The World Today for March 24, 2023

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When Hate Comes To Town


Tunisian President Kais Saied has recently been claiming that migrants originating from sub-Saharan Africa were coming to his North African country as part of a conspiracy to alter its largely Arab-Muslim culture. His comments came as part of a wave of violence against sub-Saharan migrants as well as Black Tunisians in a country that had for the most part seen diverse groups living harmoniously together, the Washington Post reported.

“That is a tried and tested tactic used by populist politicians or authoritarian leaders to win elections or shore up waning popularity,” wrote BBC analyst Magdi Abdelhadi.

Tunisia has around 12 million citizens. The majority identify as ethnic Arabs. As many as 15 percent identify as Black. Currently, approximately 20,000 sub-Saharan migrants are in the country. Most are seeking to migrate across the Mediterranean Sea for safety and better lives in Europe. They represent a source of instability but hardly an existential challenge, researchers say.

Meanwhile, the Tunisian economy is in terrible shape, and Saied has centralized so much political power in his office that people have nobody else to blame but him for the country’s sad state of affairs.

Tunisia’s economy has been hobbled since the political instability that followed the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, which sparked the so-called Arab Spring with its pro-democracy spirit that pushed across the region. Terrorist attacks and the migrant crisis hurt its tourism industry. The pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have not helped its import-dependent economy, either.

Still, Saied has been wielding near-total power in the country since 2021 when he fired his cabinet, dissolved parliament, and promised a plan to restore stability. Since then, he has been further expanding his powers while launching crackdowns on critics who claim he is seeking to become a dictator, argued College of Europe visiting professor Jean-Pierre Cassarino in the Conversation.

As Africanews reported, Saied this month shuttered local government councils whose members expected to run for reelection in April. Instead, the president replaced them with civil servants and others under his control. Saied then said he would write and release new rules in the future that would thenceforth govern the new councils.

Saied’s demonization of sub-Saharan African migrants might have gone too far, however. The World Bank recently paused a financial rescue package because of worries over violence against Black African migrants in the country, the Wall Street Journal noted.

Hate can cost dearly.


The Untouchables


The Israeli parliament passed a new law Thursday that limits the means of removing a prime minister, a move critics say aims to shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from his ongoing corruption trials, the Financial Times reported.

Existing Israeli law allows the prime minister to be taken from office, but is vague on when such a mechanism can be used. The new measure, however, now specifies that the prime minister can only be removed on grounds of ill health, mental or physical.

Only the cabinet or parliament can remove the prime minister.

Supporters said the legislation would provide “stability” and prevent the “annulment” of the democratic process. But opposition politicians and others described it as “a contemptible and corrupt personal piece of legislation.”

The measure comes as Netanyahu continues to battle allegations of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. The conservative leader has denied the allegations.

The new law is part of a broader set of legal changes introduced by Israel’s conservative government that include a controversial judicial overhaul bill that would give the government and its allies control over the appointment of judges and limit the ability of Israel’s Supreme Court to strike down laws.

Netanyahu and his ruling coalition say they want to rein in an activist judiciary that has pursued a “partisan left-wing agenda.” But opponents counter that the changes threaten Israel’s checks and balances.

The Art of Ghosting


Japan’s Foreign Ministry ordered a popular social media personality and lawmaker to turn in his passport, a week after lawmakers ousted him from parliament for never showing up for work, Kyodo News reported Thursday.

Last week, the upper house of the legislature voted to strip Yoshikazu Higashitani – known by his online alias GaaSyy – of his status as a lawmaker, saying he never attended a single parliamentary session since being elected in June 2022.

Soon after his expulsion, Japanese police issued an arrest warrant for GaaSyy on defamation charges and for making threats.

GaaSyy is known for his YouTube channel which centers on celebrity gossip. He is alleged to have threatened three people, including a Japanese actor. Police also suspect him of interfering with the business activities of three others.

He is currently out of the country, according to local media reports.

The arrest warrant came after he ignored repeated requests by authorities to return to Japan to participate in a voluntary interview. Officials said his passport will become void if it is not returned by April 13.

GaaSyy’s removal marks the first time in more than 70 years that parliament has stripped a lawmaker of their status, according to CNN.

Marianne’s Fury


Strikes and protests hit France Thursday for the ninth consecutive day, disrupting travel and schools, as more than a million people demonstrated against changes to the pension system pushed through by President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week, the Associated Press reported.

In Paris and elsewhere, police fired tear gas and used stun guns and water cannons as some demonstrations grew violent, Reuters reported. Groups of “Black Bloc” anarchists smashed shop windows, demolished street furniture and ransacked a McDonald’s restaurant.

Near Toulouse in the south, burning piles of debris blocked traffic, while protesters cut off access to parts of Charles De Gaulle Airport that serves Paris even as some workers walked off the job. Meanwhile, electricity output was cut, refinery blockages continued and the civil aviation authority said flight services would be reduced over the weekend.

Protests and strikes have been held almost weekly for more than a month but have become more violent over the past week.

The disruption and protests followed a televised address by Macron on Wednesday in which he struck a defiant tone, and said the reform was necessary to preserve the pension system into the future as people live longer and the number of pensioners increases.

“Do you think I enjoy doing this? No,” he said. “But the longer we wait the worse the situation will get.”

The measure will raise the retirement age for most workers from 62 to 64, and the number of years a worker must pay into the system to receive a full pension will rise in 2027 from 42 to 43 years.

Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers and, according to polls, a majority of the public oppose the reforms, CNBC reported. Unions say the change hits the poorest-paid workers and women the hardest.

Besides the reform, Macron has ignited fierce anger over his use of a special constitutional measure to pass the bill through the lower house of parliament without a majority vote, with many questioning his commitment to democracy.

Macron also acknowledged people had a right to voice their opposition and that there was anger over businesses making record profits while some people were being asked to work for longer.


This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping left Moscow after a three-day visit that appeared to yield mixed results, CNBC noted. China’s leader and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reaffirmed areas of strategic cooperation as well as pledges to expand economic ties and trade through 2030. They also both condemned the United States for undermining global strategic stability. Yet, there was little substance from the discussion, analysts said, and official statements issued by both parties following the conclusion of talks on Tuesday provided little detail about the implementation of economic accords.

Also this week:

  • Soon after Xi’s departure, Russia unleashed a wave of deadly attacks on towns and cities across Ukraine, killing at least nine people, according to CNN. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops, who have been on the defensive for four months, will start a long-awaited counter-attack “very soon,” now that Russia’s massive winter onslaught has stalled without seizing Bakhmut, Reuters wrote.
  • Russia’s top investigative body opened a “criminal” case against the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor and judges on Monday, just days after the Netherlands-based court issued an arrest warrant for Putin and another official for their role in “unlawful” deportations of Ukrainian children to Russia, Politico wrote.
  • Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund have agreed to a $15.6 billion loan package aimed at bolstering government finances that have been severely strained by Russia’s invasion, and garnering more international support by assuring allies that Ukraine is pursuing strong economic policies and fighting corruption, the Associated Press added.
  • The Kremlin ordered officials involved in preparations for Russia’s 2024 presidential election to stop using Apple iPhones because of concerns that the devices are vulnerable to Western intelligence agencies, Reuters reported.
  • Sweden’s lawmakers unanimously voted in favor of the Nordic country joining NATO, according to Euronews. The vote was the final domestic requirement to fulfill before the country could join the 30-member Western military alliance.


Beating Heart

Astronomers discovered evidence that Venus is volcanically active, a finding that confirms decades-long speculation about the Earth’s fiery neighbor, National Geographic reported.

Venus and Earth are similar in size but they have some major differences: Venus lacks plate tectonics, is scalding hot and an outside view of its surface is wholly obfuscated by noxious clouds.

Past missions to the planet have been short-lived but they have provided evidence that the planet does have volcanoes – although their activity is debated.

Recently, a research team studied data collected by NASA’s Magellan space probe in 1991. The spacecraft encountered problems early in the mission, which caused it to only map around 43 percent of the planet, although at least twice, before plunging into Venus in October 1994.

When the team studied an area containing Venus’ highest volcano Maat Mons, they found an expanded volcanic vent that changed in shape and grew between February and October 1991.

During that time, matter appears to have flooded into an open vent, which increased from 0.8 to 1.5 square miles in size, and a new stream of material appears to have leaked downslope.

Researchers suggest that these changes occurred because of a huge eruption of lava that filled the expanding vent, while the rest poured over the rim or bled through a fissure.

“We can now say that Venus is presently volcanically active in the sense that there are at least a few eruptions per year,” co-author Robert Herrick said in a statement.

Herrick noted that future missions to Venus – namely NASA’s VERITAS and Europe’s EnVision – could unveil more mysteries about the planet’s “volcanic heartbeat.”

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