The World Today for June 29, 2021

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No Quarter

Nicaraguan intellectual Emilio Álvarez Montalván once described his fellow citizens as “outgoing, imaginative, hard-working, and compassionate” to Stephen Kinzer, a Boston Globe columnist and senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

He also noted how they are “prone to short-term thinking, eager to solve problems through violence, open to corruption, and harboring a fatal weakness for charismatic demagogues.”

The nature of Montalván’s insights might explain why Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has been in office for 14 years even though under the Central American country’s laws, he is only allowed one five-year term. Meanwhile, he has waged a brutal campaign of repression against political dissent to cement his hold on power.

Ortega had previously run the county as the leader of the leftwing Sandinista National Liberation Front that overthrew the country’s pro-US government in the late 1970s. He was in the opposition between 1990 and 2007, however, when fatigue from fighting the Contra rebels and corruption hurt his standing with voters. Today, he appears to be unwilling to lose power again.

In 2018, when protests against his regime broke out, he ordered a crackdown, killing hundreds. More recently, Nicaraguan authorities arrested presidential candidate Miguel Mora on charges of treason, the BBC reported. He was the fifth candidate to be detained in the run-up to elections in November when Ortega is certain to win a fourth consecutive term. Argentina and Mexico recalled their ambassadors in protest.

A host of other opposition leaders have also been seized off the streets for treason allegations. They include the wife of a former president, who is now under house arrest for crimes against the state, the Associated Press wrote.

Local Catholic bishops condemned the illegal and arbitrary detentions, the Catholic News Service reported. The editorial board of El Espectador, a Colombian newspaper, called for every government in the region to apply pressure to stop the repression.

Ortega recently blocked a New York Times reporter from entering the country, seeking to cut off communication to the rest of the world. It didn’t work. After officials raided newspaper offices and banned political parties, the US slapped sanctions on Nicaraguan leaders, including Ortega’s daughter, Reuters added.

Meanwhile, much of the population lives in fear. “It’s not that people don’t want to protest on the streets anymore,” Berta Valle, the wife of a detained opposition leader told CNN. “It’s that the risk is immense. The regime is willing to kill…We know that the regime is capable of doing anything.”

If only Montalván, who passed away in 2014, was around to generate some new insights for a way forward.



Marching in Place

Both French President Emmanuel Macron’s La Republique en Marche and its rival, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally failed to take power anywhere in the second round of regional elections in a poll marked by a very low turnout, the BBC reported Monday.

Results showed that the mainstream center-right party, Les Republicans, and the Socialist Party both received surprise boosts. Turnout was lower than 35 percent of eligible voters.

The regional elections are the first for Macron’s party – it did not exist during the last polls in 2015.

The poor results are also a major blow for Le Pen, who was hoping to secure her party’s first regional victory as she seeks to boost her presidential hopes in elections in 2022.

Almost all of the incumbent regional presidents who ran again, whether left or right, were reelected in Sunday’s vote.

Meanwhile, the solid performance of mainstream parties underscores the high stakes in next year’s presidential vote for Macron, who is seeking reelection.

Analysts said that Le Pen and Macron could face a serious challenge from Les Republicans’ Xavier Bertrand in next year’s election.

Bertrand won Sunday’s regional vote with around 52 percent of support in the northern region of Hauts-de-France, defeating his rival from the National Rally.

Although Les Republicans have yet to pick a presidential candidate, Bertrand is well placed to win the nomination, according to CNBC.


Foot in Mouth

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan came under fire this week after suggesting that there would be fewer sexual assaults if women dressed more modestly, sparking protests and calls for an apology in the deeply conservative Muslim nation, Axios reported.

During an interview last week, Khan was asked about a “rape epidemic” in Pakistan and responded that a woman wearing “very few clothes” will have “an impact on the man unless they are robots.”

Female politicians and women’s rights groups condemned Khan’s comments, saying they “only (reinforce) the common public perception that women are ‘knowing’ victims and men ‘helpless’ aggressors.”

Over the weekend, women marched in the city of Karachi to protest the prime minister’s remarks. Many shared photographs and articles of clothing to show what they were wearing when they were sexually harassed – a near-daily occurrence for some women in the country – or subjected to sexual violence, according to the Washington Post.

Khan’s office responded that his comments were taken out of context. Still, this is the second time in recent months the prime minister has inspired a backlash for commenting on rape and victim-blaming. In April, he replied to a question about a perceived rise in sexual assaults by saying that the traditional custom of “purdah,” or modesty, was intended to “stop temptation.”

Official statistics show that nearly a dozen rapes are reported in Pakistan daily but activists say that figure is exponentially higher. They added that the majority of sexual crimes are not reported because of the likelihood of the victims being blamed or even killed for bringing shame to their families. So-called ‘honor killings’ are common in Pakistan.


Colorless Rainbow

Turkish riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas during the country’s annual Pride parade in Istanbul, a move aimed at disrupting the event and another display of government hostility toward the LGBT+ community, according to rights groups, the Hill reported.

Authorities detained at least 20 people and sought to stop marchers from gathering in the city’s main shopping and tourism district.

The office of Istanbul’s governor, meanwhile, had refused to grant a permit for the parade, which has been banned for the past seven years. It was first held in 2003.

Still, hundreds continued the march in defiance, waving rainbow flags and chanting “Rainbow is not a crime – discrimination is,” reported the Washington Post.

The police’s response comes amid a difficult year for the LGBT+ community in Turkey, which has been marked by condemnation and discrimination from top officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan told members of his party that “there is no such thing as LGBT” in Turkey.

Earlier this year, the government pulled Turkey out of the Istanbul Convention: The treaty is aimed at preventing violence against women but officials say it was “normalizing” homosexuality.


Born Smart

Dog owners are told they must spend some time training their pets to follow instructions when they are young.

However, scientists have recently found that puppies are born with the ability to understand and communicate with humans, according to New Scientist.

Lead researcher Emily Bray and her team monitored the behavior of 375 two-month-old Golden retriever and Labrador puppies destined to become service dogs.

In one experiment, the puppies had to find food hidden under a cup, while researchers would aid them by pointing at the cup. Nearly 70 percent of the time, the young animals were able to follow the finger-pointing.

The team wrote in their paper that the pooches followed instructions without any training, suggesting they already knew what to do. Bray explained that this ability can be attributed to genetics: Her colleagues found that genetic factors were responsible for 43 percent of these variations.

These factors were also observed in another experiment when the scientists spoke to the puppies in “baby talk.” They found that the dogs fixed their gaze on the person for more than six seconds on average – indicating that the pups understood they were communicating.

The study has important implications for breeders and buyers trying to find their perfect companion.

“If your dog is able to read your communication, that’s likely just going to be a more harmonious relationship,” said Bray.

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: 33,640,576 (+0.05%)
  2. India: 30,316,897 (+0.12%)
  3. Brazil: 18,448,402 (+0.15%)
  4. France: 5,832,490 (+0.01%)
  5. Turkey: 5,414,310 (+0.10%)
  6. Russia: 5,408,744 (+0.39%)
  7. UK: 4,771,367 (+0.48%)
  8. Argentina: 4,423,636 (+0.42%)
  9. Italy: 4,258,456 (+0.01%)
  10. Colombia: 4,187,194 (+0.68%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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