The World Today for May 13, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Shattered

LEBANON

Lebanese expatriates took to the polls recently before parliamentary elections in their homeland on May 15. Their role in the ballot is important because of the enormous size of the diaspora due to the economic crisis.

According to the National news outlet, the number of voters living abroad has tripled since the last elections in 2018.

As Agence France-Presse reported, opposition candidates especially hope that these voters will support their reformist agenda. Protests rocked Lebanon in 2019 over rising living costs and public corruption. Then in 2020, an explosion related to fertilizer storage blew up the port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people and damaging much of the capital. The coronavirus pandemic precipitated a financial crisis that has devalued the currency by more than 90 percent. That crisis, says the World Bank, is one of the world’s top three worst economic crises of the past 150 years.

The situation has led the Lebanese – dealing with out-of-control inflation, and shortages of medicines, fuel, food and other basics – to no longer expect the government to deliver services. Instead, the Washington Post wrote, “the country has been carved into spheres of influence, with residents turning to political factions and leaders in lieu of a centralized, functional state.”

These factions, in turn, are connected to the many diverse communities within Lebanon. Political parties representing Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and others are all vying for seats in parliament, explained the Atlantic Council, adding that whoever wins will have to implement unpopular reforms in order to receive financial aid from the International Monetary Fund and other institutions.

That’s not likely to happen soon, though.

Lebanon obviously has a history of fighting between those groups. Members of the Shiite political party and militant force Hezbollah, for example, have physically attacked opposition candidates who entered politics after the 2019 protests, Al Jazeera reported.

But surgeon Hicham Hayek, who is running under the opposition slate Together For Change, said infighting won’t help solve the country’s problems. Neither will the attacks on the opposition.

“We’re taking on the elections for the people, who are all being humiliated at the banks, the gas stations, and the bakeries,” Hayek said. “I ask those who attacked us and shot at us, are they being paid well? Are they able to fill their cars with fuel or find bread at the bakery? Aren’t their kids also leaving the country? And didn’t they lose any relatives in the Beirut Port blast?”

Meanwhile, the opposition itself is plagued by division and disarray.

Post-election, analysts predict that parliament will remain fragmented. It’s not clear who will become prime minister. The incumbent, Najib Mikati, is not running for reelection. And governments here routinely take many months to form. Meanwhile, the powers that be – the elites and the military – have a strong track record of preventing reform-minded candidates from getting into power, mainly because change threatens their hold on the country’s resources. But only reform will unlock the billions in aid needed to begin alleviating the situation.

At the end of the day, Lebanese voters need someone who can pick up the pieces, even when those pickings are slim.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

All For One

LATIN AMERICA

A growing number of Latin American leaders are threatening to shun a key Americas summit hosted by the United States next month after Washington hinted that the meeting would exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, the Washington Post reported.

Held every three years in a different country, the Summit of the Americas is considered the premier event for hemispheric bonding. It remains a crucial arena for Washington to promote democracy and address common economic challenges.

This year, it is scheduled to take place in Los Angeles from June 6 to 10.

But Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his Bolivian counterpart Luis Arce announced this week that they will not attend the event if the three nations are not invited.

Caribbean leaders are also threatening to bow out, while other leaders are considering it. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that his participation is “currently under evaluation.”

Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are all subject to US sanctions.

The refusal to attend followed an interview with a US official on Colombian television last week who said the three countries were not invited. White House officials later countered that “no decisions” were made on the invites.

Observers noted that for some countries, the summit is a reminder of US hubris when it comes to the hemisphere, adding that the lack of attendance could become a potential embarrassment for the Biden administration.

Alone with a Virus

NORTH KOREA

North Korea confirmed its first Covid-19 cases Thursday, two years after the isolated nation had insisted it was virus-free, NBC News reported.

State-controlled media said that test samples collected this week showed that an unspecified number of people were infected with the omicron variant of the virus. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un then imposed a series of anti-virus measures, including a lockdown on all cities and counties.

Since the pandemic began, North Korea had claimed that it had no virus cases and refused vaccine offers from China, Russia and the Covax vaccine-sharing program.

But health analysts have remained skeptical of the country’s claims and warned that the population of 26 million could be unprotected against the coronavirus.

Scientists say the omicron variant is highly transmissible, even as its fatality rate is much lower than other variants. Still, they emphasized how this low fatality rate is partly because of inoculation and immunity acquired from past infections.

Analysts warned that the country risks a full-blown outbreak, which could exacerbate North Korea’s battered economy and worsen the food shortages that Kim had warned about last year.

North Korea took a very strict approach to containment at the start of the pandemic, closing its borders and stopping almost all trade with China, its main economic partner. It said such measures worked.

Some countries did not report cases of the virus until well into the pandemic, particularly remote island nations in the Pacific. Currently, the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan claims to be virus-free, even as many health analysts remain skeptical.

Troubled Waters

ST. KITTS & NEVIS

The governor-general of St. Kitts and Nevis dissolved the Caribbean nation’s parliament this week, a move that could usher the country into snap elections, the Associated Press reported.

The trouble started after Prime Minister Timothy Harris fired a number of cabinet ministers – including Deputy Prime Minister Shawn Richards and Nevis Premier Mark Brantley – and asked Governor-General Samuel Seaton to dissolve the parliament.

He said the dismissal was because these officials “neglected their duties” and showed “a disinterest in their positions.”

Harris’ announcement came less than a month after lawmakers, including members of his governing coalition, filed a no-confidence motion against him, according to the Florida-based Caribbean National Weekly.

Lawmakers also attempted to oust Harris by asking the governor-general to remove him. But Seaton noted that under the constitution, the governor-general doesn’t have that power.

The prime minister said that he would announce new elections in the upcoming days.

The eastern Caribbean country consists of the larger island of Saint Kitts – or Saint Christopher – and the smaller one of Nevis. The country is part of the Commonwealth of Nations that has British Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state, according to Britannica.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The Russian government criticized Finland’s bid to join NATO, saying that such a move “definitely” posed a threat to its security, Reuters wrote. Russian officials said it warranted “retaliatory steps” to stop threats to its national security.
  • One person was killed and seven others were injured in a Russian town near the Ukrainian border, in what is likely the first death of a Russian civilian in Russia since Moscow began its invasion, Al Jazeera noted. Russian regional officials said the village of Solokhi came under Ukrainian shelling late Wednesday. The village of 638 inhabitants is located 12 miles north of the Ukrainian region of Kharkiv.
  • The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for an investigation into alleged abuses by Russian forces in areas of Ukraine that were previously under their authority, the Guardian noted. The resolution was approved by a large majority, with 33 members voting in favor and two voting against – China and Eritrea. There were 12 abstentions.
  • Russia’s Gazprom announced it will suspend shipments of natural gas flowing through Poland to the rest of Europe, a day after the Kremlin imposed sanctions against more than 30 energy corporations including a Polish firm in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed because of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Moscow Times reported.
  • More than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian forces invaded, accordingto the UN’s refugee agency. More than half of those fled to Poland while others have temporarily settled in Romania, Hungary and Moldova, among other nations. Meanwhile, at least 785,000 people have fled to Russia, where authorities are strip-searching and interrogating them, putting some in guarded camps, taking away their documents and sometimes making them stay in Russia, according to the Washington Post.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

A Modest Diet

Meat consumption was not very common in medieval England, regardless of what many historical records say, the BBC reported.

Cambridge University researchers recently studied the bones of more than 2,000 skeletons belonging to people from different walks of society from the fifth to the 11th centuries.

In their study, scientists analyzed the chemical signatures of the remains and found little evidence that these individuals ate animal proteins on a regular basis.

When they cross-referenced the findings with indicators of social status – such as grave goods and body positions – they saw no connection between social class and high-protein diets.

“The isotopic evidence suggests that diets in this period were much more similar across social groups than we’ve been led to believe,” said lead author Sam Leggett.

Legget and her colleague Tom Lambert suggested that many people then, including royals and elites, mainly consumed “bread with small quantities of meat and cheese, or (ate) pottages of leeks and whole grains with a little meat thrown in.”

The findings contradict previous assumptions and medieval texts that Anglo-Saxon royals gorged on large quantities of meat.

Instead, the team posits that those texts refer to the occasional large feasts rulers and their subjects would hold.

Researchers added in a separate study that it was also not uncommon for peasants themselves to hold these feasts in honor of their rulers.

“That means that a lot of ordinary farmers must have been there, and this has big political implications,” noted Lambert. “We’re looking at kings traveling to massive barbecues hosted by free peasants, people who owned their own farms and sometimes slaves to work on them…This was a crucial form of political engagement.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 520,120,789

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,260,307

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,392,743,829

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

  1. US: 82,325,714 (+0.12%)
  2. India: 43,116,254 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,639,130 (+0.07%)
  4. France: 29,289,023 (+0.12%)
  5. Germany: 25,661,838 (+0.27%)
  6. UK: 22,354,617 (+0.07%)
  7. Russia: 17,979,272 (+0.02%)
  8. South Korea: 17,727,068 (+0.18%)
  9. Italy: 16,954,784 (+0.23%)
  10. Turkey: 15,050,227 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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