The World Today for April 19, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

ETHIOPIA

Hunger Games

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago for his hand in bringing a border war with neighboring Eritrea to an end.

Now Abiy’s military crackdown on Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia where rebels are seeking greater autonomy or perhaps even independence, threatens to start a famine that the World Peace Foundation described as “starvation crimes,” a violation of international law.

That’s only one way that the 44-year-old leader’s once-sterling reputation has been undermined due to his policies in Tigray.

Government troops have been fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front since late last year when Abiy refused to acknowledge locally elected Front officials who held a vote despite his warning not to because of the coronavirus pandemic, Al Jazeera explained. Tigrayan officials, meanwhile, refused to recognize the prime minister’s authority.

Their enmity stems from Abiy’s ascension to the office of prime minister in 2018, ending their 30-year reign of power. Many Ethiopians resented the Tigrayan elites who ran the country – their community accounts for only 6 percent of the population. After 2018, Tigrayan leaders complained that Abiy was targeting them in corruption investigations while kicking them out of public jobs and scapegoating them for Ethiopia’s troubles.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian soldiers and their Eritrean allies, who are now supposed to be quitting the region, have committed massacres that have driven fighters into the Liberation Front’s ranks, the Guardian explained.

In one example, a CNN investigation found footage of soldiers executing 11 unarmed men near the Tigrayan town of Mahibere Dego.

An 18-year-old woman named Mona Lisa told the New York Times that soldiers attempted to rape her, shooting her seven times and injuring her arm severely enough to necessitate amputation. “This is ethnic cleansing,” she said. “Soldiers are targeting Tigrayan women to stop them giving birth to more Tigrayans.”

More than two million people have been displaced in the fighting, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Around 70,000 are living in refugee camps in Sudan, hardly a country with the resources to help them survive, the Washington Post reported.

The Ethiopian ambassador to Qatar, Samia Zekaria Gutu, argued in an op-ed in Al Jazeera that the world was swallowing the Tigrayan’s propaganda. It’s like in the 1930s, she wrote, when Italian fascists invaded Ethiopia with the intent to colonize: Then like now, the international community is doing nothing as the country unravels.

Still, some say the international community rewarded Abiy for his peacemaking before. It’s now up to him to live up to the image he created.

WANT TO KNOW

CUBA

Adios Comrade

Raul Castro will step down as the head of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party, ending his family’s six decades in power that began with his late brother, Fidel Castro, NBC News reported.

Castro, 89, said during a speech at the party’s congress that he was retiring and would hand over power to a younger generation that is “full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit.”

Though he did not name a successor, Castro said in 2018 that he expected President Miguel Díaz-Canel to replace him. Analysts believe that Díaz-Canel is expected to be voted in as the party’s next secretary-general.

As he retires, Castro leaves behind a country that is facing multiple challenges exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing US economic sanctions.

One of the last communist-run nations in the world, Cuba lacks the hard currency to import food and medicine and the deteriorating situation has led to an increase in public discontent rarely seen since the 1959 communist revolution.

In November, the Caribbean nation made global headlines when hundreds of artists took to the streets to demand greater freedom of expression.

US President Joe Biden campaigned on taking a more lenient approach toward Cuba but the administration has yet to make any policy changes.

Amid skepticism, analysts suggest that Castro’s departure is important because it will urge the new generation of leaders to speed up the economic reforms promised since 2011.

Arturo López-Levy of Holy Names University in California said post-Castro leaders are trying to consolidate power: He noted that their legitimacy will not be derived “from a revolutionary background but from…(a) better performance.”

RUSSIA

Tit-for-tat

Russia expelled 10 American diplomats over the weekend in retaliation for the Biden administration’s imposition of new economic sanctions over the Kremlin’s role in the SolarWinds cyberattack and alleged election meddling last year, NPR reported.

The tit-for-tat move will also add eight US officials to Russia’s sanctions list and will restrict the activities of US non-governmental organizations operating in the country.

The latest sanctions come after the US intelligence community alleged that Kremlin-linked hackers were responsible for the breach at the US technology firm SolarWinds. The attack resulted in the hackers’ code being unwittingly distributed by the company via software updates to its clients worldwide, ultimately reaching US government networks.

Intelligence officials also suggested that Russia tried to interfere in the 2020 US presidential election.

The Russian government denied involvement in both cases, adding that Washington “will have to pay a price for the degradation of bilateral ties.”

The Biden administration, however, maintains that the US is not pushing for “a cycle of escalation and conflict” with Russia.

The recent escalation comes after both nations agreed to hold a summit following a telephone call between President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last week, the Guardian reported.

JAPAN

Show Might Go On

Japanese officials are considering canceling the Tokyo Olympic Games amid a surge in coronavirus infections in the country despite earlier statements that the Games must go on, Reuters reported Saturday.

A ruling party official said this week that canceling this year’s Games remains an option as health officials recently acknowledged that the pandemic has entered a fourth wave.

The announcement comes as the Japanese government expanded quasi-emergency measures to 10 regions, casting more doubt on whether the Olympics can be held in Tokyo in less than 100 days.

Tokyo’s Olympic chief maintained that Japan was committed to holding the Games this summer, but analysts worry that proceeding “is contradictory to Japan’s commitment to global health and human security.”

Japan has already barred international visitors from attending the Games and the country has performed poorly in stemming the rise in infections: It has had limited testing capacity and a slow vaccination rollout.

Surveys and opinion polls have highlighted how a majority of voters as well as doctors want the event canceled or postponed.

But the government and Olympic officials have stressed that another postponement is out of the question. The Games were initially scheduled for last year.

DISCOVERIES

Dreaming in Color

New research has found that the mind of the eight-limbed octopus is much more complex than previously believed, according to Cosmos Magazine.

Scientists have discovered that the cephalopod can change its colors during sleep, a phenomenon that highlights the creature’s sleep cycle.

In their experiments, they recorded four sleeping Octopus insularis and noted that changes in color marked two major alternating sleep stages: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep.

The team explained that octopuses turned pale blue during non-REM ‘quiet’ sleep, and dynamically ‘pulsed’ in color during REM ‘active’ sleep, while also twitching their eyes, body and suckers.

These two sleep states have been observed in mammals and birds and only recently, in cuttlefish.

The presence of these sleep patterns suggests that octopuses are capable of dreaming, particularly during REM sleep when the brain is most active.

However, researchers believe these dreams aren’t as complex as human ones and that the animal experiences “small video clips or even GIFs.”

Cephalopods and humans diverged some 500 million years ago so similar sleeping patterns possibly evolved individually but their evolutionary advantage remains unclear.

Still, “Octopuses have the most centralized nervous system of any invertebrate and are known to have a high learning capacity,” said co-author Sidarta Ribeiro. “It is tempting to speculate that, just like in humans, dreaming in the octopus may help to adapt to environmental challenges and promote learning. Do octopuses have nightmares? Could octopuses’ dreams be inscribed on their dynamic skin patterns? Could we learn to read their dreams by quantifying these changes?”

Holiday Promo

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: 31,670,041 (+0.13%)
  2. India: 15,061,805 (+1.85%)
  3. Brazil: 13,943,071 (+0.31%)
  4. France: 5,350,521 (+0.55%)
  5. Russia: 4,649,004 (+0.18%)
  6. UK: 4,403,060 (+0.04%)
  7. Turkey: 4,268,447 (+1.32%)
  8. Italy: 3,870,131 (+0.33%)
  9. Spain: 3,407,283 (+0.00%)**
  10. Germany: 3,155,522 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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