The World Today for April 25, 2023

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The 100 Percenters


American, British, Irish, and Northern Irish politicians recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that ended years of violence in the disputed British territory.

Some Republicans – or Northern Irish residents who want to unify the territory with Ireland – marked the occasion by firebombing a police car, the Associated Press reported. They opposed the April 1998 peace deal because it retained British sovereignty in the region.

The juxtaposition between the two incidents shows that, while the so-called “Troubles” – the fighting between Catholic and Protestant communities – has abated in Northern Ireland, preserving peace and security is still a precarious undertaking.

The most recent wrench in the works is the dispute between Northern Irish leaders over power-sharing in the Northern Irish local government as the United Kingdom negotiates with the European Union over trade rules following Brexit, Reuters explained. The Good Friday Agreement depends on an open border between UK-controlled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland. But Brexit means that the border must have controls.

In late February, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reached the Windsor Framework to solve the dilemma, Foreign Policy noted. The plan applies British and European rules to Northern Ireland with the goal of smoothing trade and allowing easy movement across the border.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a pro-union Protestant political party that opposed the 1998 deal, was not pleased. From their perspective, the Windsor Framework makes them second-class British citizens who must jump through European hoops at the behest of Republicans. The DUP has refused to join a government in Stormont, the location of Northern Ireland’s local legislature, that includes Sinn Fein, which advocates for uniting the island under Irish rule, wrote Politico.

The politicians who descended on the region for the anniversary celebrations were therefore exhorting DUP leaders – and Republicans like the ones who firebombed the police car – to reconsider.

“Each of your parties have the ‘100 percenters.’ They want it their way all the time. Compromise is seen as a sign of weakness,” said George Mitchell, a former US senator who helped broker the Good Friday Agreement, during a speech at Queen’s University Belfast, according to the Belfast Telegraph. “Reasoned principled compromise is essential, especially in a divided society. There is great depth in recognizing that the only way to help us emerge from the rubble of conflict is that we must learn to understand one another.”

It might take another generation or two before people in Northern Ireland view their hatred of one another as a quaint anachronism.


Deadly Fervor


Kenyan authorities exhumed the bodies of scores of people from a forest in the country’s southeast this week, the work of what appears to be a religious starvation cult that has shocked the nation, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Police investigators said at least 70 people have been confirmed dead, with the majority of graves belonging to children. They added they have sealed off 800 acres of the Shakahola forest in the Malindi area and declared the site a crime scene.

Authorities added that there could be more bodies, saying the dead are worshippers belonging to the Good News International Church of Pastor Paul Mackenzie.

The non-governmental group Haki Africa said even those worshippers they found had survived then refused food and water after being rescued because of their religion. The group explained that it had alerted authorities about the church’s activities around a month ago and criticized the government for not responding sooner.

Officials countered that they had attempted to help the worshippers but that congregants would hide in the dense forest to elude rescue efforts.

Last month, police detained Mackenzie over his alleged involvement in the death of two children. The controversial preacher moved to Shakahola forest from Malindi after he was arrested and charged with “various offenses” in 2018.

Mackenzie has said he disbanded the church at that time and denies involvement in the deaths of those found this week.

President William Ruto said Monday that Mackenzie’s alleged activities in Shakahola were “akin to terrorists” because both “use religion to advance their heinous acts.”

The Diplomatic Makeover


Hundreds of people protested across northwestern Syria this week to denounce rapprochement efforts by some Arab nations with the government of President Bashar Assad, whose country became diplomatically isolated since the start of the Syrian civil war more than a decade ago, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Demonstrations took place in the rebel-held city of Idlib and other towns in the northwest, as well as in a number of European cities.

Protesters lambasted those nations trying to restore relations with Assad, branding them “partners in killing Syrians.” They argued that any attempt at reconciliation could only take place after Assad’s prosecution and the release of all individuals detained under his regime.

The demonstrators also insisted that displaced Syrians could not return home until Assad relinquished power.

Syria’s civil conflict began when Assad used force to crack down on peaceful anti-government demonstrations in 2011. The unrest eventually escalated into a deadly war that drew in foreign powers and global armed groups.

The conflict has left over 500,000 people dead and forced approximately half of Syria’s population to flee their homes. Millions of Syrians have fled the conflict and remain around the world, with Lebanon and Turkey hosting the largest numbers.

Initially, Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab countries severed ties with Assad’s regime, called for his removal and supported Syrian rebels.

But as Assad has reclaimed back control with the help of Iran and Russia, some Arab countries have begun seeking rapprochement with Syria. In 2018, the United Arab Emirates reestablished diplomatic ties with Damascus, and it has since been leading the charge to reintegrate Syria into the Arab fold.

Last month, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to normalize ties, paving the way for a flurry of diplomatic activity.

And last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud traveled to Damascus and met with Assad, just days after Syria’s top diplomat, Faisal Mekdad, visited Saudi Arabia.

Diplomats from nine Arab countries also convened in the Saudi city of Jeddah earlier this month to discuss ways to end Syria’s pariah status.

In the Doghouse


South Korean First Lady Kim Keon Hee has caused an uproar in the country this week after vowing to end the country’s controversial practice of eating dogs, the Korea Times reported.

Her remarks received support from both ruling and opposition parties, with lawmakers from each side proposing different bills that would outlaw the sale and consumption of canine meat.

But a group representing the dog meat industry criticized Kim’s statements, saying that the first lady should maintain neutrality and accused her of siding with animal rights groups. They noted that Kim and others are neglecting those working in the dog meat industry and that banning dog meat consumption is illogical.

They alleged that the comments and bills are an attempt to appeal to voters at a time when increasing numbers of Koreans keep pets, especially dogs.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has previously said that eating dogs was a personal decision, subsequently reversed his stance and committed to banning dog meat consumption during his election campaign.

While cultural views toward animals are changing in South Korea, the country’s dog farms and dog meat restaurants continue to operate, especially on holidays.


Life Finds a Way

Scientists recently found that marine species normally known to only dwell along the western Pacific Ocean’s coasts have been thriving on plastic garbage in the high seas, USA Today reported.

Their analysis focused on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – also known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre – a collection of floating trash halfway between Hawaii and California.

It’s the largest of at least five garbage islands around the world, weighing around 88,000 tons and containing around 1.8 trillion pieces of trash, including fishing nets, bottles, and microplastics.

A research team collected 105 items of plastic debris in the giant patch and discovered that nearly 71 percent of the floating trash was occupied by more than 480 different marine organisms – 80 percent of which were species found in coastal habitats.

The animals included crustaceans, sea anemones, and worms, as well as creatures already known to live in the open ocean. The team noticed that the faunae had adapted to their strange home and even reproduced.

The findings also showed that the diversity of all creatures was greatest on rope and that fishing nets held the greatest diversity of coastal animals.

While the study shows that life finds a way – even on a gargantuan pile of plastic waste in the middle of the ocean – the authors noted that “these discoveries raise many challenging questions about the future of our oceans in the context of the global plastic pollution crisis.”


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