The World Today for March 14, 2023

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Coming Due


Officials in Ghana’s finance ministry recently said talks to restructure its debt to China were “highly cordial and fruitful” – but, however, not concluded.

Ghana owes China almost $2 billion. As Reuters reported, while the West African country technically is in default because it has missed payments to service its debt, the real problem is that the country needs to reach a deal restructuring $46 billion in debt, including to China, or else it won’t receive a $3 billion rescue loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF loan is crucial because Ghana’s economy is in crisis. The value of the country’s currency, the cedi, has plummeted against the dollar, forcing Ghanaian consumers to pay more for imported goods. Inflation is running at 50 percent.

Post-pandemic global economic woes as well as the Russia-Ukraine war’s effect on food and energy prices are major contributing factors. But poor governance has also played a part. As Bloomberg wrote, Ghana was once an island of stability in Africa, held up as a model. It also has oil reserves. But the government still borrowed too much.

And it hasn’t learned its lessons.

Despite the crisis, for example, President Nana Akufo-Addo has vowed to proceed with the construction of the $58 million to $100 million National Cathedral of Ghana, a massive church that critics say is a costly vanity project. “Taxpayers’ money should not be used to fund a personal pledge to God,” said Sam George, a member of parliament, in an interview with the BBC. “We are Christians, but the government has no business funding the construction of a religious building,”

Ghana’s former President John Dramani Mahama, who served from 2012 to 2017, recently announced he would challenge Akufo-Addo in the 2024 presidential election by running on a campaign to restore the economy, reported Voice of America. He’s been blasting Akufo-Addo for economic mismanagement.

Hanging over Ghana’s negotiations with China are fears that many other African and developing countries will also want to renegotiate their debts, wrote GhanaWeb, a Holland-based news website. China has invested $23 billion in African infrastructure alone between 2007 and 2020, more than double that of the four next richest countries, according to the Center for Global Development.

Disagreements between Western and Chinese creditors have complicated the restructuring that Ghana needs to finalize in order to receive the IMF loan, too, argued Gary Kleiman, a consultant and former IMF financial sector expert.

In the meantime, countries like Sri Lanka, Zambia, and Tunisia are also struggling to restructure their debts in order to receive IMF funding. Tunisian banks, for instance, have warned that they face liquidity risks – no cash, in other words – if they don’t receive help soon, Fitch Ratings noted.

These omens don’t bode well for the near future of the global economy.


Pardons and Poison


Iran pardoned more than 82,600 people Monday, including tens of thousands who were arrested during the ongoing mass anti-government protests that have been the most serious challenge to the country’s ruling clerics since they took control during the 1979 revolution, Sky News reported.

The pardoned individuals, none of whom were accused of theft or a violent crime, also included around 22,000 people whom authorities arrested during the months-long demonstrations that swept Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

In September, Amini was detained by the morality police for allegedly violating Iran’s strict Islamic dress code. She died in custody.

Her death prompted numerous women-led rallies across the nation to protest the strict dress code, but soon evolved into large demonstrations against the Iranian government and ruling clerics.

Last month, Iranian authorities acknowledged they had arrested “tens of thousands” during the demonstrations. Analysts noted that Monday’s announcement meant that the number of detained individuals was higher than what advocate groups had previously suggested.

Human rights activists tracking the crackdown had estimated that more than 19,700 protesters had been arrested and at least 530 others killed.

Meanwhile, the pardons come as authorities recently detained more than 100 people in connection with the suspected poisonings of hundreds of schoolgirls across Iran, CNN added.

Since November, Iran has seen a wave of suspected poisonings carried out mainly at girls’ schools across the country.

While Iranian officials believe the girls were targeted by hardline Islamist groups, civil activists believe the poisonings are linked to the nationwide protests.

Many schoolgirls have participated in the protests, tearing up photos of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and calling for his death.

The President Versus the Pope


Predominantly Catholic Nicaragua said it plans to suspend relations with the Vatican, days after Pope Francis strongly criticized the government of President Daniel Ortega for its crackdown on the Catholic clergy, the Associated Press reported.

The Nicaraguan foreign ministry issued a statement Sunday suggesting ties were being suspended. Vatican sources said that there was a request from the Central American country to close both diplomatic missions.

The move follows an interview with Pope Francis by an Argentine media outlet last week in which the pontiff compared the Nicaraguan government to a communist or Nazi dictatorship led by an “unbalanced” president.

He also criticized Nicaragua’s decision last month to sentence prominent Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez to 26 years in prison.

The pope’s comments came as relations between Nicaragua and the Vatican have been worsening since 2018. At the time, the Latin American nation was gripped by large anti-government protests over a controversial social security reform plan.

The government launched a violent crackdown that left 355 people dead, more than 2,000 injured and 1,600 detained at various times, according to human rights organizations.

Some Catholic leaders sheltered protesters in their churches, prompting Ortega to declare figures who were sympathetic to the opposition as “terrorists.”

Since then, dozens of religious figures have been detained or have fled Nicaragua. Officials also expelled two congregations of nuns, including the Missionaries of Charity order founded by Mother Teresa.

Last month, Ortega ordered the release of 222 Nicaraguans, who were then forcibly exiled to the United States. The released individuals included church personnel, such as Bishop Álvarez.

His sentencing came after the bishop refused to board the plane and was subsequently jailed.

The Right To Insult


A Canadian court ruled that giving the middle finger is not a crime and is protected under the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, NPR reported.

The legality of a raised middle finger – also known in polite terms as “flipping the bird” – was questioned in a case between two Montreal neighbors who had a history of heated exchanges.

The case began when neighbors Michael Naccache and Neall Epstein traded insults and gestures during an altercation in May 2021. Naccache accused Epstein of raising the middle finger and doing a throat-slitting motion, saying that the latter gesture prompted him to call the police out of fear for his life.

Authorities later arrested Epstein on charges of criminal harassment and uttering death threats, according to the Washington Post.

But the Court of Quebec recently dismissed the charges, with the judge criticizing the allegations as “petty neighborhood trivialities.”

“It is not a crime to give someone the finger,” Judge Dennis Galiatsatos wrote in the Feb. 24 ruling. “Flipping the proverbial bird is a God-given, Charter enshrined right that belongs to every red-blooded Canadian.”

Even so, the legal debate over flipping the bird has gotten mixed results in the United States.

In 2019, a US Court of Appeals judge found that a raised middle finger was a form of free speech. But the following year a North Carolina court decided in favor of a state trooper who had charged a driver with flipping the bird at him.

Last month, a Delaware man sued police after he received a citation for raising the middle finger at officials.


Delaying Recovery

The bushfires in Australia over the summer of 2019-2020 were catastrophic for the continent’s environment and wildlife, harming around three billion animals.

Now, a new study is suggesting that smoke from the deadly blazes is depleting the Earth’s ozone layer, the Guardian reported.

The planet’s protective layer – part of the stratosphere – is made up of ozone gas that absorbs high-energy ultraviolet rays from the Sun. This decreases the amount of radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface.

A research team studied smoke aerosols released from the fires, which had reached the stratosphere via pyrocumulonimbus cloud – a “fire storm cloud” that forms when a blaze is big and intense.

The team found that smoke particles can activate chlorine to form compounds that then degrade ozone molecules. More specifically, they determined that the ozone-destruction process occurred through hydrochloric acid in the stratosphere dissolving in the smoke aerosols.

Their findings show that the wildfires temporarily degraded the protective layer by three to five percent in 2020.

Lead author Susan Solomon and other researchers explained that these findings could put into jeopardy the recovery of the ozone layer: A United Nations panel of scientists estimated earlier this year that the ozone layer is on track to recover within four decades, Axios added.

But Solomon warns that this recovery could be delayed because of increased levels of wildfire smoke in the atmosphere. Climate scientists predict that wildfires will become more frequent and intense over the coming decades because of global warming and land-use change.

“The question in my mind is: Is the man-made chlorine going to get … diluted and destroyed out of the atmosphere faster than global climate change is going to increase the frequency and intensity of this kind of fire?” Solomon noted. “I think it’s going to be a race.”

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