The World Today for February 09, 2022

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The Sentiments of Coups

BURKINA FASO

A series of coups have rocked West Africa in recent weeks. The latest, Burkina Faso, provides a picture as to how unstable governments in the region are falling as military leaders come to believe nobody else can take control and face their nations’ challenges.

Recently, leaders in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said they would hold off on imposing sanctions on the military officers who ousted Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, if the junta could say when they intend to bring democracy back to the country.

Calling themselves the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, coup leaders said they had restored the constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and other liberties and had appointed Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba as interim president for a so-called transition period, Al Jazeera explained. But they did not say when the transition period would end.

Soldiers launched the coup in late January, wrote the BBC. The mutinying troops in the capital of Ouagadougou demanded more money and equipment to fight Islamist militants as well as the resignation of commanders who have failed to quell an Islamist insurgency launched in 2015. Their discontent had been simmering since jihadists killed 53 soldiers in November.

The drama over Burkina Faso occurred after the 15-member ECOWAS recently suspended Guinea and Mali for coup d’états, while authorities prevented a fourth coup in Guinea-Bissau, reported the Associated Press.

ECOWAS has scheduled a summit for regional and international leaders to discuss the issue. “This must be contained before it devastates our whole region,” ECOWAS Chairman Nana Akufo-Addo told Reuters, adding that a 2020 coup in Mali had started the trend.

Four factors are contributing to coup politics in the region, which is called the Sahel, according to African Arguments.

First, the region has plenty of people but few economic opportunities. At the same time, climate change is disrupting the historic farming patterns that had once helped alleviate employment issues. Second, governments can’t protect their citizens from terrorists and insurgents. Third, corruption is rampant, undermining trust in politicians. Lastly, the international community – whether the United Nations or foreign powers like France – have failed to help much even when they intervene at great cost.

In addition to murdering more than 2,000 Burkinabes, the Islamic State and al Qaeda, for example, have also displaced 1.5 million people in the country, noted Foreign Policy.

Such conditions make voting look like a sorry excuse for the exercise of power.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

No Special Treatment

HONG KONG

A Hong Kong court rejected an appeal by a US citizen over his involvement in the mass pro-democracy protests that swept the city two years ago, a ruling that has underscored the legal risks foreign workers face in the territory, the Financial Times reported.

Samuel Bickett, a former Bank of America compliance director, was sent to prison to serve the remainder of his four-and-a-half-month sentence for assaulting a plainclothes police officer.

In 2019, the American expat intervened in a scuffle between civilians and a man with an extendable baton – he did not immediately say he was a police officer. Bickett and his lawyers said that he was “neutralizing” the man as he tried to grab a hold of his weapon.

Prosecutors, however, accused the defendant of using “excessive force” on the officer and focused the trial on whether Bickett had already known the man was an officer when confronting him.

Hong Kong police guidelines require officials to clearly identify themselves in the course of discharging their duties.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled that Bickett’s arguments had “no merit” and ordered his imprisonment.

Analysts said that the case sends “a very worrying signal about the decline of the rule of law in Hong Kong.” They noted that it also brings into question whether the city’s legal system will protect expats and if they will receive a fair trial.

Meanwhile, critics believe the case underscores concerns about police accountability: So far, no officers have been charged with brutality during the pro-democracy protests.

At the same time, the majority of the city’s opposition has been arrested or imprisoned since China implemented a broad national security statute in 2020.

The Boys’ Club

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally apologized for the widespread sexual misconduct and bullying of political staff in parliament, a year after a high-profile rape allegation rocked the country, BBC reported.

Morrison apologized to former staffer Brittany Higgins, who said last year that a colleague had raped her in a minister’s office in 2019. He also apologized to “all those that came before Ms. Higgins,” who also faced abuse and bullying while working in parliament.

Higgins alleged that she received little support and was pressured to leave her job when she reported the case to her boss, then-Defense Minister Linda Reynolds.

The accused is due to go on trial in June.

Her announcement sparked protests and condemnations in the country, which prompted the government to launch an investigation into misconduct in parliament, according to Agence France-Presse.

A review by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins later found that one in three staff members working across parliamentary offices experienced sexual harassment. The 450-page report highlighted a “boys club” culture in parliament in which sexual harassment is rife.

Morrison’s apology was one of the recommendations of Jenkins’ review.

However, former Australian of the Year Grace Tame – a survivor of sexual abuse – called Morrison’s apology a “stunt” and demanded “proactive, preventative measures.”

Declining Demand

ICELAND

Iceland will end commercial whaling in 2024 after officials and analysts said the demand for whale meat has dwindled in the past years, Agence France-Presse reported.

Iceland is one of the few countries in the world – including Japan and Norway – where whales are still hunted, despite criticism from animal rights groups and environmentalists.

However, the country’s whalers have barely taken to the sea in the past three years: The demand for whale meat dropped noticeably when Japan – Iceland’s primary market – returned to commercial whaling in 2019 for the first time in more than 30 years.

The island nation has also extended no-fishing coastal zones, which has required whalers to go further offshore and therefore make their hunts costlier.

Fisheries Minister Svandis Svavarsdottir noted that there is “little proof that there is any economic advantage to this activity.”

Meanwhile, whales have become pivotal in Iceland’s flourishing eco-tourism sector.

More than 360,000 whale watchers visited the North Atlantic waters off the coast of Iceland to observe the cetaceans in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the tourism sector.

DISCOVERIES

Gene Thieves

Sap-sucking whiteflies are a major problem for farmers growing cabbages, tomatoes and bell peppers.

The milky-white insect is known to munch on crops while remaining resistant to toxins the plants produce to defend themselves against it.

Recently, scientists finally discovered that this innate toxic resistance stems from a special gene that whiteflies acquired tens of millions of years ago, Discover Magazine reported.

In their study, an international research team found that whiteflies were equipped with the BtPMaT1 gene, which makes most plant toxins harmless and allows the bugs to devour crops.

In one experiment, they turned off the gene and let the whiteflies feast on a tomato plant. All the bugs died in the process.

Upon close inspection, the team noticed that the BtPMaT1 gene was in fact transferred to the flies from an ancient plant between 35 million and 80 million years ago, via a virus.

They have yet to determine the ancient plant species but noted that the transfer marks the first time scientists have identified a gene that has crossed from a plant to an animal.

Researchers explained that this phenomenon is known as “horizontal gene transfer” (HGT): It occurs when a gene moves from one species to another and has been observed between bacteria and plants, as well as bacteria and animals.

The authors said that study shows that HGT between plants and animals might be more common than previously believed.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 400,812,917

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,764,479

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,097,802,719

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

  1. US: 77,051,225 (+0.26%)
  2. India: 42,410,976 (+0.17%)
  3. Brazil: 26,793,497 (+0.67%)
  4. France: 21,174,600 (+1.13%)
  5. UK: 18,055,318 (+0.37%)
  6. Russia: 12,946,888 (+1.28%)
  7. Turkey: 12,446,111 (+0.90%)
  8. Italy: 11,765,767 (+0.88%)
  9. Germany: 11,579,518 (+2.24%)
  10. Spain: 10,439,302 (+0.42%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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