The World Today for January 31, 2022

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Easy Come, Easy Go

MALI

Leaders in Mali recently ordered Danish troops out of the country, saying they never received permission to operate there with a French-led counterterrorism force. Danish officials said they had a “clear invitation” to deploy to the West African country, while France and 14 other countries in the force issued a statement asking Malian leaders to change their minds.

There was more to the order than Mali’s explanation would suggest, however, Reuters explained. Recently, the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States slapped sanctions on Mali’s transitional government for failing to hold elections after two military coups.

Malian Colonel Assimi Goita ousted two of Mali’s presidents in 2020 and 2021. He had promised to hold elections in February but has since postponed the vote until 2026, saying terrorism and instability precludes a ballot, CNN reported.

The first ousted head of state, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, recently passed away at the age of 76. Malians initially viewed Keita as honest, the New York Times wrote, but allegations of corruption, nepotism and rigged elections marred his administration. When he fell from power, looters broke into his son’s mansion and photographed themselves swimming in his pool.

Meanwhile, the international sanctions have caused food shortages and inflation to spike. “I used to buy one kilogram of meat, now I can only afford half a kilo,” a shopper in a market in Bamako, the capital, told France 24. “Some people now buy fish instead of meat because it’s too expensive.”

Democracy is important no matter where it strives to grow. But Mali is a special case because the country is also “the epicenter of one of the world’s fastest-growing Islamist insurgencies,” wrote the Washington Post.

France had been devoting significant military resources to fight terrorism in Mali, sending soldiers to the country in 2013 to battle al Qaeda and raising troop levels to 5,100 last year. However, facing domestic pressure to end an overseas adventure in a country ruled by a junta, French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that he would reduce troops to 2,000 this year.

Meanwhile, the fighting goes on. For example, a recent mortar attack on a French army base killed a French soldier and injured an American soldier, Stars and Stripes noted.

As France and other Western countries draw down their presence, Russia is moving in, Al Jazeera added. Malian leaders said they were trainers. But others believe they might be among 1,000 Russian mercenaries who are part of the Wagner Group, a contractor that allegedly has ties to the Russian government.

In nature and in politics, vacuums tend to be filled.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Loud Fringe

CANADA

Thousands of people marched in front of the Canadian parliament over the weekend to protest the government’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for truckers and other health regulations, Insider reported.

The demonstrations began as a convoy of trucks arrived in the capital, Ottawa, on Friday after driving for nearly a week across Canada. Dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” the protesters and their supporters denounced the new Covid-19 vaccine mandates imposed earlier this month for truckers who cross the US-Canadian border.

The measures require truckers to present proof of inoculation to cross the border, while the unvaccinated must quarantine and take a Covid-19 test when they return from the United States.

Meanwhile, the demonstrations have broadened into a protest against Canada’s public health measures and government overreach in the pandemic, the New York Post wrote.

While the protests remained peaceful, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family were moved from their Ottawa home to a secret location because of security concerns. Police said no charges have been brought against any demonstrators.

Earlier in the week, the prime minister said that almost 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated and added that “the best way to continue to prevent supply chain disruptions is to ensure that everyone gets vaccinated.”

He had initially described the convoy as a “small fringe minority.”

The protests have received support from a number of Conservative lawmakers in both the US and Canada who oppose vaccine mandates. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, however, opposed the demonstrations.

A Reluctant Leader

ITALY

Italian lawmakers reelected incumbent President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday, following a week of intense negotiations and frantic voting among more than 1,000 legislators, Reuters reported.

After seven rounds of balloting, Mattarella received 759 out of 1,009 votes and secured another seven-year term.

The 80-year-old president had initially expressed reluctance to run again. However, he noted that the country’s fragile political stability, the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact meant that he was duty-bound to accept parliament’s decision.

Politicians across the political aisle welcomed his reelection, including Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called it “splendid news for Italians.” Draghi had also run for the presidency but failed to get support.

However, the right-wing Brothers of Italy denounced Mattarella’s reelection and accused other parties of “bartering away” the presidency to ensure the government remains in place until the 2023 general elections.

Despite preserving the status quo, the week-long voting process underscored the deep divisions among the political parties in Draghi’s ruling coalition and raised concerns over Italy’s political stability.

The current coalition includes the main center-left and center-right parties as well as the right-wing League, the once anti-establishment 5-Star movement and a range of smaller parties.

Off the Rails

INDIA

Violent protests erupted in India’s northeastern Bihar state this week after angry job-seekers protested against flaws in the country’s railway recruitment process and widespread unemployment, the Washington Post reported.

Mobs blocked rail traffic, vandalized train cars and also set fire to a train to express their discontent with India’s railway sector, the country’s largest employer.

The unrest began after young applicants seeking jobs in the government-run rail sector said the entrance exam was being run unfairly: Millions had applied for about 150,000 railway jobs in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, a neighboring state, and many allege that the process was not transparent and the test results for different job categories showed the same names multiple times.

Government officials said they would investigate the allegations but warned that people taking part in vandalism could be banned from future employment. At least four people have been arrested on vandalism charges.

Authorities have also detained teachers at schools that coach students for the railway exam, accusing them of inciting or taking part in the protests.

This is not the first time the application process for railway jobs has led to turmoil: In 2018, more than 19 million people – mostly college graduates – applied for 63,000 positions in the sector.

The demonstrations, meanwhile, have underscored the issue of joblessness in India, Asia’s third-largest economy. The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the unemployment rate, which reached nearly eight percent last month.

India’s railway sector employs more than 1.2 million people and the positions are highly coveted: They offer job security and a comparatively good salary, as well as perks such as free train travel.

DISCOVERIES

Sealed With A Kiss

Scientists found that babies and toddlers interpret the sharing of saliva between people as a marker of close relationships and an indicator of whom they can count on, CTV News reported.

In their study, lead researcher Ashley J. Thomas and her team conducted a series of experiments on more than 150 children to see if the kids could determine if two individuals sharing saliva are most likely to have a strong attachment – known as a “thick relationship.”

The babies and toddlers would closely watch via video chat with humans and furry puppets interacting with each other.

In one experiment, a puppet shared an orange slice with one actor, and then played ball with another. Then, the puppet was placed between two people and displayed signs of distress.

The researchers observed that the children “looked first and longer” at the actor that shared food with the puppet, possibly expecting them to help the distressed toy.

In other experiments where the human was the one in distress and placed between two puppets, the young participants would stare at the toy that had engaged in saliva sharing.

The team explained that the findings indicate that “young humans” see saliva-swapping behaviors as a way to better understand the concept of a family structure.

Thomas noted that the study doesn’t mean that people that have “thin” relationships with a child are less capable of taking care of them.

“The idea is that basically both of those types of relationships… are both really important for humans,” she said.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 374,760,646

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,664,286

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,969,764,873

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

  1. US: 74,333,001 (+0.13%)
  2. India: 41,302,440 (+0.51%)
  3. Brazil: 25,360,647 (+0.41%)
  4. France: 19,179,882 (+1.33%)
  5. UK: 16,582,263 (+0.38%)
  6. Russia: 11,547,333 (+0.00%)
  7. Turkey: 11,526,621 (+0.77%)
  8. Italy: 10,925,485 (+0.96%)
  9. Germany: 9,846,032 (+0.68%)
  10. Spain: 9,779,130 (+0.00%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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