The World Today for June 01, 2023

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Balkan Malaise

ALBANIA

Men from remote mountain regions have been among the majority of the more than 12,000 Albanians who have migrated to Britain in the past year. They ventured from their homes in the Balkans to the West European country due to “a lack of work or a sense of boredom and hopelessness,” wrote the Financial Times.

Albania’s economy is squeezing those on the lowest rungs of the country’s socio-economic ladder. Costs are rising. Wages are among the lowest in the region. Rising inflation has seen many Albanians now spending as much as 60 percent of their income on food. The country’s gross domestic product is expected to increase by around 3 percent this year compared with nearly 5 percent growth last year because of decreased lending amid higher interest rates, SEE News added.

The malaise could be one reason that voter turnout in recent local elections was less than 40 percent, a record low compared with other elections, Xinhua reported. Still, voters were happy enough to elect candidates from Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialist Party, which is now slated to control 53 of the country’s 61 cities and towns.

Helping Rama’s fortunes was the US government’s decision last year to designate opposition coalition leader Sali Berisha, a former prime minister and president, as “persona non grata”: He is unwelcome in the US due to a pattern of corruption, noted Balkan Insight.

American, European, and Albanian officials have made progress in targeting and rooting out corruption in the country, wrote Euractiv, citing Freedom House, the good governance advocacy organization. But many government agencies and other institutions remain marred by graft and a “culture of impunity” that erodes democracy and the rule of law. Public officials often also fail to uphold the human rights of women, LGBTQ folks, and ethnic minorities.

The question is whether the US and Europe will give Albania a leg up through its current membership in NATO and its push to join the European Union in a manner that doesn’t allow the country’s criminal class to thrive in the Atlantic alliance, or in the world’s largest and most powerful trading bloc.

Critics have claimed the US is neglecting Albania while Russia attempts to expand its influence in the formerly communist country. Albanian leaders, meanwhile, have been working hard on the many reforms necessary to join the EU – but they have yet to enact changes that would improve human rights and ensure free and fair elections, the European Interest added.

Everyone better move faster if they want more people to stay rather than search for greener fields abroad.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Deflated

NORTH KOREA

North Korea failed to launch its first spy satellite, the country announced Wednesday, dealing a blow to the nuclear-armed state’s efforts to strengthen its military capabilities amid ongoing tensions with the United States and its neighbors, NBC News reported.

The Chollima-1 rocket carrying the Malligyong-1 spy satellite was launched in the early hours of Wednesday, but it later fell into the sea off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula “after losing thrust due to the abnormal starting of the second-stage engine,” according to state media.

Officials announced they will launch a new rocket once they have investigated the problems with this launch.

The failure is a rare admission for North Korea, which had previously announced plans to launch a spy satellite in June to monitor “the dangerous military acts of the US and its vassal forces.”

The launch sparked alarm in neighboring South Korea and Japan, with both countries issuing emergency warnings on the day of the launch. The two US allies said they will monitor any additional launches.

Meanwhile, the US, South Korea and Japan jointly condemned Pyongyang’s launch, saying it violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The failed launch came as US and South Korean forces are holding large-scale military drills near the border with North Korea, which Pyongyang has labeled as a rehearsal for invasion.

Washington and Seoul deny the allegation.

UN sanctions prohibit North Korea from conducting long-range ballistic missile tests but the country has continued to do so regardless, while also having conducted six nuclear tests to date.

Agree to Disagree

SUDAN

Sudan’s military junta suspended its participation in ceasefire talks with the country’s main paramilitary group Wednesday, a move that foreign mediators and analysts warn could exacerbate the recent conflict in the African nation, Agence France-Presse reported.

Since last month, the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have been engaging in US- and Saudi-brokered peace talks in Saudi Arabia. The negotiations were aimed at mediating the violent conflict between the two factions that erupted in mid-April.

But army officials announced Wednesday they were walking out of the negotiations “because the rebels have never implemented a single one of the provisions of a short-term ceasefire which required their withdrawal from hospitals and residential buildings.”

The walkout comes just days after US and Saudi mediators announced that the warring factions agreed to extend a humanitarian truce by five days. Despite pledges, clashes erupted Tuesday in the capital Khartoum and the western region of Darfur.

The recent ceasefire is the latest of seven that have been declared since fighting erupted on April 15 – all however having been violated to some extent, the Associated Press noted.

Both sides have blamed each other for the violations.

Observers noted that the army’s move deals a blow to the peace efforts and risks plunging the African country into further instability.

More than 1,800 people have been killed and at least one million people have been internally displaced since the fighting began.

The United Nations warned that conflict has also impeded the delivery of aid needed by 25 million people – more than half of the population.

A Drop in the Bucket

INDIA

The Indian government fined a food inspector this week after the official ordered the draining of a dam to retrieve his smartphone, an incident that prompted anger over the abuse of power and wasting resources, the BBC reported Wednesday.

Last week, the official, Rajesh Vishwas, dropped his Samsung phone into the Kherkatta Dam in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh while he was taking a selfie. After local divers couldn’t find his phone, he paid for a diesel pump to drain around 880,000 gallons of water.

Vishwas told local media that he had verbal permission to drain “some water into a nearby canal,” adding that the phone carried sensitive government data.

After a few days, he retrieved his phone, even though it was too waterlogged to work.

But soon after the incident, authorities suspended Vishwas from his position and ordered him to pay a fine of around $640 for pumping out thousands of gallons of water without proper permission.

It called the inspector’s action “illegal,” saying it was “punishable under Chhattisgarh’s Irrigation Act.”

The dam’s draining sparked outrage in India with many politicians criticizing the official. They added that the water could have been put to better use in a country where water shortages are widespread during the hot summer months.

DISCOVERIES

The Sound of Space

Low-cost solar balloons are revealing to scientists fascinating and mysterious sounds coming from Earth’s stratosphere, CNN reported.

The stratosphere is our planet’s second layer of the atmosphere, which also contains the ozone shield that protects Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

Lead researcher Daniel Bowman and his colleagues sought to investigate the soundscape in the stratosphere by analyzing the layer’s infrasound – low-frequency sounds that are inaudible to the human ear.

For their study, they created a series of solar balloons using affordable items that can be bought from any local hardware store.

“Each balloon is made of painter’s plastic, shipping tape, and charcoal dust,” Bowman said via email. “They cost about $50 to make and a team of two can build one in about 3.5 hours.”

These balloons were then attached with infrasound recorders and GPS trackers, before being sent up to an altitude of about 70,000 feet.

The researchers collected a rich cacophony of sounds between 2016 and April 2023. These included chemical explosions, thunder, rocket launches, colliding ocean waves, and earthquakes.

But they also recorded some crackles and rustling of unknown origins.

“They are almost certainly mundane, maybe a patch of turbulence, a distant severe storm … but it’s hard to tell what is going on sometimes due to the lack of data up there,” Bowman suggested.

The team plans to further investigate these sounds.

Meanwhile, their inexpensive invention could be used to venture into uncharted territories, such as Venus and beyond.

By carrying scientific instruments above or within the planet’s clouds, it could pave the way for a test flight, lasting several days, as a precursor to more intricate and expansive missions.

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