The World Today for May 31, 2023

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In a final decision, Cambodia’s Constitutional Council recently rejected the claims of opposition politicians with the Candlelight Party who said they should be allowed to stand for election in July.

They had been disqualified because of incorrectly submitted registration papers, officials said.

The council’s decision means the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen will run unopposed, reported Reuters. “I think that democracy in Cambodia … it’s dead,” Candlelight Party leader Teav Vannol told Al Jazeera after the ruling. “Democracy is dead in Cambodia. That’s how I feel.”

Hun has been cracking down on his rivals for years. In 2017, for example, he dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the main opposition force at the time. He has also imprisoned numerous leaders of that party and driven others into exile. The prime minister has also unfairly charged labor leaders, dissidents, and others who might question his rule, added Human Rights Watch. His security forces recently arrested farmers, for example, because authorities suspected they might be organizing a peasant revolution, the Diplomat explained.

While Cambodia is technically a democracy, Hun, 70, is an authoritarian who has run the country for 38 years, the Associated Press wrote. His son, Hun Manet, who runs the army, is expected to take his father’s place in the near future.

His iron grip on power stems in part from the chaos and violence that gripped the region in the 1970s when the Cold War was in full swing, including the violence that spilled over into Cambodia during the US-Vietnam War, and the bloody regime of communist leader Pol Pot who killed a million people with his genocidal schemes.

Recently, conservatives at publications like the Washington Times hailed the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who celebrated his centennial birthday on May 27, as “the sage of American diplomats, [the] embodiment of realpolitik.”

But The Intercept recently published a series of articles showing how Kissinger’s actions might have led to many more deaths in Cambodia than historians previously believed possible. Citing declassified diplomatic telegrams, the news agency found that American bombers, for example, dropped bombs on the Cambodian village of Neak Luong, killing many more civilians than many initially thought.

Perhaps Hun wants to bring peace and prosperity to his country so that his son can take over and enjoy the benefit of a strong economy as he enacts other reforms. The World Bank, however, while praising Cambodia for reducing poverty, warned that the pandemic has set the country back in its efforts to grow the economy.

It’s not just the coronavirus that has been preventing Cambodia from reaching its full potential.


In the Spotlight


Protesters and police clashed in the town of Nagu in southwestern China this week after authorities attempted to partially dismantle a 14th-century mosque in the Muslim-majority municipality, the Guardian reported.

Over the weekend, Nagu officials were set to dismantle parts of the Najiaying mosque after a court ruled in 2020 that some of the structure’s recent additions – including a domed roof and minarets – were illegal and should be removed.

But many of the town’s residents, who belong to the Hui ethnic group, objected to the deconstruction.

Authorities arrested an unknown number of people and ordered protesters to turn themselves in by June 6.

Meanwhile, the unrest was heavily censored on Chinese social media.

The planned dismantling and subsequent violence underscore the ongoing crackdown that the Chinese government has launched against religious groups in an effort to “Sinicize” religion, according to CNN.

The predominately Muslim Hui are China’s third largest minority. They speak Mandarin and are seen as more assimilated with China’s Han majority compared with the Uyghurs – another Muslim minority.

Even so, Hui advocates complain that they have become Beijing’s latest target in its crackdown against Islam that began in the western region of Xinjiang – where most of the Uyghur minority lives.

The ruling Communist Party has been accused of detaining millions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang, as well as forcibly assimilating them to suppress their cultural and religious identity.

In 2018, hundreds of Hui Muslims staged a sit-in at a mosque in central China to prevent its demolition. The mosque survived but authorities removed many of the domed minarets.

Do As I Say …


A Salvadoran court sentenced a former president and another official to lengthy prison sentences on charges of having links with criminal groups and failure to comply with their duties, Reuters reported.

Former President Mauricio Funes and his Security Minister David Munguía Payes were sentenced to 14 and 18 years, respectively.

Prosecutors alleged that the two defendants were involved in truce negotiations between El Salvador’s gangs aimed at reducing homicides – in exchange for undisclosed benefits to the criminal organizations.

Funes, who governed between 2009 and 2014, currently lives in Nicaragua and was tried in absentia. He became a Nicaraguan citizen in 2019 and the country’s constitution does not allow its citizens to be extradited.

Meanwhile, Munguía criticized the verdict as politically motivated and called the charges against him unfounded.

But allegations of negotiating truces with criminal gangs have also dogged the current president, Nayib Bukele, the Associated Press noted.

The United States Department of the Treasury has accused government officials of providing privileges to gang leaders in exchange for slowing down killings and for giving political support to Bukele’s party.

But that truce broke down in March 2022 when gangs killed 62 people in a single day. The government responded by imposing a state of emergency that has been in effect to this day.

Since then, authorities have arrested more than 68,000 people alleged to be gang members. While the state of emergency remains popular among Salvadorans, human rights groups have criticized allegations of arbitrary arrests, torture, and deaths of prisoners.

No Peace


Western powers urged ethnic Serbs and Albanians to stop fighting in northern Kosovo after dozens of NATO peacekeepers were injured in skirmishes with protesters this week, prompting concerns of a wider conflict in the Balkan country, the Financial Times reported Tuesday.

NATO officials said 30 of its peacekeepers were hurt in scuffles between troops and ethnic Serb protesters in the town of Zvecan. At least 50 protesters were also injured in the violence.

The unrest began over the weekend as Serb demonstrators tried to block newly elected Albanian mayors from taking office following April’s contentious local elections.

The majority Serb population in northern Kosovo had largely boycotted the vote after their demands for establishing an association of Serb-majority municipal governments were not met by the central government. As a result, ethnic Albanians won the local vote, even though the turnout was less than four percent.

Kosovo police initially attempted to disperse the demonstrations over the weekend, but the move received criticism from neighboring Serbia and abroad.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have accused each other of destabilizing the situation. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also ordered troops to move closer to the border with Kosovo.

Amid fears of a potentially bloody conflict, Western leaders have chided both sides and urged them to de-escalate tensions.

Meanwhile, analysts warned that the recent violence threatens to derail a European Union-brokered deal intended to normalize relations between the Balkan neighbors.

Relations between Serbia and Kosovo have been tense since the Balkan war in the late 1990s, which was sparked by ethnic Albanians rebelling against Serbian rule. The conflict resulted in around 13,000 deaths and ended with NATO’s military intervention in 1999.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but many countries, including Serbia, have not recognized it.


First Kiss

Scientists and historians have debated when humans started the practice of kissing in a romantic and sexual sense.

Past studies have suggested familial or friendly pecks have been common between humans across time and geography, while the first evidence of romantic kissing traces back to 1500 BCE on the Indian subcontinent.

But a new paper on ancient Mesopotamian texts showed that humans have been smooching earlier than previously believed, according to the Guardian.

Researchers Troels Pank Arbøll and Sophie Lund Rasmussen analyzed clay tablets written in what is now Iraq and Syria around 2500 BCE. The texts were written in the cuneiform script and have been largely overlooked, the researchers noted.

They explained the old documents mention that kissing was something married couples did, but also what an unmarried person desired when in love. The findings also underscore that kissing did not begin in “any single region and spread from there but rather appears to have been practiced in multiple ancient cultures over several millennia,” said Arbøll.

The team noted that the behavior is also observed in our close primate relatives: Bonobos use kisses with a romantic-sexual intent, while chimpanzees give out platonic smooches to manage social relationships.

And because it might have been so widespread, kissing could have also unintentionally contributed to the spread of various oral pathogens and diseases, such as herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), which causes cold sores.

Even so, the authors cautioned that the texts’ contents cannot be read at face value and more investigation is needed.

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