The World Today for April 19, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Looky, Looky

SOMALILAND

Though technically part of war-torn Somalia, Somaliland declared independence in 1991, has governed itself for 30 years as a democracy and avoided the bloodshed that has plagued the rest of Somalia. Now Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi thinks it’s time for more – US recognition of his Horn of Africa country, wrote Axios.

Despite Abdi’s recent lobbying in Washington, however, recognition has not been forthcoming. The African Union believes such a move would further destabilize the area. But Abdi is keeping hope alive in part because he knows that the US is competing with China for influence in the region, noted Voice of America. Nearby Djibouti hosts the US’ only military base in Africa as well as China’s only foreign military installation.

Competition with China is one reason why American conservatives are especially interested in recognizing Somaliland’s independence. As Somali-American medical physicist Mohamoud Gaildon argued in Salon, they believe Somaliland could help shore up America’s interests in the region. That is what is keeping the dream of independence alive.

“Even if it takes 100 years for recognition, we will still stand for our identity, we’ll still engage with everybody, and we’ll still dream of a day where Somaliland is recognized as its own country,” Somaliland Foreign Minister Essa Kayd Mohamoud told Foreign Policy.

Certainty Somaliland needs help. A raging fire recently damaged hundreds of businesses in the main market of the capital, Hargeisa, for example, the BBC wrote. The devastation struck at the heart of the region’s economy. Abdi has asked for a whopping $2 billion in humanitarian aid to rebuild and compensate for losses, Africanews reported. That’s around 60 percent of the gross domestic product of the country of 4 million people.

Still, skepticism should temper any discussions about Somaliland sovereignty. The country has a highly dubious track record in civil rights, for example. Authorities recently rounded up 14 journalists who had the audacity to cover a prison riot, according to Reporters without Borders. Officials detained another journalist after he wrote about intelligence officers attacking him and others for their criticism of Abdi, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

Female genital mutilation, a traditional practice where so-called “cutters” remove clitorises from young girls, is also widespread in the country. The coronavirus pandemic set the stage for an increase in the practice because more girls became socially isolated or were married off to husbands who expected them to undergo it when schools closed and businesses struggled or shut, the Associated Press added.

Perhaps Somaliland should be independent. But its bid deserves close scrutiny.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Fired Up

SWEDEN

Swedish authorities detained 26 people following weekend riots over a plan by a far-right and anti-Islam Danish group to burn the Muslim holy book, the Quran, in a number of towns, the Local Sweden reported Monday.

Police said that at least 40 people were wounded, including 26 police officers. They added that around 200 participated in the riots and that some of the involved have links to criminal networks.

Unrest in various cities began Thursday when the Danish far-right “Stram Kurs” (Hard Line) movement organized a series of rallies in various cities with plans to burn copies of the Quran.

On Thursday and Friday, the party live-streamed video of its leader, Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan, burning the Quran in different Swedish cities, according to the Washington Post.

Since then, protesters and counterprotesters clashed in cities, with police saying that vehicles, including a city bus and police cars, were set on fire.

Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson urged rioters to go home and denounced Paludan as a “right-wing extremist fool, whose only goal is to drive violence and divisions.” He also said that “Sweden is a democracy and in a democracy, fools also have freedom of speech.”

Paludan is planning to run in the Swedish legislative elections in September and is currently on a “tour” of Sweden, the Local added.

In 2020, Danish authorities sentenced him to three months in prison on charges of racism and defamation. His Stram Kurs group came close to entering Denmark’s legislature in 2019 but failed to gain any seats.

The far-right leader came to prominence in neighboring Denmark via anti-Islam protests in areas with large ethnic minority communities. The main feature of his demonstrations is the desecration and burning of the Quran.

We’re Open

MEXICO

Mexico’s president failed to secure enough votes in parliament to amend the constitution and implement a sweeping energy reform bill, which had spooked investors and the United States, the Financial Times reported Monday.

Opposition lawmakers in the lower house voted against the legislation, denying President Andrés Manuel López Obrador the two-thirds majority needed to pass the amendment.

The bill would have guaranteed Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) 54 percent of the market, and transformed the regulatory landscape for electricity: Changes would have included canceling power generating permits and prioritizing CFE electricity on the grid above private renewables.

The move would have overhauled the current system instituted by the opposition, which opened energy markets to private investors in 2013. López Obrador criticized the liberalization of the sector as corrupt and too favorable to private companies.

But critics and investors said the amendment would have had a negative impact on investment, the economy and the environment.

Analysts noted that Sunday’s vote was more of a political statement by López Obrador’s government to portray the opposition as favoring foreign energy companies.

The president had previously said he will immediately present a fresh effort to parliament to nationalize the country’s lithium resources if the reform was defeated.

Even so, it’s unclear how this will affect the private sector because Mexico’s lithium production mostly involves clay deposits that are difficult to mine.

Last Minute Skeletons

FRANCE

French prosecutors began analyzing a report by the European Union’s fraud agency accusing far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen and other members of her National Rally party of misusing public funds while serving in the European Parliament, the Associated Press reported.

Last month, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) sent a report to the Paris prosecutor’s office alleging that the far-right leader and party members used 617,000 euros of public money for “fictitious” reasons.

OLAF accused Le Pen’s party of “grave violations” and said the “inappropriate behavior” of its members “imperiled the reputation of the Union’s institutions.”

The report was made public by the French investigative news site Mediapart just ahead of a runoff election Sunday between Le Pen and incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.

French authorities said they are looking into the details of the report but have not started any formal investigation.

This is not the first time Le Pen and her party have been accused of misusing EU funds: In 2018, OLAF accused the National Rally in a separate investigation of using aides on the European Parliament’s payroll for the party’s political activity.

Even so, Le Pen and her representatives denied the accusations and questioned the timing of the report’s publication. Her party aims to diminish the power of the EU in France.

Meanwhile, Macron, a pro-EU centrist, is leading in the polls. But many political observers noted that the race will be tighter than when they faced off in 2017.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded an honorary title to a military unit accused of war crimes in Bucha, Ukraine, Axios reported Monday. Ukrainian authorities had accused Russia’s 64th Motorized Infantry Brigade of being “directly involved in committing war crimes against the people of Ukraine in Bucha.”
  • At least seven people were killed Monday after missiles struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Ukrainian officials said, according to NBC News. The strikes were a lethal extension of Russia’s conflict into a city that has become a haven for thousands fleeing from the east as well as a vital supply and logistical hub. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has promised not to cede land in the country’s east in order to stop the war with Russia, Al Jazeera added.
  • Syrian fighters are preparing to enter the next round of the Ukraine battle, the Associated Press wrote. According to analysts, the next stage of Ukraine’s war might see Russia bring in more battle-hardened militants from Syria.
  • Ukraine has completed a questionnaire that will serve as a starting point for the European Union’s decision on Kyiv’s membership, Reuters reported. Elsewhere, employers and unions in Germany have joined forces to oppose an immediate European Union embargo on natural gas imports from Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, claiming that such a step would result in industrial closures and job losses in the bloc’s largest economy, the Associated Press added.

DISCOVERIES

Red Silence

Future communication in the Martian atmosphere will not be the same as that on Earth, according to a new study.

Scientists discovered that the speed of sound travels more slowly on the red planet while  “mostly, a deep silence prevails,” CNET reported.

Researchers used sound recordings from NASA’s Perseverance rover to calculate how sound travels on Mars and describe the planet’s soundscape.

The data from the rover’s SuperCam instrument showed that there are two sound speed limits on Mars: Low-pitched sounds travel at about 537 mph (240 meters per second) but higher-pitched sounds move at 559 mph (250 meters per second).

In comparison, the speed of sound on Earth is about 767 mph (343 meters per second).

The team explained that the slower speed is caused by the planet’s thin atmosphere, which is made up primarily of carbon dioxide. Mars’ atmosphere also muffles sound, which prevents high-pitched noise from traveling at all.

Still, the authors noted that the speed of sound could change depending on seasonal and temperature fluctuations on the planet.

They added that since the speed of sound is affected by temperature, they were able to measure large and rapid temperature changes on the Martian surface that other sensors had been unable to detect, according to Science Alert.

Click here to get a glimpse of how familiar Earth sounds change on the red planet.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 505,062,981

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,199,933

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,184,960,988

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

  1. US: 80,686,405 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 43,045,527 (+0.003%)
  3. Brazil: 30,261,088 (+0.03%)
  4. France: 27,980,729 (+0.07%)
  5. Germany: 23,459,628 (+0.10%)
  6. UK: 21,916,961 (+0.00%)**
  7. Russia: 17,820,486 (+0.05%)
  8. South Korea: 16,471,940 (+0.72%)
  9. Italy: 15,730,676 (+0.12%)
  10. Turkey: 14,999,479 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

Correction: In Monday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “Twilight of the Gods” item that Germany recently confiscated the world’s largest yacht – almost 1,700 feet long – from a Russian oligarch. In fact, the “Dilbar” yacht measures almost 512 feet in length and is one of the largest yachts in the world. We apologize for the error.

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