The World Today for January 24, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The Technocrat and the Tycoon

ITALY

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 85, was recently admitted to the hospital after dropping out of the running to become president of his country.

A billionaire media magnate, Berlusconi endured numerous sex and corruption scandals during his three stints as prime minister between 1994 and 2011. He currently is facing charges of bribing witnesses in an underage prostitution case that resulted in an acquittal. That biography proves his resiliency, but also raised eyebrows about his intent for the new office he aspired to hold.

While the office is largely symbolic, the Italian president has gained stature and power in recent years as political infighting and corruption have besmirched other politicians, wrote EUobserver. “The Italian presidency, the country’s head of state, is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety whose influence flows from moral authority,” wrote the New York Times.

Italy’s president is not chosen through a direct election. Rather, the head of state is elected by 630 parliamentarians, 321 senators and 58 regional representatives, as Euronews explained.

The path now seems clear for incumbent Prime Minister Mario Draghi, 74, to become Italy’s president. The former head of the European Central Bank, Draghi took over as leader of a technocratic government early last year when his predecessor’s government collapsed during the coronavirus pandemic.

But many openly wonder whether he should leave the premiership to pursue the presidency, since he has done such a good job at bringing political and economic stability to the country, noted CNBC. The Economist, for example, worried that Draghi’s successor might not perform as successfully, threatening the stability of the Eurozone.

Italy is the third-largest member of the Eurozone after Germany and France. Keeping its relatively fragile economy growing is crucial to the future of the economic bloc, added Bloomberg. Draghi’s administration has assured financial markets that Italy can make progress in servicing its massive debt, which is equivalent to 160 percent of gross domestic product, while promoting economic growth of more than six percent annually.

The concerns involve more than just money. On the left, critics argued that, while Draghi enjoys the confidence of many, he was never elected. Instead, incumbent President Sergio Mattarella appointed him. If Draghi becomes president, Italy could be too easily forgetting about democracy while also growing too dependent on a single man, the Guardian argued.

Maybe Draghi shouldn’t be president. But he certainly seems like the best person for the job.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Layout

UKRAINE

Britain accused Russia over the weekend of trying to install a pro-Kremlin leader in Ukraine, as tensions continue to rise between Moscow and the West over a potential Russian invasion, the New York Times reported.

The British government released a communique saying that former Ukrainian lawmaker, Yevhen Murayev, is being considered as a potential candidate. It added that a number of former Ukrainian politicians have links to the Russian intelligence services, including agents involved in planning for an attack on Ukraine.

The communique, however, offered few details about how the Kremlin was planning to install a new government and provided no evidence to back up its assertions.

Russia denied the allegations.

The announcement is the second one in over a week in which a Western power publicly accused Russia of interfering in Ukraine’s affairs. On Jan. 14, the United States accused Moscow of sending saboteurs into eastern Ukraine to provoke tensions that could serve as a pretext for invasion.

It also comes as more than 100,000 Russian soldiers have been mobilized near Ukraine’s borders.

Russia and the West are involved in high-stakes talks to defuse the crisis, with the Kremlin dismissing accusations that it intends to invade Ukraine as “hysteria.”

Meanwhile, Britain has delivered weapon shipments to the Ukrainian military. Baltic countries have also received US permission to send American-made armaments to Ukraine. But Germany – a US ally and NATO member – has refused to send German-made weapons to Kyiv over concerns about exacerbating the current crisis and also Germany’s role in starting World War II and the Nazi atrocities committed in the region, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Analysts noted that Germany’s reluctance underscores the difficulties the US and its European allies are facing in forging a common response toward Russian aggression.

Another One

BURKINA FASO

Mutinous soldiers detained the president of Burkina Faso, Roch Kabore, on Monday, following a weekend of unrest over the government’s handling of a years-long insurgency against Islamist militants in the West African country, the Washington Post reported.

Kabore’s detention came after gunfire rang out from multiple military camps across the country on Sunday. The mutinying soldiers demanded the resignation of the army’s chief of staff and the head of the intelligence service.

They also called for better welfare for wounded soldiers, as well as better training and resources for the army, which has suffered heavy casualties fighting against militants, Reuters reported.

Hundreds of people rallied in the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, in support of the mutineers, while others torched and looted the headquarters of the country’s ruling party.

The government confirmed reports of gunfire but initially denied that the army had seized power or detained the president. The situation later changed when the mutinous soldiers reached the presidential palace late Sunday and physically removed Kabore from office.

The unrest stems from frustration over the government’s attempts to fight militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State. Since 2015, the insurgency has made much of the country ungovernable and displaced at least 1.4 million people. More than 2,000 people have died in the violence.

In November, the killing of 49 security personnel sparked protests calling for Kabore’s resignation.

The recent mutiny also follows the arrest of a dozen soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of conspiring against the government. Analysts said the detentions were part of an army shake-up by Kabore to shore up support within the military.

Kabore’s detention and apparent army takeover mark the third coup in West Africa in less than a year: In September, special forces ousted Guinean President Alpha Conde.

Earlier in May, military officers in neighboring Mali toppled the country’s interim government.

False Alarm

BELARUS

The United Nation’s aviation agency found that the bomb threat that diverted a Ryanair passenger flight to Belarus last year was “deliberately false,” ending a months-long probe over an incident that prompted international outrage, Politico reported.

A report by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) said that it was “unable to attribute the commission of this act of unlawful interference to any individual or State,” in part due to missing information from Belarus authorities.

In May, a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Belarus’ capital, Minsk, after flight controllers told the aircraft they had received a bomb warning from the terrorist group Hamas. The militant group denied any involvement.

Following the plane’s landing, Belarusian authorities arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega. The arrests sparked global condemnation, with the European Union calling the incident “an act of state terrorism.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko described the ICAO investigators as “heroic people” for admitting that his government did not send military jets to force the civilian plane to land, according to the state-run Belarusian Telegraph Agency.

But Belarusian exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said the report “shows that the regime tried to hide facts” about the incident.

ICAO’s 193-country council will discuss the report’s findings on Jan. 31 and consider Belarus’ complaint about sanctions placed on the country following the incident.

Meanwhile, the United States charged four Belarusian government officials with conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy over the forced landing. The Department of Justice said the Belarusian military used MiG-29 fighter jets to ensure the Ryanair plane complied with the orders of flight controllers, Radio Free Europe reported.

DISCOVERIES

Hidden Deep

Antarctica’s Weddell Sea is home to a massive breeding colony of icefish that spans about 93 square miles, Axios reported.

Last year, a group of scientists was investigating the seafloor when they first spotted the fish nests. Initially, they only came across 60 nests, but their findings revealed the vast area was home to nearly 60 million active nests.

“We found fish nest after fish nest for four hours,” said lead author Autun Purser. “Nothing but fish nests.”

Each nest – which could contain 1,500 to 2,500 eggs – was guarded by one male icefish, CNET noted. The researchers believe the icefish used the warmer waters in the area to navigate to the breeding colony.

The team also observed that the colony is a popular destination for seals that like to snack on the icefish.

Currently, the researchers have set up cameras in the water to monitor the nests for the next three years. The authors said that they are trying to learn how the colony delivers nutrients to the unique ecosystem.

They are also calling for the creation of a regional marine protected area in Antarctica to prevent fishing or invasive research and preserve the unique habitat.

“The deep sea and under ice environment are not barren of life,” Purser said.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 351,420,719

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,596,628

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,800,604,036

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

  1. US: 70,700,678 (+0.29%)
  2. India: 39,543,328 (+0.78%)
  3. Brazil: 24,054,405 (+0.51%)
  4. France: 16,808,553 (+1.83%)
  5. UK: 15,966,838 (+0.47%)
  6. Turkey: 10,947,129 (+0.60%)
  7. Russia: 10,923,494 (+0.58%)
  8. Italy: 9,923,678 (+1.46%)
  9. Spain: 8,975,458 (+0.00%)**
  10. Germany: 8,773,032 (+0.65%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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