November 23, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

When Heroes Fall

GEORGIA

The European Court of Human Rights recently demanded that the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia safeguard former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who had been staging a hunger strike in prison, before ending it over the weekend.

Georgian authorities arrested and imprisoned Saakashvili, who was in office from 2004 to 2013, on an abuse-of-power conviction in early October when he returned to the country after eight years of exile in Ukraine. His arrests caused his supporters to stage mass protests on his behalf. Claiming the charges are politically motivated, he had not eaten for more than seven weeks.

As Reuters explained, Saakashvili has complained that his prison lacks medical care, that he has been threatened by other inmates and beaten by police. His complaints prompted the European court’s intervention. “The ruling is a so-called interim measure ordered by the Strasbourg-based court in urgent cases where the ECHR deems there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm to an applicant,” wrote Al Jazeera.

Saakashvili returned to Georgia to campaign for opposition candidates in local elections. The ruling Georgian Dream party won the vote, Radio Free Europe reported, though runoffs in major cities were still pending. Saakashvili’s imprisonment overshadowed the election results, however, noted the Atlantic Council, preventing Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili from basking for long in the glow of his party’s victory.

Saakashvili is a major figure in Georgia’s modern history. Educated at Columbia University and George Washington University, elected nearly unanimously after the peaceful “Rose Revolution” in 2003 that ended the country’s Soviet-era regime, he has long been an advocate of democracy and free markets, Foreign Policy magazine wrote. He was the darling of the West for his anti-corruption and modernization efforts.

In 2008, he ran the response to Russia’s invasion of the country, which ended in two regions (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) becoming breakaway republics under the protection of leaders in Moscow. Most recently, he had been serving in numerous positions in the Ukrainian government that has been waging a war against Russian forces in the east. While he became a Ukrainian citizen, he stoked controversy and made enemies among powerful figures in that country, too, even as he was stripped of his Georgian citizenship.

He also brooked little criticism or resistance, wrote the Washington Post columnist Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden. The abuse-of-power charges stemmed from allegations that he attempted to cover up evidence linked to an assault against an opposition legislator.

Garibashvili, meanwhile, has expressed bitterness toward his rival, saying he “has the right to commit suicide,” Agence France-Presse reported.

One thing is for sure: Neither Georgia nor the world has heard the last of Saakashvili.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

David: 1; Goliath: 0

INDIA

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi repealed three controversial farm laws this week following a year-long demonstration that saw hundreds of thousands of farmers rallying across the country, CBS News reported.

The upheaval began after parliament passed laws in September 2020, which would help deregulate the country’s agricultural sector: The bills would allow farmers to sell their crops directly to private firms instead of licensed middlemen at state-controlled markets, according to Bloomberg.

The government said these laws would help farmers earn more but farmers countered that the bills would mainly benefit large corporations and expose millions of small farmers to exploitation.

The law prompted thousands of farmers to camp out near the capital New Delhi for more than a year, with major protests also occurring in other Indian states, including Punjab and Uttar Pradesh – both major agricultural regions.

After multiple rounds of talks failed to resolve the issue, Modi said the government will repeal the laws in the next parliamentary session on Nov. 29. He blamed the backlash on the failure to explain how the new process would work.

The farmers have welcomed the move even as their leaders said Monday they will continue protesting until their demands are met, including a minimum price guarantee for all major crops.

Opposition politicians, meanwhile, said that Modi’s decision was aimed at securing electoral points in the upcoming elections in the states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh – from where most of the protesting farmers originate.

Glass Half Empty

VENEZUELA

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s governing party and its allies secured a big victory in the country’s local elections Sunday, a vote that also saw the participation of the opposition for the first time in four years, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

The National Electoral Council said that Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela and its allies won 20 of the 23 governor posts, as well as the mayorship of the capital, Caracas. It also said that voter turnout was almost 42 percent.

Sunday’s elections were notable for seeing the return of opposition parties, which had been boycotting elections since the 2018 presidential polls amid allegations of fraud and intimidation from Maduro supporters.

The opposition had unsuccessfully tried to oust Maduro amid international sanctions, which has crippled Venezuela’s economy. The United States and its allies also refused to recognize Maduro as the country’s legitimate leader.

Even so, many of those parties participated after Maduro offered concessions, including allowing a 130-member observer mission from the European Union. The elections, however, represent a major setback for the opposition, which hoped to enhance their profile ahead of the 2024 presidential polls.

The elections come as Maduro is attempting to establish goodwill with the international community in hopes of sanction relief and gaining access to frozen foreign funds. His efforts also include now stalled Norway-brokered talks with opposition leaders in Mexico.

Still, the socialist leader emphasized that the international observers have no authority to give a “verdict” on how the regional elections were conducted, adding that they “must respect the laws of Venezuela, and must strictly respect the regulations of the electoral power that invited them.”

Slap, Slap

LITHUANIA

China downgraded its diplomatic relations with Lithuania this week over the opening of a Taiwanese representative office in the capital, Politico reported.

Last week, Taiwan opened its office in Vilnius, a move aimed at boosting economic relations between the two nations. The office will also act as a de facto Taiwanese embassy.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the opening and said that Lithuania was undermining the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as interfering in China’s internal affairs. It added that the Lithuanian government “must bear all the ensuing consequences,” and called on it to correct its “mistake.”

China considers Taiwan as a breakaway region and has vowed to take it back – even by force, if necessary.

The Lithuanian government said that it regretted China’s decision but emphasized that it was adhering to the “One China” policy. It added that the “reception of the Taiwanese representation in Lithuania is based on economic interests.”

Meanwhile, the European Union said that the opening of the representative office was not a breach of the bloc’s One China policy. Still, it warned that there would be an impact on EU-China relations should Beijing sever ties with Vilnius.

Tensions between China and Lithuania have risen in recent months. In May, Lithuania pulled out of China’s “17+1” format for economic cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe. The mechanism is seen by some as a way to divide the bloc from taking a unified approach against China.

Both countries also recalled their ambassadors following plans to open Taiwan’s office in Lithuania.

Still, a senior Lithuanian official said that it’s unlikely that China will sever diplomatic relations.

“If they do it, they can’t stop us turning to Taiwan, which would be a disaster for them,” he said.

DISCOVERIES

It’s Alive!

In the 1950s, British scientists declared London’s famous River Thames as “biologically dead.”

Turns out, it’s not so dead.

Even though centuries of pollution caused many river creatures to flee, a recent report revealed they are coming back, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Recently, researchers wrote in their first-ever State of the Thames Report that many species, including sharks, seals and seahorses, are appearing in the 215-mile river once again.

The team said two seal species – the harbor and gray seal – were reported swimming around the Thames. They also documented more than 110 fish species in the river but cautioned that the number of species has been in decline since the early 1990s.

Scientists said that while sewage treatment and regulating the inflow of waste has helped improve the river over the decades, they warned that many issues remain.

The report found that nitrate levels – which negatively affect water quality and wildlife – have been rising due to industrial waste and sewage flowing around the British capital.

It also raised concerns about the effects of climate change, noting that some stretches of the river have warmed by 0.34 degrees Fahrenheit annually since 2007.

Even so, scientists and conservationists are making efforts to preserve the Thames’ delicate ecosystem: London is working on the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which will collect and store raw sewage instead of allowing it to overflow into the tidal basin.

Meanwhile, the Zoological Society of London is working with conservationists and other groups to restore parts of the river with native seagrasses and critters such as oysters.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 258,308,740

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,160,529

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 7,430,160,808

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

  1. US: 47,888,192 (+0.33%)
  2. India: 34,526,480 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,020,412 (+0.01%)
  4. UK: 9,942,859 (+0.46%)
  5. Russia: 9,205,431 (+0.38%)
  6. Turkey: 8,598,380 (+0.29%)
  7. France: 7,611,366 (+1.25%)
  8. Iran: 6,082,865 (+0.09%)
  9. Germany: 5,448,578 (+0.89%)
  10. Argentina: 5,315,989 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours