The World Today for January 17, 2022

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Fed Up, Pushed Down


Officials in Kazakhstan recently announced that, with the help of Russian troops, stability had returned to the Central Asian country.

Their definition of stability raised eyebrows around the world. More than 200 people died and more than 5,000 people were detained as Russian and local forces violently quashed protests against “corruption, living standards, poverty and unemployment” in the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic, CNN reported.

The protests were a test of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s autocratic regime. They were also a test of the worldview of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has exercised muscular Russian power around the world in recent years, including most spectacularly in Ukraine, another former Soviet republic that Russian troops are poised to invade on word from the Kremlin.

As the Associated Press explained, a spike in fuel prices lit the match that started the street protests in Kazakhstan. As the civil unrest spread, Tokayev dismissed his government. That didn’t quell the demonstrations. He then called the protesters “terrorists” and asked for Russian military help – not unlike Syrian President Bashar Assad did in 2015 when he faced a rebellion that he couldn’t stop.

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Kazakhs are fed up with their economy and political system, wrote Peter Leonard, a journalist who covers the region, in a Guardian op-ed. While luxury homes and hotels are common in the financial capital of Almaty, the average monthly salary in the country is less than $600. Professionals, especially government employees, must solicit bribes to make ends meet.

Internal politics were at play, too. Tokayev was the protégé of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan from 1990 to 2019. As the protests escalated, Tokayev removed 81-year-old Nazarbayev from the country’s powerful Security Council in a bid to show that he, not his former mentor, was the boss. Tokayev’s intelligence chief, Karim Masimov, was also arrested for treason. The chaos, in other words, could have been part of a power struggle rather than a pure grassroots uprising, noted the New York Times.

Putin, meanwhile, appears to have used Tokayev’s request for outside troops as a chance to reverse the “disintegration of historical Russia” that he claims has been occurring since the collapse and breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, wrote the Washington Post. Russian soldiers stopped an attempt by “terrorists, criminals, looters” to control Kazakhstan, said Putin, according to Reuters. He also might have been sending Western diplomats a message about Ukraine shortly before a meeting to discuss the future of that European country, argued Radio Free Europe.

If Tokayev thinks he’s in charge now, he might want to think again.


Saga’s End


Tennis star Novak Djokovic left Australia Sunday after losing an appeal to avoid deportation and compete in the Australian Open, concluding a long-running saga that began earlier this month over his Covid-19 vaccination status, CNN reported.

The issue began when Djokovic arrived in Australia on Jan. 5 to defend his title in the Australian Open. Djokovic had announced earlier that he was allowed to enter the country without being vaccinated because he received an exemption from Tennis Australia and the state of Victoria to participate in the tournament.

Djokovic’s announcement sparked a controversy that later prompted Australian immigration authorities to detain him and cancel his visa. They argued that the tennis champion did not qualify for a medical exemption under Australia’s strict border policies to keep out Covid-19.

Last week, a court ruled in favor of Djokovic and ordered authorities to release him from detention. The issue took another turn Friday, when Immigration Minister Alex Hawke moved to cancel his visa for a second time over concerns that Djokovic’s presence – and dismissive attitudes toward anti-coronavirus measures – may be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public, according to the Associated Press.

Three federal court judges later dismissed Djokovic’s appeal. The tennis player said he was “extremely disappointed” with the latest decision and felt “uncomfortable” about the attention he had received since his first visa was canceled.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed the ruling as a “decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe.” But Djokovic’s case and Australia’s pandemic response have become a politically-charged issue in the country ahead of the upcoming May elections.

Opposition politicians said Djokovic was being deported because of what he said and did publicly in other countries before the government granted him a visa in November.

Deliberate Breaches


Portugal’s data protection commission ordered the mayor’s office in the capital, Lisbon, to pay a $1.4 million fine for sending the personal data of protesters to foreign countries, amid concerns that providing the information could endanger them, the Washington Post reported.

The commission found that Lisbon had violated the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in more than 200 instances. It added that Lisbon’s municipal government failed to follow transparency regulations and illegally shared private data.

The fine comes nearly a year after Lisbon’s then-Mayor Fernando Medina admitted that his office had shared the personal details of three protest organizers with Russian diplomats. The protesters were organizing local rallies in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

A probe by Medina’s office later found more breaches. Countries such as Cuba, Angola and Venezuela also received private data of protest organizers targeting them.

Medina – a member of the center-left Socialist Party – later apologized for the “bureaucratic error” and was voted out of office following the scandal. The administration of his successor, Carlos Moedas of the right-leaning Social Democrat Party, called his predecessor’s error “a heavy legacy” and said that the fine would cause a strain on the municipality’s budget.

Data sharing outside the bloc became illegal in the EU following the implementation of the GDPR in 2018. The data protection regulation puts heavy restrictions on the transfer of data outside the bloc and only allows it for about a dozen countries.

Joining the Fold


Serbian citizens voted Sunday in a constitutional referendum aimed at bringing the Balkan nation closer to joining the European Union, Bloomberg reported.

Voters will decide whether to change the constitution to create a more independent judiciary in line with the standards of the EU. The amendments would shield judges and prosecutors from political influence. They would also give top judges and academics the power to appoint and dismiss members of the judiciary.

If voters back the referendum, the changes would then require parliamentary approval.

The United States and the EU support the amendments as an effort to strengthen the rule of law through a more independent judiciary.

Analysts noted that the referendum will be a measure of support for President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Progressive Party ahead of the April general elections.

The constitutional revamp has raised tensions in the country’s polarized politics.

Opposition parties have called on voters to reject the measure or not cast their ballot. They warned that the new rules are a “privatization” of state powers and will hand control over the judiciary to a small, unelected group.

Serbia has been trying to join the EU for more than a decade, but the country’s ongoing dispute with its former province, Kosovo, has hindered accession talks.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia still does not recognize it as a separate country – even though Belgrade has pledged to normalize relations with Prishtina before joining the EU, according to Reuters.


Natural Defenses

Scientists recently discovered that an antibiotic-resistant pathogen evolved naturally on the skin of wild hedgehogs about 200 years ago, BBC reported.

An international research team collected more than 1,000 samples of the superbug – known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – from wildlife around Europe. The researchers then created a genetic code-based timeline to determine its origins.

In their study, the team wrote that the resistant strain first showed up in European hedgehogs in the early 1800s – long before the clinical use of antibiotics.

The researchers said that evolution occurred during a battle between bacteria and a skin fungus that is common on hedgehogs – and which produces antibiotics.

“The bacteria needed to be resistant because, if you want to live on the hedgehog – where there’s a fungus, you have to be resistant to the antibiotics it’s producing,” said co-author Mark Holmes.

Holmes and his colleagues noted that the pathogen has a very low chance of infecting humans, but added that the study has important implications about antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Originally, scientists suspected that MRSA emerged in dairy cattle due to the prolonged use of antibiotics on farms.

But the study indicates antibiotic resistance can arise naturally, as well. The paper is part of an ongoing effort to understand where and how superbugs emerge to identify risks to humans.

Antibiotic resistance remains one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development. While it can occur naturally, misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is mainly what is making remedies ineffective against various infections, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 328,127,717

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,539,795

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,626,549,699

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

  1. US: 65,699,947 (+0.38%)
  2. India: 37,380,253 (+0.70%)
  3. Brazil: 23,015,128 (+0.14%)
  4. UK: 15,316,542 (+0.46%)
  5. France: 14,283,807 (+1.99%)
  6. Russia: 10,621,410 (+0.00%)**
  7. Turkey: 10,459,094 (+0.52%)
  8. Italy: 8,706,915 (+1.84%)
  9. Spain: 8,093,036 (+0.00%)**
  10. Germany: 8,021,341 (+0.36%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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