The World Today for June 23, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

NIGERIA

Tweet Control

When Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture announced a new ban on Twitter on June 4, they released their order in a tweet.

The social media platform is an important part of the West African country’s political and economic landscape. About 15 million Nigerians use Twitter either for business or for job-seeking. “Social media is where I eat,” Lagos-based entrepreneur Ogechi Egemonu told Reuters. “I depend on social media for my livelihood.”

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the ban, apparently, as payback. Twitter recently suspended Buhari’s account for 12 hours due to “abusive behavior,” reported BuzzFeed.

As the Guardian explained, Buhari threatened to deal with rebels in southeast Nigeria with the same ferocity as unleashed on rebels in the region during the Biafran-Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s and early 1970.

“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War,” wrote the president. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”

Buhari won the Nigerian presidency in democratic elections in 2015 after campaigning to defeat Boko Haram Islamist militants who had humiliated Nigerian military forces in the country’s north. He had been the country’s head of state before, however, in the 1980s after a military junta appointed him to that position following a coup.

He has since refused to say when the ban might be lifted.

In the meantime, many Nigerians are ignoring the ban. Using their VPNs, they are purposely using Twitter even though doing so exposes them to arrest and unspecified punishments, as the Washington Post wrote. Many said they wouldn’t let the government impose the same measures that have stifled dissent in authoritarian regimes in China, Syria, Belarus, Iran and North Korea or in countries such as India and Turkey where leaders routinely threaten to cut off access.

Still, that’s precisely what Buhari and his allies might be planning, according to News24 and the Nigeria-based Foundation for Investigative Journalism. Buhari’s ministers have reportedly met with Chinese officials to discuss how Nigeria might erect a “Great Firewall” to give the government greater control over speech online.

In an Al Jazeera op-ed, the founder of the foundation, Fisayo Soyombo, noted that the ban was the culmination of Buhari’s frustration with Twitter. His critics, human rights activists and others have used Twitter for a while now to organize and offer rejoinders to his official pronouncements.

Politicians are supposed to have thick skins. When they don’t, they cause more problems than they solve.

WANT TO KNOW

SPAIN

Splitting the Baby

The Spanish government approved partial pardons for nine jailed leaders of the failed 2017 Catalan independence bid Tuesday, a controversial move that has sparked more division over the issue of Catalonia, Politico reported.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that the leaders’ prison sentences have been commuted and the pardons are conditional on no serious crimes being committed. The leaders, however, will be banned from holding public office.

The nine individuals were convicted of sedition in 2019 for attempting to push Catalonia to secede from the rest of Spain two years earlier.

Sanchez said the decision is “a resounding message of the will for social harmony in Spanish democracy.”

The pardons came despite Spain’s Supreme Court advising against the move because, it said, the jailed leaders did not show “the slightest trace of remorse,” Politico reported separately.

Even so, pro-independence groups were not satisfied with the pardons, saying the pardons won’t resolve the Catalonia issue.

Meanwhile, anti-independence groups and right-wing politicians slammed Sanchez’s decision as a “betrayal,” adding that the pardons “will not favor coexistence” but rather prolong the conflict.

The far-right Vox party is already preparing a complaint against Sanchez’s Cabinet for misuse of power.

ISRAEL

Simmering

Palestinians and Jewish settlers clashed this week in East Jerusalem in an incident that risks igniting violence once again following a ceasefire between Hamas and the Israeli government, Al Jazeera reported.

Authorities arrested at least four individuals in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where the violence erupted. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 20 Palestinians were wounded.

The neighborhood has become a flashpoint between Palestinians and settlers, where weeks of unrest captured international attention ahead of the 11-day Israel-Hamas war last month, according to the Associated Press.

Sheikh Jarrah has been the scene of frequent crackdowns by Israeli police on Palestinians protesting the forced expulsion of dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in favor of Israeli settler groups.

Although Israel considers the issue “a real-estate dispute,” Palestinians and rights groups see it as an issue that underscores discriminatory policies aimed at pushing Palestinians out of Jerusalem.

At the height of the tensions, Israeli officials put the expulsion order on hold but advocate groups worry that the removal of Palestinian residents will proceed in the coming months as international attention wanes, potentially igniting another round of bloodshed.

The recent unrest marks a test for the new coalition government of right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett and centrist leader Yair Lapid were able to form a fragile coalition earlier this month, which led to the ouster of longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

BELARUS

Under Pressure

Western nations imposed a new round of sanctions on Belarus’ government this week in a coordinated response to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight and the arrest of an opposition journalist and his girlfriend last month, CNN reported.

The United States, Canada, the European Union and Britain said they were “united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenka regime’s continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law.”

The new round of sanctions would target multiple officials in President Alexander Lukashenko’s government, including those working in the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (Belarusian KGB) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The individuals are subject to an asset freeze and travel restrictions.

The restrictions also target various entities and companies that collaborate with Lukashenko’s regime, euronews reported.

The latest move comes a month after the government ordered the landing of a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania in order to arrest journalist and critic Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

The diversion of the flight sparked an international outcry against Lukashenko, whose government has come under fire following last year’s controversial presidential elections.

In August, Lukashenko – who has been in power since 1994 – won another term in a poll that Western nations and the opposition called neither free nor fair.

Lukashenko denied the allegations but has violently cracked down on the mass protests that erupted after the elections.

DISCOVERIES

Dangerous Stowaways

People bring back lots of souvenirs whenever they travel abroad. They also bring gut bacteria containing drug-resistant genes, according to New Scientists.

Researcher John Penders and his team made this discovery after studying fecal swabs of 190 travelers from the Netherlands, who had visited countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, North Africa and Eastern Africa.

“We know that antimicrobial resistance is a global problem but we also know that certain countries have a much higher prevalence than other countries,” said Penders.

In their paper, the researchers reported that the travelers unknowingly came back with gut microbiomes containing bacteria with many more and varied genes for antibiotic resistance than when they left.

The resistance genes don’t pose any threat to travelers as long as they are healthy. But it can be very problematic if the travelers get an infection that is difficult to treat, or if they spread the antimicrobial-resistant “superbugs” to critically ill individuals.

“These findings provide strong support for international travel as a vector for the global spread of clinically important antimicrobial resistance genes and highlight the need for broader surveillance of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in the gut microbiomes of returning travelers,” said lead author Alaric D’Souza.

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: 33,565,294 (+0.03%)
  2. India: 30,028,709 (+0.17%)
  3. Brazil: 18,054,653 (+0.49%)
  4. France: 5,821,797 (+0.04%)
  5. Turkey: 5,381,736 (+0.11%)
  6. Russia: 5,288,766 (+0.31%)
  7. UK: 4,668,043 (+0.25%)
  8. Argentina: 4,298,782 (+0.50%)
  9. Italy: 4,254,294 (+0.02%)
  10. Colombia: 3,997,021 (+0.72%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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