated.

Analysts said that officials are sending a contradictory message through these investigations, instead of persuading as many people to get the vaccine.

“What we could learn from the Americans is to do things a bit less bureaucratically, a bit faster and with somewhat more courage,” said Gerd Landsberg, head of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities.


Sealed in Skin

Centuries ago, before the advent of biometric data and other anti-forgery techniques, British officials determined the veracity of legal documents a little differently.

In fact, sheepskin was the material of choice to prevent fraudsters from altering official papers and important documents, Science News reported.

Researchers participating in a new study analyzed proteins from 645 samples taken from 477 British legal documents from the 16th to 20th centuries. Their findings showed that more than 96 percent of samples were made of sheepskin.

The team explained that to make parchment from sheepskin, one had to dip the skin in lime to remove its fat. This process would leave large gaps in the layers of skin, making it harder to scrape ink from the document without leaving visible marks.

Sheepskin was also more affordable than skin from other animals, making it the go-to material for wills or property deeds.

“The success of this study opens up new potential in the study of animal products over the historical period,” co-author Jonathan Finch 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: 31,495,652 (+0.24%)
  2. India: 14,291,917 (+1.54%)
  3. Brazil: 13,746,681 (+0.54%)
  4. France: 5,248,853 (+0.73%)
  5. Russia: 4,622,464 (+0.19%)
  6. UK: 4,396,096 (+0.06%)
  7. Turkey: 4,086,957 (+1.53%)
  8. Italy: 3,826,156 (+0.45%)
  9. Spain: 3,396,685 (+0.29%)
  10. Germany: 3,110,252 (+0.81%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

Correction: In Thursday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “A Stubborn Thorn” item that former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and ousted due to corruption charges. She was, in fact, removed for breaking accounting rules and procedures. We apologize for the error.

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