January 13, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

No More Mr. Nice Guy

ETHIOPIA

Air strikes have become a routine part of life in northern Ethiopia.

The strikes are part of the ongoing 14-month-long civil war between Ethiopian central government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a group that once held power in the East African nation. The Eritreans happened to get in the way. Around 150,000 are living in Tigray but have become victims of both sides in the fighting.

Things could change, however. Tigrayan forces have been abandoning territory that they had formerly seized from central government troops, the PBS NewsHour wrote. They sent a note to the United Nations saying they were ready for peace. They could be throwing in the towel due to a lack of supplies. Hospitals in the Tigrayan capital of Mekele, for example, have run out of food, leading to starvation among children, noted the BBC.

But Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, rather than accepting the olive branch, initially opted to keep up the fighting in pursuit of a decisive victory. “The struggle isn’t yet finished,” Abiy said recently, according to the Washington Times. “We should offer a long-lasting solution to make sure the enemy that has tested us doesn’t become a danger to Ethiopia again.”

Abiy behaves as if he has little choice but to keep up the fight, but the New York Times showed he had been planning a campaign against the Tigrayans even before he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending a war with neighboring Eritrea.

The son of an Oromo father and Amhara mother, Abiy, incidentally, has no ethnic ties to the Tigrayans who dominated Ethiopian politics between 1991 and 2018, explained University of Tennessee Sociologist Asafa Jalata in the Conversation.

Abiy’s former minister of women, children and youth, Filsan Abdi, resigned from her job out of disgust with the war, wrote the Washington Post. One of her jobs was to document how soldiers on both sides of the conflict were raping women and recruiting children to fight. She was told to suppress her findings.

On January 7 – Orthodox Christmas – Abiy released several political prisoners, including Tigray People’s Liberation Front members, to help cool tensions. But the announcement of the release did not include anything about peace talks.

In the meantime, the US and China – which is the largest foreign investor in Ethiopia – have dispatched envoys to the country in a bid to quell the civil war or at least prevent an escalation of the conflict. Abiy could have designs on starting a fight with Somaliland, for example, the National Interest argued.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee might want to learn some lessons from this experience.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Rocking the Balance

INDIA

India’s top court will investigate a number of Hindu religious leaders who called for violence against Muslims amid a spike in attacks against minorities, the Associated Press reported.

Last month, religious leaders called on Hindus to arm themselves for “a genocide” against Muslims during a closed-door meeting in the northern holy town of Haridwar in Uttarakhand state. Videos of the meeting were spread through social media.

The court said it was issuing a notice to the state’s authorities to investigate the matter. Police in Uttarakhand said they are probing the case, but no arrests have been made.

Many former military chiefs, rights advocates and celebrities criticized the event, according to Sky News.

Uttarakhand is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Since the BJP’s rise to power in 2014 and reelection in 2019, minorities have faced an increase in attacks and harassment.

Rights groups and civil society say that the absence of harsh punishment has emboldened Hindu extremists, as many see the lack of response as indicating that the attacks have the tacit backing of Modi’s government.

Right-wing Hindus in the city of Gurugram, in Harayana state have repeatedly stopped Muslims from praying in public spaces. The state’s chief minister – a member of the ruling BJP – announced that Muslims should not offer Friday prayers in open spaces.

Hindu right-wing groups also disrupted multiple Christmas celebrations across India last month. In one instance, activists in the northern city of Agra burned an effigy of Santa Claus and claimed that the mythical figure was part of a strategy by Christian missionaries to convert people.

Meanwhile, sectarian polarization is expected to rise ahead of five state elections in the coming months.

Busted

UNITED KINGDOM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized Wednesday for attending a drinks party at 10 Downing Street during the country’s 2020 coronavirus lockdown, amid growing public outcry and calls to resign over the controversial event, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In May 2020, a senior official of Johnson’s team sent an email to staff about a meeting for drinks in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence and office. Around 100 people are believed to have attended when lockdown rules at the time strictly prohibited Britons from meeting more than one other person outdoors.

Johnson said to lawmakers that he attended the party only for 25 minutes “to thank groups of staff,” adding that he “believed implicitly” that it was a work event.

His apology is the latest twist in a scandal – dubbed “Partygate” – that has been bubbling since last year. An internal probe has been launched to look into the allegations, as well as other social events that took place at 10 Downing Street during the lockdown.

London’s Metropolitan Police also said it was considering launching an investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, the scandal has caused an uproar among the British public and caused Johnson’s Conservative Party to see a drop in its approval ratings. YouGov said that 23 percent of the people approve of the government, while a separate poll showed that two-thirds of Britons think Johnson should resign.

Following his apology, opposition lawmakers and senior Conservative Party officials also called for him to do just that.

Johnson’s fate now depends on the internal investigation and his own lawmakers. Under the Conservative Party rules, 54 legislators must send letters of no confidence to a special parliamentary committee to trigger a confidence vote in their leader. More than half of the party’s lawmakers must then vote to oust him.

The Price of Health

CANADA

Canada’s Quebec province plans to tax people who do not get the coronavirus vaccine as the country reels under a surge in cases, the Independent reported.

Quebec’s leader Francois Legault said that people who refuse to get “their first doses in the coming weeks will have to pay a new health contribution.” Legault said his government is ironing out the details of the penalty but added that the amount would be “significant” – at least around $80.

The penalty will not apply to those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

At least 78 percent of people in the French-speaking province have been fully vaccinated, according to Covid-19 Tracker Canada. Quebec officials noted that about 10 percent of the population remains unvaccinated, but they account for about 50 percent of the patients requiring intensive care.

Healthcare analysts suggested that the financial penalty may be essential but called the move “dramatic.” Some questioned whether the proposed measure would survive a court challenge.

The move would make Quebec the first Canadian province to impose a financial tax on the unvaccinated. On Tuesday, Quebec’s death toll from the virus reached 12,028, according to the BBC.

DISCOVERIES

Transferable Skills

Israeli scientists recently discovered through a series of bizarre experiments that fish can easily navigate on land, the Times of Israel reported.

For their study, researchers trained six goldfish to use a special wheeled apparatus to move around a room. The team said the fish would be rewarded with a small portion of food if they were able to reach the targeted area.

In their experiments, the goldfish proved to be fast learners and could easily get to their target even when placed at different points in the room.

The team noted that the animals – falsely reputed to have a remarkably short memory – were not easily fooled by obstacles or fake targets set around the area.

While similar experiments have been done in the past using terrestrial animals, such as dogs and cats, the new study suggests that navigation skills may be transferred from a marine to a terrestrial setting.

“The way space is represented in the fish brain and the strategies it uses may be as successful in a terrestrial environment as they are in an aquatic one,” the authors said. “This hints at universality in the way space is represented across environments.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 317,186,004

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,513,843

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,535,911,749

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

  1. US: 63,203,866 (+1.45%)
  2. India: 36,317,927 (+1.23%)
  3. Brazil: 22,724,232 (+0.39%)
  4. UK: 14,958,196 (+0.89%)
  5. France: 13,042,665 (+2.94%)
  6. Russia: 10,520,898 (+0.17%)
  7. Turkey: 10,197,606 (+0.77%)
  8. Italy: 7,971,068 (+2.60%)
  9. Germany: 7,776,864 (+1.13%)
  10. Spain: 7,771,367 (+2.40%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours



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