The World Today for February 02, 2022

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Of Chickens and Eggs

MYANMAR

Aung San Suu Kyi won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy activism in Myanmar, where she spent years in and out of house arrest for opposing her country’s brutal dictatorship. Yet she persisted in opposing the military junta in her southeast Asian country. When Myanmar held its first openly contested elections in 2015, her National League for Democracy, or NLD, won, and she became the de facto leader of the country.

Then one year ago, the military again seized power in a coup. A photo of a Catholic nun, Sister Ann Rose, kneeling before soldiers with her hands spread in a bid to halt the violence during the coup went viral around the world, Agence France-Presse wrote. Since then, the military has killed more than 1,500 people and jailed almost 10,000.

“As the anniversary of the coup draws near, the military has launched indiscriminate airstrikes that have killed civilians in the southeast, blocked life-saving aid, and kept up a bloody campaign against activists and journalists, who have been detained and killed in custody,” claimed Amnesty International.

Recently, a court sentenced Suu Kyi to four years in jail for possessing walkie-talkies, reported the BBC. That punishment was in addition to a separate conviction and sentenced last year to two years for inciting dissent. On Feb. 14, her trial on election fraud charges involving the 2020 election begins, the Associated Press reported. Her party won a landslide victory.

The decisions were part of a broader legal crackdown on dissent, wrote the Guardian. A military tribunal recently sentenced NLD lawmaker Phyo Zayar Thaw and pro-democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu to death, too. Armed groups calling themselves “People’s Defense Forces” have formed to fight back. They and other groups control large swathes of the country.

The contrast between the last year and the decade of Suu Kyi’s administration is stark. As the Economist explained, fighting with rebel groups abated as ceasefires were signed. Economic growth was almost 7 percent annually. Now unemployment is surging, the economy has shrunk by nearly a third and violence is rampant.

To be sure, as the New York Times showed, Suu Kyi is a flawed leader. She garnered intense criticism for rejecting accusations that Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country, was committing genocide against the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Still, the country is in turmoil now, as this Deutsche Welle video illustrates. Australia-based Woodside Petroleum as well as American and French oil giants Chevron and Total have pulled out of the country, saying they can’t operate there while the junta retains power, violates human rights and lets chaos reign, Reuters reported.

The junta, for its part, says it will hold elections once stability returns. But it’s a chicken-and-egg situation: That stability won’t return until the military relinquishes control.

Meanwhile, on this grim anniversary, hundreds of thousands defied the junta by staying home in a “silent strike” that shut stores and markets across the country and halted the business of daily life, France24 reported.

Violence and intimidation might create the illusion of control but at this point, it’s a mirage, disappearing as one approaches.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Going Virtual

INDIA

India will launch its own digital version of the rupee this year, becoming the latest country to join the race to develop state-backed virtual currencies, CNN reported Tuesday.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told parliament that the digital rupee will be introduced sometime in the new fiscal year – which begins in April – and would “give a big boost to the digital economy.” She did not specify what the launch would entail, the virtual currency’s impact, or how widely it will be used.

She added that the government will allow cryptocurrency trading in the country and will impose a 30 percent tax on income from virtual digital assets.

The announcement marks a significant shift by the Indian government, which initially was skeptical and resisted virtual currencies: For years, India has expressed concern about how best to regulate cryptocurrencies and has even considered a ban.

The country’s central bank has also warned that crypto can be used for money laundering and terrorism financing.

Virtual currencies have become attractive to many Indians since the start of the pandemic: Analysts have suggested that the country may have up to 20 million crypto investors.

The proposed plan comes as other major economies are planning to launch their own virtual currencies.

For the last two years, China has been trialing its digital yuan in major cities. The digital currency is one of three payment methods available to athletes, officials and journalists attending the Beijing Winter Olympics this month.

Paws and Profit

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa’s tiger farming industry poses a major threat to the big cat species already in decline, according to a report released by global animal rights charity Four Paws on Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

Lion breeding for commercial hunting and bone exports for Asia is legal in South Africa but some breeders have begun farming tigers in recent years for similar purposes.

The new report found that South Africa exported 359 tigers – almost a tenth of the global tiger population – between 2011 and 2020. Around 255 of them were sold to zoos.

Four Paws said that the animal is not native to South Africa and does not enjoy legal protections. The country also does not have an official count of its tiger population.

Wildlife Trade Expert at Four Paws, Kieran Harkin, noted that many breeders opted to switch to tigers because it was more profitable.

“The market being in Asia was already there, demand was there, so it made perfect sense for the (breeders) to move over to the tiger, which was again even more lucrative than lions,” he told AFP.

Harkin accused the South African government of breaking international laws that stipulate that tigers should not be bred for their parts.

South African officials have yet to comment on the report.

Meanwhile, the organization also urged the country to stop the commercial breeding of all big cats, whose populations have been in decline due to trade with Asian countries.

Off Hours

BELGIUM

Belgium enacted a “right to disconnect” law Tuesday that would give the country’s civil servants the legal right to ignore work-related calls and emails, the latest European country to implement legislation to protect leisure time, the Independent reported.

Under the new bill, about 65,000 federal workers can make themselves unavailable at the end of the normal working day and disconnect from work unless there are “exceptional and unforeseen circumstances.”

It adds that workers “should not be disadvantaged by not answering the phone or reading work-related messages outside normal working hours.”

Minister of Public Administration Petra De Sutter said the law was pivotal in combatting “excessive work stress and burnout” among federal civil servants.

The Belgian government is also considering expanding the legislation to private-sector workers and is reviewing proposals to shorten the workweek to four days for full-time staff.

The “right to disconnect” has been a growing phenomenon in Europe over the past five years but has gained more traction because of the pandemic.

In 2012, German carmaker Volkswagen banned certain employees from answering emails after work hours to avoid stress. Last year, Portugal approved a series of laws that prevent employers from contacting remote workers after hours in companies that have more than 10 employees.

Spain, Greece and Ireland are also considering similar measures.

DISCOVERIES

Ancient Slurpers

More than a century ago, Russian archaeologists came across a set of silver and gold tubes while digging up a burial mound near the city of Maikop, north of the Caucasus Mountains.

The large mound – known as kurgan – was believed to belong to a king in the area, prompting the then-archeological team to label the ornate tubes as “scepters.”

But lead author Viktor Trifonov found that the 5,000 year-old artifacts are actually drinking straws, NBC News reported.

In their study, Trifonov and his colleagues observed what seemed like “strainers” of narrow slits at the end of each tube. They explained that similar strainers have been found in drinking tubes used by the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia, which is thousands of miles from the Maikop kurgan.

Researchers noted that the Sumerian tubes had small perforations at the end to filter out chaff and other impurities. When the team analyzed the residue in the Maikop tubes, they found traces of ancient barley starch and pollen grains.

“Everything else fell into place,” said Trifonov.

He surmised that the Maikop people used the tubes to drink beer from communal vessels, adding that this method of consumption was part of their aristocratic ceremonies.

Although the Maikop tubes are the oldest known, the practice is seen on Sumerian seals dating back at least 1,000 years.

Other researchers, meanwhile, suggested that the findings prove that trade in the early Bronze Age included ideas as well as commodities.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 381,724,054

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,688,009

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,957,465,769

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

  1. US: 75,350,359 (+0.54%)
  2. India: 41,630,885 (+0.39%)
  3. Brazil: 25,634,781 (+0.67%)
  4. France: 19,681,231 (+2.16%)
  5. UK: 17,544,380 (+0.65%)
  6. Russia: 11,795,059 (+1.07%)
  7. Turkey: 11,722,483 (+0.88%)
  8. Italy: 11,116,422 (+1.21%)
  9. Germany: 10,236,740 (+2.11%)
  10. Spain: 10,039,126 (+0.78%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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