The World Today for June 07, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Too Many Cooks

MALI

Armed men riding motorcycles shot and killed two Red Cross workers in western Mali recently, according to the international humanitarian organization. Their killers were not identified. Still, for the past decade, Islamist militants with ties to Al Qaeda and also Islamic State have been expanding their operations in the West African country as well as in nearby Burkina Faso and Niger.

On the day before that attack, terrorists killed a UN peacekeeper and three others traveling in a convoy in northern Mali, reported France 24. The peacekeeper was one of 13,000 soldiers who are participating in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

Established in 2013, the UN’s mission is supposed to prevent jihadists from terrorizing Malians and others in the Sahel region. But UN observers have also noticed that the Malian government can instill fear in the population, too. As Agence France-Presse wrote, the UN recently issued a report noting a surge in deaths due to government forces. Reuters said the violence showed how the military junta running the country was losing its grip on power.

The escalation comes after a turn in the landlocked country’s more-than-10-year-long battle against a jihadist insurgency. In 2020, a junta overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, established closer ties with Russia and distanced the country from France, its former colonial power. France withdrew a large contingent of troops from the country earlier this year, citing differences with the coup leaders.

Coinciding with the uptick in government-sponsored violence was a new partnership between Malian forces under Interim President Assini Goïta and mercenaries from the Wagner group, a Russian military contractor.  A New York Times investigation described massacres with “Russian fingerprints” that have become more frequent in Mali since Wagner arrived.

Wagner has been called a “proxy” for the Russian government, leading the Middle East Monitor to claim that Mali is now a front in the conflict that has arisen between Russia and Europe due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Malian authorities recently arrested an army officer, saying he was seeking to foment a Western-backed coup that would put the country back into France’s orbit, Voice of America reported.

The junta has also pulled out of the G5 Sahel Force, a multinational alliance to counter jihadist movements that includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger, Al Jazeera added. At the same time, Critical Threats, an outlet tied to the American Enterprise Institute, warned that the Malian military’s human rights abuses will likely strengthen those terrorist groups.

Optimists might be hard-pressed to keep a hopeful outlook when it comes to Mali these days.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Farewell Thee Well

UNITED KINGDOM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a no-confidence vote Monday that could have removed him from power after a scandal over lockdown-violating gatherings that took place at government offices and the prime minister’s residence, Reuters reported.

The vote came after lawmakers from Johnson’s Conservative party submitted letters of no confidence in his leadership. Under party rules, at least 15 percent of lawmakers need to write a letter to oust their leader.

Almost 150 members of his party voted to remove Johnson.

The embattled leader has faced an uproar over parties that took place as the UK was under a strict lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, a scandal that has become known as “partygate.” Two separate investigations uncovered a widespread culture of boozy parties, as well as multiple violations of lockdown rules.

The London Metropolitan Police issued 126 fines to 83 people, including Johnson and his wife – that made Johnson the first sitting British prime minister to have been sanctioned for breaking the law, NBC News noted.

The scandal has put Johnson in a difficult situation, less than three years after sweeping the 2019 elections and securing an agreement that finalized Britain’s exit from the European Union.

But the anger ignited by the gatherings has sparked concern among Conservative lawmakers that voters are turning against them. According to YouGov, Johnson’s disapproval rating has risen to 68 percent.

Still, since Johnson won the vote, he is safe from further challenges for about a year – officially at least.

Foot in Mouth

INDIA

India sparked a diplomatic row with key Muslim countries after two ruling party representatives were accused of making Islamophobic comments and derogatory statements about the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, the Guardian reported Monday.

The uproar began after Nupur Sharma, the national spokesperson of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made a series of offensive statements about Muslim worship and the prophet during a television debate. Soon after, a media spokesman, Naveen Kumar Jindal, posted a controversial tweet about the prophet. It has since been deleted.

Both comments and posts went viral and prompted outrage in neighboring Pakistan and the Gulf countries. Qatar summoned India’s ambassador and demanded an apology from the Indian government, accusing it of inciting “a cycle of violence and hate.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also criticized the comments, saying they were an example of how Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is “trampling religious freedoms and persecuting Muslims.”

Following the criticism, the BJP immediately removed both spokespeople, and said the statements were made by “fringe elements” and “do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the government of India.”

Even so, observers noted that their dismissals only happened following complaints from Gulf nations – which are India’s important energy partners. They added that no action occurred after comments by Jindal and Sharma were flagged more than a week ago by Muslims and civil rights groups in India.

The incident underscored the increasing tensions between the Hindu nationalist BJP’s domestic policies and India’s strategic trade with the Muslim world: Qatar supplies about 40 percent of India’s gas needs, and the Gulf region is home to around 6.5 million Indians.

The BJP has been accused of systematically marginalizing and overseeing the persecution of the country’s 200 million Muslims.

Last week, a report by the US State Department highlighted the deaths, assaults and intimidation of religious minorities in India. The Indian government reacted angrily, labeling the report “ill-informed” and “biased.”

The Golden Goose

MEXICO

The party of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador won four of six governorships in the country’s regional elections, a victory that further consolidates its power ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Results showed that López Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement – known as Morena – and its allied parties won in Tamaulipas, Quintana Roo, Oaxaca and Hidalgo.

The victories give the party control of 22 of 32 Mexican states, which analysts said indicates “that Morena shores up first place heading into the presidency in 2024.”

They added that much of the party’s success is due to López Obrador’s popularity even as the opposition has been losing ground. His rollout of social welfare programs has increased his approval rating, despite ongoing economic challenges and gang-fueled violence, Reuters noted.

Still, others wondered if Morena’s success streak will continue after López Obrador’s term ends. Mexican law only allows presidents to serve a single six-year term.

Meanwhile, observers posited that the recent victory could allow the president to exert more power over the party and also pick his successor for the upcoming elections.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The United Kingdom said it will supply long-range missiles to Ukraine, joining the United States in reinforcing the country’s defense systems despite Russian threats, the Hill reported. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced the delivery of multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), which can hit targets of up to 50 miles away with excellent accuracy.
  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy greeted soldiers and bestowed military honors near the front in eastern Ukraine in a visit intended at raising morale and emphasizing his position as a wartime leader, the New York Times wrote. The journey on Sunday was cloaked in secrecy and only announced at the last minute: He visited the city of Lysychansk, which is maybe the closest he has gotten to actual fighting in the east since the war began.
  • Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer wants the European Union to include a “halfway house” in its application procedure to allow Ukraine and Moldova a stepping stone to full EU membership, according to the Washington Post. He proposed a “European preparatory space” to give countries such as Ukraine associated status while they work to reach EU standards.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was forced to abandon a visit to Serbia because the nations surrounding the country have banned Russian flights from their airspace, making no exceptions, the Guardian noted. In comments cited by Russian news media, its foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, dubbed the restriction, “another blocked channel of communication.”

DISCOVERIES

A Pompeiian Life

The ancient Roman city of Pompeii, located in modern-day Italy, continues to fascinate scientists and archaeologists even though it has been deeply excavated and studied for decades.

Recently, a science team was able to sequence the genome of a Pompeiian man who died in the volcanic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Researchers analyzed the petrous bones found at the base of the skulls of a man and a woman, whose remains were well-preserved by the volcanic ash that covered the city.

The team wrote in their study that they couldn’t extract enough genetic information from the woman but the man’s DNA offered an interesting profile of one of the city’s residents.

The man, believed to be in his late 30s or early 40s, was about 5-foot-4-inch tall and suffered from spinal tuberculosis, a common ailment at the time.

But the findings also showed that his genetic profile was consistent with that of the central Italian population of the Roman Imperial Age: His ancestors possibly came from Anatolia – or Asia Minor – during the Neolithic Age.

While there have been previous attempts to study other victims of the eruption, this is the first time scientists successfully sequenced Pompeiian DNA. Researchers noted that the pyroclastic materials made from the explosion actually “shielded” bones from environmental factors that degrade DNA.

They hope this discovery helps pave the way for more information about the city and its inhabitants.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 532,350,964

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,300,053

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,665,543,455

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

  1. US: 84,882,287 (+0.14%)
  2. India: 43,185,049 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 31,195,118 (+0.19%)
  4. France: 29,840,626 (+0.02%)
  5. Germany: 26,498,361 (+0.01%)
  6. UK: 22,526,949 (+0.15%)
  7. South Korea: 18,174,880 (+0.03%)
  8. Russia: 18,087,265 (+0.02%)
  9. Italy: 17,514,589 (+0.05%)
  10. Turkey: 15,072,747 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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