The World Today for June 05, 2023

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Enmity, Long and Deep


Kosovo declared independence in 2008, around a decade after NATO bombed Serbian forces who were brutalizing the ethnic Albanian communities in the formerly Serb region. It’s one of the final chapters of the tragic, bloody breakup of communist Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

But ethnic Serbians living in northern Kosovo today, who account for around five percent of the population, don’t want to be citizens of the majority ethnic-Albanian country. Turnout in last month’s local elections dropped to three percent – enough for Albanian candidates to win control of mayoralties and local governments.

That’s when the real problems started.

As the Associated Press explained, when authorities in the capital of Pristina dispatched security forces to make sure new ethnic-Albanian officials could assume their posts, clashes broke out between the police and Serb protesters. More than 50 Serb demonstrators and around 30 NATO peacekeepers were injured.

NATO has already sent around 700 new troops to help protect the nearly 4,000-strong peacekeeping forces that have been in the region since the late 1990s. They are now also preparing to send more, if necessary, the BBC reported.

Serbia’s role in Kosovo’s internal tensions isn’t helping calm things down. Leaders in Belgrade, as well as their Russian allies in Moscow, don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence. The region hosts many medieval Serbian Orthodox Christian monasteries as well as the historic battleground where the Ottoman Turks defeated independent Serbian forces in 1389, a symbol of Serbia’s national struggle.

After the civil unrest, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called on Kosovo’s leaders to remove the controversial Albanian mayors from office, noted Al Jazeera. Vucic also put the Serbian army on its highest alert, wrote the New York Times, raising the specter of fighting that might resemble that of the 1990s.

Russia issued a statement criticizing the US and Europe’s alleged manipulation of the situation. “We call on the West to finally halt its deceitful propaganda and stop blaming the incidents in Kosovo on desperate Serbs, who are trying to defend their legitimate rights and freedom peacefully and without weapons,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement printed in the Moscow Times.

But even the US and leading European leaders have been less-than-generous toward Kosovo officials as the crisis has unfolded. They criticized Prime Minister Albin Kurti and called on him to defuse rather than further inflame tensions, according to Politico.

This enmity has existed for years. There aren’t many reasons to think that it would change anytime soon.


The Showdown


Deadly clashes in Senegal left at least nine people dead over the weekend, unrest that came after a court sentenced opposition leader and main presidential contender Ousmane Sonko to two years in prison on charges of “corrupting youth,” the Associated Press reported.

Senegalese police clashed with Sonko’s supporters across the country, prompting the government to order a blanket ban on the use of social media platforms in a bid to curb further violence.

While the court convicted Sonko on Thursday of corrupting youth, it also acquitted him of charges of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlor and making death threats against her.

The corrupting youth charge relates to allegations that Sonko had a sexual relationship with the woman, who was under 21 years old at the time, the New York Times noted.

The verdict would ban Sonko from participating in next year’s presidential elections, although the government said he could ask for a retrial once he was imprisoned.

Authorities have yet to issue an arrest warrant against the opposition politician.

Sonko and his supporters counter that the legal proceedings are politically motivated and part of the government’s efforts to derail his candidacy for the 2024 elections.

He is considered President Macky Sall’s main competition, although Senegal’s constitution does not allow the incumbent leader to run for a third term, according to legal analysts.

Sall has not confirmed whether he will run, but he has said that a 2016 constitutional reform reset the clock to zero and gives him the right to seek another term.

The recent ruling and violence have also raised concerns about the situation in Senegal, a West African nation that has long been hailed as a model of political pluralism in a region known for coups and aging leaders trying to remain in power.

Human rights groups and Sall’s opponents have warned in recent years about democratic backsliding in the country, citing the arrest of political opponents and journalists.

Crossed Signals


Indian rescuers ended their search for survivors over the weekend following a deadly train crash that killed almost 290 people and injured around 900 others on Friday, one of the worst railway accidents in the country’s history, NBC News reported.

The incident occurred when three trains – one freight and two passenger trains carrying more than 1,000 passengers each – crashed in the eastern state of Odisha.

Hundreds of rescuers and army troops cut through mangled steel to look for survivors, while authorities said they will launch an investigation into the “root cause” of the crash, but believe it has to do with a signaling error.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at the crash site Saturday, saying that “all possible assistance” was being given to those affected by the crash.

Officials said that the victims’ families will receive compensation of around $12,000. The seriously injured will get $2,400, while those with minor injuries will receive $607.

Previous accidents have been blamed on human error or the use of outdated signaling equipment. India experienced its worst rail accident in August 1995 when two trains collided near New Delhi, killing 358 people.

The country has one of the world’s largest railway networks, after the United States and China. The railway is one of the globe’s largest employers and the most affordable form of transport in the country, according to the Washington Post.

Prime Minister Modi has launched efforts to modernize the railway infrastructure with advanced, high-speed trains, but his proposals have faced criticism after the recent crash. Critics suggest prioritizing improving existing infrastructure instead of focusing on new high-tech projects.

Goodbye, Marlboro Man


Sweden will soon become “smoke free,” as the number of daily smokers in the European country continues to drop thanks to decades of anti-smoking campaigns, laws, and the prevalence of smokeless tobacco products, CBS News reported.

With a population of more than 10 million, the European Union nation will see the percentage of daily smokers dip below five percent in the near future – earning the label “smoke free.”

Sweden has already seen a decline in smokers in recent years: Data from the Eurostat statistic agency showed that only 6.4 percent of Swedes over the age of 15 were daily smokers in 2019 – the lowest in the EU.

Last year, the Public Health Agency found that the proportion of smokers had fallen to 5.6 percent.

Analysts suggested that anti-smoking campaigns, laws, and taxes have made the sight of people lighting up a very rare occurrence. Smoking is banned at bus stops, train platforms, hospital entrances, and outside other public buildings.

The country has also banned smoking in outdoor seating areas and venues.

Others noted that Swedes have also replaced cigarettes with “snus,” an alternative product similar to dipping tobacco in the United States. Although snus is banned in the EU, it is marketed in Sweden as a less harmful alternative to cigarette smoking.

Still, health officials are reluctant to advise smokers to switch to snus, which is a highly addictive nicotine product linked to a number of health risks, including an increased risk of heart disease.

While Sweden is close to becoming smoke-free, Canada also recently took some extra steps to decrease tobacco use to less than five percent by 2035, CNN added.

Canadian health authorities will now require health warnings to be printed on every cigarette – the first country in the world to do so.

The warnings – both in French and English – are aimed at helping adults quit smoking, and protecting young people and non-tobacco users from nicotine addiction, as well as “to further reduce the appeal of tobacco,” officials noted.


The Grapes of Wrath

Humans quickly notice unfairness and inequity. It’s no different with chimps and other primates.

Past studies have shown that chimpanzees and macaque monkeys display an aversion to inequity when given less-preferred food.

In one experiment, researchers grappled with angry reactions when they were handing macaques cucumbers and grapes: Because grapes were their preferred food, the macaques would fling the cucumbers at the researchers when they saw other monkeys getting grapes.

Now, a research team conducted a series of experiments where they determined that the monkey species displayed “social disappointment” toward humans, the Washington Post reported.

One experiment saw a subject monkey receive less-preferred food – fennel – from a human or an automated food dispenser. In another test, the subject animal received fennel while their simian partner in a nearby cage got grapes from a human or the machine.

The new findings showed that the subject would usually refuse the less-preferred food from the humans, but didn’t complain much when the machine did the same. This happened both when the primate was alone or with the partner monkey.

The team suggested that the monkeys figured out that the humans were intentionally giving them low-value food, while the machine is inanimate and “has no goal.”

“The monkeys have no social expectations of a vending machine and are therefore not disappointed,” said co-author Rowan Titchener.

Other researchers proposed that the disappointed behavior toward humans “suggests that this is a social response,” adding that the macaques seem to form “special expectations toward other social beings.”

Still, the authors cautioned that studying animal behavior has limitations and that scientists “need to avoid falling into the trap of viewing animal behavior without context, (solely) through a human lens.”

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