The World Today for May 19, 2023

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Tough Love

GREECE

Eight years ago, at the peak of the migration crisis in Europe, around one million Syrian refugees fleeing their country’s bloody war traveled to Greece for safety and economic opportunities. Four years ago, conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defeated leftist Alexis Tsipras on a pledge to decrease those numbers.

Today, Mitsotakis claims that the flow of refugees has declined by 90 percent compared with 2015. Recently, while campaigning for reelection, the prime minister visited the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos – where 20,000 refugees lived before a fire ruined their quarters – and he trumpeted his migration policies.

“The hellhole of Moria, as it would become known abroad, is no more,” he said, referring to the refugee settlement, according to the Guardian. “It belongs to the past. And of that I am especially proud because I kept the promise I had given to local society, particularly local communities … We enforced a tough but fair policy on the migration issue.”

Now voters must decide if they approve of those policies when they vote for a new parliament on May 21.

United Nations and European Union human rights officials and others have criticized Mitsotakis’ agenda, reported the PBS News Hour. They cite, for example, how Greek police arrested a Syrian migrant activist who was giving water and blankets to new asylum seekers on a host of charges, including human trafficking and espionage.

Critics have also accused the prime minister of authoritarianism, citing his treatment of the press and Greek intelligence agencies wiretapping Greek politicians under his watch, explained International Political Sociology.

Those concerns don’t seem to be moving Greeks, however. A recent poll found that the prime minister’s New Democracy party held a 6.5 percent lead over opposition leader Tsipras’ SYRIZA political party, noted the National Herald, a New York-based newspaper that covers Greek affairs.

Tsipras advocated for welcoming Syrian and other refugees with open arms in the past. But, in a move that appears designed to garner votes, he recently said he would keep a fence that Mitsotakis erected to prevent migrants from entering the country through Turkey, Voice of America reported. In his defense, Tsipras has repeatedly said that other European Union-wide measures are necessary to truly ease the pressure on his country, which has been struggling to find its footing in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis that devastated it.

Still, around 440,000 young Greeks – who are expected to vote for the first time – hold the key to who will win, noted Euronews. Many are generationally biased to side with Tsipras. But many have also lived through the Greek financial crisis, the asylum crisis, and the pandemic in recent years. They want stability.

Whatever happens, the outcome will be felt from Athens to Brussels to Damascus.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Mutual Destruction

ECUADOR

Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso, facing a looming impeachment vote, dissolved parliament this week, a move observers warned could worsen the crisis in the Latin American country that is currently dealing with a deteriorating security situation, CNN reported.

The conservative leader invoked a constitutional procedure known as “muerte cruzada” – or “mutual death” – that allows him to dismiss the opposition-dominated parliament and call for early elections.

The new presidential and legislative elections will take place in 90 days, according to Ecuador’s Electoral Council.

Lasso has been facing calls for his resignation over the country’s dire economic situation and rising crime. Before the dissolution, lawmakers began impeachment proceedings against the president over allegations that he influenced the negotiation of a shipping contract related to the export of oil products.

Lasso has denied the allegations and called for new elections as the “best decision to pave the way for hope.” He explained that the move was necessary to stop the political crisis in the country, adding that it was costing Ecuador millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, security forces have asked citizens to respect the president’s decision and refrain from disrupting “the constitutional order and democracy through violence.”

But the opposition criticized the move and had previously vowed to hold mass demonstrations if Lasso went forward with the “muerte cruzada.”

Former Ecuadoran officials and political analysts noted that parliament’s dissolution was very risky and “would absolutely cause instability” in the South American country.

Killing the Messengers

LESOTHO

Lesotho imposed a national curfew this week following the murder of a prominent journalist, as authorities attempt to address rising crime rates in the small southern African kingdom, the Guardian reported Thursday.

Unknown assailants shot and killed radio presenter Ralikonelo “Leqhashasha” Joki as he left his workplace Sunday night.

Media groups swiftly condemned the killing, calling it an attempt to silence journalists. Joki’s show was often critical of politicians and government policy. The late presenter broke a story in 2021 about five politicians accused of involvement in the illegal alcohol trade.

Press freedom advocates said Joki had received death threats and had phantom Facebook accounts created in his name in the months before his death.

Following his murder, the government imposed a nationwide curfew between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., and revoked all firearm licenses. Anyone violating the curfew would face a fine or up to two years in prison, according to police officials.

Observers noted that the curfew is also part of a government effort to reduce gun violence and the spiking murder rate in Lesotho.

Lesotho has the third-highest homicide rate in the world, behind El Salvador and Jamaica, according to the latest report by World Population Review.

Despite the government’s efforts, press groups have been critical of the country’s sluggish justice system.

They pointed to the attempted murder of former Lesotho Times editor, Lloyd Mutungamiri, who was shot in 2016. Authorities arrested five members of the Lesotho Defense Force in 2017. Their trial is expected to take place in July.

No Kidding Around, Please

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea is debating whether it should eliminate its designated “no-kid zones” in public spaces and venues at a time when the country is currently dealing with declining birth rates, the New York Times reported.

Earlier this month, lawmaker Yong Hye-in took her toddler to parliament and called on the government to outlaw the policy that allows various establishments, including restaurants, museums and cafes, to ban children from entering.

South Korea has around 500 no-kid zones, the Washington Post noted.

Yong said that these areas place a high burden on parents and make them feel ostracized. She added that removing these zones could help South Korean society become more accepting of children and help the country elevate its low birth rate.

Following her announcement, local lawmakers on Jeju Island – a popular tourist destination in the south of the country – will vote later this month on whether to ban no-kid zones. If the vote passes, it will be the first of its kind in the country.

Still, despite some calls from parents to remove these areas, opinion polls showed that more than 70 percent of South Koreans favor no-kid zones.

South Korea has the lowest fertility rate in the world – the nation recorded a birthrate of 0.78 in 2022. Many young South Koreans are also choosing not to have children because of inflation, job scarcity and increasing worries about the future.

The debate about no-kid zones is also taking place elsewhere, including in the United States, Germany and Canada.

These areas have been met with a mix of praise and criticism: Business owners say they have the right to control their business spaces, with some adding that they are offering parents a break and helping make parenting more manageable.

Detractors, however, counter that such designations stigmatize children and deny them the basic right to exist in public spaces.

Sociologist Hyeyoung Woo told the Post that limiting the presence of children in public spaces discourages people from having children, while also reinforcing “the notion that women should take care of children at home.”

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

This week, the Russian defense ministry acknowledged that Ukraine has made territorial gains in the battle for the east Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, with Ukrainian forces advancing on the flanks of Donetsk city just to the south, Newsweek reported. However, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder and leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, denied these claims and criticized the Russian defense ministry for misrepresenting a retreat. The Institute for the Study of War suggested that despite successful Ukrainian counterattacks, Russian forces are likely reinforcing their offensive efforts in the Bakhmut area.

Meanwhile, former Russian army commander and lawmaker Viktor Sobolev called for a crackdown on Wagner amid escalating tensions over its role in the Ukraine invasion, Politico wrote. Sobolev labeled the mercenary group an “illegal armed formation” and warned of potential prison sentences for soldiers defecting to Wagner. Prigozhin has accused top Russian generals of failing to support his troops in Bakhmut. Leaked documents indicated Prigozhin may have offered information on Russian army positions to Ukraine in exchange for a retreat, the Washington Post added.

Also this week:

  • Russia launched 30 cruise missiles against Ukraine, with Ukrainian air defenses successfully shooting down 29 of them, the Associated Press noted. One person died and two were injured when a missile struck a building in Odesa. Kyiv was targeted for the ninth time this month, causing explosions and a fire. Meanwhile, a major air attack on Kyiv was repelled by sophisticated Western-supplied air defense systems.
  • Ukraine and Russia agreed to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative this week, a critical agreement that allows Kyiv to transport its grain across the Black Sea, the New York Times noted. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the two-month extension after talks in Istanbul, facilitated by the United Nations and Turkey. The agreement, originally established in July 2022, allows Ukraine to transport grain past Russian naval vessels that have blockaded Ukrainian ports, with inspections taking place off the coast of Istanbul. The agreement and extension underscore another rare instance of cooperation between Moscow and Kyiv since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion 15 months ago. However, there have been tensions in the past over the deal, with Russia threatening to withdraw from the agreement and both sides raising issues regarding inspections and shipping provisions.
  • Dozens of European companies have continued to supply critical goods and equipment to Russian firms involved in the country’s military activities in Ukraine, according to a report by the investigative outlet the Insider. The report highlights 25 companies from countries including Germany, France, and Hungary, that have fulfilled orders with Russian companies linked to the Russian military. The items include microchips for missiles, fiber optics for night vision devices, body armor, and components for warship engines. The report raises concern about the effectiveness of Western sanctions in restricting supplies to the Russian army amid the ongoing conflict.
  • Meanwhile, the Central Intelligence Agency created a Telegram account to recruit Russian assets and establish secure communication with US agents, according to the Hill. The intelligence agency seeks to reach individuals who wish to engage with the CIA and provide information securely. The agency’s Telegram posts encourage military officers, intelligence professionals, scientists, and individuals with knowledge of the Russian Federation to contact them.

DISCOVERIES

The Ancient Replacement Theory

For years, scientists believed that around 42,000 years ago there was one major migration of early modern humans into the European continent from Africa, where they had first appeared 300,000 years ago, before migrating onwards to Asia and Europe.

Now, after studying tens of thousands of stone tools found at archeology sites in France and Lebanon, researchers say they were wrong: There were actually three distinct waves of migration and these started 10,000 years earlier than originally thought, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Oh, and already living in Europe were the occasional early modern human loners that had wandered in, too, as shown by a skull with these features found in Greece that dates back at least 200,000 years.

To arrive at these conclusions, scientists examined recent Paleolithic sites Ksar Akil in Lebanon and Grotte Mandrin in southern France, which show that Homo sapiens arrived in Europe between 54,000 and 42,000 years ago in three distinct migration waves, according to a new paper.

The researchers say that further examination of these migratory patterns will help establish a clearer picture of the events that saw H. sapiens spread across Europe, eventually replacing our close human cousins, the Neanderthals.

“The study shows that this first Sapiens’ migration would actually be the last of three major migratory waves to the continent, profoundly rewriting what was thought to be known about the origin of Sapiens in Europe,” said study author Ludovic Slimak.

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