The World Today for November 02, 2021

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Stuck in Purgatory


Thirty years ago, diplomats signed the Paris Peace Agreement to bring an end to civil war in Cambodia.

The run-up to the agreement was hell on earth, as journalist Sydney Schanberg depicted in his book, “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” which also served as the basis of a film called “The Killing Fields.” After assuming power in 1975, the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal regime proceeded to kill 2 million Cambodians through “murder, starvation and overwork,” Channel News Asia reported. Vietnam invaded to topple the murderous regime in 1978 but kicked open a hornet nest, triggering a civil war that lasted until the 1991 peace accords.

The democracy that the agreement promised has never really come to pass, however. “We did a great job on bringing peace but blew it on democracy and human rights,” said former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, who helped negotiate the deal, according to the National, a newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates.

The 1991 agreement fostered an election that resulted in a power-sharing government of royalist forces and the Maoist-inspired Cambodian People’s Party, wrote Al Jazeera. But in 1997, Hun Sen of the Cambodian People’s Party eventually seized power for himself. He has dominated Cambodian politics ever since.

Sen’s allies recently adopted a new law banning Cambodians with dual citizenship from holding high government office, the Associated Press reported. The measure was clearly aimed at preventing the prime minister’s bitterest opponent, Sam Rainsy of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, from ever unseating the prime minister. In 2017, when Sen cracked down on the opposition and the country’s top court disbanded the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Rainsy fled to France, where he has citizenship. And while Sen does not hold a Cypriot passport, members of his family and inner circle are citizens of that country, according to Nikkei Asia.

Cambodian officials recently ordered the arrest of a Cambodian ex-monk and environmentalist who wrote a poem criticizing Sen, Radio Free Asia wrote. The offensive poet, Voeun Veasna, 35, is affiliated with the prohibited Cambodia National Rescue Party and lives in neighboring Thailand.

The Cambodian government under Sen has also allegedly been heavy-handed regarding Covid-19 vaccine rules, Human Rights Watch said. Many Cambodians could lose access to basic government services if they can’t demonstrate proof of vaccination. The problem is the government has failed to put procedures in place to check the proof that people might or might not have.

With little power at the ballot box and none to fight officialdom, Cambodia is in purgatory, observers say.

But 30 years is a long time to wait.


Exit, Stage Right


North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev stepped down after his party performed poorly in local elections over the weekend, a move that prompted the country’s opposition to call for snap polls, Radio Free Europe reported Monday.

Zaev’s center-left Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) lost multiple important cities, including the capital, Skopje, during the runoff elections Sunday. The prime minister accepted responsibility for the defeat and also resigned as the party’s leader.

Opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski said his party had won a convincing victory that “delegitimized” the ruling party. He added that the next parliamentary elections are “very likely to be early” and predicted a huge victory for his right-wing party.

Zaev, however, disagreed that there should be early elections.

The outgoing leader had urged voters to cast their ballots, saying the mayoral race in Skopje was pivotal in implementing his government’s priorities.

Elected in 2017, his governing coalition has brought North Macedonia closer to integration with the European Union and NATO. Last year, the Balkan nation joined the defense organization but ascension talks to enter the EU have stalled amid disputes with neighboring Bulgaria.

In 2018, Zaev struck a deal with Greece to change the country’s name from “Macedonia” to “North Macedonia” in order to distinguish it from the Greek province of the same name and placate Greece.

Going Batty


New Zealand’s long-tailed bat won the country’s annual “Bird of the Year” contest, setting off a furor with many bird fans claiming the election was stolen, CNN reported Monday.

This is the first time the bat – and a non-avian – has been part of the competition that is organized by the country’s Forest & Bird conservation charity. The endangered mammal received more than 7,000 votes, beating last year’s champion, the kakapo – a chubby, flightless parrot that was brought back from the brink of extinction in the 1990s.

Organizers said that the competition included about 200 native species and that more than 56,000 votes were cast, the highest number in the event’s 16-year-long history, according to the Independent.

The bat, known as pekapeka-tou-roa, is New Zealand’s only native land mammal and is about the size of a thumb. The tiny creature is currently classified as “nationally critical” by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and could face extinction if it’s not protected.

Campaign representatives said the bat’s addition was aimed to bring attention to its conservation plight, which many bird species also face.

Even so, bird enthusiasts criticized the vote, saying that it was a public relations stunt to revive the image of bats. Since last year, the flying mammals’ reputation plummeted after being linked with the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Brutal Fences, Mending Walls


Polish lawmakers approved a plan to build a $405 million wall along its border with Belarus this week in an effort to curb the influx of migrants illegally entering the European Union country, Euronews reported.

The government initially proposed the plan last month and the draft bill was approved by both houses of parliament in recent weeks.

The wall will be more than 60 miles long and prevent migrants from the Middle East and Africa from entering Poland via Belarus.

The decision marks the latest escalation in an ongoing migration crisis between Belarus and the EU: The bloc has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of encouraging migrants to seek entry into the EU in retaliation for Western sanctions against the autocratic leader, the Associated Press reported.

Some migrants have died trying to cross the 250-mile long border, which is covered with forests and swamps.

Poland has already built a razor-wire fence on the border and sent thousands of security forces to stop the influx. Border guards have also been pushing migrants, including some families, back across the border, which is allowed under a new Polish law.

Meanwhile, Poland is negotiating with the EU’s border agency, Frontex, to fly back migrants back to their home countries.

Analyst Gerald Knaus told Euronews that the situation at the border is “extremely dramatic” and could result in a “deadly humanitarian tragedy.”


The Deadly Price of Safety

The Mozambican civil war from 1977 to 1992 decimated 90 percent of the elephant population living in the country’s Gorongosa national park.

The large mammals were poached for their ivory, which government and rebel forces collected to finance the conflict. Tuskless elephants, however, were left alone.

Recently, scientists studied how years of ivory poaching and a genetic mutation resulted in Gorongosa’s elephant population becoming predominately tuskless, the Guardian reported.

In their paper, a research team stipulated that tuskless females had the most offspring because they were not hunted by poachers. Nevertheless, previous researchers had questioned what the exact mechanics for this abnormality were.

It turned out that the phenomenon had a genetic origin and tended to affect mainly male elephants: The team discovered a genetic difference after they sequenced the genomes of tusked and tuskless elephants.

While the females had no issues carrying the tuskless traits, the latter was lethal to males, according to the New York Times.

That means that a female elephant has a 50-50 chance of giving birth to both tuskless and tusked females. But in males, only half would have no tusks, while the other half would die – perhaps before birth.

Robert Pringle of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, which led the study, said it showed the impact of human interference in nature. “What I think this study shows is that it’s more than just numbers,” he told the Guardian. “The impacts that people have, we’re literally changing the anatomy of animals.”

Meanwhile, study co-author Shane Campbell-Staton told the Times that while elephants have evolved to be safer from poachers, this rapid change could be problematic in the long run.

“Selection always comes at a cost, and that cost is lives,” he said.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 247,129,785

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,005,638

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 7,083,377,262

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

  1. US: 46,091,924 (+0.26%)
  2. India: 34,285,814 (0.00%)**
  3. Brazil: 21,814,693 (+0.02%)
  4. UK: 9,140,441 (+0.44%)
  5. Russia: 8,417,305 (+0.47%)
  6. Turkey: 8,061,636 (+0.36%)
  7. France: 7,270,410 (+0.03%)
  8. Iran: 5,934,495 (+0.17%)
  9. Argentina: 5,289,945 (+0.02%)
  10. Spain: 5,011,148 (0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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