November 24, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Punching Above Its Weight

ERITREA

The US government recently imposed sanctions on Eritrea’s sole political party and military forces to punish the East African country’s role in the bloody civil war in neighboring Ethiopia.

For the past year, Eritrea has been helping Ethiopia combat a rebellion in the country’s northern Tigray region. Eritrean troops have been looting, murdering and sexually assaulting civilians and preventing humanitarian aid from entering the warzone, CNN reported.

Despite Eritrea’s help, the fight has not been going well for Ethiopia, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently declared a state of emergency after the main rebel force, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, drew dangerously close to the capital of Addis Ababa. As National Public Radio explained, Ahmed has recalled retired soldiers to duty and asked civilians to acquire whatever weapons they can in order to mount a defense of the city. He also declared this week he would lead troops on the frontlines, because he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, CNN noted.

Ahmed, incidentally, won a Nobel Peace Prize for reaching a peace accord between his country and Eritrea two years ago.

Regardless, Eritrea called the US sanctions “illicit and immoral,” according to Voice of America. Reports suggest that the country’s motivations for joining the fight are less than pure, however.

Eritrean soldiers might be in Ethiopia, for example, in order to crackdown on around 20,000 Eritrean refugees who fled the country and settled in the Tigray region in Ethiopia over the past 20 years.  The refugees were fleeing “military service, torture, and prison in one of Africa’s most repressive states,” Reuters wrote.

Journalists in Eritrea, for example, face an incredibly dangerous climate, argued Amnesty International. Twenty years ago, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki shut down all private media after one outlet published a public letter signed by his own government officials calling for democratic reforms, Time magazine added.

Samuel Ghebhrehiwet, an Eritrean journalist who was among those who fought against Ethiopia 30 years ago when Eritrea was seeking independence from Ethiopia, wrote about his intense disappointment with his country’s civil rights record. He fought for his people’s freedom, he said, but they have yet to achieve it.

Meanwhile, a London School of Economics blog post portrayed Afwerki, who helped win his country’s independence, as transforming from a “heroic liberator” 30 years ago to an “iron-fisted saboteur” of democracy today.

The US has imposed sanctions on Eritrea before in a bid to compel the country to withdraw troops from another neighbor, Djibouti. But, as the Washington Post editorial board noted, they did not achieve much.

That said, a gesture in the face of such tragedy is better than nothing.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

About Face

CHILE

Chilean far-right candidate José Antonio Kast achieved the most votes in the first round of Chile’s presidential elections, a victory that has puzzled many analysts who predicted more support for left-wing candidates, the Guardian reported.

Results showed that Kast secured 28 percent of the vote, beating his progressive rival Gabriel Boric by two percentage points. The two candidates will now face off in a runoff scheduled for next month.

Kast’s lead in the election came as a surprise: The former congressman has been open about his support of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and campaigned on a platform of migration controls and conservative social values.

Many pollsters and analysts had suggested that Chile was moving more to the left following the 2019 mass protests against inequality that rocked the country. The large demonstrations also lead to the election of a broadly left-wing assembly tasked with revamping the Pinochet-era constitution.

Right-wing politicians also secured about half the seats in the senate during the congressional elections that took place the same day as the presidential polls, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Political analysts predict that the runoff will be a tight race as both Kast and Boric are attempting to attract centrist voters, including those who voted for libertarian Businessman Franco Parisi – he came in third with about 13 percent of the vote.

Lashing Out, Biting Back

HUNGARY

The European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that judges in European Union nations cannot be forbidden from consulting the bloc’s top court in a ruling that highlights the latest spat between Hungary and the 27-nation union, Politico reported.

The verdict arose from a case involving a Swedish citizen facing criminal proceedings in Hungary and whether that individual has provided proper translation services. The judge in that case consulted the ECJ as to whether Hungarian law on the matter complied with EU law.

However, Hungary’s Supreme Court declared the request unlawful and initiated disciplinary measures against that judge. The judge then asked the EU’s top court to weigh in on the matter.

The ECJ dismissed the higher court’s decision, saying that “such proceedings are liable to deter all national courts from making references for a preliminary ruling, which could jeopardize the uniform application of EU law.”

The decision is the latest verdict against Hungary over rule-of-law issues: Last week, the ECJ ruled that a Hungarian bill aimed at criminalizing assistance for asylum seekers violated EU law. At the same time, the verdict comes amid ongoing disputes between the EU and Hungary over a number of issues including judicial independence, LGTBQ+ rights, corruption and press freedoms.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is delaying Hungary’s approval of billions in pandemic recovery funds due to concerns over corruption.

The EU’s executive body sent a letter to Hungary inquiring how the bloc’s money is being disbursed in the country. The move was seen as an unofficial first step toward triggering a never-before-used procedure that may prevent Hungary from receiving EU funds.

Thug Leadership

HAITI

Haitian authorities confirmed this week that two of the 17 missionaries who were kidnapped last month have been freed even as criminal activities by gangs continue to plague the troubled Caribbean nation, USA Today reported.

The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministry and the Haitian police said that the hostages are safe but could not confirm the names of those released.

The abducted missionaries, which includes 16 Americans and one Canadian, were kidnapped on Oct. 16 east of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

A gang named 400 Mawozo claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, demanding $17 million in ransom. Gang leader Wilson Joseph threatened to kill the missionaries if his demands were not met. He also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the chief of Haiti’s National Police, Léon Charles.

One source told the Miami Herald that no ransom was paid and the hostages were two adults that were freed because of illness.

Haiti has been plagued with rising criminality and a political crisis following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July.

Kidnappings are one of the most under-reported crimes in the country but they have been on the rise in recent months: More than 800 people – including 54 foreigners – have been abducted from January to October, according to the Haitian-based Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights.

Gang violence, meanwhile, has also caused shortages of diesel and gasoline because criminal groups have been blocking fuel distribution in the country.

DISCOVERIES

The New Sniffer

Sniffer dogs, move over – scientists have developed new artificial intelligence that can quickly identify chemical structures of psychoactive “designer drugs,” New Scientist reported.

The novel DarkNPS tool can help authorities fast-track lab tests of substances such as cocaine and heroin that have been designed to evade detection.

Lead researcher Michael Skinnider and his team explained in their paper that they trained the AI by including the tandem mass spectrometry results of around 1,700 known designer drugs collected from forensic labs across the globe.

Tandem mass spectrometry is a technique that reveals information on the mass of a molecule and the elements found in it.

The team wrote that the machine learning tool can identify patterns between tandem mass spectrometry data and chemical structures. Their findings showed the machine could guess a molecular structure of a substance with a 51 percent accuracy.

That number increased to 86 percent if the AI could narrow down its search to the top ten predictions.

“This could save an enormous amount of time and make it possible to identify new designer drugs much sooner after they’ve hit the market,” said Skinnider.

The authors also noted that the machine could be used to look into drugs that could be developed in the future.

Editor’s Note

Our sincere thanks to the many subscribers who responded so thoughtfully to our question about the daily COVID Update. The response was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping it until the pandemic has more definitively run its course. We also received a wide array of interesting suggestions for changes or additions to the Update and we’ll be reviewing those to see what might be possible. And to all of our subscribers in the United States, our very best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 258,854,101

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,167,464

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 7,452,393,750

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

  1. US: 47,982,843 (+0.20%)
  2. India: 34,535,763 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 22,030,182 (+0.04%)
  4. UK: 9,985,879 (+0.43%)
  5. Russia: 9,238,330 (+0.36%)
  6. Turkey: 8,626,550 (+0.33%)
  7. France: 7,553,551 (-0.76%)**
  8. Iran: 6,088,009 (+0.08%)
  9. Germany: 5,516,623 (+1.25%)
  10. Argentina: 5,317,633 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country