The World Today for January 12, 2023

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Power, Corruption and Fireworks


Andrej Babis is a billionaire agricultural magnate and former Czech prime minister who is currently a leading candidate for the presidency of his central European country when the first round of voting starts on Jan. 13.

At the same time, Reuters reported, the 68-year-old populist is facing corruption charges related to more than $2 million in European Union subsidies that he allegedly steered to a construction project near Prague – while concealing his stake in the development.

On Monday, a Prague court acquitted him of the charges – but prosecutors can appeal, the Associated Press wrote.

Babis also enjoys the support of the incumbent Czech president, Milos Zeman. But Zeman’s endorsement might only galvanize the former prime minister’s rivals. “Babis has the advantage of being very well known, but this advantage has a downside: He is also one of the most hated politicians in the Czech Republic,” the Fondation Robert Schuman wrote.

While in power from 2017 to 2021, his political party, the Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) cut taxes as the Czech Republic’s economy grew, explained, an English-language local news site. But during the coronavirus pandemic, his government accumulated debts that current Prime Minister Petr Fiala has blamed for causing havoc in the public sector’s finances.

Faced with these two interpretations of Babis, voters might be leaning toward seeing the positive rather than the negative side of the politician. In the run-up to the vote, candidate Danuse Nerudova was leading in the polls, bne IntelliNews reported. But Nerudova’s standing has waned as Babis and retired army general Petr Pavel have surged in the polls.

Speaking to Radio Prague International, Czech political scientist Petr Just argued that Pavel might stand the best chance of defeating Babis. The former general behaves like the above-the-fray statesman who comports with the office of the Czech president, a largely ceremonial position. A third of the electorate is still undecided.

At stake is how a member of the EU leans in the future as major geopolitical moves shake out on the continent. Babis supporter President Zeman held controversial pro-Russia and pro-Chinese views. Babis is skeptical of the value of the EU, too. He and his ANO allies have blasted Czech and EU officials for outlawing fireworks, saying such “elites” were seeking to impose a nanny state on freedom-loving Czechs.

The government under Fiala, meanwhile, has adopted a budget that would devote two percent of the republic’s gross domestic product to the military, a clear statement that the country stands with the West against Russia’s aggression and its enabler, China, according to the Associated Press. Pavel, a political independent and former top NATO commander, has been fighting against Russian influence in Europe for most of his career.

Voters will decide whether their next president will start on a note of controversy or not.


Law & Order


A senior judge in Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the arrests of two top security officials in the capital this week, just days after supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country’s three main government buildings, the Washington Post reported.

The arrest warrants target Anderson Torres, the public security chief for the federal district of Brasília, and Colonel Fábio Augusto, commander of military police in the district.

The detention order comes after Brazil’s new President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other officials have accused the police officials of colluding with the rioters, who occupied the Plaza of the Three Powers in Brasilia on Sunday in an attempt to overthrow the government.

The plaza houses the Presidential Palace, Brazil’s Congress and the Supreme Court.

Sunday’s riots followed weeks of unrest that have gripped the South American nation after the October presidential runoff. Although Lula defeated his conservative rival with 51 percent of the vote, Bolsonaro continuously alleged that Brazil’s electoral system was marred with corruption and fraud.

Bolsonaro – who is currently residing in Florida – has yet to concede his defeat to Lula and has called the results unfair.

In recent weeks, his supporters have camped outside military installations and called on the military to block Lula from taking power. They have also burned buses and attacked federal police headquarters in the capital.

Bolsonaro has condemned the violence, including Sunday’s events.

Officials believe that Sunday’s riots were an attempt to trigger Brazil’s Guarantee of Law and Order, which would allow the military to assert control of the capital.

Meanwhile, authorities are questioning around 1,500 people who have been taken into custody.

Brazilian Justice Minister Flávio Dino added investigators are also probing business executives suspected of financing the unrest, including by renting about 40 buses to transport Bolsonaro supporters to the capital.

In Through the Outdoor


A suicide blast outside the Afghan foreign ministry in the capital reportedly killed dozens of people Wednesday, the second major attack in Kabul this year, Al Jazeera reported.

Taliban officials said a suicide bomber attempted to enter the ministry but failed. They added that the explosion took place when a Chinese delegation was meeting the Taliban at the government building.

It’s unclear if the delegation was present at the time of the blast, they noted.

The Islamic State’s local affiliate, the Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISKP), has claimed responsibility for this attack, the Associated Press reported, but Afghan security services have neither denied nor confirmed this claim.

Authorities have also not been clear on the death toll from the blast, with figures ranging from more than five to at least 20 people dead and many injured.

Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer at the Kabul-based American University of Afghanistan, said that the discrepancies in casualty figures are “troubling,” adding that the Taliban have done this before.

The armed group claims to have improved Afghanistan’s security following their takeover of the Central Asian country in August 2021.

But since then, Afghanistan has been plagued with bomb blasts and attacks, many of them claimed by ISKP.

ISKP has taken responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks, including an attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul last month that Islamabad denounced as an “assassination attempt” against their ambassador.

Hundreds more people, including members of Afghanistan’s minority communities, have been killed or injured in other attacks since the Taliban reclaimed control.

The Revolving Door


Peru’s attorney general launched an investigation into new President Dina Boluarte and her ministers on allegations of genocide following a crackdown on violent protests gripping the country since last month, the Guardian reported.

The probe came after 17 civilians were killed in the country’s southern Puno region Monday – the most lethal day of protests since the removal of leftist President Pedro Castillo in December.

The top prosecutor’s office said Boluarte, Defense Minister Jorge Chavez and Interior Minister Victor Rojas face charges of “genocide, qualified homicide and serious injuries.”

The officials have not commented on the accusations.

The South American nation has been grappling with deadly unrest that has seen at least 40 people killed and hundreds injured since early December.

The unrest began following the removal and detention of Castillo, who illegally attempted to dissolve parliament and rule by decree – a move his opponents have described as a “coup.”

Castillo is currently in pre-trial detention, while authorities are investigating him on charges of inciting rebellion. He denies the allegations.

But the former president’s arrest sparked a wave of protests across the country from his supporters, with demonstrators demanding Castillo’s release, Boluarte’s resignation and the dissolution of congress.

The violence has also prompted reactions from the region and abroad: Former Bolivian President Evo Morales – an ally of Castillo – called for an end to what he says is the “genocide of our indigenous brothers.” Peruvian officials banned him this week from entering the country.

Meanwhile, a mission from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is scheduled to visit Peru this week to assess the situation.


Predator on Predator

Nature is merciless when it comes to organisms feeding on others to survive.

Bacteria are eaten by other microorganisms, such as protozoans, for example.

Now, scientists recently found evidence that viruses too are prey to bigger predators, Gizmodo reported.

In their study, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln called these organisms “virovores,” saying they actively feed on viruses for sustenance.

They came across one of these creatures while studying chloroviruses, a virus commonly found in freshwater that infects green algae.

In a series of experiments, they collected samples of pond water and moved as many different types of microorganisms into the water as possible. They then introduced the chloroviruses and waited a day to see what happened.

Their findings showed that samples containing the single-celled Halteria had no remains of viruses in them, with tests proving that the protozoan species did feed on chloroviruses and even multiplied.

But aside from showing that viruses have natural predators, the authors believe their study has important implications in terms of carbon cycling: Chloroviruses play an important role in their freshwater habitats because they recycle carbon and other nutrients, preventing the energy given by these nutrients from reaching larger forms of life.

However, if living things consume these viruses – which are then consumed by larger species, and so on – some of the nutrients and energy that would normally be recycled may instead work their way up the food chain.

“If this is happening at the scale that we think it could be, it should completely change our view on global carbon cycling,” said lead author John DeLong.

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