The World Today for May 05, 2022

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Batons and Bucks

NORTHERN IRELAND

Sinn Fein, with a history as the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, a militant organization, is now poised to win the largest share of seats in Northern Ireland’s regional parliament when voters in the British territory go to the polls on May 5. As Reuters explained, the nationalist party that advocates for uniting Northern Ireland with the sovereign Irish Republic to the south is expected to receive around 26 percent of the vote.

If the party does take the lead, it will mark a turning point for the island, says the Washington Post, noting that victory would underscore how Northern Ireland has been transitioning from a pro-British majority to one more happy to see a united Ireland.

Highlighting that change is how support for Sinn Fein’s primary rival and the current majority party in parliament, the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has cratered, the New Statesman wrote. They are expected to receive 20 percent of the vote. Around 8 percent of their supporters have fled to other unionist parties because the DUP has failed to solve a thorny tangle of problems.

In February, DUP first minister Paul Givan resigned in protest against the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, an agreement between Britain and the European Union on the Northern Irish border after Brexit, the Guardian editorial board recalled. DUP leaders say that the protocol erects trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain that are plainly illegal under British law.

The protocol is arguably necessary because, under EU rules, all goods entering EU countries from non-EU countries must undergo checks, as the BBC noted. Since Northern Ireland would no longer be part of the EU once Brexit occurred, a hard border theoretically would need to go up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is an EU member. But under the separate 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Britain and Ireland, the border between northern and southern Irish communities was supposed to be permeable. So, neither side is supposed to erect a hard border.

Internal politics are also putting pressure on the Good Friday Agreement. With the prospect of Sinn Fein appointing a new first minister, DUP leaders say they might not join Sinn Fein in the power-sharing executive established in the Good Friday Agreement, reported the Daily Mail.

Now British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to scrap the protocol to satisfy his DUP allies and other conservatives, a move that will create a new crisis in relations with EU leaders, reported the Belfast Telegraph. A trade war with the EU could be possible, warned the Financial Times.

But a former Northern Irish official who helped negotiate border issues during Brexit talks said Johnson and his allies always knew how the protocol would isolate Northern Ireland behind an internal border within the United Kingdom, according to RTE, an Irish state-owned broadcaster. But they wanted to rush the process and get Brexit done, the officials said.

Some politicians pass batons. Others pass the buck.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Fickle Welcome

TURKEY/ SYRIA

Turkey is preparing to return one million Syrian refugees to northern Syria amid increasing economic woes and criticism from the opposition ahead of the presidential elections next year, the Middle East Eye reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced this week that the government is building 100,000 briquette houses to shelter Syrians in the rebel-held Idlib region. He said the government is “preparing a project to realize our one million Syrian brothers’ return.”

About 500,000 Syrians have resettled in areas of Syria controlled by Turkey, he added.

Turkey currently hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, who fled the country during the civil war. It also accommodates 1.7 million other foreign nationals, including Afghans and Pakistanis.

Erdogan initially refused to return refugees but changed his mind as Turkey began grappling with a currency crisis and rising anti-refugee sentiment. Last year, communal violence in major cities led to attacks on Syrian businesses and refugees.

His reversal also comes as the country prepares for the 2023 presidential elections. Opposition politicians across the political aisle have also pledged to send millions of refugees back to their countries.

Erdogan’s government has tried to mitigate the criticism by imposing restrictions on new arrivals: This week, the government banned Syrian refugees in Turkey from traveling to northern Syria for the holiday of Eid al-Fitr following public criticism over their ability to travel freely across the border.

Breaking the Scales

EUROPE

Most Europeans are overweight and obesity is rising in the continent, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization, a development that undermines a long-held belief that Europeans are fitter than most of the rest of the world, especially Americans, Bloomberg reported.

In a new report, the United Nations agency declared there was an “obesity epidemic” after discovering that 59 percent of European adults had an overly high body-mass index in 2016. The findings also showed that one-third of children faced the same issue.

In comparison, almost 74 percent of adults in the United States are overweight or obese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Britain and Turkey are among Europe’s most overweight countries. Meanwhile, WHO officials said unhealthy food consumption increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

No country in the region is on track to reduce obesity rates by 2025 and obesity prevalence in Europe is higher than in any other part of the world except the Americas, the Guardian added.

The WHO also warned that obesity was responsible for around 1.2 million deaths annually in Europe – accounting for 13 percent of mortality on the continent.

WHO officials urged governments to act swiftly: Proposed measures include a sugar tax on sugary drinks and subsidies for healthy food.

Too Many Eyes

BRAZIL

Brazil’s electoral body withdrew its invitation for the European Union to send election observers for the upcoming presidential polls, a request that had been made initially because of concerns over President Jair Bolsonaro’s criticism of the electoral process, Reuters reported.

The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) had invited the EU for the first time to observe this year’s general election in October. Bolsonaro is expected to run.

But soon after the invitation was issued, Brazil’s foreign ministry objected to the move, saying that the South American country has never had its elections “evaluated” by an outside organization it doesn’t belong to.

The TSE then withdrew the invite.

The initial invitation came after Bolsonaro questioned the validity of Brazil’s electronic voting system and raised concerns that he may not accept the results of the October elections.

Even so, the TSE added that the Organization of American States and the parliament of South American trade bloc Mercosur have confirmed they will send missions. The electoral body also invited observers from the US-based Carter Center and International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

Polls show that leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has a comfortable lead over Bolsonaro, though his lead has dwindled in recent surveys.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The European Union proposed a six-month ban on Russian crude imports and a year-end ban on Russian refined oil products causing oil prices to rise, while the bloc plans to sanction high-ranking Russian military officials involved in alleged war crimes, the Wall Street Journal wrote. The European Commission is also considering removing Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, as well as two other Russian banks from the Swift financial-messaging system. It also plans to bar three major Russian state-owned broadcasters from the bloc. At the same time, the EU’s executive body is proposing to allow Hungary and Slovakia until the end of 2023 to stop their Russian oil imports, given how much these two nations rely on Moscow’s energy resources, Politico added.
  • The European Union will “considerably increase” its military assistance to Moldova, where explosions in the pro-Russian separatist region of Transnistria have raised fears that the conflict in Ukraine will spread to the neighboring country, Agence France-Presse noted. Meanwhile, the British defense ministry warned Wednesday that Russia is “highly likely” to try to seize the Ukrainian cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk, effectively consolidating Moscow’s control over the Donbas region, the Hill wrote.
  • The mayor of Mariupol said he lost contact with the city’s last Ukrainian defenders on Wednesday amid heavy fighting at the Azovstal steel plant, NBC News reported. For weeks, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance has held out in the vital southeastern port city, which is otherwise under Russian control.
  • Belarus’ military began large-scale drills to assess its armed forces’ readiness to respond quickly to “possible crises” and counter threats from the air and ground, the Washington Post added. According to the Belarus Defense Ministry, the training exercise will not “pose any threat to the European community as a whole, or to neighboring countries in particular.”

DISCOVERIES

Lost No More

Egyptian archaeologists recently discovered the ruins of a temple dedicated to the ancient Greek god Zeus in the Sinai Peninsula, the Associated Press reported.

Known as the Zeus-Kasios temple, the ancient structure was named after the mythological Greek god of the sky and Syria’s Mount Kasios – where he was once worshipped.

The country’s Tourism and Antiquities Ministry said that the temple was located in the Tell el-Farma archaeological site, an area where excavations have been taking place since the early 20th century.

It added that the site – known by its ancient name Pelusium – dates back to the late Pharaonic period and was also used during the Greco-Roman and Byzantine eras. The spot also houses archaeological remains dating to the Christian and early Islamic periods.

In 1900, French Egyptologist Jean Clédat came across ancient Greek inscriptions revealing the existence of the temple but he never excavated it.

The new archaeological crew excavated the temple ruins through its entry gate, which revealed two massive fallen granite columns.

Officials said researchers are now studying the unearthed blocks and the site to determine the temple’s architectural design.

Meanwhile, the discovery is another boon for Egypt as it tries to lure foreign tourists back.

The country’s tourism sector took a major hit following the unrest that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Then the coronavirus pandemic and more recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dealt more blows to the sector.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 515,595,995

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,244,913

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,320,461,754

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

  1. US: 81,620,383 (+0.14%)
  2. India: 43,091,393 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,502,501 (+0.07%)
  4. France: 28,996,577 (+0.17%)
  5. Germany: 25,130,137 (+0.38%)
  6. UK: 22,267,796 (+0.08%)
  7. Russia: 17,940,665 (+0.03%)
  8. South Korea: 17,438,068 (+0.24%)
  9. Italy: 16,633,911 (+0.29%)
  10. Turkey: 15,037,242 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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