The World Today for October 18, 2021

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Tiny Enclave, Loud Roar


One of the smallest countries in the world – its population is around 33,000 – San Marino is a relic of a time when city-states dominated the Italian peninsula.

As an enclave within Italy, the republic can be isolated. When the European Union’s vaccine rollout hit snags during the coronavirus pandemic, for example, San Marino’s leaders turned to Russian vaccines. Now, because the EU doesn’t recognize those vaccines, the Sammarinesi, as the country’s citizens are known, face restrictions on their movement throughout the continent, the New York Times reported.

But in late September, the Sammarinesi spoke loud enough for the world to hear them when they voted to overturn an 1865 law that outlawed abortion in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation. With around 40 percent of the electorate casting ballots, nearly 80 percent of the vote was in favor of ending the ban, CNN reported.

San Marino has been one of the last places in Europe where abortions were illegal, noted the BBC. Only three other tiny European states – Andorra, Malta and Vatican City – still ban the procedure.

Under the former law, women faced jail sentences of as many as three years for having the procedure. Doctors performing abortions faced six-year prison terms. Women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies would take a short trip to a clinic in Italy, where abortion has been legal since 1978.

The new law allows abortions within 12 weeks after conception. Health concerns could allow for the procedure after that time. Lawmakers must now draft legislation to iron out the details and enforce the referendum results, wrote the Associated Press.

The debate before the referendum exposed the fissures in San Marino society.

Critics of the referendum bought advertising space on billboards depicting a child with Down’s syndrome alongside the message, “I’m an anomaly, does that mean I have fewer rights than you?” Posters depicted a fetus with the caption “I’m a child even at 12 weeks, save me!”

The ads may have alienated some voters, wrote the Guardian. Activists who supported the measures reflected progressive sensibilities that are common, even mainstream, throughout Europe, and pointed out how the country has long lagged behind the continent.

For example, female Sammarinesi couldn’t vote until 1960. Women couldn’t hold political office until 1973. Divorce became legal only in 1986.

Meanwhile, women’s rights activists who pushed to overturn the abortion ban were elated.

“I care about my country and I want it to be civilized,” Vanessa Muratori of the San Marino Women’s Union told Reuters. “I feel like a link in a chain of women’s emancipation that goes beyond San Marino.”


The Vulnerable Ones


A long-serving British lawmaker died after being stabbed multiple times over the weekend in an attack authorities have labeled as terrorism, Axios reported.

Sir David Amess of the ruling Conservative party died while meeting his constituents in Southend West in Essex. Police said they arrested a 25-year-old male and recovered a knife at the scene.

Officials added that the suspect operated alone and found “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”

Amess entered parliament in the 1980s and was known as a vocal supporter of Britain’s exit from the European Union. He also pushed for animal welfare legislation, including a ban on fox hunting. He is the second British lawmaker to be killed in recent years, according to the Washington Post.

In 2016, a right-wing extremist killed Labour party lawmaker Jo Cox. Another Labour legislator, Stephen Timms, was stabbed in 2010 but survived the attack.

British politicians of all stripes including Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned Amess’ killing. Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, called the stabbing “an attack on democracy itself.”

The recent killings have sparked a debate about the security surrounding British lawmakers: Parliamentarians frequently mix with constituents to discuss public and personal issues even as the tradition leaves them vulnerable to potential attacks.

Some lawmakers have called for a pause in face-to-face meetings until after a security review.

Between 2010 and 2016, nearly 700 crimes against British legislators were reported to the police, with the majority consisting of online abuse and death threats.

No Jab, No Job


Italy has implemented mandatory vaccinations for workers, one of the strictest anti-Covid-19 measures in the Western world, setting off outrage and protests from those opposed to getting vaccinated, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The new policy will require public and private sector employees to provide the so-called green pass to go to work. The pass requires workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, test negative or proof of recovery from the virus.

Workers who don’t have the green pass will be suspended without pay but not fired. Those who come to work without a valid green pass can be fined.

The new measures kicked in even as the government has yet to figure out how to enforce the rules and whether there will be enough testing kits for the 3.8 million unvaccinated workers.

Currently, 85 percent of people over the age of 12 have received at least one shot. However, the country has not seen a surge in vaccinations since the new policies were announced last month.

Over the weekend, protesters took to the streets of multiple Italian cities to reject the new regulations. Authorities have increased security after last weekend’s demonstrations became violent when neo-fascist groups turned some of Rome’s streets into a battleground.

Despite the opposition, polls show 65 percent of Italians favor requiring green passes for all workers.

Meanwhile, the government believes the new vaccine mandates will encourage people to get the shots instead of going through frequent tests. It will also subsidize tests and some employers said they would cover the costs for swabs.

The mandate will last until the end of the year when Italy’s state of emergency expires. Even so, the state of emergency has been extended multiple times since the start of the pandemic, meaning that the green pass requirements could last well into next year.

Personal Business


Chilean opposition lawmakers launched impeachment proceedings against President Sebastian Pinera this week over the controversial sale of a mining company after new details emerged in the Pandora paper leaks, Al Jazeera reported.

The opposition said the president “openly infringed the Constitution” and used “his office for personal business” during the presentation of the accusations to the lower house of Congress.

Earlier this month, the country’s top prosecutor said there would be an investigation into bribery-related charges and tax violations connected to the sale of the Dominga mine, which took place during Pinera’s first term as president.

The Pandora leaks – an explosive trove of reports on the hidden wealth of the super-rich which included world leaders – showed that Pinera was linked to the sale of the mine for $152 million through a company owned by his children. The sale also included a clause that made the last payment of the business conditional on “not establishing an area of environmental protection in the area of operations of the mining company, as demanded by environmental groups.”

Pinera, one of Chile’s richest people, denied any wrongdoing and said the issue has already been dealt with by the courts in 2017.

Chile’s lower house will vote in November on whether to approve the indictment. If approved, the case will then move to the upper house, which will then try the president.

The opposition’s move comes as Chile prepares for presidential and legislative elections next month.

It also came a day after Pinera announced a state of emergency in two southern regions where the Mapuche Indigenous people have been clashing with security forces over ancestral land issues.


Flora’s Fountain of Youth

Fungi and parasites that turn some animals and insects into mindless zombies are not new.

The plant world also has its own version of a zombie parasite that can affect flowering plants and crops, the New York Times reported.

The Aster Yellows phytoplasma is known for causing a type of “Night of the Living Dead-meets-Dracula” life cycle in plants: For example, infected mustard plants grow odd-shaped leaves, form seedless flowers and can live longer than their uninfected brethren.

“It looks like it stays in a juvenile phase,” said researcher Saskia Hogenhout, who recently conducted a study on the parasite’s genome.

Hogenhout and her colleagues discovered that the phytoplasma’s genome contains a single protein called SAP05, which affects the plant’s maturation. She explained that SAP05 binds with plant proteins that control the expression of genes used in development.

The parasite’s protein then causes the plant’s building blocks to break down using its host’s garbage disposal mechanism. This eventually leads to the plant’s stunted development and prevents it from growing flowers to produce seeds.

The team said that the parasite’s hijacking of the plant’s development is to ensure its own survival and to spread itself to other plants – which is done by insects sucking on the infected sap.

Meanwhile, the researchers also figured out how to genetically modify plants to evade SAP05. Still, this shortens the plants’ lifespan and makes them more vulnerable to other infections.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 240,692,909

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,898,901

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 6,619,971,549

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

  1. US: 44,933,409 (+0.03%)
  2. India: 34,081,315 (+0.04%)
  3. Brazil: 21,644,464 (+0.03%)
  4. UK: 8,488,685 (+0.53%)
  5. Russia: 7,870,529 (+0.00%)**
  6. Turkey: 7,630,133 (+0.00%)**
  7. France: 7,189,566 (+0.05%)
  8. Iran: 5,784,815 (+0.00%)**
  9. Argentina: 5,272,551 (+0.01%)
  10. Spain: 4,984,386 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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