The World Today for March 08, 2023

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Second Thoughts


Sudan’s military junta has been colluding with an affiliate of Russian military contractor the Wagner Group to plunder the strife-torn African nation’s gold, robbing impoverished Sudanese citizens of critical funds while bolstering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The European Union recently slapped sanctions on Wagner’s subsidiary in Sudan, a company called Meroe Gold, CNN reported, for allegedly committing “serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings,” according to European officials.

The EU prepared the sanctions as Sudanese protesters took to the streets of the capital of Khartoum to call for reforms that would oust Sudan’s military rulers and transfer power to a civilian government, wrote Africanews. Police cracked down on the demonstrations using tear gas and other measures.

Such clashes have been common for at least four years in Sudan. In 2019, civil unrest resulted in the toppling of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir. After a brief democratic period, the military staged a coup in 2021 and took control.

As the Sudanese people complain, the military leaders have struggled to deal with the mammoth changes that have rippled through the world during and after the coronavirus pandemic. Sudan is already one of the world’s poorest countries. Now high energy and food costs have hit the country hard. Droughts due to climate change have worsened the tough conditions.

A third of the country’s population, or around 15 million people, face famine, Agence France-Presse reported. Three million children who are five years old or younger are “acutely malnourished.”

More than 500,000 people also remain displaced in camps in Darfur – 20 years after a conflict began between rebel groups in the region and Sudan’s Arab-dominated central government, Al Jazeera noted. Around 300,000 people died in the fighting between 2003 and 2007. After a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission withdrew in 2019, fighting in the region started flaring up again.

The country’s dismal progress against global counter currents in recent years might have been one reason why even Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the number two member of Sudan’s ruling council, recently said he felt like the 2021 coup was a mistake – a remarkable admission from a prominent member of the country’s junta.

Dagalo was particularly concerned that elements of al-Bashir’s National Congress party political were regaining power within Sudan’s military and civilian government, added the BBC.

Dagalo, furthermore, has been at odds recently with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, Sudan’s de facto head of state. Burhan wants a paramilitary force under Dagalo’s leadership to merge with the country’s army, but Dagalo has resisted losing his independence – or his protection – in case of civil war.

Burhan is now in talks to transition to a democratic government, but many suspect that he’s reluctant to hand over power, argued the National, a news outlet in the United Arab Emirates.

As the involvement of the Wagner Group illustrates, Burhan might fear what could happen to him if he’s not in firm control of the country.


A Weapon Called Honor


The Lahore High Court gave a last-minute conditional go-ahead Tuesday to a rally in the city in northeastern Pakistan highlighting women’s rights and oppression, Urdu Point News reported, just days after authorities had banned the march.

Organizers and human rights groups decried the banning of the “Aurat” (“women” in Urdu) march as a violation of freedom of assembly, Agence France-Presse reported. On the court’s guidance civic authorities and organizers agreed to the march’s time and location, but attendees must refrain from making controversial comments on social media, the court ruled.

The “Aurat” marches have taken place across a number of Pakistani cities since 2018 on International Women’s Day on March 8 to bring attention to women’s rights in Pakistan’s patriarchal society.

But the marches have been controversial for religious groups and received criticism from them because of banners and messages that raise subjects such as divorce, sexual harassment and menstruation. Organizers have also been accused of promoting Western, liberal values and disrespecting Pakistan’s cultural sensitivities.

Organizers have frequently faced legal action to counter attempts to ban the marches.

Earlier this week, Lahore authorities said they refused to grant permission for a rally because of the “controversial cards and banners” displayed by participants in the march. They also cited security concerns.

Still, city officials granted permission for counter-protests “Haya (modesty)” marches, which call for the preservation of traditional and Islamic values.

Human rights group Amnesty International said the Lahore decision “amounts to an unlawful and unnecessary restriction of the right to assembly.”

Even so, many organizers said they will go ahead with the march as it is “our fundamental right,” according to the Quint, an Indian news outlet.

Much of Pakistani society follows a stringent code of “honor,” which institutionalizes oppression in the form of women lacking the right to choose their husband, having no reproductive rights, and no right to education.

Meanwhile, hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan each year in so-called “honor killings.”

Women have long campaigned for basic rights in Pakistan, where activists claim men perpetrate “pervasive and intractable” violence against women.

The Influencers


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered an investigation into allegations that China interfered in Canada’s elections in 2019 and 2021, following a series of reports about suspected meddling and also pressure from the opposition, Bloomberg reported.

Trudeau said he will appoint a special investigator to probe the alleged interference. He added that the matter will also be referred to a group of lawmakers cleared to see top-secret intelligence.

The move follows local media reports showing that the prime minister received intelligence briefings suggesting that China meddled in the two elections that returned Trudeau and his Liberal Party to power.

Last month, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper cited intelligence alleging that China preferred to see Trudeau’s party win over the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, a non-partisan group of officials released a report that found attempts at foreign interference in the 2021 elections.

Pressure increased from opposition lawmakers and the public after a poll found that two-thirds of Canadians believe China tried to interfere in its elections.

Analysts and the opposition, however, urged Trudeau to call a judicial inquiry, instead of appointing a special investigator.

At the same time, the Conservatives criticized a cross-party parliamentary group, noting that while the lawmakers are cleared to review classified intelligence, they are also sworn to secrecy about it.

While the Canadian leader has clashed with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trudeau’s Liberals are seen as more open to doing business with the Asian superpower. In contrast, the Conservatives maintain a hard line on China’s human rights record and consider the country poses a threat to national security.

China maintains that it did not interfere in Canada’s domestic affairs and has cautioned Ottawa to cease “smearing” Beijing with unsubstantiated charges.

Wanted: Nightcaps


Iraqi Christian lawmakers are attempting to overturn a law banning the import and sale of alcohol, which they say violates the rights of non-Muslim minorities in the predominately Muslim country, the BBC reported.

In 2016, Iraq passed a law that would ban the import, sale and production of alcohol. Violators of the law could face fines topping $17,000.

But despite becoming law, alcohol could still be purchased in Iraqi liquor stores and licensed bars up until last month, when officials began implementing the measure, Fox News added.

That received pushback from Christian lawmakers, who filed a lawsuit against the legislation, saying that it was unconstitutional because it ignores the rights of minorities and restricts freedom.

The parliamentarians added that it also contradicts a February government decree that placed a 200 percent duty on all imported alcoholic drinks for a four-year period.

Critics noted that the ban might lead to alcohol sales moving to the black market.

Alcohol consumption is prohibited in Islam and it is frowned upon in predominately Muslim Iraq.

The 2016 bill was originally proposed by Mahmoud al-Hassan, then a judge and lawmaker. Al-Hassan said the legislation was abiding by Article 2 of the Iraqi constitution, which bars laws that violate the tenets of Islam.


Defenses, Then and Now

Scholars had long blamed European settlers for bringing a number of diseases to the New World, including tuberculosis (TB), which decimated local Indigenous populations.

But now, a new genetic study found that Indigenous people living in South America’s Andes Mountains adapted to TB long before the arrival of Europeans more than 500 years ago, Forbes reported.

For their study, an international research team sequenced the genomes from blood samples of 15 present-day Indigenous individuals living at altitudes of more than 8,000 feet in several different Ecuadorian provinces.

The team initially sought to understand how the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador adapted to living at high altitudes. Instead, they discovered strong signals for biomarkers that are switched on in modern humans during an active TB infection.

They also found that these “started to uptick a little over 3,000 years ago,” said lead author Sophie Joseph in a statement.

“That’s an interesting time because it was when agriculture began proliferating in the region,” she added. “The development of agriculture leads to more densely populated societies that are better at spreading a respiratory pathogen like TB.”

The new findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that TB was already present in South America before the Europeans’ arrival: A past study found evidence of TB in the remains of 1,400-year-old Andean mummies in Peru.

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