The World Today for June 22, 2023
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Pushing For Normal
Samura Kamara, the leader of the All People’s Congress (APC) party and the main opposition candidate in Sierra Leone’s presidential election on June 24, recently called for every member of the small West African nation’s electoral commission to resign, so that international observers could perform their jobs.
“We do not have a credible final voters register,” Kamara told Reuters. “The production of blurred and substandard voter identity cards, the repeated failure to meet deadlines regarding the submission of credible voter registration data, and the subsequent release of highly questionable data, have raised serious doubts about the commission’s commitment to conducting free and fair elections.”
Kamara’s comments were one of many concerns that incumbent President Julius Maada Bio, who is running for reelection, is enjoying unfair advantages before voters go to the polls.
Two recent, massive political rallies for Bio’s Sierra Leone People’s Party and Kamara’s APC illustrate the problem, argued the Sierra Leone Telegraph, a UK-based newspaper that covers the country. Large crowds greeted Bio at his peaceful event. At the APC event with Kamara, police erected roadblocks, fired tear gas at the crowds, and treated the political demonstration as if it was an illegal riot.
The pre-election violence has prompted many citizens in Sierra Leone to worry about what might happen after the polls close, especially if Kamara wins and Bio faces a choice about whether or not to deploy his security forces to remain in power. A local humanitarian organization, Caritas Freetown, has launched a campaign with various civil society groups to advocate for a peaceful transition of power, wrote the Association for Catholic Information in Africa.
That’s no small worry in Sierra Leone, where memories and scars still live on of the 10-year civil war in the 1990s that killed tens of thousands and left thousands more with amputated limbs, noted PassBlue, which covers the United Nations.
Meanwhile, Bio, the former head of the military junta that ruled Sierra Leone in that period, had defeated Kamara in the election five years ago by a margin of 0.5 percent, noted Al Jazeera. The previous president, Ernest Bai Koroma, had been a member of the APC. Neither Bio nor Kamara won more than 50 percent of the vote.
Bio has been playing up his role as head of state as voters decide. As the Financial Times reported, he recently said he and other African leaders were putting pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine, which has caused food prices to skyrocket and severely harmed African countries that depend on wheat imports.
International organizations are helping. The Carter Center is sending observers to monitor the elections. The Economic Community of West African States is also sending representatives and funding to help election officials, added the Nigerian newspaper the Guardian.
Ultimately, the voters should have the final say – but only if their votes count.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
French financial authorities raided the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics Committee this week over allegations of corruption in the awarding of public contracts, Politico reported.
Officials said the searches are taking place at a number of locations, including the headquarters of the Olympics Committee and those of Solideo, the public body in charge of the Paris Olympics’ construction sites.
They explained that the raids are part of two “preliminary investigations” over suspicions of the misappropriation of public funds and favoritism in the awarding of a number of public contracts by both Solideo and the Olympics Committee.
Financial police also conducted searches in the offices of other companies that were awarded contracts.
Olympic officials announced they were aware of the raids and that they are “cooperating fully” with authorities.
The Olympic Games in Paris are set to take place next year from July 26 to Aug. 11.
Observers noted that the allegations risk damaging the reputation of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has emphasized the significance of holding a successful Paris Olympics.
The French capital was chosen to host the Games in July 2017, shortly after Macron’s election.
In March, Macron said the Paris Games’ goal should be to “welcome the world in the best possible conditions of safety, organization, social and ecological responsibility.”
Meanwhile, organizational misconduct has tarred prior Olympic Games.
For example, a scandal tainted the Tokyo Summer Olympics of 2020 when a prominent advertising executive from Japan was apprehended on multiple counts of bribery, involving illicit payments received from officials of different companies.
Thousands of Colombians took to the country’s streets this week to protest against the policies of President Gustavo Petro, as Colombia’s first leftist leader struggles to keep his parliamentary coalition together amid internal disputes and a corruption scandal, the Associated Press reported.
Tuesday’s demonstrations targeted some of Petro’s proposed reforms, including a bill to revamp Colombia’s health system that will turn a government agency into the sole administrator of insurance payments.
The president said the health reform will make it easier for the government to reimburse hospitals and invest more in healthcare centers for remote rural areas. His opponents, however, counter that the government does not have enough capacity to successfully run the system. They add that the changes will sideline the many private companies that currently manage a large portion of the insurance market.
Protesters also complained about a new labor bill that would make it more difficult for employers to hire workers using temporary contracts. The draft law requires employers to pay additional fees for any work conducted after 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, these reforms have stalled in the legislature amid stonewalling from opposition parties and disputes within the ruling coalition. Petro’s Historical Pact party had to form a political union with traditional centrist and right-wing parties because it lacked a majority in congress.
But the ideologically diverse union started fracturing earlier this year over the proposed reforms. Still, the leftist leader said he would press on.
Amid internal struggles, the government is also facing a corruption scandal involving members of Petro’s inner circle. The president is facing allegations that his campaign was financed by undeclared donations.
Petro was elected last year following massive protests over social and economic inequalities that worsened during the pandemic. He also vowed to establish peace agreements with the country’s remaining rebel groups to end Colombia’s decades-long conflict.
But his efforts to make peace have yielded mixed results. Meanwhile, analysts said that the government’s reluctance to modify its reforms has hindered its efforts to build bridges with opposition parties.
In a poll held in May, 73 percent of Colombians said they believed things were getting worse, compared with 48 percent in August 2022. Petro received an approval rating of 50 percent in a poll conducted in November – but by April that had dropped to 34 percent.
Moldova’s Constitutional Court banned a pro-Russian party this week, a verdict that comes amid accusations that Moscow is attempting to overthrow the country’s pro-West government, Al Jazeera reported.
The court ruled that the Shor Party’s activities were “unconstitutional,” after the group organized a series of anti-government demonstrations in recent months to protest the rising cost of living and the policies of President Maia Sandu.
The government described the protests as “another attempt by Russia to destabilize the situation in Moldova” – a view also held by Ukraine, the United States and other Western nations.
Moldovan authorities warned in March that Russian intelligence had been using the demonstrations to destabilize the country, the BBC added.
The Shor party criticized the verdict and pledged to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. It has previously denied allegations that it sought to destabilize Moldova, and instead accused Sandu of leading the poor eastern European country into bankruptcy.
Shor is led by Ilan Shor, a fugitive businessman who fled to Israel in 2019 after being convicted of fraud and money laundering.
Following the court’s ruling, Shor lawmakers will retain their seats in the legislature as independents, but without the right to join other parliamentary factions.
It’s not just humans that practice Downward Dog and other yoga poses.
These days elephants at Houston Zoo in Texas are also taking up yoga to improve their well-being, the Washington Post reported.
That’s because living in captivity is not ideal for the pachyderms. In fact, scientists have cautioned that a lack of exercise causes zoo elephants to live shorter lives than those in the wild.
Because yoga can boost an older person’s longevity, Kristin Windle, the zoo’s elephant supervisor, believes that a few minutes of stretching could do the same for the captive creatures.
She and her colleagues have been teaching yoga classes to the big mammals when they turn four months old. At first, they let the elephants play with a tennis ball attached to a broom handle and then encourage the animals to move the body parts they touch with the stick.
For every move they perform, the trainers hand the elephants a special treat, such as a banana, wheat bread or a cantaloupe.
Each session lasts between 30 seconds to five minutes and there are at least three sessions per day. Over time, the elephants practice more advanced poses, including a downward-dog-like pose with their four feet on the ground and their backs arched.
Windle noted that these exercises allow the keepers to keep an eye on their well-being, but also bond with the elephants.
“They’re pretty amazing,” she added. “It’s pretty awesome to be able to build trust and build relationships with these guys.”
Elephant yoga has also been reported in other parts of the United States and abroad.
In Australia, Perth Zoo caught flak for allegedly abusing the animals by involving them in a yoga class with paying visitors, Sky News noted.
Zoo officials denied the accusations, saying that the elephants were not forced “to do anything that they weren’t capable of doing and that they don’t enjoy.”
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