The World Today for January 04, 2023

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ARGENTINA

The throngs that crowded Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities after the South American country’s World Cup victory testified to a vibrant country that can field world-class athletic teams, as a photo essay in the Atlantic portrayed. But the unorganized jubilation also led to unfortunate consequences.

As the Athletic wrote, some Argentina fans were injured in the chaos. Racist effigies of French striker Kylian Mbappé, who is Black, also showed up during the celebrations. Then, as millions of people blocked streets, waving the county’s blue and white colors, the team’s players, embarrassingly, had to use helicopters to pass across the city as an aerial parade. “The world champions are flying over the whole route on helicopters because it was impossible to continue by land due to the explosion of people’s happiness,” a government spokesman wrote on social media, according to the Associated Press.

The World Cup victory allowed Argentines to briefly forget how toxic politics and economic mismanagement have bedeviled their country for decades. Now they are back to seeking a more stable government and economy. It’s too familiar a quest.

In early December, a court sentenced Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to six years in jail on corruption charges and banned her from running again for public office, reported Reuters. She was found guilty of giving millions in public cash to a business associate for construction works in Patagonia in southern Argentina, the New York Times added. A former president and left-wing populist who served from 2007 to 2015, Fernández denied the accusations, saying the court didn’t give her a fair hearing and the charges are politically motivated.

Irregularities arguably occurred during the trial. A judge involved in the case, for instance, joined other judicial officials and well-known businessmen on a private jet trip to the ranch of British tycoon Joe Lewis, an ally of Fernández’s political rival, former conservative President Mauricio Macri.

Fernández may not go to jail. As a vice president and senator, she enjoys legal immunity under Argentine law. She will also almost certainly appeal the decision, a process that could take years. Her conviction, however, “upends” Argentine politics, the Guardian wrote. Soon after the ruling, for example, she said she would not run for president in 2023. That paves the way for incumbent President Alberto Fernández – not related to the vice president – to run for reelection, though it’s not clear he would win.

As the Economist noted, the political landscape is divided, while Peronism’s decline is interwoven with that of the country as a whole.

The Argentine economy is contracting as inflation approaches 100 percent, Bloomberg explained. Remarkably, that’s not an unheard-of state of affairs in the country, where free market boosters have long advocated for more business-friendly policies to help the economy, noted Axel Kaiser, a senior fellow at the Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America, in a Newsweek op-ed.

Still, almost 40 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line, while the “government lives from week to week,” noted the Economist.

Argentina, a century ago, was one of the richest countries in the world. But for the 50 years, it has seen a steady decline interrupted by rebounds. Another rebound is what the Argentines are hoping for.

As team captain Lionel Messi showed, anything is possible.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Déjà Vu

CHINA

Chinese officials slammed countries that began to impose Covid-19 screenings on travelers from China, as Beijing is handling a surge of coronavirus cases after dropping its controversial “zero-Covid” strategy late last year, Politico reported Tuesday.

Chinese Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning said the entry restrictions had “no scientific basis, and some practices are unacceptable.” She added that the government could “take countermeasures, following the reciprocity principle.”

Ning’s criticism comes days after the United States and a number of European Union nations imposed measures on individuals traveling from China by plane.

The measures include submitting to being tested upon arrival or presenting a negative antigen or PCR test taken fewer than two days before boarding.

The moves came as China’s ditching of its strict anti-coronavirus strategy has sparked concerns of an uncontrolled revival of the virus.

Italy was the first EU country to announce mandatory testing on Dec. 28, followed by the US on the same day – even though US measures will take effect from Jan. 5. France, Spain, and the United Kingdom quickly followed suit.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne rejected Beijing’s criticism, noting that the restrictions are aimed to prevent new variants and are in compliance with the rules from the World Health Organization. The European Commission has claimed the majority of the EU’s members back pre-departure testing for travelers coming from China, Al Jazeera reported.

Even so, the EU announced Tuesday that it has offered Beijing assistance in dealing with its coronavirus situation, including vaccine donations, as the bloc seeks to coordinate how authorities should screen arriving Chinese travelers for any new versions, the Associated Press added.

Boiling Over

SENEGAL

A Senegalese court sentenced two opposition lawmakers to six months in jail for physically attacking a pregnant female legislator in parliament, an incident that underscored the political tensions in the West African country following last year’s legislative elections, Agence France-Presse reported.

The incident occurred during a parliamentary debate last month that saw pro-government legislator Amy Ndiaye slapped and kicked in the abdomen by MPs Mamadou Niang and Massata Samb.

The scuffle began after Ndiaye made remarks about an influential Muslim leader who supports the opposition – but is not a lawmaker. Authorities later arrested Niang and Samb on Dec. 15.

Ndiaye fainted and was given medical treatment. Her lawyer, Boubacar Cisse, said that there were fears she might lose her baby. Although she has since left the hospital, Cisse noted that his client “remains in an extremely difficult situation.”

The court also ordered the lawmakers to pay a fine of $150 and more than $8,000 in damages to Ndiaye.

The incident intensified Senegal’s political tensions, which have grown since the ruling party lost its comfortable majority in a July election, Sky News noted.

The loss was seen as a rebuke of President Macky Sall, who is unsure whether he will run for a third term in 2024, a move the opposition claims would violate term limits and an earlier vow.

At the same time, the parliamentary fight also triggered a heated debate regarding legislative discourse and attacks on women. It happened to coincide with a domestic abuse awareness campaign.

Senegal is largely seen as a model of stability and democracy in West Africa, a region rife with coups and dictatorships.

Chipping In

SPAIN

A new Spanish environmental law will force tobacco companies to pay for the clean-up of millions of cigarette ends discarded by smokers each year, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

The legislation, set to come into force this week, will also require firms to educate the public about not discarding their cigarette butts in public spaces. Observers suggested that the measure will cause tobacco companies to pass on the cost to consumers and provide another reason to quit smoking.

The regulations are part of a larger environmental law package designed to reduce waste and increase recycling in Spain. The legislation is in line with a European Union directive that limits the use of single-use plastics and requires polluters to clean up after themselves.

Questions remain, however, on how the clean-up will be implanted and what it will cost.

Around 22 percent of Spanish people smoke, but popular opinion favors increased restrictions on smoking in public places.

About 500 Spanish beaches have been declared smoke-free in the interest of public health and to limit the number of butts that end up in the sea.

Cigarette butts are one of the most common forms of litter and need about 10 years to decompose – a process that also releases toxic chemicals such as arsenic and lead.

According to the non-governmental organization Ocean Conservancy, cigarette ends are the most common kind of marine pollution, even more so than plastic bags and bottles, with an estimated 5 billion dumped in the ocean.

DISCOVERIES

Started From The Top

A new study on wild chimpanzees suggested that the human ability to walk on two feet began up in the trees rather than on the ground, CNN reported.

Researchers from the UK-based University College London monitored the behavior of 13 wild adult chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Issa Valley. They explained that the valley is a “forest savannah-mosaic” that is comprised of dry open land and dense forests.

Such environments are similar to the ones early human ancestors inhabited, they added.

The team documented every time the chimps stood up, regardless of whether they were on the ground or in the trees. They then compared this with cases of chimps standing on two legs in thickly forested locations in other parts of Africa.

The data showed that chimps walked upright more than 85 percent of the time in trees rather than on the ground. Scientists also noted that the Issa Valley chimps spent about the same time in trees as their forest-dwelling relatives.

This suggests they were not more land-based, as existing theories suggest they should have been given their more open environment.

Co-author Alex Piel explained that the study challenges previously long-held assumptions that more time on the ground would force species to walk upright – such as in the case of early human ancestors.

The authors clarified, however, that the study is not drawing a direct comparison between chimpanzees and our hominid predecessors.

Still, it offers theories that must be verified against the fossil record to see what it reveals about the anatomy of early hominids.

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