The World Today for July 01, 2022

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Stuck in Neutral

SCOTLAND

Scotland’s first minister and leader of the ruling Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, wants to precipitate a political fight over Scottish independence from the rest of the United Kingdom – she thinks she and the country’s independence cause have been stuck in neutral. A dust-up over independence gives her a chance to revive her career and cause, argued Financial Times columnist Robert Shrimsley recently.

Others, however, see that Scotland as part of the UK is stuck without a future because of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Regardless, Sturgeon this week laid out her plan to hold a new referendum on Scottish independence in the fall of 2023, the BBC reported. She intends to proceed whether or not the British government in London grants its approval for the vote. British officials have already said they would not consider the vote legitimate. Meanwhile, she said she’ll ask the country’s high court whether Scotland has the power to call the vote without London’s approval, Al Jazeera noted.

As Vox recalled, Scottish voters rejected independence from the UK in 2014. But since then, the UK left the European Union despite the vast majority of Scottish voters rejecting Brexit. Additionally, last year, voters gave a majority in Scotland’s local parliament to Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party, which supports independence.

Now, argued Sturgeon in a recent policy paper laying out the case for independence, Scots want a divorce from England, Wales and Northern Ireland because they say they can make a “wealthier, happier, and fairer” country without help from politicians like Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the embattled conservative whose disapproval rating stands at 65 percent, as Politico reported.

Polls now show that around 48 percent of Scottish voters support independence while 52 percent would reject it, according to the Washington Post. Both sides have yet to campaign seriously, however, meaning that the contest to sway a few percentage points’ worth of votes would likely be intense.

Why, then, is Sturgeon looking to start a political contest over independence that she might lose? The New Statesman says she is facing a combination of internal pressure from her political allies who want independence and the likelihood of a Labor Party government winning an election and replacing Johnson as prime minister. A Labor victory would conceivably take the wind out of the independence movement, as Labor would likely be more favorable to most Scottish voters than a Conservative Party leader like Johnson. That shift might hurt the Scottish National Party.

Party leaders, meanwhile, are working hard to make the case that independence is possible. Scottish National Party President Mike Russell recently argued that Scotland could follow the same rules that British and EU officials follow in Northern Ireland, the only place where Britain and the EU share a land border, the Herald reported. Those rules oversee how customs operate between the two jurisdictions. Johnson has said he wants to scrap the agreement.

Whether Scexit occurs will depend on Sturgeon – or her adversaries – making the more compelling case to voters who probably don’t care how or why they arrived at a new referendum.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Small Slice of Relief

FRANCE

A French court found 20 men accused of organizing and perpetrating the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris guilty this week, ending a long-running saga centering on multiple attacks that sent shockwaves throughout France and around the world, Euronews reported.

The attacks, perpetrated by an Islamic State-linked group, killed 130 people across the French capital.

Key defendant Salah Abdeslam was found guilty of murder and attempted murder. The court sentenced him to life in prison without parole, considered the heaviest and rarest punishment under French criminal law.

Abdeslam was the only survivor of the terrorist team that organized and conducted the attacks.

Another defendant, Mohamed Abrini, was given a life sentence with a possibility of parole after 22 years in prison. During his trial, Abrini explained how he was supposed to take part in the attack but later backed out.

Meanwhile, the other defendants were sentenced to between two to 30 years in prison on various charges, including purchasing weapons, procuring getaway cars, making suicide vests and providing logistical support.

Analysts described the trial as unprecedented in scale and complexity, adding that it reflected the enormity of the attacks. The marathon, nine-month-long proceedings came after a six-year investigation into the atrocities that marked a dark period in France’s modern history, according to France 24.

For the victims’ relatives and survivors of the attacks, the trial was an excruciating ordeal but critical in their quest for justice and closure.

The Small Victory Lap

TURKEY

Turkey is ramping up pressure on Sweden and Finland to extradite those it deems enemies of the Turkish state as part of a deal it made to approve Sweden and Finland joining the NATO military alliance, the Washington Post reported.

Finland and Sweden have been waiting for approval for weeks because of Turkish objections. The Turkish government said that the two Nordic countries support Kurdish fighters and other government opponents, some of whom Ankara has labeled as terrorist groups.

But earlier this week, Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed a memorandum where the two Nordic states agreed to withhold support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and followers of the US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of masterminding a coup attempt in 2016.

The three-page document also calls on Finnish and Swedish authorities to crack down on finance and recruitment networks associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – which is labeled as a terrorist organization in Turkey and the United States.

Neither country said it would automatically extradite anyone to Turkey.

Regardless, Turkey celebrated the deal as a major victory.

Turkish pro-government media hailed the agreement as a historic victory and praised Erdogan for his “decisiveness” and “vision” in bringing Turkish concerns to the world stage.

Even so, analysts say it isn’t clear whether the embattled Turkish leader won major concessions from the West.

They noted that the deal was an opportunity for Erdogan to “prop up his international image” and score political points at home, amid an ailing economy and low approval ratings.

Still, others added that there appeared to be a number of disagreements shortly after the deal was signed, particularly on the issue of extraditing members of the PKK or Gulen movement to Turkey.

A Cocktail Named Blasphemy

INDONESIA

Indonesian authorities cracked down on a chain of bars and restaurants in the capital this week for promoting blasphemy over a promotion to offer drinks for people named “Mohammad” or “Maria,” Reuters reported.

The “Holywings” chain in Jakarta posted the ad on social media – it was later deleted – offering a free bottle of gin for men named Mohammad and women named Maria every Thursday.

Police began an investigation into the chain following complaints by religious groups. On Tuesday, city officials sealed off 12 outlets in the capital, saying they did not have licenses to serve alcohol.

Authorities also charged six employees with violating blasphemy laws, which carries a five-year prison sentence, and a blasphemy provision of the internet law, which can mean up to 10 years in jail.

Holywings apologized for the promotion and said that it was created without the management’s knowledge. Police said that employees created the offer in an attempt to meet sales targets.

Meanwhile, the issue has highlighted Indonesia’s strict blasphemy laws.

Critics said the law has mainly been used against those deemed to have insulted Islam. They worry that its usage is eroding Indonesia’s long-standing reputation for tolerance and diversity.

Since the law was passed in 1965, Indonesia has detained more than 150 people – mostly from religious minorities – on blasphemy charges, according to data by Human Rights Watch.

In 2017, the legislation was used against Jakarta’s former Christian governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, who was sentenced to two years in prison on blasphemy charges widely seen as politically motivated.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukrainian forces have forced Russian soldiers off Snake Island, a vital Black Sea location off the southern coast of Odesa, the Guardian noted. Russia portrayed the withdrawal from Snake Island, as a “goodwill gesture.” But Ukrainian military officials said the Russians evacuated the island in two speedboats following a barrage of artillery and missile attacks.
  • Russia’s lower house of parliament granted final approval Thursday to a law that would authorize the prohibition of international news media in reaction to other nations’ moves against Russian news outlets, the Associated Press wrote.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia doesn’t care if Sweden and Finland join NATO but warns they will respond in kind to any “threats,” CNN reported. His comments came shortly after Turkey withdrew its objections to the two Nordic countries joining the military alliance.
  • Ukraine announced it has secured the release of 144 Ukrainian soldiers Wednesday in the biggest prisoner swap since the start of Russia’s invasion in February, according to the Hill. According to Ukraine’s military intelligence service, 95 of the 144 troops freed guarded the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol.

DISCOVERIES

A Little Help From a Friend

Researchers recently discovered that the larvae of the darkling beetle can survive on Styrofoam, the Washington Post reported.

Commonly known as “superworms,” the tiny organisms are equipped with a set of enzymes that can break down polystyrene products – better known as Styrofoam, they wrote in a new paper.

To test this, they split the larvae into three groups and fed each one a separate diet: One group was given a “healthy” solution of bran, the second was given polystyrene, and the third was given no food at all.

The team found that 90 percent of the larvae fed bran developed into beetles, compared to around 66 percent of those given polystyrene and 10 percent of those left to starve.

They concluded that superworms produce an enzyme that can digest Styrofoam. The next step is to study these enzymes to see how they can be used in digesting Styrofoam on a large scale.

Although the authors and other scientists cautioned that there are many challenges ahead, they believe the superworm could help recycle the Styrofoam waste that accounts for as much as 30 percent of landfill space worldwide.

“You cannot really escape plastic anymore – plastic waste is everywhere,” said co-author Christian Rinke. “This is definitely a new, arguably better, environmentally friendly way to break it down.”

Covid Update, Editor’s Note

We want to thank the many subscribers who wrote to us with their comments and suggestions about the Covid Update. We were very impressed by the hundreds who responded, many strongly urging us to continue publishing the coronavirus information. The final count was closely divided with a slight advantage to those who said COVID was still very much a force in the world and that we should continue to offer the Update. You argued with conviction that the Update was still meaningful and valuable to their lives. We read every single message that came in and have decided to continue to offer the Covid Update but effective next week, we’ll do it on a weekly basis, something many of you recommended. The Covid Update will now appear every Monday morning with the percentage increases measured against the prior seven days. We’ll continue to closely monitor Covid developments and report to you as needed. Thank you again for your engagement with DailyChatter.

The Editors

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 547,497,648

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,335,873

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,742,494,272

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

  1. US: 87,623,593 (+0.24%)
  2. India: 43,469,234 (+0.04%)
  3. Brazil: 32,358,018 (+0.47%)
  4. France: 31,285,317 (+0.43%)
  5. Germany: 28,293,960 (+0.40%)
  6. UK: 22,918,904 (+0.10%)
  7. Italy: 18,523,111 (+0.46%)
  8. South Korea: 18,368,857 (+0.05%)
  9. Russia: 18,161,238 (+0.02%)
  10. Turkey: 15,123,331 (+0.00%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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