January 07, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Falling From Grace

BENIN

Benin’s former justice minister, Reckya Madougou, had been planning to run for president against cotton magnate Patrice Talon in April. She would have been the country’s first female presidential candidate. And she had a good chance at unseating the incumbent.

Instead, she is now serving a 20-year-long prison sentence after a special terrorism court charged her with crimes relating to the financing of terrorism and then convicted her of plotting to assassinate “political figures.”

One of the judges on the court has fled to France, calling the proceedings against Madougou “tragic” and “phony.” Her lawyer claimed that he had only five minutes to defend her.

“Without witnesses, without documents, without evidence, Madame Reckya Madougou was sentenced to 20 years in prison by three government henchmen,” her attorney told the Washington Post in a statement. “Her crime: Embodying a democratic alternative to the regime. There is no justice in Benin.”

Another one of her lawyers said the ruling was a sign of the “asphyxiation of democracy in Benin” during an interview with the BBC.

Madougou could really be a criminal, of course. But the context of her fate casts doubts on that suspicion.

On the day after Talon won office, one of his opponents, Joel Aivo, for example, was detained on money laundering and conspiracy charges. As Africa News wrote, the special terror court recently sentenced him to 10 years in prison, too. His trial, like Madougou’s, lasted less than two days.

Similarly, opposition leader Sebastien Ajavon was recently sentenced to an additional five years in prison for forgery and fraud in addition to the 20-year sentence he faces on drug trafficking charges from a 2018 case, reported Africa News and Agence France-Presse. Now living in exile in France, Ajavon said the charges were trumped up.

First elected in 2016, Talon won reelection with 86 percent of the vote in April. He faced only two opponents, explained This Day, a Nigerian newspaper. Now it appears he has become yet another African leader who appears disinclined to share power according to the precepts of democratic laws, claimed African Arguments.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse, Wathi think tank founder Gilles Yabi said the judicial persecution of political figures is a double-sided problem in Benin. The country’s courts need to target corrupt officials. But when they neutralize the president’s rivals, the institutions undermine their own legitimacy.

Drug trafficking is a major problem in the country, for example, noted the Africa-based Institute for Security Studies. Corrupt local officials, weak institutions and other issues make it an ideal base for Latin American and Middle Eastern traffickers seeking to move drugs around the world. Regional consumption is on the upswing, too.

Benin used to be a poster child for democracy in Africa. Now it seems the powerful have too much to gain by subverting it.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

#MovePolluteLess

FRANCE

France this week ordered its automakers to include a message on car advertisements that urges viewers to seek more environmentally friendly travel alternatives, the latest effort by the government to fight climate change, the Washington Post reported.

The new regulation is expected to take effect in March. Under the new rules, car manufacturers will be required to choose one of three messages in their ads, as well as include the hashtag #SeDéplacerMoinsPolluer” (#MovePolluteLess).

If advertisers fail to place the message, they could face a fine of up to $56,000.

Automakers said they will comply with the new regulation but some lamented that the measure “stigmatized the automobile” and was “a bit counterproductive” since it does not differentiate between types of cars – for example, the electric vehicles the government has been promoting.

The initiative is the latest to get the French to develop certain habits – or lose them: For example, food advertisements now instruct French consumers to reduce the consumption of junk food and eat more vegetables and fruits.

The regulation comes after years of lobbying from environmental groups and is another attempt by France to combat climate change. Last year, France’s High Council on Climate warned that the country was falling behind on its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels.

Over the summer, the country passed major climate legislation that includes provisions to phase out ads for gasoline and other fossil fuels, as well as offers subsidies for drivers who exchange polluting cars for cleaner models.

Circling the Wagons

AUSTRALIA/ JAPAN

Australia and Japan signed a “historic” defense treaty Thursday aimed at increasing cooperation between the two Pacific nations and countering China’s rising military and economic influence in the region, Al Jazeera reported.

The Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) was signed during a virtual summit between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

The treaty is Japan’s second defense treaty with another nation: The first military pact is with the United States, which dates back to 1960.

Both Morrison and Kishida hailed the agreement as an important moment for the two countries, which came after more than a year of negotiations. The Australian leader added that the treaty will “form an important part” of the two countries’ response to “the uncertainty we now face.”

The RAA will promote joint exercises and the speedier deployment of troops from both countries. It will also make it easier to move weapons and supplies for joint training and disaster relief efforts.

Although China was not explicitly mentioned, analysts said the defense agreement underscored the importance of establishing firm defense partnerships to deter Beijing.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency added that Tokyo will also seek to sign similar pacts with the United Kingdom and France as the two European countries “have been increasing defense cooperation with Tokyo in response to an increasingly assertive China.”

China did not comment on the signing of the RAA.

Ink For All

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union imposed a ban on thousands of chemicals used in tattoo coloring inks this week citing health concerns, a move that many tattooists warned could hurt their industry, BBC reported.

The European Chemicals Agency said the restrictions will apply to various substances that may cause skin allergies and other more serious health impacts, such as “genetic mutations and cancer.” The ban encompasses 4,000 chemicals including isopropanol alcohol, a common ingredient in tattoo inks.

EU health officials added that the draft legislation is aimed at reducing the number of adverse effects, as well as making tattoos and permanent makeup safer.

However, tattoo artists said the ban will further impact their businesses, which have already been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. They said the replacement inks will not be readily available and questioned whether there was a direct link between tattoos and cancer.

Some also expressed concern that the new rules could push people to get tattoos on the black market.

The bloc estimates that up to 12 percent of Europeans have a tattoo.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Journey To The West

A genetic study showed that grapes – known as Vitis vinifera – used to make famous wines such as Merlot and Chardonnay originated from the South Caucasus region of western Asia, according to New Scientists.

Gabriele Di Gaspero of the Italy-based Institute of Applied Genomics said that previous research had suggested that European wine grapes came from the cultivation of wild European populations. He added that they arose independently of the original domestication of the fruit in western Asia about 7,000 years ago.

But in their new paper, Di Gaspero and his team sequenced the genomes of more than 200 wild and cultivated grape varieties and compared the similarity of their DNA sequences to one another.

The findings showed that western Asian table grapes spread westwards toward the Mediterranean and later into the rest of Europe and interbred with the continent’s wild grape populations.

“The wild plants grew close to vineyards and interbred – this was unintentional,” said Di Gaspero, a co-author of the study.

The researchers noted that this interbreeding led to the European wild plant contributing traits that allowed the ancestral grapevines to adapt to Europe’s environment and climate.

“By bringing together this genetic evidence and existing historical evidence, the introductions in southern Europe and inland likely occurred in Greek and Roman times, although we don’t know more specific dates,” added Di Gaspero.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 300,317,508

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,472,694

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,340,911,478

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

  1. US: 58,487,697 (+1.26%)
  2. India: 35,226,386 (+0.33%)
  3. Brazil: 22,328,252 (+0.00%)**
  4. UK: 14,100,750 (+1.31%)
  5. France: 11,290,010 (+2.38%)
  6. Russia: 10,420,863 (+0.15%)
  7. Turkey: 9,789,244 (+0.70%)
  8. Germany: 7,447,158 (+0.80%)
  9. Italy: 6,975,465 (+3.25%)
  10. Spain: 6,922,466 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country



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