The World Today for May 03, 2022

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A Troubled Land

AFGHANISTAN

At least nine people died and 13 were injured in Afghanistan recently when bomb blasts blew up their mini-buses in Mazar-e-Sharif. “The targets appear to be Shiite passengers,” a police spokesman told Agence France-Presse. “The enemies of Afghanistan are creating tension and division among our people.”

The attack followed other attacks on Shiite mosques in the same city. Young Afghans are growing up in an environment where such internecine violence is commonplace, wrote the Washington Post in a story that movingly described their plight.

While violence has declined overall in Afghanistan since the US pulled out of the country and the Taliban returned to power last year, security is still hard to find.

As the Associated Press reported, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom recently found that Afghanistan was the “worst of the worst” violators of religious freedom since the Taliban took power. The Taliban suppresses religious minorities, while other groups attack them. Islamic State fighters, who are Sunni Muslims, target Shiites regularly as heretics, for example.

The fighting is one instance of the challenges that Afghanistan now faces.

The country is on the brink of economic collapse, according to Common Dreams. After the US withdrawal, international humanitarian aid dried up and American and European officials froze Afghanistan’s assets. Now the country faces a drop-off in aid that had been fueling society.

Only seven percent of families had enough to eat in March, the Vatican News wrote. Many could share little more than bread and water with each other during Ramadan from April 1 to May 1. Facing starvation, more Afghans were agreeing to work in the Central Asian country’s dangerous coal mines.

“Choking on dust, Mir Abdul Hadi emerged from the narrow mine shaft with a sack of coal hanging heavy on his back and his skin stained black,” wrote the New York Times. “For hours he had hacked away at the coal in the dark tunnel, terrified it might collapse on him, and now he was relieved to step back into sunlight.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres mentioned Afghans selling organs as famine loomed.

Others are selling their babies and daughters in a desperate bid to avoid starvation, Al Jazeera added. The UN raised a special fund of $2.44 billion for aid that could forestall disaster in Afghanistan and pressure the Taliban to change its educational and social policies, Reuters reported.

Letting girls attend school is one such policy. After the Taliban reversed its decision to allow girls in school, the country has come under enormous international pressure to revert to its original pledge, reported the Guardian.

It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to fixes for this troubled land.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Whodunit?

SPAIN

Spanish authorities found that the phones of the country’s prime minister and defense minister were both infected with the Pegasus spyware less than a month after a previous investigation found that the Israeli software was used to snoop on Catalan separatist leaders, the Guardian reported Monday.

Cabinet Minister Félix Bolaños said the spyware was used to extract data from the phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles during the period between May and June 2021.

Bolaños noted that the data breaches were not authorized by a Spanish judge, which is a legal requirement for national covert operations, according to the Associated Press. He added that Spain’s highest criminal court will investigate the case.

The announcement raised questions about who would have used the Pegasus spyware, which its manufacturer, NSO Group, claims is only available to state agencies. The Israeli-based company said it would investigate “any suspicion of misuse” of its software and would cooperate with any government probe.

The data breach occurred at a time when Spain’s Socialist-led government was handling a major diplomatic row with Morocco. At the time, Madrid was providing medical care to a prominent separatist leader of Western Sahara, a territory once under Spanish control that Morocco annexed in the 1970s.

The situation escalated when thousands of migrants pushed their way into Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta from Morocco, prompting the Spanish government to send troops to the territory to stop the influx.

Morocco denied it had encouraged migrants to make their way into Ceuta.

Meanwhile, the recent breach also came weeks after Citizen Lab, a Canadian-based cybersecurity group, found that Pegasus was used to spy on dozens of members of Catalonia’s independence movement, including the president of the northeastern Spanish region, Pere Aragonès, and three of his predecessors.

The regional government accused Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI) of spying on separatists. It also declared that relations with national authorities were “on hold” until full explanations are offered and those responsible are punished.

The Spanish government pledged an internal inquiry into the alleged targeting of Catalan activists, and Spain’s public ombudsman has also launched an independent probe.

Pointing Fingers

PAKISTAN

Pakistani authorities charged former Prime Minister Imran Khan and 150 other individuals with blasphemy this week, a move that critics called an effort by the new government of using religion “as a tool” to intimidate political rivals, Voice of America reported.

Officials said that the charges came after some Pakistani pilgrims jeered at new Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his delegation during a visit to Saudi Arabia last week. The individuals chanted “traitors” and “thieves” as Sharif’s delegation visited Medina, Islam’s second holiest city.

Authorities alleged that the hecklers were linked to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, adding that the former prime minister and his aides could be arrested if evidence connected them to the incident.

Khan rejected the charges as “ridiculous,” labeling them as an attempt by the government to stymie public frustration over the deepening economic and energy crises facing the country.

Human rights advocates also urged the government to drop the charges, while legal analysts questioned whether Pakistan’s blasphemy laws can be used in such a case. The laws apply when offensive remarks are made against the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Others also posited that Pakistan’s legal structure does not permit the registration of cases involving criminal acts committed on foreign soil.

Blasphemy laws carry the death penalty in Pakistan, although no one has been executed to date. Even so, blasphemy is a very sensitive topic in the predominately Muslim country. Suspects are often attacked and sometimes lynched by mobs.

The recent allegations come a month after lawmakers approved a motion of no-confidence against Khan’s government, ending his nearly four-year-old administration. Khan, meanwhile, has denounced the vote as a US-backed plot to oust him for fostering stronger relations with China and Russia.

The United States has denied the accusations.

Meanwhile, Khan has demanded the new government announce snap elections and has held a series of protests against it.

Not Playing Fair

EUROPEAN UNION

European Union regulators accused Apple of breaking the bloc’s competition laws Monday after preliminary findings showed that the tech giant misused its dominant position in mobile payments to deny competitors access to contactless technology, the Financial Times reported.

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said the company has allegedly prevented its rivals from accessing “tap and go” chips or near-field communication (NFC) to benefit its own Apple Pay system.

She added that if the allegations are confirmed the firm would have violated the bloc’s competition rules and could face fines worth up to 10 percent of global turnover if the charges are upheld.

Apple responded to the fresh charges by saying that Apple Pay is “only one of many options” available to European consumers for making payments. The big tech company added that it “has ensured equal access to NFC while setting industry-leading standards for privacy and security.”

The new charges are the latest one against Apple, which is facing a series of antitrust investigations in the EU. Among them, the company is facing criticism over allegedly disadvantaging rivals on the App Store by collecting 30 percent of some subscription fees while depriving other services the option of informing consumers that there are other methods to upgrade.

The fresh allegations also follow two new landmark pieces of legislation in the EU, including the Digital Markets Act, aimed at limiting the dominance of big tech.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin could formally declare war on Ukraine as early as May 9, allowing Russia to fully mobilize its reserve forces while invasion plans stall, CNN wrote. May 9 is known as “Victory Day” in Russia, which commemorates the country’s defeat of the Nazis in World War Two. Western officials posited that Putin will exploit the symbolic significance and propaganda value of that day to announce either a military achievement in Ukraine, a major escalation of hostilities – or both.
  • The European Union is close to reaching an agreement to phase out Russian oil imports in response to the Ukraine conflict, but concerns from Hungary and Slovakia are preventing a deal from being reached, the Washington Post reported. According to officials, the EU may provide the two nations concessions or carve-outs to cement the deal. Meanwhile, Russian gas company Gazprom said that natural gas shipments to China increased by 60 percent in the first four months of the year compared to the same time in 2021, according to the South China Morning Post.
  • Israel condemned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday for saying that Hitler had Jewish blood, saying his comments were “unforgivable and outrageous,” Politico noted. Lavrov said during a Sunday interview that Ukraine still had a Nazi element – a line pushed by Moscow to justify its invasion – despite its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, being Jewish. He added that “some of the worst anti-Semites are Jews.” Despite Israeli condemnation, Russia doubled down on its comments Tuesday and accused Israel of supporting neo-Nazis in Ukraine, Reuters added.
  • Hundreds of people remain trapped at a steel mill in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, despite the departure of a group of evacuees on Sunday, BBC wrote. For weeks, Russia has been bombarding the Azovstal plant, which has become the city’s final bulwark of Ukrainian resistance.
  • Ukraine will temporarily close its four main seaports after losing control of them to Russian forces, Radio Free Europe noted. The declaration is considered mainly a formality, since Russia has blockaded or occupied the seaports following its invasion on Feb. 24. Zelenskyy, meanwhile, warned that Ukraine might lose tens of millions of tons of grain due to Russia’s control of Black Sea shipping lanes.
  • The Kremlin is using a new troll factory to disseminate disinformation on social media and in the comment sections of popular websites in an attempt to sway public opinion about its invasion of Ukraine, Bloomberg added.

DISCOVERIES

No Relation

Australia’s dingoes look like dogs but have no strong relation with the domesticated canine, according to a new genetic study.

Scientists found that the dingo’s genome is very different from that of dog breeds and that the canine species have never been domesticated, New Scientist reported.

Dingoes are believed to have arrived in Australia around 5,000 to 8,500 years ago and have since been roaming wild around the continent. Initially, researchers theorized the animal descended from an ancient domestic dog breed introduced by Asian seafarers that later turned wild.

But researcher William O. Ballard and his team analyzed the genome of a pure desert dingo and compared it with that of five domestic dog breeds, including German shepherds and boxers.

They discovered that the dingo is a genetic intermediate between domestic dogs and wild wolves. Ballard added there were more genetic variations between dingoes and pooches than there are between any two human populations.

The findings also showed that the wild mammals only have a single copy of the AMY2B gene, which allows digestion of starchy food – whereas dogs have multiple copies and can digest these foods, such as rice.

“This reinforces the notion that dingoes were never truly domesticated,” said Ballard.

He noted that the study could also impact how dingoes should be treated in Australia, where the animals – together with feral domestic dogs and their hybrids – are culled to prevent them from attacking livestock.

“Lots of farmers believe … there’s no difference between a dingo and a feral domestic dog,” he added. “But from a conservation perspective, knowing there is a really significant difference between them is important.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 514,270,299

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,238,317

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,318,641,528

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

  1. US: 81,444,332 (+0.10%)
  2. India: 43,084,913 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,460,997 (+0.02%)
  4. France: 28,881,384 (+0.03%)
  5. Germany: 24,927,339 (+0.46%)
  6. UK: 22,214,111 (+0.00%)**
  7. Russia: 17,930,267 (+0.03%)
  8. South Korea: 17,346,753 (+0.29%)
  9. Italy: 16,523,859 (+0.12%)
  10. Turkey: 15,034,917 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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