The World Today for May 25, 2023

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Inch By Inch


Voters in Mauritania cast ballots in parliamentary and local government elections on May 13 and will do so again on May 27. The two rounds of voting are the first since President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani assumed power four years ago. They will become a mandate for the changes that he appears to be trying to bring to the West African country.

In the first round, the president’s party El Insaf comfortably won 80 of the 176 seats in parliament, announced Dah Abdel Jelil, the head of the independent electoral commission (CENI), Africanews wrote. Thirty-six other seats went to parties allied to the president and 24 to the opposition, nine of them to the Islamist Tewassoul movement, which wants a strict application of Islamic law.

Up for grabs are the remaining 36 parliamentary seats.

Meanwhile, opposition parties are already charging that election officials have permitted “fraud and chaos” to dominate polling places, Middle East Monitor wrote. They called on voters to reject the results in order to protect democracy. Poll station workers have barred party representatives from observing the administration of voting, raising suspicions, added the Journal of Africa.

Critics made similar claims in 2019 when Ghazouani won office – the first time Mauritania transitioned from one democratically elected president to another, wrote Al Jazeera. Meanwhile, the president’s predecessor in office, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, faces corruption charges – an extraordinary prosecution in a conservative nation where coups and the military’s meddling in politics have been the norm for years.

Ghazouani, a former general, was Aziz’s right-hand man, but his party is still expected to win the vote, reported Agence France-Presse. Not only is his El Insaf party the only organization in the country to field candidates in every region, but Ghazouani has at least tried to address his people’s economic and security problems.

While jihadists have been running rampant through Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, Mauritania has not seen an attack since 2011, though the recent escape of four terrorists from a jail in the capital of Nouakchott precipitated a scare. Russian and Western officials have sought to gain more influence in the country precisely because it is an island of relative stability in the region, argued Politics Today.

The president has also expanded food and financial subsidies to the poorest Mauritanians, for example. The coronavirus pandemic and inflation stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have hiked the cost of living, however, undermining his progress on his humanitarian goals.

Ghazouani has also made halting progress on addressing the institution of slavery in Mauritania, where Arab-Berber Moors can own Afro-Mauritanians as if they were property, as the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative explained. As the United Nations found, the country criminalized slavery in 2015 but has not necessarily enforced the law as comprehensively as possible.

Mauritania faces mountains of challenges. Still, the country’s people and leaders seem to be chipping away at them, slowly.


‘Green Mafia’


German police raided the homes of members of the “Last Generation” climate advocacy group Wednesday, over allegations that some of its activists are part of a criminal organization, Politico reported.

Raids took place in 15 properties across Germany, with authorities saying the goal of the searches was to uncover information about the group’s structure and financing.

Authorities have accused seven activists of collecting more than $1.5 million via a fundraising campaign, which the Last Generation is alleged to have used to mainly commit crimes.

Two of the individuals are alleged to have planned felonies themselves, including accusations of attempting to sabotage an oil pipeline from Italy to Germany last April.

Police officials noted that the proceedings against the group began “as a result of numerous criminal complaints received from the public since the middle of 2022.” The group has sparked controversy with protesters gluing themselves to roads to block traffic.

Last Generation representatives criticized the police action and questioned when authorities will start raiding “lobby structures and seize government fossil fuel funds.”

The group wants to raise awareness of what it perceives as the government’s lack of urgent action over the climate emergency, the Guardian noted.

Its demands include a 62 miles per hour speed limit on German autobahns (highways) and subsidies for public transport.

Having Their Day


Somalia’s Puntland will hold local government elections Thursday, the first democratic polls since 1967 for the semi-autonomous state that has long been known as a haven for international piracy and a hideout for Islamic jihadist groups in the Horn of Africa, Bloomberg reported.

The vote will see the ruling KAAH party of President Said Dani compete against six other parties. Election officials said more than 400,000 people have registered to cast ballots.

International organizations including the African Union and the United Nations supported the polls, saying they have “the potential to inform and inspire the expansion of democracy across Somalia, at all levels of government.”

The landmark elections follow a series of agreements between various political actors, including the Puntland state and the Transitional Puntland Electoral Commission, according to the Rift Valley Institute, a non-profit organization currently working in eastern and central Africa.

The local government polls come as Somalia continues to grapple with internal conflict as it has for more than 30 years.

In 1998, Puntland declared autonomy after the rest of the country collapsed into anarchy, but it has not sought independence, the BBC wrote.

No Touching!


New Zealanders expressed outrage at a Florida zoo for allowing visitors to pet a kiwi – New Zealand’s national bird – prompting the institution to stop the controversial practice and apologize to the island nation, the Washington Post reported.

Earlier this week, more than 10,000 people in New Zealand signed an online petition calling to save the kiwi, named Paora, at Zoo Miami.

Videos posted on social media showed the flightless bird taken out of its enclosure and petted by strangers as part of the zoo’s up-close animal encounters, which are offered for $23.36.

Petition creator Jeseka Christieson, a New Zealander, admonished the zoo’s practice, saying that the creatures were precious and not “America’s toys.”

On Tuesday, Zoo Miami released a statement offering “our most profound and sincere apology” and calling the encounter program “not well conceived.”

The reaction also prompted a response from New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who thanked the zoo for stopping the practice.

The bird species are beloved by New Zealanders and the country’s human inhabitants are often referred to as “Kiwis.”

The avians are nocturnal birds that “must not be regularly taken out of their burrows just for the purposes of allowing people to see and touch them,” according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s “Kiwi Best Practice Manual.”

The manual adds that kiwis can be gently stroked on their backs only if they are being handled for other reasons, such as rehabilitation or routine health checks.

Paora was hatched at Zoo Miami in 2019. Kiwis in captivity are “extremely rare,” according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.


Deep Dive

Sharks are fast swimmers and fearsome predators – but even they struggle at great depths, a new study shows.

Marine researchers discovered that a species of hammerhead sharks “hold their breath” while taking deep dives underwater, NPR reported.

For their paper, lead author Mark Royer and his colleagues set out to study the diving habits of scalloped hammerheads, a species known for swimming in warm coastal waters and able to dive to depths of more than 2,600 feet below the surface.

They attached an electronic sensor package to each shark’s fin and later analyzed the data from the deep dives.

The researchers explained that sharks are cold-blooded creatures and their body temperatures match the waters they swim in. However, the temperatures can drop to 41 degrees Fahrenheit at great depths, which can cause the apex predators to become colder, more sluggish, and struggle to swim.

If it doesn’t swim, water doesn’t move across the gills and the creature drowns.

Royer’s team found that scalloped hammerheads have developed a trick to survive deep dives: They close their gill slits before a dive – i.e. they hold their breath – which prevents cold water from flowing across them and also prevents drops in their body temperature.

The sharks only reopen their gills once they get closer to the surface, where the water is warmer and it is comfortable for them to do so, Royer noted.

The study also surprised other marine scientists, who suggested that the hammerheads’ strategy could be more widespread.

They added that the findings shed further light on “the extraordinary persistence of these animals across 400 million years of changing ocean environments.”

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