The World Today for March 16, 2023

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The Proxy Peace


The civil war in Yemen kept a rusting supertanker off the coast of the Middle Eastern country from delivering one million barrels of oil. Now, in an extraordinary move, wrote Agence France-Presse, the United Nations has purchased a new tanker that will pump out the oil from the older boat before it causes an environmental disaster.

That wasn’t the only glimmer of hope for a better future in Yemen, where, as the BBC explained, Saudi Arabia-backed Sunni Muslim officials of the country’s former government have been fighting Iran-backed Shiite rebels called the Houthis who seized power in 2014. Since then, the country has faced a humanitarian disaster, with thousands dead and millions displaced and in danger of starvation, wrote Relief Web.

A series of shifts in the region are now pointing to a potential end of the conflict. First, Saudi Arabia has been conducting talks with the Houthis while a ceasefire has held, moves that have alarmed the Saudi’s Yemeni allies, Reuters reported, but appear to be bearing fruit. Saudi Arabia even floated a peace deal with the Houthis, but they rejected it, according to National Public Radio.

Still, this shows that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might be eager to quit the war, argued the Carnegie Middle East Center. His army and his allies’ troops have failed to defeat the Houthis. His country’s security, meanwhile, is dependent on peace and stability in Yemen, which is impossible as long as he wages an unending war there.

Second, after holding talks with the help of China, leaders in Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to resume diplomatic relations, CNN wrote. This breakthrough significantly shakes up the dynamic in Yemen, creating a major reason to end the “proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran,” as the Associated Press noted.

In the meantime, deliveries of humanitarian aid and other assistance successfully getting into Yemen also suggest that the talks between Saudi diplomats and Houthi leaders are bearing fruit.

These and other developments led the Soufan Center, a New York-based think tank, to ponder whether a breakthrough in the war in Yemen is imminent. The center’s analysts said a truce, reopening of airports and seaports, and other good-faith measures would precede negotiations over a political settlement.

Yemen is not out of the woods. The Houthis, for instance, have warned they would be eager to resume fighting if Saudi Arabia refuses to recognize their most important demands, which include unhindered access to Sanaa International Airport and Hodeida’s ports, added Press TV, an Iranian state-owned English language news website.

Regardless, there is, finally, a conceivable end to the violence.


Greener Pastures


Honduras will seek to establish formal diplomatic relations with China, a move that would cut off Taiwan from one of its few remaining diplomatic allies, Bloomberg reported.

Honduran President Xiomara Castro said the decision was part of an effort to diversify bilateral ties and a sign of her determination to “expand the borders freely in concert with the nations of the world.”

On Wednesday, China welcomed the announcement, describing the new relationship as “the great trend of historical development and the correct political trend of the times,” the Wall Street Journal noted.

Meanwhile, Taiwan expressed concern over Castro’s statement, noting that China’s only goal for establishing ties with the Central American nation was to limit Taipei’s space internationally.

China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory, has taken steps to diplomatically isolate the island nation.

The diplomatic shift would mean that Taiwan will now only be officially recognized by 13 countries.

In 2021, Nicaragua became the latest country to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing. The Pacific island of Kiribati did so in 2019.

China has enticed Taiwan’s diplomatic partners into switching sides using the prospect of investment and access to its immense consumer markets.

Even so, the United States, Japan and other nations have made a forceful display of support for the self-governing island. President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that the US will defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression.

In December, the US authorized up to $10 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan over the next five years.

The Symbolic Sentence


A Polish court sentenced an activist to eight months of community service for helping a woman obtain abortion pills to terminate her pregnancy, in a case that has drawn fresh scrutiny on Poland’s near-total ban on the procedure, the BBC reported.

Justyna Wydrzynska became the first activist to be tried in Poland for aiding a woman to have an abortion.

During the trial, Wydrzynska said she had sent a package of abortion pills to the woman – referred to as Ania – when she found out she was in an abusive relationship. Ania had initially planned to terminate her pregnancy at a clinic in neighboring Germany but was unable to travel because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

But when Ania’s partner discovered the pills, he confiscated them and reported Wydrzynska to the authorities. Ania later reportedly suffered a miscarriage.

The activist said she will appeal the ruling, maintaining that she was innocent and that the Polish state had failed her, Ania and other women.

Her case drew fierce criticism from human rights groups, United Nations officials and gynecologists, with Amnesty International calling the sentence a “depressing low in the repression of reproductive rights in Poland.”

Protesters from both sides were outside the courtroom, with anti-abortion demonstrators saying the ruling was too lenient. It isn’t a crime in Poland to have an abortion, only to facilitate one.

Following a ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Court in 2020, abortion has been only allowed in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s health.

Advocates and women’s rights organizations say the 2020 ruling has had a chilling effect on doctors, who now fear penalties even when there are legal grounds for an abortion.

The government had to update guidelines after a pregnant woman died in a Polish hospital in 2021, spurring protests. The woman, 30, died of septic shock as doctors waited for her unborn baby to die.

Her family said the laws prevented doctors from intervening.

A Most Wanted Man


A Pakistani court ordered police to temporarily suspend an operation to arrest Imran Khan on Wednesday, following violent clashes this week between authorities and the former prime minister’s supporters, the Guardian reported.

On Tuesday, Khan’s residence in Lahore became the scene of a major scuffle when police arrived to detain the former leader on corruption charges after an Islamabad court issued a bench warrant for failing to appear despite several summonses.

But the operation quickly escalated into a clash between officers and Khan’s supporters outside his residence. More than 60 police officers and at least eight protesters were injured, while 15 other demonstrators were arrested.

Following the violence, the Lahore high court ordered police to postpone their efforts to arrest Khan until Thursday.

Khan faces charges of illegally selling state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022. He denies the accusations, saying they are politically motivated, according to CNN.

The legal proceedings against Khan began after he was removed from office in a legislative vote early last year. Since then, he has held demonstrations across the country calling for early elections.


Curly Is Cool

People with curly hair have a slight evolutionary advantage when it comes to staying cool, according to a new study on scalp hair.

Scientists conducted a series of experiments using thermal manikins and wigs of human hair to understand the evolutionary function of head hair, Science Alert reported.

In a climate-controlled chamber, they put a wig of human hair on the manikin and placed them under the hot lights of lamps. The researchers used different types of wigs, including ones with straight hair, loose curls and tight curls.

Their findings showed the wigs would prevent the manikin from absorbing a lot of heat, while the opposite would happen when it was completely bald.

But while wigs performed similarly, it was the ones with tight curls that performed the best in keeping the manikin cool from the simulated “solar” radiation.

The team explained that the results suggest that scalp hair evolved in response to our species’ upright posture and our increasingly large brains.

But the performance of tightly curled hair showed that it was more evolutionary advantageous in helping humans remain cool in areas with scorching sun and heat.

Tight curls don’t lie flat and can allow the scalp to “breathe” while still protecting the scalp from the sun. This means that the scalp will sweat less, resulting in the conservation of more energy and water.

Even so, the authors noted that more research is needed, particularly on human volunteers to replicate the findings.

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