The World Today for January 30, 2023

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Sharp Elbows


Moroccan lawmakers recently voted to “reconsider” their North African country’s relationship with the European Union. The origins of the diplomatic shift began with Morocco’s alleged persecution of journalists, as Reporters Without Borders recounted. The triggering event, however, was the European Parliament’s decision to urge Morocco to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press, reported Agence France-Presse.

The Moroccan lawmakers felt that the European Parliament’s resolution was a slight. They, therefore, moved to threaten a 1996 agreement that tightly binds Morocco’s economy with the EU, the largest single-market region on the planet.

As the Associated Press explained, Moroccan officials said journalists who were supposedly targeted unfairly in the country were actually just serving prison sentences for crimes like espionage and sexual assault. Investigative journalist Omar Radi, for example, was convicted of sexual assault and espionage in 2021 and sentenced to six years in jail. He continues to deny any wrongdoing, and observers say his trial was unfair. His work highlighted human rights injustices in the constitutional monarchy.

Moroccan leaders made similar protestations last year against supposed slights when Belgian authorities alleged that Moroccan and Qatari officials had bribed members of the European Parliament to gain influence, including muffling criticism of Qatari human rights injustices in the run-up to the World Cup held in that Middle Eastern country, noted Africanews.

It was not clear what aspect of the Moroccan-EU relationship might be reconsidered. Morocco’s free market-oriented economy has been experiencing a boom, Euronews reported. Domestic investment has helped. A leading exporter of fertilizer, for example, the Africa Report added, Morocco has benefitted greatly from petrochemical price hikes after the pandemic subsided and Russia invaded Ukraine. But foreign investment, especially European, and technical aid have been crucial to progress.

Morocco is at odds with other foreign nations, too. The US is currently considering building a military base in the country, Middle East Monitor wrote. Such a base would counter a proposed Russian base in Algeria, Morocco’s regional rival – and neighbor. Algeria and Morocco have disagreed for years about Morocco’s claims in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory on the African coast, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Algeria broke off relations with Morocco in 2021 over the still-simmering issue.

Recently, for example, even though Morocco’s national soccer team earned the country high honors and respect at the World Cup in Qatar, as the Washington Post reported, Morocco withdrew from the African Nations Championship because of disagreements with Algerian officials over transportation prohibitions between the two countries, Al Jazeera wrote.

One might guess from all this that the Moroccans don’t like being pushed around.


Toxic Truths


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops were responsible for the 2018 chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma that killed 43 civilians, according to an extensive investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Washington Post reported.

The global chemical weapons watchdog released a report over the weekend after investigators went through 1.86 terabytes of data, interviewed 66 witnesses and evaluated data from 70 samples.

The new 139-page report detailed how one helicopter of the Syrian “Tiger Forces” Elite Unit dropped two cylinders containing toxic chlorine gas on two apartment buildings in Douma on April 7, 2018.

The attack was part of a military offensive by Assad’s forces as they pushed rebel fighters from the outskirts of Damascus during the country’s civil war. The OPCW released a report that year confirming there was a chemical attack, but had no mandate to assign blame.

Western nations condemned the attack and launched airstrikes against Syrian government targets. But Syria and its ally, Russia, denied involvement.

Still, the OPCW noted in its report that Moscow was coordinating with Syrian forces in Douma before and after the attack. It added that Russia was also engaged in an aggressive effort – including disinformation campaigns – to shield Syria from blame.

The report did not find evidence of direct Russian involvement in the attack.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the Syrian military and affiliate militias have launched more than 300 chemical attacks throughout the ongoing war, using weapons ranging from nerve agents to chlorine bombs.

The United Nations says more than 300,000 people have been killed during the civil conflict which has raged for almost 12 years.

The Hunted


Haitian police attacked the official residence of Prime Minister Ariel Henry over the weekend to protest against the recent killings of officers by the armed gangs ransacking the Caribbean country, as it continues to reel from political and economic crises, the Telegraph reported.

On Thursday, officers in civilian clothes first attacked Henry’s home before descending on the capital’s airport as the prime minister returned from a trip to Argentina.

The demonstrations came a day after six officers were killed in the town of Liancourt. Authorities said four of the officers were taken out of the police station and executed in the street.

The executions are the latest instances of police killings in Haiti, where the security situation has deteriorated following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

The National Union of Haitian Police Officers said at least 14 police officers have been killed by armed gangs since the beginning of the year. Human rights groups estimate that 78 have died since Henry came to power following Moïse’s assassination.

Meanwhile, the United Nations recorded more than 1,350 kidnappings and more than 2,000 murders in Haiti last year.

The UN is debating sending a foreign strike force to tackle the criminal gangs. The request was made three months ago, but no government has yet to agree to command such a force.

The Embarrassment of Riches


Mauritania began trying former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz for graft this week in a landmark trial for the Sahel country where prosecutions against former leaders are unprecedented, Agence France-Presse reported.

Aziz and nine other defendants, including prime ministers, are facing a slew of charges including abuse of office, money laundering, and illicit enrichment.

The former president stands accused of siphoning off money from state contracts and the sale of real estate, amassing a fortune equivalent to more than $72 million.

He has denied the allegations.

Aziz came to power in a bloodless coup in 2008 and left office in 2019 after two terms in which he defused a jihadist insurgency that has plagued other countries in the Sahel region.

Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, his former right-hand man, succeeded him in the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history, which has been defined by military coups and unrest.

But soon after the handover, parliament opened a probe into financial dealings during Aziz’s presidency, including investigations into oil revenues, sales of state assets and the activities of a Chinese fishing company.

Ghazouani denied any involvement in the case.

It’s unclear how long the trial will last, but some Mauritanians told the AFP that they hope the proceedings would set a new standard in the country’s fight against corruption.

Transparency International ranks Mauritania 140th out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2021.


The Fur Gambit

Humans, dolphins and elephants all lack fur – unlike other mammals.

Humans used to have a lot of fur but lost it due to evolutionary pressures, including thermoregulation and the reduction of parasites.

A new genetic study, however, found that hairless mammals, including humans, still have those fur genes – but they have been “switched off,” according to Science Alert.

Scientists conducted an extensive study through nearly 20,000 coding genes and 350,000 regulatory ones across more than 60 different mammal species.

They explained that hairlessness evolved independently at least nine different times along different branches of the mammalian family tree. The selection pressures leading to hair loss also vary among different species: For example, marine mammals such as dolphins lost them to become sleeker while moving in water.

The team also discovered that genetic changes in furless species were usually caused by mutations in the same sets of genes, such as those related to the structure of the hair itself.

They noted that humans still have these fur-coding genes, but they have been set to “off” through the accumulation of these mutations.

Even so, their analysis found hundreds of new hair-related regulatory genes and potential new hair-coding genes, which can become important for people trying to recover lost hair due to disorders or chemotherapy.

“There are a good number of genes (that) … we don’t know much about,” said lead author Amanda Kowalczyk. “We think they could have roles in hair growth and maintenance.”

Covid-19 Global Update

Editor’s Note: Exactly three years ago, we began publishing the COVID-19 Global Update with the goal of tracking the impact of the pandemic. Today, we are pausing the Update given that the week-to-week changes in the pandemic are no longer statistically significant. We assure our readers that the Update will return if the coronavirus surges again, something we all hope will not happen.

Your DailyChatter Team

Total Cases Worldwide: 682,546,389 (+0.88%)

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,819,835 (-0.90%)

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 13,232,904,667 (-0.79%)*

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

  1. US: 105,972,038 (+2.09%)
  2. India: 44,696,388 (+0.01%)
  3. France: 39,703,279 (-0.41%)***
  4. Germany: 38,297,037 (+0.13%)
  5. Brazil: 37,145,514 (+0.16%)
  6. Japan: 33,374,303 (+0.13%)
  7. South Korea: 30,702,960 (+0.29%)
  8. Italy: 25,651,205 (+0.19%)
  9. UK: 24,423,396 (-0.95%)***
  10. Russia: 22,506,199 (+1.90%)

Source: WorldOMeters.Info**

*Numbers were taken from the World Health Organization as of March 14th, 2023.

**Johns Hopkins University stopped publishing the Covid-19 update on March 10th, 2023.

***Numbers have been adjusted by affected country.

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