The World Today for February 14, 2023

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The Puppetmasters


Police in Zimbabwe recently arrested more than two dozen members of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) opposition political party during an “unsanctioned gathering.” It was the latest example of “a wave of politically motivated violence against opposition supporters,” reported Reuters.

That wave is likely due to expectations that CCC leader Nelson Chamisa will challenge President Emmerson Mnangagwa later this year when Zimbabwean voters cast ballots for a new president. Officials have yet to schedule an exact date but a vote this summer is likely, explained Africanews.

Mnangagwa belongs to the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, the party that has ruled the country since independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. Known as “the crocodile” due to his “political shrewdness,” the BBC reported, he ousted longtime authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe as head of state in 2017 – ending Mugabe’s 30-year reign. Mnangagwa defeated Chamisa in the 2018 general election.

The ZANU-PF has been leveraging its control of government to crack down on CCC supporters and anyone else who might represent a threat to his power, argued the Daily Maverick, a South African newspaper.

In June, for example, a ZANU-PF activist abducted and gruesomely murdered Coalition member and opposition activist Moreblessing Ali, Vice News noted. Police arrested attendees at her funeral on charges of “inciting violence.” As the Africa Center for Strategic Studies wrote, many remain incarcerated even though they have yet to be charged.

The intensity of the crackdown could be directly proportional to the threat the CCC poses to Mnangagwa.

Polls now show that Chamisa is likely to win the upcoming presidential vote, according to the Brenthurst Foundation. Pollsters said that economic stagnation was driving dissatisfaction with the status quo. Half of the country said they would emigrate if they could, noted Bloomberg. Better pay and conditions in countries like the UK have caused a brain drain in Zimbabwe’s health sector, for example, Al Jazeera added.

The prospects of a Chamisa victory are not as good as polls might show, however. Mnangagwa would likely secure victory, predicted Straftor, a think tank, due to “corruption, violence and election interference.” The researchers added that his ill-gotten reelection would further undermine the economy, facilitate mismanagement of public finances, fuel corruption in mining, and hurt the country’s prospects regarding foreign aid and investment.

Writing in the Africa Report, researchers Ibbo Mandaza and Tony Reeler called for a political settlement that would recognize the will of the people and allow for a government that can work to boost Zimbabwe’s economy.

A free and fair vote is one place to start.


The Ballooning Counterpunch


China accused the United States of flying high-altitude balloons over its airspace without permission since last year, the latest accusation in an ongoing row that began last week when Washington ordered the shooting down of an alleged Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina, NBC News reported Monday.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Monday that balloons of alleged US origin had flown illegally over Chinese airspace at least 10 times since early 2022. He added that Beijing reserves the right to use “any necessary means” to deal with such aircraft.

This is the first time Beijing has accused the US of using balloons following the downing of its own balloon last week. China said that it was an unmanned civilian airship conducting meteorological research – but US officials claimed that it was being used for spying.

The accusations come just days after the US shot down three unidentified objects over North America – two of which were over US airspace.

Wang said he had no information on the three objects, while Pentagon officials noted that they are still assessing them.

The balloon controversy has further strained US-China relations: Following the discovery of the Chinese balloon, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned visit to China. The US has also blacklisted six Chinese entities linked to Beijing’s aerospace programs.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom announced a security review Monday in light of the recent downings, according to the Associated Press. British officials noted that it was “possible” China had flown spy balloons over the UK.

Analysts suggested that China’s allegations of American balloons could be seen as an effort by Beijing to divert attention away from its surveillance program after previous damage control attempts failed.

Poor, Sexy, and Right


The conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party won elections in the German capital of Berlin over the weekend, in a rerun poll that marked a major defeat for the center-left party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz that had governed the city since 1999, the Financial Times reported.

Results showed the CDU secured more than 28 percent of the vote, while the previously ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) won 18.4 percent – its worst performance since World War II.

Meanwhile, the Greens also received 18.4 percent and the far-left Die Linke won slightly more than than 12 percent.

Sunday’s rerun came months after Berlin’s top court nullified the results of the 2021 poll, saying those elections were so chaotic they had to be redone.

The 2021 elections – which took place along with federal elections – saw Berliners line up for hours at polling stations, which ran out of ballots and ballot boxes.

It was the first time in the country’s postwar history that regional elections had to be repeated.

The SPD’s loss marks a notable shift to the right in Berlin, a city that traditionally votes left.

Residents and officials lamented to the New York Times that the capital has been facing a variety of issues over the years, including a major housing crisis, understaffed schools, and very slow city services.

The CDU campaigned on the message that Berlin was a dysfunctional city that needed a radical change of course.

Questions remain, however, whether the CDU will be able to form a governing coalition, as many of the other big parties have no interest in teaming up with the conservative party.

Enemy of My Enemy …


Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Tuesday, in a three-day trip aimed at shoring up ties and strengthening cooperation between the two US rivals, the Associated Press reported.

The official visit comes months after Raisi and Xi met during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan. The Chinese leader told Raisi that Beijing viewed its relations with Iran from a “strategic and long-term perspective” and was ready to increase communication and coordination with Iran.

China is a major buyer of Iranian oil and a significant investor in the country. Iran and China inked a 25-year strategic cooperation deal in 2021, covering important economic industries such as oil and mining, as well as industry, transportation, and agriculture.

Analysts told the South China Morning Post that the meeting is also expected to improve ties following a row over a joint statement made by Xi and leaders of the Gulf countries in December.

The joint declaration, which concluded a summit between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Saudi Arabia, stated that GCC member the United Arab Emirates should use negotiations to address its territorial disputes with Iran over islands in the Strait of Hormuz.

The move raised tensions between Iran and China, prompting Beijing to send a delegation with Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua to help defuse the situation. Hu said Beijing strongly backed Iran’s efforts to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and that China was willing to work with Iran to enhance bilateral cooperation.

Both nations have tense relations with the US and have attempted to position themselves alongside Russia as a counterweight to American dominance.

Still, observers said there remained “substantial complications” in the bilateral relationship, referring to Iran’s stance on the Ukraine war and its hostilities with other Middle Eastern countries that China partners with for energy.


Down to the Bones

A new study on ancient elephant remains is providing more evidence of Neanderthals’ sophisticated hunting and survival skills.

Scientists found that these extinct human relatives hunted gigantic straight-tusked elephants for their meat in order to feed hundreds of people, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

For their paper, a research team studied the 125,000-year-old remains of straight-tusked elephants previously collected in central Germany between 1985 and 1996.

The elephant species lived around Eurasia between 800,000 and 100,000 years ago and were considered the largest terrestrial mammals of that period. They were more than 13 feet tall and could weigh up to 13 tons – equivalent to about eight mid-sized cars.

Examining their remains, researchers came across a number of repetitive cut marks on the bones’ surface, suggesting that the Neanderthals carefully butchered the enormous mammals for their fat, meat, and their brains.

This process could have taken days – if a single person did it – but would have yielded enough meat to feed 25 individuals for three months, or 350 for a week.

The ancient hominins, meanwhile, scraped every bit of edible surface.

But aside from their appetite and butchering process, the findings suggest that our human relatives knew how to store and preserve meat. It also shows that they were very capable hunters and would target male elephants because they were usually solitary.

“Neanderthals knew what they were doing,” archaeologist Britt Starkovich, who was not involved in the study, wrote in an accompanying article for the paper.

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