The World Today for May 05, 2023

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Bona Fides and Possibilities

CHILE

Early last year, shortly after he was elected president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, 37, quoted a Chilean poem in his remarks at a meeting with the country’s most important industrialists and business leaders. The lines recalled a cemetery in Boric’s Patagonian hometown and how the commoners buried there suffered and toiled while the rich grew wealthier under the authoritarian regime of the late Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990.

“Boric was bringing out of the shadows the countless Chileans whose lives have been ransacked and neglected, reminding the cream of Chile’s ruling class,” wrote Ariel Dorfman, an author and professor emeritus of literature at Duke University, in the Washington Post.

Boric is doing more to bolster his leftist credentials than cite poetry. He recently proposed, for example, to nationalize the country’s lithium sector, reported Quartz. The move echoed similar proposals by Salvador Allende, a socialist Chilean president who won office in 1970 on a pledge to nationalize the South American country’s mines. Backed by the US, the military launched a coup in response, paving the way for Pinochet to assume power.

Still, the president is also tacking right, noted Americas Quarterly. The homicide rate in Chile increased by nearly a third last year. Around 75 percent of Chileans fear becoming a victim of crime, pollster Cadem reported. Drug trafficking and human trafficking have especially become problems. Boric has responded with new laws to expand police powers and put additional investment into security. The president has also failed to maintain his pledge of maintaining perfect gender parity in his cabinet, according to El País.

Boric’s leanings are important because the big, looming political question in Chile is how the country might reform its current Pinochet-era constitution. In September last year, a wide majority of Chileans rejected the president’s proposed changes to the document – a sign that Boric’s leftist agenda was not as popular as he thought his election victory might have indicated.

Now, however, Boric and lawmakers have agreed to try to draft a new constitution for a second time. This month, voters nationwide will elect 50 members of a provisional Constitutional Council who will debate a new proposed charter, wrote the Daily Free Press, the student newspaper at Boston University. A Commission of Experts is now drafting individual sections of a potential constitution, added Prensa Latina, the Cuban state-owned news agency.

Chileans are lobbying for their ideas, too. The abortion rights movement, for example, suffered a setback when voters rejected the previous revised constitution, which enshrined those rights. Now, as Al Jazeera reported, pro-choice activists are working hard to include those rights in this latest round of constitutional changes.

It’s Boric’s chance to make sure real change comes to Chile.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Long Live the King

UNITED KINGDOM

The United Kingdom is finalizing the preparations for the coronation of King Charles III Saturday, a major event marked with pomp, tradition, and religiosity that comes amid questions about the future of the centuries-old British monarchy, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Charles automatically ascended to the throne when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, passed away on Sept. 8, 2022, with the official proclamation of his ascendancy coming two days later. Although there is no legal requirement for the coronation, the event is seen as a more formal confirmation of his role as the head of state, as well as the titular head of the Church of England, and is intended to show the king’s authority is derived from God.

Still, Saturday’s coronation will be a more slimmed-down version compared with Elizabeth’s: She was crowned queen in 1953. Organizers have also tried to make it more modern.

For example, the king will present himself as “the defender of faiths,” as opposed to “the defender of the faith,” the Washington Post noted. The move acknowledges that Britain is no longer an exclusively Christian country but a multi-faith nation consisting of various religions, including atheists.

For the first time in four centuries, adherents of other religions will participate actively in what has been almost entirely a Protestant ceremony. The coronation will also feature female bishops for the first time.

Meanwhile, coronation organizers are also asking the British to swear their allegiance to the monarch wherever they are: Any person watching, streaming and listening to Saturday’s event will be invited to recite a new “homage of the people.”

It is the first time in history that all royal subjects have been publicly asked to join in a coronation ceremony in this manner, which organizers described as a novelty made feasible by contemporary technology.

A hundred heads of state – including foreign royalty – are set to participate in the coronation. US President Joe Biden, however, will not attend, although First Lady Jill Biden is expected to.

The coronation comes at a time when opinion polls show that support for the monarchy is weakening, with some wondering whether Britain still needs the antiquated institution and who should pay for it.

The anti-monarchist group Republic said it plans to have more than a thousand protesters chant “Not my king” during the ceremony.

At the same time, countries that are part of the Commonwealth – such as Belize and Jamaica – are questioning the value of keeping the monarch as their head of state.

Gotcha

EUROPEAN UNION

Authorities launched a major operation against Italy’s most feared mafia organization in eight European countries this week, a move that has been called a “severe blow” to the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate, the Telegraph reported.

Police in Italy, Germany, France, and other countries raided addresses associated with the criminal organization, which is believed to control most of the cocaine flows into Europe.

Police made more than 150 arrests, the majority of them in Italy. The suspects are charged with a series of offenses, including drug trafficking, gun running, and money laundering.

The raids are part of a top-secret cross-border probe codenamed “Operation Eureka,” which began in Belgium four years ago. At the time, Belgian authorities started investigating a family-run pizzeria that they say had repeated contact with cocaine smugglers.

But as police unveiled the criminal network, authorities from other countries joined the investigation in what observers have described as the biggest cross-border probe in European criminal history.

A major breakthrough came after detectives cracked the organization’s “interception-proof” mobile phones – so-called crypto-phones, which rely on software that the manufacturers claim to be uncrackable.

The ‘Ndrangheta comes from Calabria, the region at the toe of the Italian peninsula. A majority of the main suspects reportedly hail from the hilltop village of San Luca, which has fewer than 4,000 inhabitants.

Wrestling for Justice

INDIA

Indian wrestlers continued their protests in the capital this week over the government’s inaction against the head of the country’s wrestling federation whom they accuse of sexual harassment, Al Jazeera reported Thursday.

For 10 days, the protesting athletes – including Olympic medalists – have been camping outside India’s parliament to demand the “immediate arrest” of Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

The wrestlers have accused Singh and a number of coaches of sexually harassing female athletes and financial misappropriation from the sport’s governing body.

Singh has denied all the allegations and has accused the demonstrators of being pawns of the opposition, which has been backing the wrestlers.

The issue initially began earlier this year when wrestlers demonstrated in New Delhi and accused Singh of sexual harassment. But athletes called off their protests after the government said it would set up an oversight committee to look into the allegations.

The committee completed a report into the matter in April but the findings were not made public, prompting wrestlers to demand the document’s release and action against Singh.

The situation has even prompted the Supreme Court to ask the police why they have not initiated a probe targeting the WFI president, calling the allegations “serious.” Authorities later informed the court they would investigate.

Meanwhile, demonstrators and their supporters have also criticized government officials and ministers for “trying to suppress” the issue.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

This week, tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated as Moscow accused Kyiv of orchestrating a drone attack it claimed was an assassination attempt on President Vladimir Putin, according to CBS News. In retaliation, Russia launched an overnight wave of drones on Ukraine, and while most were successfully shot down by Ukrainian forces, drone attacks and shelling on the southern city of Kherson killed 21 civilians. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied any involvement in the alleged attack on Putin. At the same time, the Russian government accused the United States of planning the alleged drone attack on the Kremlin in Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed pleas of ignorance from both Ukraine and the US as “ridiculous” and claimed that decisions on such actions are made in Washington. However, US officials said they are trying to confirm the origins of the alleged drone attack while remaining skeptical of claims made by the Russian government.

Also this week:

  • Explosions rocked Pavlograd in central Ukraine while air raid sirens sounded across the country following an attack on an oil depot in Russian-occupied Crimea over the weekend, the New York Times reported. Ukrainian military officials said the oil depot attack was part of Kyiv’s preparations for a counteroffensive and that targeting Russia’s logistical capacity was crucial. However, Ukrainian officials and military analysts believe it is highly unlikely that Crimea would be the immediate target of the upcoming campaign. On Sunday, Ukrainian shelling killed four civilians in a Russian village near the northeastern border, while Ukrainian officials reported two civilian deaths from Russian shelling in the country’s south.
  • The US has claimed that around 20,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine in the past five months, with 100,000 men being killed or wounded in the Bakhmut region and other areas of Ukraine since December, Euronews wrote. Such casualty numbers are almost impossible to verify: Both the Russians and the Ukrainians have remained quiet about how many soldiers they have lost. Despite Moscow capturing most of Bakhmut, Ukrainian troops cling to a small portion in the west of the city. Meanwhile, the city has taken on huge symbolic importance for both sides, with Ukraine wanting to prove its ability to resist Russia, and Russia eager to obtain a clear battlefield victory.
  • President Putin has signed a law imposing a life sentence for high treason, as well as stiffer penalties for other crimes, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move represents a further tightening of authority by the Kremlin as it prepares for a prolonged war in Ukraine. The use of espionage and treason laws by the Kremlin has increased to suppress criticism of the war and the government inside Russia, with even minor infractions receiving harsh sentences. Meanwhile, the US State Department has continued to call for the release of Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained on allegations of espionage, charges he and the US government deny. A Russian parliamentarian has also called for the return of Stalin-era repressions.
  • Fuminori Tsuchiko, a 75-year-old Japanese national, has opened a free cafe in Kharkiv’s Saltivka neighborhood in Ukraine with a Ukrainian local, Reuters noted. The man decided to stay in Kharkiv, a city in the east, following Russia’s invasion last year and worked as a volunteer, distributing food in the subway. The cafe, named FuMi Caffe, serves about 500 people a day and has been funded mainly by donations from Japanese people via social media.

DISCOVERIES

The Deadly Scent

Carnivorous pitcher plants play a deadly waiting game when feeding themselves: These tubular florae attract insects to their petal-like leaves and then trap them inside their long, narrow cavity.

Botanists and scientists have long wondered how these plants do it.

Now, a new study has discovered that these hungry plants emit odors to attract different kinds of insects to achieve a deadly outcome, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Researchers focused on the Sarracenia subset that primarily lives in the bogs of the southeastern United States and doesn’t discriminate in its choice of insects, which includes bees, moths, and flies.

They analyzed the volatile organic compounds (VOC) produced by 16 laboratory-grown trumpet pitcher plants representing four different species. Different blends of VOCs can produce diverse odors.

The team then compared the odor formulas with the type of insect found inside the plant. They found that the plants would produce a specific scent cocktail to attract certain bugs.

For example, the plants generated monoterpenes and benzenoids – compounds emitted by flowers and fruits – to attract more pollinators, like bees and moths. To lure ants, they produced fatty acid chemicals.

The authors said these carnivorous plants “are not simple passive plants with random captures, and that they can target their prey.”

The authors added that the study can also assist in developing new methods to control pests with different odors.

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