The World Today for April 11, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The Wages of the Toady

BELARUS

Russian soldiers retreating from Ukraine to Belarus are selling goods that they have looted while fighting. They’re also filling up hospitals and, in some cases, overwhelming morgues in the former Soviet republic that lies to the north of Ukraine and to the west of Russia.

“They take the ‘trophies’ looted from Ukraine and offer to sell them to locals,” a man identified only as Ilya told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “Refrigerators, household appliances, tires and whatever comes to hand.”

The anecdote symbolizes the two sides of Belarus’ involvement in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian soldiers are using Belarus as a staging ground for their attacks, explained National Public Radio. But their presence has revealed more than the strong ties of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to Putin. It has also illustrated the failures of the Russian military as well as the weakness of Lukashenko’s regime itself.

Last year, demonstrators took to the streets of the Belarusian capital of Minsk to protest against Lukashenko’s overwhelming victory in the 2020 presidential election, which critics say was marked by fraud. Now, as Belarus sides with Russia, Western governments have imposed sanctions on the already impoverished country. Some experts are calling for still-harsher consequences.

Preexisting disgust with Lukashenko and fear over the repercussions of his alliance with Putin could push his regime to the breaking point, reported the Independent. Polls show that 55 percent of Belarusians oppose the war while nearly 100-percent of the county’s citizens do not want Lukashenko to deploy Belarusian troops across the border.

Those sentiments could explain why Lukashenko hasn’t compelled his forces to join the war, as American officials predicted he would in a CNN story last month. Spontaneous civil disobedience – think banners, murals and impromptu concerts – have been breaking out throughout the country despite the security forces’ threats of arrest and imprisonment, according to the New York Times.

When Belarusians have fought, they’ve done so on the Ukrainian side. The Washington Post wrote about hundreds of Belarusians who have joined the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion, a force named after a freedom fighter who led an insurrection against Russia in Belarus in the 1860s. After kicking the Russians out of Ukraine, they aim to take the fight to Lukashenko.

Belarusian hackers have also been working to undermine the Russian war effort, disabling train networks in their country, for example, to prevent Russian troop movements, Fast Company reported.

Lukashenko, like Putin, likely thought the invasion would be short and sweet. Now he’s an accomplice to war crimes. He’s reaping what he has sown.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Bowled Out

PAKISTAN

Pakistani lawmakers approved a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan over the weekend, a vote that plunges the country into a political crisis and early elections amid economic woes, the New York Times reported.

Lawmakers passed the motion with 174 votes in Pakistan’s 342-seat parliament, slightly more than the required simple majority.

The no-confidence vote began in early March when opposition parties accused the former-cricket-star-turned-politician of mishandling the country’s economy. Political analysts added that the move came after Khan also lost the support of Pakistan’s powerful military.

Khan said that his opponents were part of a United States-backed conspiracy to oust him from power over his foreign policy choices that often favor China and Russia.

Initially, the vote was slated to take place on April 3, but Khan and his allies dissolved the parliament and called for new elections. Then last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that Khan’s move violated the constitution and ordered the vote to proceed over the weekend.

Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif – the younger brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – is expected to become interim prime minister and lead the country to early elections.

Despite his ouster, observers noted that Khan showed no signs of backing down and will run in the snap poll.

Since the country’s founding 75 years ago, no prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term in Pakistan, because of instability and military coups.

Even so, Khan is the first in the country’s history to be removed through a no-confidence vote.

Making It Stick

THE GAMBIA

Gambian President Adama Barrow’s party won the weekend parliamentary elections but failed to secure a majority needed to govern the West African country, Radio France Internationale reported.

The election commission said that Barrow’s National People’s Party won 19 of the 53 contested seats, defeating the main opposition United Democratic Party, which claimed 15 seats.

Barrow can also designate five other lawmakers, including the parliament’s speaker, who will be selected from his party. Even so, he was not able to win an absolute majority in the 58-seat legislature.

The parliamentary elections were seen as integral in consolidating the young African democracy and drafting a new constitution, according to Africa News.

West Africa’s regional bloc also sent election observers to the small nation, Al Jazeera noted.

The vote come less than a year after Barrow won the December presidential elections, a poll that was largely seen as a test of the country’s democratic stability.

Until 2016, the Gambia was ruled by autocratic leader Yahya Jammeh, whose regime had been accused of atrocities, including assassinations and torture. Jammeh’s rule ended after he lost the 2016 presidential elections to Barrow. He later fled the country following a military intervention led by West Africa’s regional bloc.

One of the key tasks of the new parliament will be to draft a new constitution, which the Gambia’s international partners see as essential to strengthen its democracy and limit the president’s power.

Barrow vowed to implement constitutional changes before the end of his tenure, but the outgoing parliament rejected a proposed constitutional reform limiting the president to two terms in September 2020.

The president has also been urged to respond to recommendations from a commission that probed state crimes perpetrated under Jammeh’s rule.

Your Money’s No Good Here

CANADA

Canada will ban foreign investors from buying homes in the country for two years in an effort to cool off the surging real-estate market and spur construction activity, Bloomberg reported.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland outlined a number of steps to curb speculation and cool demand amid record housing prices as she announced the federal budget for the year.

The two-year ban comes as the government also announced higher taxes for people who sell their homes within a year. A part of the budget will also be earmarked to build affordable housing and help local governments update their systems to allow faster construction of new properties.

Even so, the ban on foreign buyers will not apply to students, foreign workers or foreign citizens who are permanent residents of Canada, the Associated Press added.

During last year’s election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to ban “blind bidding” for houses, a system by which offers are kept secret when someone is auctioning a home.

Blind bidding has been blamed for skyrocketing real estate prices that have sent home prices soaring more than 50 percent over the past two years.

The ban also comes as Canada has committed $397 million in extra military help to Ukraine, as well as further humanitarian and financial assistance to Kyiv following Russia’s invasion.

Canada also pledged more than $7.2 billion in military spending over the next five years following pressure from the NATO military alliance.

Even so, Canada will fall well short of NATO’s two percent of gross domestic product expenditure threshold, even as other members massively increase their own military commitments in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukrainian officials have discovered a mass grave containing dozens of civilian victims in the town of Buzova near the capital, Radio Free Europe reported. Meanwhile, a Russian missile struck a train station in the town of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 52 people and wounding around 100 people, NPR added. Thousands of people were using the train station to evacuate from Kramatorsk.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Western leaders to “follow the example of the United Kingdom” after a surprise visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Ukraine on Saturday, the Washington Post noted. During the visit, Johnson vowed to increase sanctions against Russia and “(move) away from the use of Russian hydrocarbons.” He also offered Britain’s assistance in removing minefields left by Russian soldiers and stated that Britain will liberalize commerce with Ukraine.
  • Russian officials confirmed Sunday that Russia and Ukraine had carried out a prisoner exchange over the weekend, Reuters wrote. The prisoner swap comes a few days after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged in an interview that Russia had sustained “significant losses of troops” and called it a “huge tragedy,” according to the Hill.
  • In another economic move designed to punish Moscow for the invasion, US President Joe Biden signed legislation terminating regular commercial relations with Russia, the Hill noted. Meanwhile, Moscow expelled 45 Polish diplomats on Friday in a retaliatory move after Poland removed the same number of Russian diplomats for spying last month, Agence France-Presse reported.

DISCOVERIES

Trashy Shelters

A recent study on marine pollution discovered that octopuses have been reinterpreting the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Previous research has shown that the cephalopods often use trash as tools or take up residence in glass containers and plastic bottles.

But the new study observed that an increasing number of octopus species have been using the discarded materials as shelters, camouflage and even places to lay their eggs.

A research team examined more than 260 images and videos of the creatures using marine waste. They wrote that a total of 24 different octopus species were seen sheltering in broken glass bottles, soda cans and old batteries.

“It’s becoming so common that they’re using these items to protect themselves instead of their natural shelters, such as seashells, which are becoming scarce in the ocean,” study author Maira Proietti told CBC.

Their findings showed that 40 percent of the interactions occurred with glass objects and 25 percent with plastic items. The team also observed that a majority of these interactions occurred between 2018 and 2021, which could indicate an increase in underwater photography – or worsening ocean pollution.

While the results point to a serious problem, other scientists cautioned that the study lacks a control subject to understand how other marine life interact with trash.

Even so, researchers explained that the study can help find ways to “prevent and mitigate the impacts of litter on octopuses and identify knowledge gaps that require attention.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 498,154,313

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,176,420

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,093,947,689

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

  1. US: 80,399,474 (+0.00%)
  2. India: 43,034,217 (+0.00%)
  3. Brazil: 30,146,769 (+0.00%)
  4. France: 27,029,180 (+0.00%)
  5. Germany: 22,629,378 (+0.00%)
  6. UK: 21,619,837 (+0.00%)
  7. Russia: 17,720,977 (+0.00%)
  8. South Korea: 15,333,670 (+0.00%)
  9. Italy: 15,238,128 (+0.00%)
  10. Turkey: 14,953,365 (+0.00%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*These numbers are from April 10, the latest available as of publication.

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