The World Today for April 26, 2022

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Desperate, and Cursed

SRI LANKA

Schoolteacher Agnes Felician has been protesting lately against the policies of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. But she also took to the streets recently to demand justice for the estimated 270 people who died when bombers attacked three churches and numerous hotels in the country in 2019.

Since then, as a trial of the alleged bombers winds slowly through the Sri Lankan courts, Rajapaksa has steered the country’s economy into a severe crisis, says Felician. She thinks he should resign. “A curse has befallen this government,” Felician told Al Jazeera. “After the Easter Sunday bombings, nothing has worked for this country and the opportunist leaders are cursed. They have blood on their hands for their failure to deliver justice.”

Felician might just get her wish. On Monday, officials from Sri Lanka’s main opposition party said “they have garnered more than the required 113 signatures from lawmakers to introduce a no-confidence vote against the government,” Bloomberg reported. That is raising the stake for the two Rajapaksa brothers who rule the country, the news outlet opined.

Already, tensions are rising. Clashes recently erupted between drivers and police on the island in the Indian Ocean as drivers formed long lines at gas stations, Reuters reported. The violence comes after waves of largely peaceful demonstrations against Rajapaksa amid rising inflation and shortages of fuel, medicine and other essentials. The country’s biggest retail fuel distributor recently hiked prices by 65 percent.

Human rights experts have asked for an investigation into a recent police shooting connected to the unrest, added the Associated Press. Footage of police firing into crowds has sparked indignation over the incident. Police said they needed to take drastic action to maintain peace.

Sri Lanka’s crisis is connected to the war in Ukraine, noted the Washington Post. The country was already facing economic turbulence due to debt-financed spending, tax cuts, poor farming policies and a plunge in tourism due to Covid-19. The Sri Lankan state recently defaulted on $51 billion of foreign debt, for example. But the war sent fuel and food prices soaring, ratcheting up the pressure on Sri Lankan consumers.

Rajapaksa, meanwhile, has refused to quit. He has admitted that he has made mistakes in the crisis, however, as the Hindustan Times wrote.

The president is seeking a rescue loan from the International Monetary Fund, reported Bloomberg. The IMF will likely ask the country to restructure its debt, necessitating the cooperation of Chinese creditors who have been lending liberally to Sri Lanka in recent years as leaders in Beijing have sought to expand their influence regionally and construct their massive Belt and Road trade initiative.

He might not get a chance to participate in the negotiations. As the Indian Express wrote, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former Sir Lankan president who is Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s brother, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the president to remove the prime minister and cabinet from power. It’s not clear what the amendment would do in the short term but it doesn’t appear good for the president.

From President Rajapaksa’s perspective, a curse indeed might have befallen him.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Nexit

NICARAGUA

Nicaragua withdrew from the Organization of American States (OAS) this week following criticism from the regional bloc over the re-election of autocratic President Daniel Ortega last year, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada announced an immediate break from the organization and the closure of its offices in the capital, Managua. He said the country “will not take part in any of the entities of this diabolical instrument of evil called the OAS.”

The withdrawal came months after the OAS questioned the fairness of the November general elections that saw Ortega win a fourth consecutive term amid a months-long crackdown on opposition figures.

Venezuela – which withdrew from the OAS in 2020 – hailed the move as “courageous” and called the body “an instrument of US imperialism.”

Meanwhile, the organization noted that the withdrawal will not take effect until next year.

Tensions between the OAS and Nicaragua have been simmering for years.

In 2016, the organization tried unsuccessfully to mediate a dispute between Ortega and the opposition after the latter accused the president of fraud in that year’s elections.

A year later, the OAS and Nicaragua agreed to amend the electoral system. But in 2018, the deal collapsed after Ortega launched a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests which resulted in the deaths of 355 people, hundreds arrested and thousands exiled.

Ortega has consistently refused to allow OAS members into Nicaragua to assess the violence, claiming that they were interfering in domestic affairs.

‘The Biggest Loser’

SLOVENIA

A newly-formed Slovenian party won the country’s parliamentary elections over the weekend, dealing a huge blow to populist prime minister, Janez Janša, Politico reported Monday.

The left-leaning Freedom Movement secured around 34 percent of the vote, just a few months after the party was taken over by businessman Robert Golob. Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), meanwhile, received nearly 24 percent.

The new party was able to secure at least 40 seats in the 90-seat lower house of parliament. Golob’s party will now hold a majority in parliament after the Social Democratic Party – which won seven seats – said it will join his government.

Analysts described the outgoing prime minister as “the biggest loser of these elections,” adding that Janša will attempt to question the legitimacy of the polls. But the outgoing leader congratulated the “relative winner” of the election and said that the “results are as they are,” according to Euronews.

Janša had accused his opponents of supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and pro-SDS outlets had alleged that Moscow had interfered in the election.

It’s the third time Janša has been ousted as prime minister: He held the post from 2004 to 2008, and from 2012 to 2013 before he was jailed for two years on corruption charges. The populist leader regained power in 2020 after former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec resigned following a dispute over healthcare legislation.

Janša’s administration had been marked by a decline in democratic standards, and was often compared to similar backsliding in Hungary and Poland.

Carrots and Sticks

INDIA

India and the European Union agreed Monday to establish a trade and technology council in an effort to deepen cooperation as the bloc and other Western leaders urge New Delhi to weaken its ties to Russia, Reuters reported.

The mechanism’s formation follows a two-day visit by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who said that both India and the EU are facing “a challenging political landscape.”

The new Trade and Technology Council aims to tackle challenges involving trade, trusted technology and security, according to the Hindustan Times. In a joint statement, the EU and India said that “rapid changes in the geopolitical environment highlight the need for joint in-depth strategic engagement.”

This is the first time that India has agreed to set up such a council with a trade partner. The EU already has such an arrangement with the United States.

A senior EU official added that the bloc will also offer to increase sales of European military equipment to India and relaunch negotiations for a free trade deal.

The EU chief is the latest top official to visit India since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a list that includes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as the foreign ministers of Russia and China.

India has called for an end to the war in Ukraine but refrained from explicitly condemning Russia – one of its main trade partners.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Ukraine this week, pledging support and more military aid to the war-torn nation, Politico reported. The meeting marked the first time senior US officials visited Ukraine after Russia launched its invasion two months ago. The two officials announced during their visit that they want “to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do things like (invade) Ukraine.”
  • Ukrainian officials denied on Monday that Moscow had agreed to a humanitarian corridor to allow injured soldiers and residents to evacuate the besieged port city of Mariupol, France 24 noted.
  • United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in person this week to urge him to end the war in Ukraine, CBS News wrote. Guterres had previously sent an envoy in his stead. Following his meeting with Putin, the UN chief will fly to Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticized Guterres’ decision to go to Russia first, saying “there is no justice and no logic in this order.”
  • The Russian government, worried about fraying support, plans to deploy personnel known as “political instructors” within its ministries, agencies and state-owned firms to propagate the Kremlin’s political agenda among employees, a tactic that dates back to Soviet times, according to Radio Free Europe.

DISCOVERIES

Soaring Over the Sands

Flying pterosaurs soared through the skies of what is now Chile more than 100 million years ago, according to a discovery in the Atacama Desert.

An archaeological team came across a peculiar cemetery holding the well-preserved bones of the ancient reptiles, which they described as a rare find.

“This has global relevance because these types of (discoveries) are relatively rare,” lead scientist Jhonathan Alarcon told Reuters. “Almost everywhere in the world, the pterosaur remains that are found are isolated.”

Pterosaurs lived among other dinosaurs and are considered the latter’s close cousins that evolved on a separate branch of the reptile family tree, according to the American Museum of Natural History. They are believed to be one of the first animals to develop powered flight – meaning they could flap their wings to generate lift and travel through the air, not just glide.

They differed in size: Some were as big as an F-16 fighter jet but others could be compared to the size of a paper plane. They fed by sifting water via their long, thin teeth, similar to modern-day flamingos.

The discoveries will allow scientists to better study the creature’s anatomy and their habits.

“We could determine how groups of these animals were composed if they raised their babies or not,” Alarcon added.

The find was made about 40 miles away from another site where pterosaur remains were found, which further supports previous theories that the ancient reptiles were widespread in northern Chile.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 510,239,936

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,220,718

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,246,954,547

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

  1. US: 81,043,315 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 43,060,086 (+0.00%)**
  3. Brazil: 30,355,919 (+0.02%)
  4. France: 28,508,116 (+0.05%)
  5. Germany: 24,337,394 (+0.57%)
  6. UK: 22,151,465 (+0.20%)
  7. Russia: 17,880,154 (+0.04%)
  8. South Korea: 17,009,865 (+0.47%)
  9. Italy: 16,161,339 (+0.16%)
  10. Turkey: 15,021,151 (+0.02%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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