The World Today for June 18, 2021

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Living Ghosts

Thousands have perished and more than 2 million people have fled their homes in Tigray, a mountainous region in northern Ethiopia, since fighting between Tigray People’s Liberation Front rebels and the central government started late last year. Now famine has struck Tigray, too. More than 350,000 there face death by hunger, the Guardian reported.

Three armies rule the region. The Ethiopian government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa controls about one-third of Tigray. The Eritrean army, an Ethiopian ally, runs another third. Tigrayan rebels control the last third, mostly in rural areas. Human rights workers said marauding soldiers harass people, steal food aid and attack women, the BBC wrote.

Tigrayan voters won’t get a chance to cast ballots to show their support or lack thereof for Abiy’s government, either, when Ethiopian voters go to the polls this month to elect a new parliament. Authorities have postponed voting in the region indefinitely due to security issues and other problems, noted Reuters.

The prime minister has twice delayed the elections now slated for June 21. At first, he postponed them due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then he said the government needed to print ballots, the Associated Press explained. Tigray’s leaders said the prime minister’s mandate has ended and held their own regional vote. Abiy called the election illegal. Violence resulted.

The election is important because it is the first time voters will have a chance to render judgment on Abiy’s record, according to Agence France-Presse. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war with Eritrea. Early in his administration, he released dissidents from jail and apologized for the government’s brutal treatment of protesters.

But more recently, many believe Abiy has come to resemble the autocrats he aimed to replace. As National Public Radio discussed, his opponents are in jail, Tigray is a warzone and the US has imposed sanctions on the country for its military actions in the north. Civil society – the press, human rights advocates, academics and others – are fighting hard to make sure the elections are free and fair, Deutsche Welle wrote.

Abiy will likely win. But his victory won’t necessarily help him.

“Abiy hopes that a victory – there is no way he can lose – will make him look like a democratic leader in charge of a united country,” wrote University of Birmingham Professor of Democracy Nic Cheeseman and Horn of Africa expert Yohannes Woldemariam in the Mail & Guardian, a South African news outlet. “But sham elections will do nothing to bring the country together or help Ethiopia to excise the ghosts of the past.”

Indeed, his first order of business in his new term will be dealing with them.



Agree To Disagree

The presidents of Russia and the United States ended their historic meeting in Geneva, Switzerland this week with both sides expressing the desire for a better relationship but offering no real steps to improve the relations between the two nuclear-armed nations, the New York Times reported Thursday.

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, came out of the three-hour talks saying that there was “no hostility” between the two countries while acknowledging each other’s “red lines” on a series of geopolitical issues.

In separate news conferences, both leaders agreed to create working groups to deal with a range of issues such as nuclear arms control and cyberattacks. They also agreed to send ambassadors back to each other’s capitals and work on some areas of mutual interest, from the Arctic to Afghanistan.

Analysts noted that the summit resolved only a few longstanding differences between the two: Relations between the two countries have yet to be reset amid ongoing economic sanctions against Russia, according to the Washington Post.

Moreover, Putin refused to take responsibility for arresting political opponents or the invasion of Ukraine, the newspaper said.

However, observers noted that the meeting will eventually lead to possible deeper engagement between the two rivals, particularly on topics related to strategic stability and cybersecurity.

“If you ignore the tiresome what-aboutism, there were some real outcomes,” said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in Arlington, Va. “Russia is not in the habit of confessing its sins and seeking forgiveness. Particularly under Putin.”


Tighter Muzzles

Hong Kong authorities arrested five editorial executives of the investigative paper Apple Daily, saying the detained individuals had violated the city’s controversial national security law, NPR reported Thursday.

Chief Editor Ryan Law and CEO of the newspaper’s publisher, Cheung Kim-hung, were among the arrested. Meanwhile, city officials sent around 200 police officers to the media outlet’s offices and froze the assets of three other companies affiliated with Apple Daily and that of its publisher, Next Digital, previously known as Next Media.

Authorities said that the five executives were arrested because of “dozens of articles in Apple Daily that called on foreign agencies to impose sanctions on China or the Hong Kong government.”

Hong Kong’s national security law, which was introduced last year, criminalizes acts of secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces and imposes a possible sentence of life in prison. Mainland China said the law would target “sedition” and bring stability, but critics counter that it would make it easier to punish dissent, according to the BBC.

The editors are among the more than 120 arrests made under the national security law. The arrested also include businessman Jimmy Lai, founder and publisher of Apple Daily.

Lai is currently serving a prison term on separate charges related to organizing protests as part of the mass demonstration movement in 2019.


A Little Thatcher Goes a Long Way

Greek workers are bracing for a big shake-up in their professional lives after lawmakers this week passed controversial labor laws which critics describe as “Thatcherite policies on steroids,” the Guardian reported Thursday.

The new legislation will include allowing employees to opt for a longer workday in exchange for time off. It would also set rules on remote work and include safeguards against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The center-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the bill was essential to bringing Greece in line with the rest of Europe by overhauling legislation that dates back to the pre-internet era and aligning it with the digital age.

Opponents and labor unions, however, worry that the reforms threaten legal protections for workers and could be used to break the power of trade unions.

Before the law’s passage on Wednesday, thousands took to the streets to protest the reforms, Agence France-Presse reported.

Even so, union leaders warned that it remained to be seen whether many of the measures could be enforced because of Greece’s vibrant tradition of unions organizing walkouts and protests.


En Garde!

Humans and fruit flies have something in common: They both can become very aggressive when hungry, according to New Scientist.

Researcher Jennifer Perry and her team separated virgin male fruit flies into five groups of between 58 and 74. One group consisted of newly emerged adults that hadn’t fed since their larval stage, while the other group was fed throughout the experiment.

The rest were fed and then deprived of nourishment for periods of 24, 48, or 72 hours.

Later, researchers placed pairs of flies in each group together and monitored their behavior. It turned out that the hungry ones – especially those that went 24 hours without food – became so aggressive that they would lunge at each other and fence with their legs.

While this anger was ever-present between males, Perry noted in a paper that the flies showed restraint when females were involved.

This behavior of feeling angry when hungry is colloquially known as “hangry,” with researchers saying that “that these feelings extend across even very distantly related animals.”

“(Fruit flies) share lots of genes for their physiology and behavior with vertebrates, including humans,” noted Perry “They’re a good model (for aggression) in that way.”

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: 33,508,906 (+0.03%)
  2. India: 29,762,793 (+0.21%)
  3. Brazil: 17,708,630 (+0.45%)
  4. France: 5,811,461 (+0.04%)
  5. Turkey: 5,354,153 (+0.11%)
  6. Russia: 5,203,117 (+0.27%)
  7. UK: 4,616,628 (+0.23%)
  8. Italy: 4,249,755 (+0.03%)
  9. Argentina: 4,222,400 (+0.57%)
  10. Colombia: 3,859,824 (+0.78%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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