January 06, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The Honey-do-list

UKRAINE

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former television star and comedian, has installed friends and colleagues from his comedy studio into the top echelons of his government.

That’s his prerogative as the head of state of the former Soviet republic who was elected two years ago, of course. But his personnel decisions come as Russia has amassed around 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. This situation foreshadows a serious escalation of the conflict that has marked relations between the two countries since 2014.

“I wouldn’t want to be in the room when there are just a couple of guys who know how to produce videos,” Orysia Lutsevych, a Ukraine expert at Chatham House in London, told the New York Times. “This is not a peaceful time. This is a time of war.”

Zelenskyy’s personnel decisions are one sign of how the Ukrainian president is devoting significant time to internal issues as he prepares to fend off a potential Russian invasion, reported the Washington Post. His moves, moreover, could alienate key international and domestic players at a time when the president and his allies might want to present a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has warned the West and NATO from encroaching on territory that was once part of the former Soviet Union.

For example, on Christmas Eve, Ukrainian prosecutors sought an arrest warrant for former President Petro Poroshenko, whom Zelenskyy defeated in 2019, on allegations of high treason and funding pro-Russian separatists, Voice of America wrote. Poroshenko has denied the charges, calling them fabricated. Ukrainian officials said he purposely bought coal from the Russian-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republics in Eastern Ukraine to bolster their independence, MarketWatch explained.

A billionaire who owned a candy consortium, Poroshenko then fled the country, telling the Financial Times that he was meeting Polish and other European politicians to drum up support for the fight against Russia and visiting Orthodox Christian Church leaders in Turkey.

Some Ukrainians felt that Zelenskyy was playing politics. Others, the Kyiv Post noted, saw Poroshenko’s escape abroad as proof that he was guilty.

No matter how one analyzes the move, the prosecution was part of Zelenskyy’s campaign pledge to bring the country’s oligarchs to justice. He has also targeted Rinat Akhmetov, another billionaire whom Ukrainian officials have accused of planning a coup with Poroshenko, wrote CNN.

Even so, critics say it’s not the time to be focusing on putting the house in order. Still, supporters point out there is little Zelenskyy can do to stop Russia on his own. But what he can do is take care of some of the campaign promises that made it onto the to-do list.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Strong Men, Weak Heels

KAZAKHSTAN

Dozens of anti-government protestors died and hundreds more were injured after clashes with security forces in the Kazakh capital and other cities early Thursday in the largest demonstrations the oil-rich country has experienced since gaining independence three decades ago, the Associated Press reported.

At least eight law enforcement officers have been killed and almost a hundred injured since protests broke out over the weekend, according to the Interior Ministry. Officials in Almaty said “extremist forces” attempted to storm several government buildings, including the police department Wednesday, the Washington Post reported. Video from Russia’s Tass state news agency showed armed security forces engaged in a shootout near the main square of Almaty. “Dozens of attackers have been eliminated,” said Almaty police spokesperson Saltanat Azirbek. At the same time, on Wednesday, protesters set fire to government buildings and briefly took over the airport.

The protests led Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to declare a state of emergency Wednesday as Russian “peacekeepers” arrived to help restore calm, France24 reported. Other neighbors plan to send forces also. Meanwhile, residents of major cities were warned to stay home during the “anti-terrorism” operation to squash protests. Hundreds have been detained by police. The internet and banking services have been shut down.

The demonstrations erupted over the weekend in the western Mangistau province after the government lifted price controls on liquefied petroleum gas on Jan. 1. The move prompted outrage because many Kazakhs have converted their vehicles to run on LPG because of its low cost.

The demonstrations turned violent and later spread to other cities, resulting in clashes between protesters and police.

The unrest also led to the resignation of the government, which has shaken Kazakhstan’s image as a politically stable – albeit tightly controlled – nation. The former Soviet republic has been able to attract hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investment into its oil and metals industries.

Following the government’s resignation, Tokayev declared a state of emergency and ordered the reinstatement of LPG price controls. He also expanded price controls to other “socially important” consumer goods, including gasoline and diesel.

He blamed domestic and foreign elements for instigating the violence.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s ally, Russia, said it was “closely following the events in the brotherly neighboring country,” urging a “peaceful solution.”

No Vax, No Way

AUSTRALIA

Tennis star Novak Djokovic was detained after arriving at a Melbourne airport Wednesday, thrown into a hotel for undocumented immigrants and told to go home after Australians erupted with outrage because he received permission to attend a tournament in the country without receiving a vaccine exemption, CNN reported.

On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the nine-time Australian Open champion “didn’t have a valid medical exemption” to the vaccination requirement for all arrivals, adding that, “he is subject to the same rules as everyone else.”

Earlier this week, Djokovic had said on social media that he was headed to the “Down Under” to attend the Australian Open, a post that ended months of uncertainty about his participation due to the country’s strict Covid-19 vaccination requirements, NBC News reported.

The world’s top-ranked male player has refused to reveal his vaccination status.

Many Australians criticized the announcement, with some questioning why Djokovic would be granted a free pass “when thousands of Australians were denied seeing loved ones, dying family members … over the last two years.” Meanwhile, covid numbers have been spiking in recent weeks.

Morrison had said Wednesday that there should be “no special rules” for Djokovic. However, his comments came a few hours after he had said the decision to exempt the tennis star was up to the government of Victoria, the state hosting the tournament.

Victoria state has ordered that all players, staff and fans attending the Australian open on Jan. 17 must be fully vaccinated unless there is a legitimate reason why an exemption should be granted.

The state government and Tennis Australia noted that Djokovic was one of 26 successful applicants who sought exemptions from being vaccinated but did not receive any special treatment.

In 2020, Djokovic came under fire for taking part in an exhibition series he organized in Serbia and Croatia, even though he had tested positive for the virus.

Meanwhile, an upcoming election that looked like a cakewalk for the conservative government is now a toss-up because of the government’s latest misstep, the Washington Post noted.

A Market for Harassment

INDIA

Indian police detained three people in connection with a fake auction app that shared the photos of more than 100 Muslim women and put them for “sale,” sparking outrage over the discrimination of minorities in India, BBC reported Wednesday.

Authorities in Mumbai said the individuals are being interrogated and that they are expecting to make arrests in the case.

The detentions follow widespread anger over “Bulli Bai,” an app where pictures of numerous Muslim women – including journalists, activists and critics of the Hindu nationalist government – were uploaded without their permission. The women would then be “auctioned” online in an attempt to humiliate and degrade them.

The app was hosted on the US-based GitHub website before being removed.

Bulli Bai is the second fake auction app in recent months targeting Muslim women: In July, an app called “Sulli Deals” created profiles of dozens of women using photos they uploaded online and described them as “deals of the day.”

Sulli Deals has been shut down but authorities have yet to detain anyone in connection to it.

Many Muslim women say these shenanigans are the result of rising Hindu nationalism in India under the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both apps use names that are derogatory terms for Muslim women.

Analysts told the Washington Post that the auction apps exemplify the “extreme xenophobia and misogyny used by Hindu nationalists to foster ascendancy.”

Instances of religious violence between Hindus and Muslims have risen in recent months while critics of the BJP are frequently attacked and trolled online.

The ruling party has said that it responds quickly to religious tensions and that claims of hate crimes against Muslims are sometimes the result of media attempts to discredit the administration.

DISCOVERIES

Royal Time Capsule

Archaeologists will not need to open Egyptian sarcophagi in the future to learn their secrets, according to New Scientists, they can use computed tomography (CT) scans to digitally unwrap the mummies of pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt.

In their paper, researchers Sahar Saleem and Zani Hawass explained that the hundreds of high-resolution X-ray slices helped map out the recently scanned mummy of an ancient pharaoh who ruled during the New Kingdom era.

The team said that the mummy belonged to king Amenhotep I, who ruled between 1525 to 1504 BCE. They said that the pharaoh’s sarcophagus was originally uncovered in 1881 but his remains have been left untouched since then because of the highly preserved wrapping and ornate facemask.

“Royal mummies of the New Kingdom were the most well-preserved ancient bodies ever found, so these mummies are considered a time capsule,” said Saleem.

The CT scans of his skeleton and soft tissue showed that the king was 35 years old and was five feet, six inches tall when he died.

Their findings also deciphered a long-standing mystery about Amenhotep I’s second embalming: Saleem and Hawass found that ancient priests “lovingly” re-embalmed the king 300 years after his entombment after grave robbers plundered his coffin.

This careful handiwork helped give the pharaoh’s remains their pristine appearance for more than 3,000 years.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 297,896,231

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,465,827

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,312,615,708

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

  1. US: 57,762,144 (+1.22%)
  2. India: 35,109,286 (+0.26%)
  3. Brazil: 22,328,252 (+0.00%)
  4. UK: 13,918,510 (+1.42%)
  5. France: 11,027,112 (+3.11%)
  6. Russia: 10,405,684 (+0.15%)
  7. Turkey: 9,720,831 (+0.69%)
  8. Germany: 7,388,048 (+0.92%)
  9. Spain: 6,922,466 (+2.02%)
  10. Italy: 6,756,035 (+2.88%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours



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