The World Today for March 17, 2022

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Stifled Spring

TUNISIA

Tunisian President Kais Saied recently extended his North African country’s state of emergency through the end of the year. The emergency order has been in effect since 2015 following a terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of several presidential guards. As Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported, the order allows the president to ban public and private assemblies, impose curfews, and suppress the media.

The extension was one of many controversial measures that Saied has pursued in recent years.

A Tunisian military court recently sentenced lawmaker Yassine Ayari to prison for 10 months in absentia on charges of insulting the president and military after he said on Facebook that Saied’s decision to dismiss the prime minister and freeze parliament in July was the equivalent of a coup. Authorities arrested Ayari in the summer after Saied abolished parliamentary immunity. He was detained but released three months later and fled to France.

“It’s ridiculous…yesterday Saied said in Brussels that he is not a dictator, and today a military court issues a prison sentence (violating) freedom of expression for a lawmaker,” Ayari told Reuters, referring to a summit that Saied attended in the European capital.

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin lamented the state of affairs in the country. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in late 2010. The movement to bring democracy, respect for human rights and other reforms to the region sputtered everywhere but Tunisia. Now, Rogin said, it seemed as if the gains that activists and protesters won were being lost there, too.

A court put former President Moncef Marzouki in prison for four years, also in absentia because he lives in Paris, wrote France 24. Judges are similarly throwing opposition figures, political activists and journalists in jail. The country’s anti-corruption agency was shut down.

In February, Saied issued a decree that created a new temporary Supreme Judiciary Council that he would control, reported Al Jazeera. Protests erupted in the streets. Critics said the president was consolidating his power. He controls the executive branch, has shut down the legislative branch and is now cementing his control over the courts. Last week, members of the council were sworn in, Africanews reported.

Still, many Tunisians welcomed these moves, which Saied said were designed to cleanse the government, because they were “tired of political parties seen as corrupt and self-serving,” reported Agence France-Presse.

The president might not have a chance to prove himself. As the political controversies swirl, Tunisia is going bankrupt, noted Foreign Policy magazine. He’s now negotiating a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund that his alleged human rights violations are undoubtedly complicating.

Saied’s preoccupation with authoritarianism might just cost him his authority.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

‘Reasonable Restrictions’

INDIA

A top court in India’s southern state of Karnataka upheld a ban against the wearing of headscarves by Muslim students at schools, colleges and universities, a controversial verdict that risks worsening religious tensions in the Hindu-majority nation, CBS News reported.

The Karnataka High Court ruled that the hijab worn by Muslim women “does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith.”

The verdict came about two months after female Muslim students protested against the ban at a government-run college in the state. The six students were barred from entering classes because they were wearing the head coverings and were violating the school’s uniform rules.

The Karnataka state government later endorsed the ban with other schools and colleges in the state following suit.

The demonstrations soon turned into widespread protests, prompting authorities to shut down schools for a number of days. The issue also attracted international attention and condemnation, including by Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who urged India to “stop the marginalization of Muslim women.”

Meanwhile, the ban has ignited a national debate over the rights of Muslim women to wear the hijab in India, where the constitution grants all citizens the freedom to practice their chosen religion, with what it calls “reasonable restrictions.”

In its ruling, the high court said that enforcing school uniform rules was a reasonable restriction.

Muslim students said they will challenge the verdict at India’s Supreme Court but the issue has exacerbated religious divisions in the South Asian nation.

Since its independence more than 70 years ago, India has witnessed deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims, with its politics and society deeply divided along religious lines.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have also been accused of instigating anti-Muslim sentiment and backing violence against minorities.

Modi and his party have rejected the accusations.

The Chips on the Table

IRAN

Iranian authorities released two British-Iranians from prison Wednesday following years of talks between Iran and Britain to negotiate their freedom as well as the settling of a decades-old debt, Politico reported.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Wednesday that the dual nationals, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoush Ashoori, were flying back to Britain. She added that a third individual, Morad Tahbaz, a British-American conservationist of Iranian descent, had been “released from prison on furlough.”

The two dual nationals finally reunited with their families in Britain in the early hours of Thursday, according to BBC.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Ashoori and Tahbaz were detained in Iran on a variety of charges, including plotting against the Iranian government, espionage and “acquiring illegitimate wealth.” The defendants had denied the allegations.

Their release came after Britain and Iran finally settled a debt of more than $500 million owed to Tehran after an order of 1,500 Chieftain tanks was canceled. The issue had been a sticking point in the countries’ diplomatic relations since the 1970s.

Britain had tried to pay the debt but had spent years litigating the amount and finding ways to overcome sanctions imposed against Iran. Truss said the debt had been “settled in full compliance” that the money “will be ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods.”

The British government, however, refused to acknowledge a link between the debt and the prisoners’ release, according to the Associated Press.

US Democratic congressman Jim Himes expressed dismay that Tahbaz was released on furlough and accused Britain of breaking a verbal agreement with Washington to negotiate the release of all three dual-nationals as part of a single package.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West. Iran has denied the accusations.

The recent releases took place as US and European negotiators are working to finalize an agreement that would limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the relaxation of economic sanctions against the country.

Forget The Children

AUSTRALIA

An Australian court overturned a landmark ruling this week that would have ordered the country’s environment minister to consider the impact climate change might have on children when approving energy projects, Al Jazeera reported.

The groundbreaking case began in 2020 when a group of secondary school students and a nun took Environment Minister Sussan Ley to court following her approval of the Whitehaven’s Vickery coal mine in the eastern state of New South Wales.

A judge ruled in July of that year that the minister must “avoid causing personal injury or death” to those under 18 due to the release of “emissions of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere” when considering such projects, according to Reuters.

But Ley appealed the decision and an appeals court dismissed the original ruling Tuesday. The three judges said that the original decision was too broad in scope and in its issuing of presumed liability.

The plaintiffs expressed disappointment at the verdict, adding that such a decision will impact the fight against climate change. Their lawyers said they will appeal.

Calls to take action against climate change have been growing in Australia following a series of devastating floods this month in the country’s east, and also the 2019-2020 bushfires that burned through millions of acres of agricultural land and forest and killed millions of creatures.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russian missiles destroyed a theater in Mariupol where hundreds were sheltering, while rescue efforts were hindered Thursday by further attacks, the Washington Post reported. And in the northern city of Chernihiv, where heavy fighting has been ongoing for weeks, 10 people were killed by Russian forces Wednesday while waiting in line for bread. Meanwhile, the mayor of Ukraine’s Kharkiv said that Russian shelling has destroyed more than 600 buildings since the invasion began, including schools, nurseries and hospitals, according to Reuters.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a virtual address to the United States Congress Wednesday in an effort to plead for more help as Ukraine tries to fend off Russia’s invasion, the Hill reported. During his 15-minute speech, Zelenskyy urged US leaders and lawmakers to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine and raise awareness about the devastation caused by the conflict. He also urged the creation of a new international body to halt conflicts. Despite his pleas, NATO officials emphasized they won’t establish a no-fly zone over the country out of fear of escalating the conflict, CNN noted, and urged Americans to stop buying products from corporations that continue to do business in Russia. A list of those companies is here. Even so, US officials said they would increase the size and scope of weaponry sent to Ukraine and also include armed drones for the first time. Meanwhile, President Biden for the first time publicly called Russian leader Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.” Moscow dismissed the remark as “unacceptable and unforgivable.”
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his military operation in Ukraine has been a success and that he would not allow the nation to be used as a “springboard” to threaten Russia, according to France 24. However, UK officials said Thursday that Russia’s invasion has “largely stalled on all fronts,” adding that Russia has used up more sophisticated weapons than planned, and is now “resorting to the use of older, less precise weapons.” British officials also said Russia’s military is calling in reinforcements because of “continued personnel losses” during its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Hill wrote.
  • Russian and Ukrainian officials expressed cautious optimism that peace talks were making progress toward ending almost three weeks of fighting across Ukraine, the Washington Post added.
  • As Western sanctions bite, the Russian government may be headed for its first foreign debt default since the Bolshevik Party shocked Western investors in 1918 by refusing to repay the borrowings of Czar Nicholas II. The US and Europe are considering further sanctions.
  • Russia’s tightly-controlled state TV saw a series of resignations following an on-screen protest by journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who denounced the war on live television, the BBC noted. At the same time, exiled Russian journalists and others have created an army of “information warriors” to pierce the information wall the Kremlin has erected and tell Russians the “uncensored truth of a brutal war.” Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine has resulted in the emergence of “war hotels” used by journalists covering the conflict, according to Al Jazeera. At least three journalists have died since the war began last month.

DISCOVERIES

Let’s Move

For years, it was thought that walking 10,000 steps would prolong life but a new study has found that the optimal number of steps is actually lower, between 6,000 to 8,000, Science Alert reported.

Lead author Amanda Paluch and her colleagues explained that the assertion that 10,000 steps were the secret to a longer life was not exactly backed by science.

The health advice actually began as a marketing ploy after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics: The Japanese-based Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company, which wanted to cash in the buzz left by the event, developed a pedometer they called “Manpo-kei” – a word that translates into 10,000 steps.

The number of steps was considered a good round number that sounded both arduous and attainable.

Paluch’s team followed the health of, and amount of steps taken by, 47,000 adults on different continents. The researchers found that a quarter of the adults who walked the most each day lowered their chance of death by 40 to 53 percent compared with those in the bottom 25 percent of step-counts. The risk of death was also reduced in people over the age of 60, who walked between 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day.

The findings suggested that walking more didn’t exactly lower the chances of dying but it did provide other health benefits.

“The major takeaway is there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that moving even a little more is beneficial, particularly for those who are doing very little activity,” said Paluch.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 463,907,549

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,058,322

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,737,912,139

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

  1. US: 79,631,708 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 43,001,477 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 29,488,777 (+0.16%)
  4. France: 23,943,834 (+0.46%)
  5. UK: 19,971,026 (+0.47%)
  6. Germany: 18,027,870 (+1.66%)
  7. Russia: 17,196,841 (+0.21%)
  8. Turkey: 14,623,028 (+0.15%)
  9. Italy: 13,563,466 (+0.55%)
  10. Spain: 11,260,040 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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