The World Today for February 01, 2023

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Playing Charades


Two years ago, Myanmar’s generals staged a coup that ousted the Southeast Asian country’s civilian leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Recently, in a show of force to prove that he is firmly in control, Prime Minister Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing rode on a horse in a military parade.

But, as Sky News wrote in a recent exposé, the display didn’t necessarily impress the Myanmarese, many of whom know that the junta faces accusations of war crimes and genocide, while the economy is struggling under international sanctions.

Rebels who oppose the junta, moreover, have stepped up their attacks. Myanmarese jets recently pounded rebel positions near the Indian border, raising fears that the violence could escalate, Al Jazeera noted. The country also faces a humanitarian crisis involving the ethnic Rohingya Muslim community. Myanmarese officials are largely Buddhist.

A number of ethnic groups in Myanmar recently banded together, for instance, to file charges in Germany of genocide and other atrocities against Myanmarese military officials, the Guardian reported. Genocide allegations involving the country’s treatment of the Rohingya are now pending in the International Criminal Court, too.

Myanmarese activists had to go to a German court because they don’t trust their junta-run judiciary. A court recently found Aung guilty of corruption, for example, and sentenced her to seven years in jail. Her defenders said the conviction was absurd.

“From start to finish, the trumped-up cases against Aung San Suu Kyi have been politically motivated, unfair, and completely lacking in anything resembling transparency,” said Amnesty International’s regional director Meg de Ronde in a statement. “The same goes for the charges against the thousands of others languishing behind bars in Myanmar’s notorious prisons and interrogation facilities across the country.”

Hlaing is now planning to give more power to acting President U Myint Swe, a former general who is Hlaing’s puppet, the Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based dissident Myanmarese publication, said. In this way, Hlaing will retain power over the country even as the emergency military rule expired just at the end of January. Now, the country is expected to prepare for elections later this year because Myanmar’s military-drafted constitution dictates that elections must be held within six months of the end of emergency rule.

Still, such a move might quiet foreign critics – for better or for worse – if civilians really do take some control, The Diplomat countered.

However, on Tuesday, Myanmar’s junta said the country had “not returned to normalcy” after its coup, casting doubt over plans for elections and ending the state of emergency, Agence France Presse reported. The country is bracing for an announcement on Wednesday as to its future governance.

Now, observers are wondering how the drama will end. The rebels aren’t standing down, the diplomatic isolation is growing worse and the world economy is becoming tougher, making conditions harder for the junta to try to retain control. The headline of a Bloomberg Opinion column described Myanmar as “a [potential] failed state in the heart of Asia [that] benefits no one.”

American, French, Indian and Japanese firms are supposedly giving the junta support in the form of materials for military production, the BBC noted. If that support stopped, their grip on power might weaken.

In the meantime, expect bloodshed in the jungles and posturing in the capital of Naypyidaw.


Ex vitro Fertilization


China’s Sichuan province is dropping restrictions on unmarried people having children, part of an effort by officials to boost the country’s plummeting birth rate, CNN reported.

Currently, the Sichuan government only allows married couples to register the birth of up to two children. Starting in Feb., everyone – including unmarried parents – can register children, and as many as they want.

In China, the registration is required for parents to access benefits such as maternity care and leave. It also provides the children with a special household registration document that allows them access to healthcare, education and other social services, the Guardian wrote.

An official from the Sichuan health commission told local media that the policy was intended to safeguard the rights of single mothers, not to encourage unmarried people to become parents.

Sichuan’s relaxation of birth registration requirements is the latest effort by Chinese provinces and the Chinese government to promote births, after the country saw its population decline last year for the first time in more than six decades.

Officials fear the decline’s impact on economic growth.

Still, efforts to promote child-bearing have been on the upswing since China scrapped its decades-long “one child” policy in 2015 to allow couples to have two children – which in 2021 was then extended to allow three. The government also began introducing measures shoring up maternity leave and offering tax deductions for children.

Even so, many young people are choosing to marry later or deciding against having children because of the costs, impacts on careers and other factors.

Removing the Stick


The western Canadian province of British Columbia decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs on Tuesday, in a radical policy shift to address an opioid crisis that has killed thousands, CBS News reported.

The new policy means that adults found with up to 2.5 grams of cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and other hard drugs won’t face jail time or fines, but will instead be directed toward addiction treatment programs, CBC reported.

Police will also not seize the drugs.

Distributors of hard drugs though will continue to face criminal prosecution.

“The situation has never been more urgent,” Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett said. “The effects of this public health crisis have devastated communities across British Columbia and across Canada.”

British Columbia is at the epicenter of a crisis that has seen more than 10,000 overdose deaths since 2016, when the province already declared a public health emergency.

Officials hope the change in policy will remove the stigma associated with drug use and allow addicts to seek help.

Canada has spent more than $600 million to try to mitigate the opioid crisis, including on addiction treatment, Naloxone supplies and supervised drug consumption sites across Canada.

Holy Destruction


Protests broke out in Indonesia, Pakistan and elsewhere this week over the burning of the Muslim Holy Book at far-right demonstrations in Sweden and the Netherlands, with diplomatic repercussions especially hitting the Scandinavian country, which is up for NATO membership, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, hundreds of Indonesian Muslims marched on the Swedish Embassy in the country’s capital Jakarta, set fire to portraits of Danish anti-Islam activist Rasmus Paludan – who organized the protest in Sweden – and also burned the flags of Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

On Jan. 21, Paludan staged a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, where he burned the Quran. Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, Dutch leader of the far-right Pegida movement, tore pages out of a Quran near the Dutch Parliament and stomped on them.

The Indonesian government, in response, summoned Sweden’s ambassador last week to complain, said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah.

In Lahore, Pakistan, thousands took to the streets to protest against the Swedish demonstration on Friday and again on Monday, part of protests also seen across the Middle East that included Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

Meanwhile, Turkey has accused the government in Stockholm, which has applied jointly with Finland to join NATO, of being too lenient toward groups it deems as terror organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups. It also warned Sweden to not expect support for its NATO bid in light of the Quran burning, France 24 reported.

NATO requires the unanimous approval of its existing members to add new ones, but Turkey says it would only agree to admit Sweden if the country met its conditions.


And Now on Mars …

Scientists recently discovered a “huge diversity” of organic compounds in a Martian meteorite, including one that has never been seen on Mars before, Live Science reported.

The study centered on the Tissint meteorite that impacted in the Moroccan city of Tissint in July 2011.

A research team analyzed the meteorite and found examples of at least five different types of organic compounds. These compounds are molecules that contain carbon atoms bonded with other elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

While organic compounds are present in all life forms, they can also be formed through non-biological processes.

In the Tissint meteorite’s case, the team uncovered a number of compounds, including aliphatic-branched carboxylic acids, which have similar structures to the amino acids that make up proteins.

They also came across organic magnesium compounds, which are “extremely abundant” throughout the meteorite and have never been found in Martian samples before.

But they explained that the compounds were formed through a non-biological process: Instead, they were created in the high-pressure and high-temperature conditions of Mars’ ancient mantle.

Although the search for Martian life has yet to find any, the authors said their research can help teach scientists new things about the Red Planet.

“Understanding the processes and sequence of events that shaped this rich organic bounty will reveal new details about Mars’ habitability and potentially about the reactions that could lead to the formation of life,” study co-author Andrew Steele.

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