The World Today for February 16, 2023
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When the Earth Moves
Two brothers rationed protein drinks to survive under the rubble of a collapsed building in the city of Kahramanmaras in Turkey, wrote the New York Times.
In the northern Syrian city of Afrin, hospital staff named a new-born baby girl Aya, Arabic for “a sign from God,” having been born to a mother trapped beneath the rubble who died after childbirth, the Associated Press reported.
And in Adiyaman, around 100 miles from Kahramanmaras, rescuers were still pulling survivors out of the wreckage more than a week later, including a 77-year-old woman, added CNN.
These positive stories were proliferating in the wake of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake and a series of aftershocks in Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6. But, as Reuters noted, they paled in comparison with the death toll. More than 35,000 people in Turkey and almost 6,000 in Syria have perished in the disaster. One NBC News video showed how the destruction hit people unaware as they went about their business.
Many of those who perished in Turkey were Syrian refugees who had fled their war-torn country in recent years, exacerbating an already untenable migrant crisis in the region, added Al Jazeera. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, is using the disaster to withhold international aid and punish rebels who still occupy parts of his country in the north, Foreign Policy magazine wrote.
Political shockwaves are now taking their toll, too, the Wall Street Journal reported. The crisis is especially putting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a democratically elected but authoritarian figure who has led his country for almost 20 years, under extreme pressure, just months before he is up for reelection.
Erdogan arguably set the stage for the destruction, the New Yorker argued. To start with, the official leading the agency that is overseeing the disaster recovery efforts has little experience in the field. More important was Erdogan’s push to build more housing in Turkey in order to improve the country’s dismal economy. He likely cut corners to help that boom, delivering subpar construction to citizens living along fault lines.
As National Public Radio wrote, videos have surfaced of Erdogan boasting in the past about waiving construction codes in order to expedite development in the region – evidence that, as many Turks suspect, the government played a role in the mass collapses of buildings.
“Earthquakes are a natural phenomenon,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, a parliamentarian who belongs to the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, in an interview with Vox. “But the consequences of the earthquake are … governmental and political and administrative.”
Turkish prosecutors are now investigating builders who might have taken advantage of those waivers or relied on corrupt approvals and other processes to build unsafe structures. And the arrests have begun, noted Vox.
Whether anyone will believe that the results of those probes are fair, is a question for later. First, the rescues.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
The Lingering Mystery
The World Health Organization (WHO) will not continue its investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, citing difficulties in collaborating with China, Politico reported Wednesday.
The scientific advisory group tasked with investigating the origin of the virus called last year for new studies, including audits of labs near where the original outbreak was first documented in Wuhan, China.
In its March 2021 report, the WHO investigation team outlined four possible scenarios for the outbreak, the most likely being the virus spread from bats to people, possibly through an intermediate species.
That report initially concluded that the hypothesis that the virus accidentally escaped from a lab was “extremely unlikely.”
Even so, the theory that Covid-19 was leaked from a lab has persisted, with the most recent WHO study advocating for additional research because of the lack of new data.
But the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, told the journal Nature that “there is no phase two” – referring to the organization’s plan to probe the outbreak in phases.
Kerkhove noted that WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has continued to urge China to be more transparent and share raw data, but Beijing has refused.
“The politics across the world of this really hampered progress on understanding the origins,” she added.
An Italian court acquitted former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of witness tampering on Wednesday, in a case related to the infamous, sexually charged “bunga bunga” parties he held at his villa near Milan while he was in office, the Associated Press reported.
The trial, which has run for six years, is the third since 2010 when Berlusconi was first charged with having paid for sex with a minor.
The earlier trials took place while Berlusconi was still prime minister, sparking concerns among security officials that he had made himself open to extortion by inviting young women to his house.
He was eventually acquitted in the prior trials also.
In the most recent trial, prosecutors accused the three-time prime minister of paying witnesses to lie in the earlier proceedings. If found guilty, Berlusconi could have faced six years in prison and had to pay $10.7 million in damages.
Twenty-eight other people, including the woman at the center of the scandal, Karima el-Mahroug, were all found not guilty. Berlusconi was accused of paying to have sex with el-Mahroug, who was 17 at the time.
Both of them have denied engaging in sex acts and el-Mahroug said that she never worked as a prostitute.
Observers said the trial is likely to be the last against the 86-year-old politician and businessman, who is currently the head of the third party in Italy’s right-wing governing coalition.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni welcomed Wednesday’s verdict, saying it “puts an end to a long judicial affair that had important repercussions on Italian political and institutional life.”
Only the Loyal
Myanmar’s military junta will allow citizens “loyal to the state” to apply for licenses to carry weapons, as the army continues to face armed resistance following its coup two years ago, Al Jazeera reported.
The new policy will allow civilians over the age of 18 to be licensed to carry various types of guns and ammunition. Public servants and retired military personnel are included in the new rules.
Officials said the new policy revived a 1977 law on gun ownership that was later repealed following the 1988 uprising against a previous military regime.
To obtain a weapon, recipients of gun permits must be loyal to the country and “of good moral character,” as well as not be involved in “disturbing state security.” They should also comply with orders to take part in “security, law enforcement, and stability” as well as “crime prevention measures.”
The policy change comes as Myanmar is grappling with an ongoing crisis since the military launched a coup against the democratically-elected civilian government in February 2021.
Anti-junta protests have swept the country, prompting the army to launch a bloody crackdown against protesters. But the situation has escalated as armed resistance groups have emerged across the country, sometimes training and fighting alongside ethnic armed organizations that have been fighting the military for decades.
The United Nations has described the two-year crisis as a civil war, adding that around 1.2 million people have been displaced due to the fighting.
The non-governmental organization, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, estimated that more than 31,000 people have died since the coup – civilians and combatants alike.
Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em
Titanosaur mothers had unusual breeding habits – they buried their eggs and likely left them, says a new study.
A research team discovered more than 250 eggs in what is now central India, which offer new insights into the reproductive behavior of the massive, long-necked dinosaurs, Live Science reported.
Following a series of field investigations between 2017 and 2020, the team suggested that around six titanosaur species used that area – once a riverbank – as their nesting site. And they packed the eggs so tightly that it was possible that soon after laying the eggs the mothers abandoned their brood to avoid crushing them while navigating that narrow space.
The researchers also noted some resemblances in egg-laying behaviors between titanosaurs and present-day crocodiles, namely both laying their eggs in a clutch and partially burying them, helping incubate the eggs through solar radiation and geothermal heat. Both would also lay them near water bodies.
But the discovery of a rare “egg-in-egg” specimen also raised questions about the dinos’ similarities to birds.
Egg-in-egg occurs when an egg that is ready to be laid is pulled back into the mother’s body, and becomes implanted in another, still-forming egg. This hasn’t been documented in other reptile species, so it’s possible that titanosaurs had a similar reproductive system to those of modern avians, the researchers added.
Still, further questions remain about the findings, including whether the site was explicitly for nesting and whether these eggs were laid at the same time or over many years.
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Correction: In Wednesday’s THE WORLD, BRIEFLY section, we said in our “‘Exporting’ History” item that the Greek government is negotiating with the British Museum for the return of the Pantheon Marbles. In fact, they are called the Parthenon Marbles. We apologize for the error.