The World Today for July 21, 2022
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Do Not Pass Go
A court in Sudan recently sentenced a woman to death by stoning on adultery charges. The cruel decision, the first in a decade, is bad enough, the Guardian reported. But some Sudanese worry that it heralds a new era of female oppression and human rights violations in the wake of the military coup in the northeastern African country late last year.
As the New York Times explained, coup leaders allowed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to return to work in November 2021 after he signed a power-sharing agreement that granted concessions to the military. Opposition parties criticized the agreement as an abdication of civilian control. Hamdok took office in 2019 after protests forced the resignation of Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled Sudan as a dictator since 1993.
The Sudanese military holds a “sprawling monopoly over the country’s economy,” Al Jazeera reported, citing a Center for Advanced Defense Studies report. A transition to a more democratic form of government would surely put those riches at risk, the report’s writers concluded. A Sudanese military spokesman claimed the report’s findings were false.
Since the coup, street protests and civil unrest have become increasingly common in Sudan. After a day when nine people died in clashes with security forces, troops fired tear gas and used water cannons against rioters in the capital of Khartoum who were drawing close to the presidential palace, noted Reuters. At least 113 protesters have died since the coup.
In response to the pressure, Sudanese military strongman Abdel-Fattah Burhan recently said he and the army would allow a civilian government to take the reins of power soon, reported Radio France Internationale.
Critics viewed his statement as an empty promise, however, and warned that he could be making things worse.
Speaking to the Sudanese news outlet Dabanga, Sudanese opposition leaders wanted to know how the military proposed shifting state responsibilities and powers to civilians. They believed he could be stalling for time rather than making good-faith promises that addressed his critics’ demands.
The military, for instance, has proposed creating a “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” that would have unspecified powers but presumably play a role as an ultimate arbiter of policy, added the Washington Post. Such moves could backfire. Analysts at Stratfor warned that Burhan risked triggering more protests if he believed his rhetoric would somehow conceal his inaction.
Even in countries that are not democracies, leaders who break their promises can be forced to go.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Calling a Spade…
Belarus broke the law when it diverted a Ryanair passenger flight to arrest a dissident Belarusian journalist last year, according to a report by the United Nation’s civil aviation agency, Radio Free Europe reported Tuesday.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) released a fact-finding report on the Ryanair flight flying from Greece to Lithuania that was forced to land in the Belarusian capital last May after authorities in Belarus said there was a bomb on the aircraft.
Soon after the plane landed, Belarusian security officials detained journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sophia Sapega.
The ICAO’s council said the warning about the bomb threat used to divert the aircraft was “deliberately false and endangered its safety,” according to Agence France-Presse.
Belarus’ bomb hoax prompted condemnations from many Western nations, which called the forced landing a “state hijacking.” Following the event, the United Kingdom and the European Union advised airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and barred the country’s main carrier, Belavia, from using theirs.
The UN agency also noted that Russia – a close ally of Belarus – objected to the conclusions of the report.
The arrests of Protasevich and Sapega came as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was cracking down on dissenters and protesters following the disputed 2020 presidential elections.
Lukashenko won that year’s election in a vote critics say was rigged, which sparked mass anti-government protests against the repressive leader – who has been ruling the country since 1994.
Staff at Lebanon’s central bank began a three-day strike Wednesday as authorities conducted a raid on the institution in a divisive investigation against the bank’s embattled governor Riad Salameh, the National reported.
On Tuesday, Judge Ghada Aoun and security forces entered the Banque du Liban searching for Salameh in vain. Authorities had also raided Salameh’s home in northern Beirut earlier in the day but were not able to locate him.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati criticized the manhunt and said it was inappropriate for a sensitive case in the troubled country.
Meanwhile, Banque du Liban employees condemned the raid, saying it “affected the dignity” of the institution and its staff, and threatened to continue their strike.
Aoun has been investigating Salameh and his brother, Raja, for months, in a probe that has divided the Middle Eastern country. In March, the judge charged both individuals with illicit enrichment and money laundering.
Salameh has been the country’s central bank governor since 1993 but remains a very divisive figure in Lebanon. He has been accused of embezzlement and corruption in a number of European countries, the Associated Press added.
Despite backing by the country’s elite, many Lebanese blame Salameh for Lebanon’s current economic crisis: The local currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value and there are widespread shortages of fuel, medicines, electricity and other essentials.
Spain’s Supreme Court scrapped a rule that prevented shorter women from joining the country’s police force, ruling that the regulation was “discriminatory,” Euronews reported.
The case is related to a woman, who was rejected from the force in 2017 for failing to fulfill the height requirement. Women who wish to join the National Police Corps must be at least 5.2 feet, while men must be at least 5.4 feet tall.
The plaintiff was two inches shorter. She said the laws favored males because just three percent of Spain’s male population does not fulfill the height threshold, compared to 25 percent of Spanish women.
The court sided with her, saying height requirements must take into account the average height for each gender. It added that the National Police Corps had not justified its height requirements.
The high court also ordered the force to employ the woman – provided she passes the exams – and pay her the same amount as other women who joined in 2017.
The average height of Spanish men and women between the ages of 20 and 49 is 5.7 feet and 5.4 feet, respectively.
Women make up nearly 15 percent of Spain’s total police force.
- Russian natural gas began flowing again at a reduced volume through a crucial pipeline into Europe on Thursday, allowing time for countries to decouple from the Kremlin’s exports as they anticipate a more unstable supply of energy from Moscow heading into the winter, the Wall Street Journal noted.
- Iran’s supreme leader announced he was backing Russia in its war against Ukraine, CBS News reported Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vilified the US-led NATO alliance, claiming that the West was attempting to hinder the rise of an “independent and strong” Russia.
- Syria will formally break its diplomatic relations with Ukraine, the Associated Press wrote. The move is a response to Kyiv’s decision to cut ties with Syria last month after Damascus said it would recognize the “independence and sovereignty” of Ukraine’s Russian-backed eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow’s military “tasks” in Ukraine had grown beyond the eastern Donbas area, the strongest acknowledgment yet that Moscow’s war objectives had broadened in the previous five months, according to Reuters. Lavrov told state media that geographical realities have altered since Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met in Turkey for peace talks in late March but failed to reach an agreement.
The dengue and Zika viruses can make an infected host more attractive to mosquitoes, according to a new study.
Scientists found that the two viruses are able to alter the scent of their host, practically turning them into a mosquito magnet, Deutsche Welle reported.
Tropical diseases such as dengue and Zika are spread via mosquitoes: When the bugs bite infected people, they carry the virus and spread it to healthy individuals and other animals.
Past studies have shown that some microorganisms – such as the malaria-spreading plasmodium – can hack the body to change its odor to attract more mosquitoes.
In their experiments, researchers placed a group of infected mice with Zika or dengue in one enclosure and a healthy control group in another. They then observed where the pesky insects would go after and saw that two-thirds of them would target the infected rodents.
When the team analyzed air samples from each enclosure, they found that infected mice produced a lot of “acetophenone,” a compound that occurs naturally in many foods, such as cheese, apricots and beef.
To test if acetophenone was the culprit, researchers sprayed a number of rodents and human volunteers. Unsurprisingly, the insects were drawn to the smell.
The authors determined that higher acetophenone levels were generated by an interaction between hosts’ skin microbiota, flaviviruses – which cause Zika and dengue fever – and insects.
They also discovered that dietary isotretinoin – a commercially available acne medication derived from Vitamin A – helped reduce the production of acetophenone in infected mice.
The study could help scientists to find ways to limit the spread of the viruses through mosquito bites.
“We may develop a novel avenue to interrupt the dissemination of flaviviruses by mosquitoes in the future,” said co-author Gong Cheng.