The World Today for January 03, 2023

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Won’t Back Down


The Iranian government’s crackdown on free speech and the free flow of information has led protesters who are challenging the country’s Islamic clerics to smuggle Starlink satellite dishes into the country. Manufactured by a subdivision of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, the devices provide Internet access via satellite link, circumventing the government’s restrictions on online communications, the Wall Street Journal explained.

This subterfuge is a metaphor for a popular uprising that the Washington Post described as the “Gen Z rebellion” against the Iranian regime. Sparked initially when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September while in the custody of Iran’s “morality police,” the civil unrest has morphed into a broader renunciation not only of Iran’s harsh restrictions on women but also of the country’s leadership. Some protesters have chanted “death to the dictator,” a reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“(Amini’s) death unleashed years of pent-up grievances in Iranian society, over issues ranging from tightening social and political controls to economic misery and discrimination against ethnic minorities,” wrote Reuters.

Security forces have met the protests with extreme measures. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards fired live bullets and birdshot into crowds. Protesters have avoided hospitals because police are often waiting at the emergency rooms to arrest them, the BBC reported, citing Iranians who sought medical treatment in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Authorities recently executed two activists in their early 20s, hanging one in public, on charges of “waging a war against God” for killing or wounding security force members, Deutsche Welle wrote. Civil rights said the charges were being applied too broadly to intimidate protesters and that the convicted activists were subjected to “show trials.”

Iranian officials don’t see the protests as an imminent threat to their rule, Slate magazine noted. But the popular disturbances show how cracks are forming in the Islamic Republic’s grip on legitimacy. Resistance to Covid measures in China and Russian men fleeing to Central Asia to avoid service in the war in Ukraine were other examples of the limits of the world’s authoritarians.

Iranian leaders have decried the protests as being driven by minorities fomenting ethnic discord, foreign interests seeking to undermine the republic, and anarchists. But the participation of a broad swath of Iranian society has exposed those warnings as attempts at spin. For example, doctors came out to demonstrate recently, while Iran’s national team refused to sing the national anthem at the World Cup, an action that was taken as a nod to the protests.

The US, meanwhile, recently slapped sanctions on Iran – the latest of many – to make it harder for Iran to supply drones to Russia for deployment in the Ukrainian war, Politico reported. Tensions between Iran and Israel have also increased due to Iran shipping arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, The Hill added.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei seems eager to push the limits inside and outside his country. The question is how much pushback he receives.


The Big Comeback


Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as the country’s president this week, marking a return to the office he first held two decades ago, following an intense presidential election against conservative incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, the Washington Post reported.

This is the third time the aging leftist leader has held Brazil’s highest office, and whose inauguration comes amid a period of political divisions in the Latin American nation.

During the ceremony, Lula vowed to rebuild the country’s economy, tackle police brutality and save the Amazon rainforest. He also addressed the crowd by condemning his predecessor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying it amounted to “genocide” and should “not stay unpunished.”

Bolsonaro did not attend the ceremony – marking a departure from tradition when the outgoing leader hands over the presidential sash to his successor.

Lula won the presidency in October in the closest presidential race in Brazilian history, three years after being released from prison on corruption allegations that were eventually dropped.

Even so, the election results caused many Bolsonaro supporters to hold demonstrations across the country and urge the military to intervene. In recent weeks, Brazilian authorities have also arrested some radical supporters for instigating violence and “anti-democratic acts.”

In a farewell speech, Bolsonaro said that his election loss was unfair, but criticized the violence and urged his supporters to “show we are different from the other side, that we respect the norms and the constitution.”

Meanwhile, Lula’s victory marks another comeback for leftist governments in Latin America, following recent victories over the political right in Colombia and Chile.

Please, Leave


Japan introduced new monetary incentives this week to urge families to move out of Tokyo, a move aimed to address decades of demographic decline and economic migration to the capital, the Financial Times reported Monday.

Officials said the government will offer families up to $7,600 per child if they relocate to municipalities outside of Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures. The amount is more than triple the figure offered in an existing scheme in place since 2019.

The increased payment per child is just one component of the government’s commitment to enticing young families to leave Tokyo. Families who relocate are already receiving up to nearly $23,000 in one-time financial support, with the possibility of receiving even more if they start a business.

Those who accept the money must live the provincial life for a minimum of five years, or they must repay the state.

Japan’s government is making efforts to deal with a shrinking and aging population, while also handling the large migration of many young people to major cities that has left rural regions desolate.

Many rural towns and villages have been emptied, their businesses starved of customers and available workers. The estimated glut of empty homes in Japan – houses that are frequently intentionally left unclaimed by heirs – is expected to reach 10 million by 2023.

So far, around 1,300 municipalities have already signed up to host migrating Tokyo citizens and have issued a number of sale pitches about rural charms to entice families.

But government data showed that fewer than 2,400 people have taken advantage of the relocation payment in fiscal 2021 – a number that amounts to a very tiny percentage of the 38 million population of Greater Tokyo.

The Hunt Begins


Sweden began the biggest wolf cull in modern times Monday, as the government is seeking to reduce the number of wolves in the country despite major opposition from nature organizations that it could drastically harm the population, the Guardian reported.

Hundreds of hunters will conduct searches across Sweden throughout January as they attempt to take out the large predators. Hunters will be allowed to kill 75 wolves from a population of 460, as the government is trying to reduce the population density in certain districts.

Officials said the cull was necessary to slow the growth of wolf numbers, but animal rights groups warned that the killing could severely impact the ecosystem and existing population. Critics noted that the wolf population in Sweden is relatively low, whereas in Italy there are more than 3,000 of the canine species.

Sweden’s environmental protection agency previously recommended that the population should not decrease below 300 wolves. However, a majority of Swedish lawmakers support reducing the number to 170 individuals, which is at the very bottom of the 170 to 270 range required to meet the European Union’s species and habitats directive.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Norway, anti-cull campaigners are fighting a similar decision in court with a hearing expected next week.

Both Norway and Sweden share a wolf population – the Scandinavian wolf – which has been placed on the endangered species list: Norway’s wolves have been labeled as critically endangered, while Sweden’s population is severely endangered.

If Norwegian campaigners win, the verdict could have ramifications in Sweden, which is governed by the same European laws.


Different Motives

The ancient Romans portrayed the invading Huns and their leader, Attila the Hun, as ransacking barbarians with an “infinite thirst for gold.”

Some of these depictions had good reason, but a new study suggested that the motives of Attila and his people were a matter of survival, instead of greed, Science Alert reported.

A research team reconstructed climate data from tree rings taken from the Czech Republic and Germany. They also studied the teeth of ancient human remains found in the Great Hungarian Plains to determine the diet of the period’s inhabitants.

Their findings showed a very complex picture: Between 420 and 450 CE, the area – including the whole Eurasian steppes – experienced a chaotic climate. The Great Hungarian Plains were marked by a number of very dry summers that resulted in droughts and forced Huns to migrate to better pastures.

The teeth analysis also showed that the Huns fed on anything they could find because of scarcity, which might have triggered a shift in societal roles.

The team notes that Huns and Romans cohabited in a mutually beneficial relationship, but collaborations went downhill in the 440s CE.

Attila the Hun, who came to power in the 430s CE, is frequently blamed for sparking the worst of the fighting. Roman historians noted that the Hun commander launched raids, as well as demanded Roman gold and territory during his reign.

These demands included a strip of land from the empire along the Danube River – which the authors suggest could have been used as a great place for herding animals.

The team acknowledges that further archaeological evidence is needed to confirm this theory, but if proven it could show that the leader was mainly looking out for his people.

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