The World Today for March 29, 2022

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MALDIVES

Some in the Maldives want to reduce the influence of India. The same people in the archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean might want to increase the influence of China in their backyard, too.

Lawmakers with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) recently proposed a bill that would criminalize acts that harm the country’s diplomatic relations with foreign powers. The bill was clearly written in response to former President Abdulla Yameen, who has organized anti-Indian rallies in the country.

“There has been concern within the government and the MDP about the ‘India Out’ campaign hurting ties with a close friend and neighbor who has helped us many times,” MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Nikkei Asia.

Last week, the legislation was dropped but the issue goes on. An “India Out” protest in the capital, Male, was banned soon after, the India Express reported.

Yameen, who was convicted of money laundering in 2019, was released from house arrest late last year. Known for his pro-China stance – the Maldives borrowed billions from China for infrastructure developments when he was president – Yameen is organizing anti-India demonstrations in order to stir up opposition to the MDP in the run-up to the presidential election in 2023. He is already expected to receive the endorsement of his Progressive Party for the Maldives.

Yameen, incidentally, is the half-brother of ex-Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country for 30 years as a dictator until 2008. Described by Reuters as a “ruthless operator,” Yameen even jailed Gayoom for allegedly plotting to overthrow him.

Meanwhile, incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has stressed the importance of the Maldives maintaining good relations with India, which has offered financial assistance to help the country avoid China’s “debt trap,” wrote the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank. Solih has also strengthened military ties between the two countries, Asian News International noted. This assistance, of course, fuels suspicions that Solih is giving India too much influence.

Still, it is India that has helped the small country of about 500,000 people that won democracy only in 2005, often with large infrastructure projects. A few years later, China began trying to dent that influence. Islamists have also found a hunting ground in the country, where Islam is the state religion.

Still, the bill that aims to crack down on the “India Out” movement is garnering critics who aren’t necessarily taking sides in the fight between the two politicians. The MDP’s recently proposed bill would impose fines of $1,300, jail sentences as long as six months or house arrest for as long as one year on anyone convicted of suggesting that foreign powers have too much sway in the country, explained TRT World, a Turkish state-owned English language news channel.

Transparency International complained that the bill was effectively squelching free speech. The organization has also warned that Solih’s government has failed to tackle corruption.

China and India, meanwhile, are jockeying for influence in the Maldives because the country lies in the path of shipping lanes between Asia and the Middle East, explained the Brookings Institution.

Who knows who will win while the Maldivian politicians fight each other? But, until they present a unified front to the world, their people might be the ones who lose.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Mea Culpa

CANADA

Canadian Indigenous leaders and survivors of the country’s controversial residential schools met with Pope Francis on Monday, the first of a series of meetings this week in the hopes of securing a papal apology for the abuses committed by the Catholic clergy and school staff, the Associated Press reported.

Initially postponed from December, the meetings are part of an effort by the Canadian Catholic Church and government to respond to Indigenous demands for justice, reconciliation and reparations.

During this week, Pope Francis will meet privately with representatives from the Metis and Inuit communities, as well as a delegation of the First Nations on Thursday. On Friday, the pontiff will deliver an address, which Indigenous leaders hope will include an official apology for the church’s role in the residential school system.

Last year, the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves at an Indigenous residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia, unsettled Canadians and prompted the country’s reckoning with its past. Since then, similar gravesites have been found elsewhere in the country.

The state-funded system forced more than 150,000 Indigenous children to attend Christian schools from the 19th century to the 1970s. At the time, the government attempted to assimilate these children into mainstream society by Christianizing them, and isolating them from their families and culture.

The Canadian government admitted that physical and sexual abuse was commonplace in those schools – nearly three-quarters of the schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.

Earlier this year, the government agreed to pay billions of dollars to compensate the surviving students traumatized by the institutions. The Catholic church paid more than $50 million and now plans to add $30 million more over the next five years.

Canadian Indigenous leaders had initially tried to get an apology from the pontiff’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in 2009.

While it isn’t yet known if the pope intends to apologize, he is no stranger to offering apologies for what he has termed the “crimes” of the institutional church.

In 2015, he apologized for the crimes and offenses committed by the church against Indigenous people in Bolivia. Three years later, he apologized to Irish women and others who were sexually abused over generations by the clergy.

Deals and Devils

EL SALVADOR

El Salvador declared a state of emergency this week after criminal gangs began killing people on the streets Saturday, marking the bloodiest day in the country’s history since the end of the civil war three decades ago, the New York Times reported.

The new 30-day emergency powers will allow the government to suspend some civil liberties, facilitate conditions for arrest and allow the government to monitor the communications of citizens.

Saturday’s attack killed at least 62 people and comes after nearly three years of relative peace following the election of populist President Nayib Bukele.

Bukele had campaigned on promises to eradicate gang violence in El Salvador but the weekend attack threatens to tarnish his record. He condemned the recent violence and vowed to retaliate against the gangs.

Even so, analysts described the attack as random and not the result of conflicts between the criminal groups in the Central American country. They suggested that the killings were a message by gangs to renegotiate a clandestine deal with the government.

The young president has been accused of creating a secret agreement with the country’s criminal organizations to provide financial incentives to gang members and preferential treatment to their imprisoned leaders.

The US government has sanctioned a number of El Salvadoran officials for their alleged roles in negotiating “a secret truce with gang leadership.”

Bukele, however, denies the accusations but Saturday’s massacre underscores that the pact might be falling apart.

Dead Ends

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Peace negotiations in the Central African Republic ended this week without any concrete progress amid an ongoing civil war that has been raging since 2013, Agence France-Presse reported.

The talks are part of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s pledge to push for national reconciliation following his controversial re-election in 2020.

Earlier this month, Touadéra announced that he would hold discussions with opposition and civil society groups on March 21. But on that day, no rebel groups were invited and the opposition boycotted the meetings.

Observers noted that the agenda of the talks was vague: The negotiations were marked by tense moments, including a proposed constitutional change – later withdrawn – that would allow the head of state to run for a third term. Currently, the post allows for two.

Even so, the chair of the talks, Richard Filkota, announced 600 recommendations had been made. Among these was the lifting of the UN-mandated arms embargo, which was enforced in 2013 after a coalition of armed groups ousted then-leader Francois Bozize and drove the nation into civil conflict.

However, analyst Thierry Vircoulon said that the recommendations will not be implemented, because the government “doesn’t have the time or the money.”

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed willingness to adopt a neutral status for Ukraine as part of a peace agreement with Russia, BBC reported. Following an interview with independent Russian journalists, Zelenskyy said that any such agreement would have to be submitted to a referendum in Ukraine. The announcement comes as talks between the two nations are due to restart this week in Turkey. At the same time, the Ukrainian president warned that he would not sacrifice Ukraine’s territorial integrity, NBC News added.
  • Ukraine’s military intelligence warned that Russia is trying to split the country in two to create a Russian-controlled region, according to Al Jazeera. Meanwhile, Luhansk, a Russian-backed rebel territory in eastern Ukraine, says it may organize a referendum on joining Russia, prompting Kyiv to warn that such a vote would be illegal and would elicit a severe international response.
  • Energy ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations rejected the Kremlin’s proposal that “unfriendly” countries pay for Russian gas in rubles, the Associated Press wrote. Economists said that Russia’s move appeared as an attempt to support the Russian currency, which has collapsed against other currencies since Moscow invaded Ukraine last month.

DISCOVERIES

The Bores

A new research paper found that certain characteristics – and professions – can make a person appear boring, Science Alert reported.

A science team asked more than 500 people in five different studies to determine which traits, jobs and hobbies are considered stereotypically boring.

In the first two studies, the team asked participants to rank which features are considered uninteresting. The results showed that many volunteers categorized jobs such as data analysis, cleaning and banking as the most boring jobs. As for hobbies, they put religion, watching TV and observing animals – e.g., bird watchers – as uninteresting.

Meanwhile, participants also ranked the lack of a sense of humor, having no opinions or complaining a lot as boring.

“The more typical the features of stereotypical boringness described a person, the more the person was perceived as boring,” the team writes.

In the next two studies, researchers presented a pool of participants with descriptions of imaginary people with the stereotypical boring characteristics found in the first study. The bad news for the bores was that they were perceived as lacking warmth and competence, and were socially avoided.

The last study put another nail in the coffin: Participants demanded a significant amount of money when asked how much they’d need to be rewarded monetarily for spending time with a “stereotypical bore” depicted in a vignette.

While the study is primarily based in the United States, it is one of the first to probe stereotypes about boring people across different areas. Researchers also said that such results help break down such labels.

“Perceptions can change but people may not take time to speak to those with ‘boring’ jobs and hobbies, instead choosing to avoid them,” said lead author Wijnand Van Tilburg. “They don’t get a chance to prove people wrong and break these negative stereotypes.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 482,330,712

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,127,431

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,898,924,305

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

  1. US: 79,995,485 (+0.05%)
  2. India: 43,021,982 (+0.003%)
  3. Brazil: 29,857,641 (+0.03%)
  4. France: 25,246,720 (+0.12%)
  5. UK: 20,971,450 (+0.59%)
  6. Germany: 19,492,672 (+0.00%)**
  7. Russia: 17,525,184 (+0.12%)
  8. Turkey: 14,815,041 (+0.10%)
  9. Italy: 14,396,283 (+0.22%)
  10. South Korea 12,350,428 (+2.89%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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