September 01, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

ETHIOPIA

When the Levee Breaks

Rebels seeking to separate their region from Ethiopia, the Oromo Liberation Army, have been on the rampage in the East African country, killing around 150 people in one recent incident alone, the Associated Press reported.

The rebels and their affiliated militias are known to search villages for any man who might have fought in the Ethiopian army, sometimes identifying ex-soldiers by the marks left by rifle shoulder straps and then murdering them execution-style. “They want to suppress and rule us. Their deed is ethnic cleansing,” Adisse Wonde told Agence France-Presse.

In response, wrote the Washington Post, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has called for mass enlistment in the Ethiopian army. Some enthusiastic recruits say they are happy to join because they say, “their blood is boiling.”

Such violence is part of the descent into chaos that is gripping a country that seven years ago was heralded as the new economic tiger on the Horn of Africa.

Instead, “a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned. “The unity of Ethiopia and the stability of the region are at stake. Inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country.”

For example, in another part of the country, Ethiopia is fighting rebels in the northern Tigray region since November. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front ruled the country for decades until Ahmed took power in 2018 after anti-government protests.

Thousands have died in that fight, two million more have been displaced and another million have faced famine, sexual assault and ethnic cleansing. Aid workers keep finding bodies, bloated and bearing knife or gunshot wounds, carried on the waters that flow from the Tigray region to Sudan, the New York Times wrote.

As Bloomberg explained, the fighting has spread to conflicts between central government troops and other ethnic groups that also want more autonomy. Recently, for example, the Tigray rebels allied with the Oromo Liberation Army, which is affiliated with the Oromo not the Tigrayan ethnic community.

Ethiopia has about 80 ethnic groups and 10 regional governments. Many worry that a growing conflict could push groups within Ethiopia to take sides and draw in countries from across the region.

Ahmed, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his successful efforts to end Ethiopia’s war with neighboring Eritrea, has called for a national dialogue to begin this month in an effort to end the fighting. At the same time, Eritrean soldiers have been drawn into the conflict in Tigray: Late last month, the US imposed sanctions on the chief of staff of the defense forces of Eritrea, Filipos Woldeyohannes, for “despicable acts” including massacres, widespread sexual assault, and the executions of boys, NPR reported.

Ahmed is under pressure to stop the carnage. American officials have said the fighting could jeopardize economic benefits for Ethiopia, Reuters reported. China, in contrast, has said the violence won’t affect its investments in the country.

A group of African intellectuals and scholars on the continent released a letter in African Arguments imploring everyone to give the dialogue a chance. The letter referred to Ethiopia’s status as one of the few African countries to resist European imperialism as well as its role as the host of the Africa Union’s headquarters.

Many now seem to be pulling for peace. But it might be too late.

WANT TO KNOW

TAIWAN

DIY

Taiwanese officials rolled out a homegrown coronavirus vaccine this month to fight the spread of infections in the country after struggling to procure vaccines from major drug companies, CNBC reported Tuesday.

The two-dose vaccine was produced by the Taiwan-based Medigen Vaccine Biologics in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health in the United States. The inoculation – similar to Novavax – uses a technology called recombinant protein, which uses a part of the virus’ protein to induce an immune response.

In the past week, around 600,000 people – including President Tsai Ing-wen – have been inoculated with the Medigen vaccine.

Critics, meanwhile, are questioning the vaccine’s quick approval – Taiwanese health authorities cleared it in July after only completing phase two clinical trials with no available efficacy data.

Medigen’s Chief Executive Charles Chen said it was not possible to conduct a “traditional efficacy trial” because Taiwan’s infection rate has remained relatively low. He added that the homegrown vaccine’s protection level was “the same or even better than AstraZeneca.”

Meanwhile, the Medigen jab has been approved for a phase three clinical trial in Paraguay.

The new vaccine comes as Taiwan – and many other countries – are struggling to procure Western-made vaccines. The country of 24 million has received more than 10 million doses of Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, according to UNICEF. More than 40 percent of Taiwan’s population has received at least one shot of the vaccine while less than four percent have been fully vaccinated.

Despite the slow rollout, Covid-19 infections in the country have been relatively low and the number of daily reported cases has recently dropped – unlike other Asian countries struggling with the new Delta variant.

NORTH KOREA

Testing the Waters

North Korea restarted its largest nuclear reactor after more than two years, sparking heightened concerns about the isolated country’s mysterious nuclear arms development, CBS News reported.

A report by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog this week said that there were indications that the government reactivated the 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor in mid-July. The reactor had not been operational since December 2018 but recent satellite images showed signs of activity, including the discharge of cooling water.

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the reports were “deeply troubling” and noted that any continuation of North Korea’s program was “a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”

The Yongbyon reactor is mainly used to generate power but analysts noted that it has the capacity to enrich both uranium and plutonium to weapons-grade purity.

IAEA said that it remains unclear for what purpose the reactor was restarted because there are no inspectors on site. North Korea kicked out the watchdog’s inspectors in 2009, which prevents the agency from thoroughly monitoring the country’s nuclear program.

The move marks another escalation regarding the country’s nuclear program and weapons arsenal: North Korea has tested weapons in the past, including intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States – although it has yet to prove whether it can actually deliver, intact, a nuclear warhead for that distance.

The Trump administration initially urged the country to roll back some of its nuclear work in return for lifting sanctions on North Korea. But talks broke down between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un following two face-to-face summits.

The North Korean leader has said that he is not interested in negotiating with the Biden administration and insists the US should change its policy first.

FRANCE

A Slow City

The city of Paris imposed a speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour – about 18 miles per hour – this week, a move aimed at improving the environment and reducing traffic in the French capital, the BBC reported.

The new measure is part of Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s plan to reduce cars in Paris and promote a greener city ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games.

The socialist mayor, who was re-elected last year, said the regulation will reduce accidents, noise and pollution.

Under the new rules, most of Paris will be subjected to the slow speed limit with some areas exempt, including the Champs-Élysées (31 mph) and the main ring highway, the Boulevard Périphérique (nearly 44 mph).

Similar limits have also been imposed in other French cities and also other European ones, such as the Belgian capital, Brussels.

A poll found that 59 percent of respondents supported the measure but some businesses and civic groups criticized the move, saying that a speed awareness campaign would have been more effective.

Others said that the average speed in Paris is already low – less than 10 miles per hour.

DISCOVERIES

Rattling to Rattle

Rattlesnakes can warn intruders and potential predators by shaking their “rattles” to deter them from approaching.

But the deadly snake also employs a peculiar trick with its tail to mislead interlopers and prevent them from treading on it, the New York Times reported. Scientists discovered that the Western diamondback rattlesnake increases the speed of their rattle as a potential threat comes closer.

In a new paper, researchers conducted a series of experiments in which an object – including a motorized human-like torso and large black disk – would get close to the venomous reptile. Each time the objects got closer, the serpents would increase the rate of their rattle from 40 hertz to 100 hertz.

However, the team wanted to explore whether the higher-frequency rattle sounded closer to humans. They conducted another test in which they equipped 11 volunteers with a virtual reality headset that moved them through grassland at dusk toward a hidden snake.

The participants would then press a button to indicate they were about three feet away from the snake. But the findings showed that the participants misinterpreted the distance of the slithering animal.

The team believes that that the snake’s increased rattle fooled participants about its actual distance – and theorized that the spike in frequency is an evolved behavior to dissuade larger creatures – including humans – from approaching any closer.

“The shift in rattling is subterfuge on the part of the snake,” said Bruce Young, an anatomist at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Missouri, who reviewed the paper.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 217,718,585

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,519,287

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,294,549,598

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 39,198,268 (+0.36%)
  2. India: 32,810,845 (+0.13%)
  3. Brazil: 20,776,870 (+0.12%)
  4. France: 6,834,858 (+0.00%)**
  5. UK: 6,821,356 (+0.47%)
  6. Russia: 6,820,697 (+0.26%)
  7. Turkey: 6,388,301 (+0.34%)
  8. Argentina: 5,185,620 (+0.13%)
  9. Iran: 4,992,063 (+0.63%)
  10. Colombia: 4,909,086 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country