The World Today for July 28, 2021

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Sparking Tinder

The BBC video of a woman throwing her baby out of a burning building illustrates the violence and suffering that has racked South Africa in recent weeks. The baby and mother survived the fire, which looters lit amid widespread civil unrest.

The violence erupted in early July after former President Jacob Zuma began a 15-month prison term for contempt of court, the Associated Press explained. His supporters in KwaZulu-Natal, where he is from, erected roadblocks and burned trucks in protest. More than 300 people died, according to Agence France-Presse. Police arrested more than 2,500 people on theft and vandalism charges.

The riots were the worst since the end of South Africa’s racist, segregationist Apartheid regime in 1994. Private citizens took up arms to defend their business and critical infrastructure, Bloomberg reported. Protesters destroyed 100 mobile phone towers, prompting the South African telecommunications regulator to issue a public call for citizens to guard facilities.

Zuma was convicted on corruption charges. The scandals plaguing him include $20 million in security upgrades for his private compound. A court recently granted his request for a delay in a corruption trial involving kickbacks in a $2 billion arms deal, Reuters reported. He also faces corruption, fraud and money laundering charges.

Regardless, it’s hard to tell if the riots and looting were unrest or an insurrection, as Foreign Policy magazine wrote.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and others claim that Zuma’s allies planned the violence. A Zuma-allied faction of the ruling African National Congress called the Radical Economic Transformation orchestrated the riots because they benefitted from the patronage and corruption that was endemic to Zuma’s regime, argued journalist Benjamin Fogel in an Al Jazeera opinion piece.

But while political affiliation explains how the protests and looting began, other factors clarify why they grew out of control.

Officially, nearly one-third of South Africans are unemployed – that number almost doubles if counting only those younger than 35. Half the country lives in poverty. More than 20 percent lack sufficient food. Inequality, meanwhile, is rampant. The coronavirus hasn’t improved these numbers, of course.

Sello Kgoale, 46, had never stolen anything before. He couldn’t resist pilfering rice, cooking oil and paraffin from a local mall after his neighbors told him that the police weren’t stopping looters.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m ashamed,” Kgoale said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, relating how successive waves of the coronavirus killed his aged relatives, rendered him unemployed and ruined his chances of launching a new business. “But we just keep getting hit.”

Lack of economic opportunities, not politics, led Kgoale to break the law. Some wonder about Zuma’s excuse.



Loud and Clear

North and South Korea agreed to reestablish communications channels across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) Tuesday after more than a year of no contact, NPR reported.

Officials from both sides hailed the move as a step toward healing strained ties between the neighboring rivals amid stalled nuclear negotiations.

Before the cutoff, the two Koreas had five hotline channels that connected the countries’ leaders, militaries, spy agencies and departments in charge of inter-Korean relations. Last year, all the hotlines were severed, except one between intelligence agencies.

North Korea blamed the South for allowing defectors and dissidents to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border into the North.

The reopening of channels comes as North Korea continues to face international sanctions and food shortages, exacerbated by the pandemic, which has forced the nation to shut off its borders and limit domestic travel as part of its anti-virus measures.

Analyst Lee Ho-ryung said that Pyongyang’s decision was “based on the judgment that South Korea is the only country that North Korea can reach out to and still save face.”

She cautioned, however, that restarting communications won’t amount to anything significant including another potential nuclear summit with the United States.

US President Joe Biden has offered talks but North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has rejected the gesture.


Bye, Bye

Iraq and the United States agreed to end the US combat mission in the country by the end of the year even as US troops will continue to aid the Iraqi military in their fight against Islamic State (IS), the Wall Street Journal reported.

The agreement came after a meeting between President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Washington, D.C. Kadhimi said that the meeting gave a “boost of legitimacy” to Iraq’s relations with the US but skirted questions on whether the number of troops would shrink as a result.

Following their withdrawal after the 2003 Iraq war in 2011, US troops returned to Iraq in 2014 to advise the Iraqi military in its fight against IS. At the time, the insurgent group had seized a large swathe of the country including the city of Mosul.

After the collapse of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in 2019, US soldiers remained in Iraq to train the country’s military. Currently, roughly 2,500 American troops remain but their presence has been a topic of tension.

Sunni and Kurdish politicians welcome their presence but Iran-backed Shiite militias have demanded their removal. The militias have fired rockets and carried out drone attacks on Iraqi bases housing US troops.

The end of combat operations would offer some respite for Kadhimi, who has been facing pressure from hardline Shiite politicians at home to eject the US troops. Even so, a troop withdrawal could jeopardize Iraq’s security: A recent Pentagon report said that approximately 10,000 IS fighters are currently operating in Syria and Iraq.


A Hero, a Criminal

Bosnian Serbs politicians began boycotting the country’s government institutions Tuesday after the United Nations high representative in the Balkan nation passed a law that would ban genocide denial, Euronews reported.

The boycott would effectively block decision-making in the multi-ethnic nation, which is composed of two autonomous regions following the 1992-1995 war: The Republika Srpska run by Serbs and a federation shared by Bosniak Muslims and Croats.

Both regions are linked together by joint institutions and all decisions on the state level must reach a consensus between the three ethnicities.

The move came after Valentin Inzko, the High Representative for Bosnia, imposed various amendments to the country’s criminal code last week, including the contentious ban.

Under the new laws, individuals accused of genocide denial and the glorification of war criminals face up to five years in prison.

Bosniak Muslims welcomed the decision but Serbs called it “unacceptable and void.”

Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s joint presidency, questioned why Inzko decided to impose the changes a week before the end of his term.

The topic of genocide and war criminals remains sensitive in the country: Serb officials have been accused of downplaying the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since World War II.

Wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and military commander Ratko Mladic are still hailed as heroes among Bosnian Serbs.

The Dutch-based International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia convicted both men of genocide and sentenced them to life imprisonment.


Let It Rain

Summers in the arid United Arab Emirates are no joke, so scalding that it prompted scientists to do something about it.

They made it rain.

In fact, the country is currently experiencing downpours thanks to cloud seeding technology, reported USA Today, with Emirati scientists creating “fake rain” by zapping clouds with electricity to trigger rain production.

It works like this: Drones are sent up in the sky where they deliver jolts of electricity to cloud droplets. The shock causes the water droplets to clump together and fall as rain once they are big enough.

The ambitious project has turned out to be very successful with parts of the country recording heavy rainfalls – almost resembling monsoons in tropical countries.

This is not the first time that the UAE has used cloud seeding projects to trigger rain. The Gulf nation has conducted more than 200 cloud seeding operations in the first half of 2020, with effective results.

Officials at the National Center of Meteorology said that the initiatives are part of the UAE’s ongoing “quest to ensure water security,” a drive in existence since the 1990s.

The center explained that water security is one of the main challenges for the country, which currently experiences very low levels of rainfall and high evaporation rates of surface water.

The nation is also experiencing a high population growth, which has increased the urgency for water security.

“While most of us take free water for granted, we must remember that it is a precious and finite resource,” according to the center.

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: 34,604,005 (+0.21%)
  2. India: 31,484,605 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 19,749,073 (+0.21%)
  4. Russia: 6,094,379 (+0.54%)
  5. France: 6,088,930 (+0.28%)
  6. UK: 5,771,732 (+0.41%)
  7. Turkey: 5,638,178 (+0.35%)
  8. Argentina: 4,875,927 (+0.34%)
  9. Colombia: 4,747,775 (+0.24%)
  10. Spain: 4,368,453 (+0.61%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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