The World Today for December 16, 2021

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Tits, Tats, Tragedies

UNITED KINGDOM / FRANCE

British novelist and Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah, who was born in Zanzibar but came to the United Kingdom as a refugee in the 1960s, recently decried the UK and France’s policies towards the desperate African, Middle Eastern and South Asian migrants who have been seeking asylum and job opportunities in Europe in recent years.

“There is something quite inhumane I think in the responses of these two governments,” he said during a press conference after accepting his Nobel medal, according to Agence France-Presse. “It’s rather strange almost to see the language, the narrative that is constructed against or about these attempts to cross.”

Gurnah made his comments around two weeks after 27 migrants drowned as they traveled from France to Britain via the English Channel in an inflatable raft, as CNN reported. French authorities are investigating whether five alleged smugglers linked to the tragic incident should be charged with murder and other crimes, RFI noted.

In the meantime, the Brits and French are trading barbs over the issue.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex recently rejected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposal to install British security forces in France to prevent migrants from attempting the crossing, citing concerns about French “sovereignty” that appeared to allude cheekily to Brexit – Britain’s withdrawal of the European Union last year. Castex similarly rejected Johnson’s idea of deporting migrants who reach Britain back to France.

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As the Financial Times explained, Castex has lectured Johnson in the past about how Britain needed to crack down on human trafficking networks, illegal labor and other conditions that draw migrants to Britain. In another incident covered in the Independent, a French minister said British officials tolerated “quasi-modern slavery” when they failed to dissuade migrants to work illegally.

The coronavirus pandemic has reduced the amount of migration to Britain, wrote Al Jazeera. Now, however, the influx appears to have picked up once again. Many British voters approved of Brexit in a 2016 referendum because more than 200,000 illegal immigrants entered Britain through the EU in 2015. Many want to go to the UK rather than France because they have family or other connections there, the BBC added.

The two sides must collaborate, a Bloomberg editorial urged, adding that France and the EU are not blameless. EU rules stipulate that migrants must remain in the country where they first arrive in the bloc. That policy has put enormous pressure on Greece, Italy and Spain while protecting other nations that might have the capacity to hold newcomers.

And still, the migrants come.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Besties

CHINA AND RUSSIA

The leaders of Russia and China met in a virtual summit Wednesday, a meeting seen as an effort to boost the relationship between the two nations amid deteriorating relations with Western nations and economic sanctions, the Associated Press reported.

Officials from both sides said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, spoke about buttressing relations between the two countries. They also addressed recent security issues, including Moscow’s heightened tensions with the West over Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s border.

Putin said that Russia needs assurances that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or deploy its forces there. The Kremlin has previously said it has no plans to invade Ukraine and blamed the latter for tensions because of its move to mobilize troops to the country’s war-torn east.

During the meeting, Xi said that he “understands Russia’s concerns and fully supports our initiative to work out these security guarantees for Russia.”

The Chinese leader was also quoted saying that both countries “need to carry out more joint actions to more effectively safeguard our security and interests.”

Putin and Xi also agreed to meet in Beijing in February during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Multiple Western nations, including the United States, Canada and Britain, have refused to send officials to the event as part of a diplomatic boycott because of China’s human rights record.

Wednesday’s summit underscores recent efforts by both countries to foster closer ties with each other to counter US dominance in the international sphere. Both countries have been subjected to Western sanctions: Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny; China over the treatment of its Muslim Uyghurs and crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The recent meeting was also seen as a counter to the Biden administration’s “Summit for Democracy” last week. The summit was widely seen as an effort to build a united front against authoritarian governments such as those in Russia and China, according to the New York Times.

Bull-headed

MEXICO

Mexico’s capital is planning to ban bullfighting, a measure that has divided Mexicans over animal rights issues and preserving cultural practices, the Washington Post reported.

Local lawmakers proposed the legislation this month and a vote will likely take place early next year. The draft law would ban “holding public shows in which bulls, steers and calves are abused, tortured or deprived of life.” Violators could face fines up to $234,000.

The effort follows similar bans in parts of Spain, Ecuador and other Mexican states.

Mexico is one of a few countries where bullfighting is still permitted in its oldest form: A bull is raised for the fight and usually dies in the ring by the matador’s sword. Mexico City also hosts the largest bullring in the world, the Plaza Mexico – or Plaza de Toro – which hosts nearly 55,000 spectators.

Even so, many animal rights advocates – including lawmakers from Mexico City’s Congress – criticized the sport for its barbarism and treatment of bulls. However, many bullfighting advocates worry that a ban could have economic repercussions, saying that the sport supports around 18,000 jobs.

Some also noted that the bulls raised for fights can’t be domesticated and their breed could eventually die out.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador initially suggested a public referendum on whether to outlaw the sport nationwide but later relented and noted that the issue was “polemical.”

Checkmate

BELARUS

A Belarus court sentenced the husband of prominent opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 18 years in prison this week, the latest move by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to silence his opponents, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The court said that blogger and activist Siarhei Tsikhanouski was guilty of numerous charges, including organizing mass riots, arson and the destruction of property. Five other associates were also sentenced to terms between 14 and 16 years.

The defendants were also ordered to pay the equivalent of more than $1 million in damages to the state.

Authorities arrested Tsikhanouski last year, a few months before the country’s presidential elections. The activist had hoped to compete in the August 2020 polls but following his arrest, his wife ran in his place. Tsikhanouskaya lost the election to Lukashenko but many of her supporters claimed the vote was rigged.

Months of protests followed the contentious elections, with protesters accusing Lukashenko of stealing the elections. Lukashenko’s regime unleashed a violent crackdown in response and arrested numerous opposition leaders.

Tsikhanouskaya, however, fled the country and has since tried to rally international support against Lukashenko’s regime.

The verdict comes as Lukashenko has been facing criticism from Western nations over his crackdown and Europe’s recent migrant crisis.

European Union officials have accused the longtime leader of encouraging thousands of migrants to travel to Belarus and attempt to cross the border into Poland in retaliation for EU sanctions against the country and certain top officials.

Lukashenko has denied the allegations.

DISCOVERIES

Bolt’s Rivals

A paleontologist team discovered that some dinosaur species were so fast, they could outrun Olympic Gold medalist Usain Bolt – the fastest person in the world, Reuters reported.

In a new study, researchers examined two trackways of fossilized footprints found in northern Spain dating to the Cretaceous Period, about 120 million years ago.

Each track showed an impression of a three-toed foot with claws. Scientists say they were made by two theropods of the same species – a group of primarily meat-eating dinosaurs that walked on two feet.

Researchers estimated the running speed of the two dinos by calculating the creature’s hip height and stride length. Their results showed that one of the extinct giant lizards could reach speeds of about 27.7 miles per hour – nearly matching sprinter Bolt’s highest-achieved speed of 27.8 miles per hour.

That speed is one of the highest ever estimated for a dinosaur. The discovery also provides fresh insight into the velocity of dinosaurs. Previous fossilized tracks mostly show dinos walking, instead of running.

The team is still determining whether the theropods were fish-eating Spinosaurs or Carcharodontosaurs, known for their sharp teeth.

The researchers added that the creatures were probably almost 16 feet long, more than six feet tall and weighed between 440 to 661 pounds.

“Their capacity to run very quickly and their maneuvering abilities surely allowed them to chase prey very efficiently,” said lead author Pablo Navarro-Lorbes. “And of course, I wouldn’t like to be caught by this guy on a riverbank.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 272,243,262

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,330,556

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 8,552,888,145

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

  1. US: 50,374,552 (+0.27%)
  2. India: 34,718,602 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,201,221 (+0.02%)
  4. UK: 11,073,455 (+0.71%)
  5. Russia: 9,927,150 (+0.00%)
  6. Turkey: 9,102,294 (+0.22%)
  7. France: 8,504,074 (+0.78%)
  8. Germany: 6,690,570 (+0.86%)
  9. Iran: 6,162,954 (+0.04%)
  10. Spain: 5,393,268 (+0.51%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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