The World Today for February 01, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The Toady’s Dilemma

BELARUS

Totalitarian President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus recently issued a message to opposition figures who have left the former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe. “My advice to you: come home, repent and kneel,” Lukashenko said during his annual state of the nation address, according to the Associated Press.

Having served as president for almost 30 years, Lukashenko retained power despite massive protests against his regime in 2020 after winning a sixth term in office through elections that critics said were rigged.

During his address, he also said he would step down if voters opted to reject his proposed amendments to the Belarusian constitution that are scheduled for a vote on Feb. 27. The amendments would allow him to hold power until 2035 and give him more power in the All-Belarus People’s Assembly, a body criticized as a tool that conveys an illusion of democracy.

Proponents of the amendments said they would foster stability. “Belarus will continue to be a welfare state with a focus on education, traditional family values, support for orphans and children left without parental care, as well as the elderly and people with disabilities,” Council of the Republic member Dmitry Baskov told Belta, the country’s state-owned news agency.

The Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC-based think tank, described any notion that the referendum and the amendments would improve Belarus as “farcical.”

Moreover, Russian troops recently moved into Belarus as part of a potential invasion of Ukraine, reported Stars and Stripes. It’s not clear how they might affect the referendum. From Kazakhstan to Ukraine, Russian forces rarely bring democracy or political independence. The European Council on Foreign Relations predicted they would erode Belarusian sovereignty.

Hackers calling themselves “cyber partisans” have already disrupted rail networks in Belarus in order to slow the Russian deployment, the Washington Post wrote.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has propped up Lukashenko’s regime in the past, has cast doubt on whether he wants the Belarussian leader to remain in power. Lukashenko, meanwhile, has appeared to resist Russian attempts to undermine his authority. But Lukashenko has also recently said Belarus would fight alongside Russia if Putin goes to war, as Euronews wrote.

Meanwhile, Poland is currently building a wall along its frontier with Belarus in order to stop asylum seekers from entering their country, reported the Guardian. Polish officials claim Lukashenko encouraged the refugees to come from the Middle East and beyond in order to destabilize the European Union.

Did Lukashenko do that? If so, did he think up the idea himself or do it at the behest of Putin? The answer might not matter in substantive terms but it sure would shed light on how powerful autocrats think.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Open for Business

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The United Arab Emirates will introduce a federal corporate tax on business profits, a move that marks a shift in the country’s global role as a tax-free commerce hub, CNBC reported.

The Ministry of Finance announced Monday that businesses will start paying the new levy from June 1, 2023. The statutory tax rate will be nine percent of taxable income on profits above $102,000 and zero for taxable income up to that amount.

Officials added individuals will continue to be exempt from taxation on earnings from employment, real estate, equity investments, and other sources of personal income unrelated to a UAE trade or business.

Foreign investors who do not conduct business in the UAE will not be subjected to the tax.

Meanwhile, companies operating within the UAE’s free trade zones can “continue to benefit from corporate tax incentives” as long as they “meet all necessary requirements.” Many of these businesses have enjoyed various benefits, including zero taxes and full foreign ownership.

Analyst Khatija Haque told Arab News that the new levy will still allow the UAE to preserve its reputation as a low-tax country. She noted it shows that the UAE “continues to make progress in diversifying its budget revenue away from oil – a corporate tax fits into this strategy.”

The UAE became the latest of five out of six Gulf Cooperation Council countries to adopt corporate tax regimes. Following the UAE, Qatar has the second-lowest corporate tax (10 percent) while Saudi Arabia has the highest – 22.5 percent.

Back by Popular Demand

PORTUGAL

Portugal’s ruling Socialist Party secured a major victory in Sunday’s snap elections, winning enough seats in parliament to govern without a coalition, the New York Times reported Monday.

With nearly all of the ballots counted, the governing party of Prime Minister António Costa received 42 percent of the vote, while the center-right Social Democratic Party gained nearly 28 percent.

The results were a relief for Costa, who has led the country over the past six years and recently gained more popularity for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Portugal: At least 90 percent of the country’s population is vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the world.

The snap polls came out of disputes over Costa’s proposed budget, which involved defections from the prime minister’s left-wing partners.

Many Portuguese had commended Costa for refraining from implementing austerity measures previously adopted by his conservative predecessors after the 2008 financial crisis.

Even so, political analysts noted that many voters remain concerned about the economy and the pandemic. They added that one of the main issues for the new government will again be passing the budget.

Meanwhile, Portugal is waiting on an $18.5-billion infusion from the European Union to stabilize the country’s economy as it recovers from the pandemic. However, the funds are conditional on Portugal meeting certain conditions including reducing its budget deficit.

The Vanishing Icons

AUSTRALIA

Australia will spend $35 million in the next four years to help koalas following the catastrophic 2019-2020 bushfires that decimated their population, USA Today reported.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the additional funds will support the national koala recovery plan created after the bushfires. The money will go to various initiatives such as restoring their habitat, monitoring their populations and boosting research into koala health.

The Australian Koala Foundation reported that koala populations across the country have declined by 30 percent since 2018. The worst decline has been observed in New South Wales, where the marsupials’ numbers have dropped by 41 percent.

A study by the World Wildlife Fund calculated that more than 60,000 had been killed, injured or otherwise adversely affected by the bushfires.

The move was welcomed by conservationists but many said the government needs to do more to help Australia’s national icon.

Scientists have noted how koalas have become difficult to spot. Meanwhile, the federal government is pondering whether to label half of the country’s marsupial population as endangered, according to the Washington Post.

DISCOVERIES

A Rosy Find

Marine researchers stumbled upon a stunning rose-shaped coral reef off the coast of Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean this month, a discovery hailed as a miracle amid a global biodiversity crisis, New Scientist reported.

Researcher Laetitia Hédouin and her colleagues said the reef was located 115 to 230 feet under the surface and is possibly one of the largest reefs ever found at such depths.

It stretches for nearly two miles and measures about 230 feet across at its widest. The team noted that it was made up of two coral species, each located at different depths.

Hédouin expressed relief that the reef was still in pristine condition.

“In the middle of the biodiversity crisis, this is very good news,” she said.

Julian Barbière of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission suggested that the recent find could mean that there could be “many more large reefs in our ocean at such depth that require more investigation.”

Hédouin explained that coral reefs serve an important role for fisheries, tourism and coastal protection. But she warned that natural disasters and human-driven pressures are making them more vulnerable.

It’s unclear if the recent tsunami caused by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in Tonga has affected the reef – the two islands are about 1,700 miles apart.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 378,460,745

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,674,493

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,980,290,237

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

  1. US: 74,942,273 (+0.82%)
  2. India: 41,469,499 (+0.40%)
  3. Brazil: 25,463,530 (+0.41%)
  4. France: 19,264,292 (+0.44%)
  5. UK: 17,431,225 (+5.12%)
  6. Russia: 11,670,366 (+1.07%)
  7. Turkey: 11,619,882 (+0.81%)
  8. Italy: 10,983,116 (+0.53%)
  9. Germany: 10,025,464 (+1.82%)
  10. Spain: 9,961,253 (+1.86%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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