The World Today for April 15, 2022

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SLOVENIA

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa recently joined the premiers of the Czech Republic and Poland in Kyiv to show their support for Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion.

The trip into a war zone took even their families by surprise. But the three leaders grew up in countries that were either Soviet vassals or led by communists before the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Reuters wrote. They felt impelled to show up in person to demonstrate their support for Ukraine and opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This idea came from our, actually, personal experience…30 years ago, Slovenia was invaded by Yugoslav Communist Army,” Jansa told National Public Radio. “We were partially in the same position, so we know exactly how our Ukrainian friends feel.”

A member of the so-called illiberal populist right in Europe, Jansa is arguably not so passionate about democratic ideals in his government, however.

The European Union has criticized Jansa for undermining freedom of the press and the judicial system, claimed Euractiv. Calling for tough sanctions on Russia, Jansa has turned the defense of Slovenian sovereignty against the Russian Bear into a central political campaign theme before parliamentary elections on April 24. Before the invasion in late February, observers expected him to lose due to a string of controversies and scandals, but his new stance has breathed wind into his sails.

Almost a year ago, Jansa survived an impeachment vote over alleged violations of the Central European country’s constitution related to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and refusal to disperse appropriated funds to the Slovenian Press Agency, Total Slovenia News and  Bloomberg noted.

As Voice of America explained, Jansa has long sought to exert more direct control over the press agency, which aims to report the news critically for the benefit of its Slovenian audience, not Slovenian politicians.

Last week, reported SeeNews, the country’s Commission for the Prevention of Corruption ruled that Jansa had a conflict of interest when he voted to appoint his personal lawyer, Franci Matoz, as a non-executive director of DUTB, a so-called “bad bank,” or a government-owned institution that takes over bankrupt banks.

Voters are not happy with the economy that Jansa has fostered, claimed Social Europe. The pandemic has caused inflation and price hikes. The government instituted price controls on fuel. The government’s balance sheet is also under pressure due to pandemic spending. Doctors won a strike. Teachers are threatening labor actions.

The symbolism in Kyiv was easier than the reality in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Boiling Over

GERMANY

German authorities arrested four people suspected of plotting to kidnap the country’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and destroy infrastructure in order to trigger “a civil war,” the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Police said the individuals are alleged to be part of a Telegram chat group called the United Patriots. The detained people are also linked to the “corona protest scene” and Reichsbürger movement, which rejects the modern German state in favor of the German Reich.

The accused were planning to attack substations and power lines across Germany, as well as kidnap Lauterbach and subject him to a show trial.

Authorities added that the arrests were made following undercover operations and raids on more than 20 properties across the country.

The recent plot is the latest in a string of incidents stemming from the anger that some Germans feel over restrictions on people not vaccinated against Covid-19 and proposals to make vaccination compulsory for the general public, according to Reuters.

German security agencies say that far-right groups have been trying to weaponize the frustration to gain more followers.

In December, police foiled an alleged plot to assassinate the prime minister of the state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer.

‘Punitive Populism’

EL SALVADOR

Salvadoran police have arrested more than 10,000 alleged gang members as of this week, nearly three weeks after the government declared a state of emergency in response to the killings of dozens of people by criminal gangs, VICE reported Thursday.

In late March, populist President Nayib Bukele declared a 30-day state of emergency after gang members randomly shot 62 people in a single day. The incident has been described as the worst violence the country has experienced since the end of the civil war three decades ago.

The state of emergency allowed authorities to tap into communications of Salvadorans without a court order, arrest people without evidence, and restrict citizens’ rights to legal counsel and freedom of assembly.

Bukele has hailed the police operations, even as human rights groups and analysts have criticized the arrests as “punitive populism,” according to the Associated Press. Critics noted the detentions are more show than substance. Others worry that the detained are not going through due process and that their civil liberties are being infringed.

Some Salvadorans said police officers have allegedly detained family and acquaintances who have no links to the gangs.

Meanwhile, El Salvador’s parliament – currently controlled by Bukele’s party – passed a controversial law that would punish anyone who shares information about gangs with up to 15 years in prison. This has prompted news outlets to stop covering gang violence out of fear of the law.

Following his 2019 election, Bukele promised to fight gang violence and root out a corrupt political establishment. But the president has been accused of increased authoritarianism and colluding with gangs.

Last year, the United States accused Bukele’s government of providing “financial incentives to Salvadoran gangs MS-13 and 18th Street” in 2020 to ensure that the number of “confirmed homicides” remained low, the Washington Post noted.

Bukele has denied the allegations, but analysts suggested that gang violence last month was a sign that the agreement collapsed.

The Collectors

INDIA

A proposed new criminal identification law caused a stir in India over privacy concerns and fears that it will be used to target dissenters, the BBC reported this week.

Last week, parliament approved the Criminal Procedure (Identification) bill, which would require detained individuals to share sensitive data, such as iris and retina scans. The bill is now being sent to the president for his approval.

India already has legislation that allows police to collect photographs, fingerprints and footprint impressions. The 1920 Identification of Prisoners Act, however, is limited to people who have been convicted, those out on bail, and those charged with offenses punishable with a year or more in prison.

But the proposed law will apply to anyone arrested or detained. It will allow authorities to collect fingerprints, behavioral attributes – such as signatures and handwriting – and other “biological samples.” Critics posited that the latter could mean the collection of DNA and blood, which can now only be procured with a warrant.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government defended the legislation, saying it will modernize policing and help solve crimes swiftly.

But opposition politicians and human rights groups called it draconian and said that it hands over too much personal data to the government.

They also noted that India does not have data protection laws and that the contentious bill “lacks any safeguards to prevent the arbitrary collection or the misuse of data.” Opponents added that the draft legislation runs counter to India’s constitution and a 2017 supreme court ruling that declared privacy as “the constitutional core of human dignity.”

Another chief concern is that the identification bill could be used by the government to go after activists, protesters and dissenters. Previous reports have accused Modi’s government of using the Israeli spyware, Pegasus, to snoop on political leaders – a charge it denies.

The Personal Data Protection Bill, meanwhile, has been stalled in parliament since 2018, and critics say the current version has been watered down so that it doesn’t limit the government’s ability to access sensitive data.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russia threatened Thursday to deploy nuclear weapons around the Baltic Sea region if Finland and Sweden decide to join NATO, according to CNBC. The warning comes only a day after Finland and Sweden – prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – stated they will decide whether to apply for NATO membership within the next few weeks. At the same time, Russia sanctioned 398 members of the US Congress, in response to the sanctions the Biden administration imposed on 400 Russian nationals on March 24, Axios added.
  • Russia said that its top warship sunk in the Black Sea, a massive blow for the Russian military as its invasion of Ukraine enters the second month, according to CNN. Russian officials said the Moskva ship sunk after it sustained significant damage following an ammunition explosion aboard the vessel. But Ukrainian forces countered that the vessel began to sink after it was hit by missiles, which Moscow denied. The Pentagon confirmed the sinking of the Moskva vessel but did not specify the main cause.
  • The International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor described Ukraine as a “crime scene” and stated that there are “reasonable grounds” to think war crimes had been committed, after hundreds of dead were discovered in Bucha following the withdrawal of Russian soldiers, the Independent reported.
  • The European Union closed a loophole that allowed the bloc’s countries to sell weapons worth tens of millions of euros to Russia last year alone, despite an embargo imposed in 2014 after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, Reuters wrote. Meanwhile, China rejected “any pressure or coercion” over its relationship with Russia, after the United States called on Beijing to use its “special relationship with Russia” to persuade Moscow to end the war in Ukraine, the Associated Press added.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Winged Nobility

Falcons are among Qatar’s most pampered residents and even have their own hospital, according to the Associated Press.

The Souq Waqif clinic, located in the capital of Doha, is a state-of-the-art hospital that offers a variety of services exclusively to falcons. Equipped with radiology and operating rooms, the institution provides expert care to nearly 30,000 birds.

That care includes feather replacements when the raptors lose them during a hunt. The staff is meticulous in ensuring that each feather perfectly matches the wounded bird’s breed in length, pattern and color.

“If these damaged feathers remain, it can cause loss or reduction of the bird’s fitness,” said hospital director Ikdam Al Karkhi. “They must be treated.”

Falcon nail filing for birds destined to become the prized possessions of wealthy afficionados is also a serious business in the clinic: Many birds will need some special talon treatment after moving from the desert wilderness to opulent homes.

Al Karkhi said that the hospital was built “to support the hobby and heritage of raising falcons,” adding that “it’s a pastime that stretches its veins into multiple generations.”

The birds of prey are revered in the resource-rich Gulf region, where the art of falconry is still practiced among sheiks and other wealthy residents.

“Even the look that a falcon and its owner share, it’s different than any other look,” Al Karkhi said. Falconers “feel the loyalty of this bird – a fierce warrior in the wild and yet a pet in my hand.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 502,899,099

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,193,433

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,155,070,763

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

  1. US: 80,573,553 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 43,039,972 (+0.002%)
  3. Brazil: 30,234,024 (+0.08%)
  4. France: 27,637,292 (+0.50%)
  5. Germany: 23,339,311 (+0.68%)
  6. UK: 21,819,855 (+0.16%)
  7. Russia: 17,778,928 (+0.06%)
  8. South Korea: 16,104,869 (+0.79%)
  9. Italy: 15,533,012 (+0.42%)
  10. Turkey: 14,983,158 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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