The World Today for June 29, 2023

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Cracks in the Foundation


Senegalese opposition politician Ousmane Sonko has filed a 170-page-long court complaint in France against Senegalese President Macky Sall and top members of the West African country’s security forces for alleged crimes against humanity.

The charges stemmed from the Senegalese government’s crackdown on demonstrators since March, Agence France-Presse reported. Sonko claimed that he has compiled evidence, including documents and videos, that provide proof of at least 60 murders that merit the allegations.

It was a violent spring in the usually placid and peaceful capital of Dakar, the Economist wrote: “Smoke from burnt-out buses darkens the view, the stench of tear gas stings the eyes and chatter has been replaced by the crash of rocks into riot shields, the thud of baton on flesh, and the boom of police weapons.”

The demonstrations erupted after a court in Senegal sentenced Sonko to jail for two years on charges of “corrupting the youth” after he was accused of rape and making death threats against his alleged victim, charges he denies, calling them politically motivated. As many as 30 people died in the ensuing clashes between the protesters and security officers. The United Nations issued a warning saying that the Senegalese authorities’ deployment of firearms against demonstrators was “a dark precedent” for public safety, political stability, and human rights, wrote Africanews.

Residents of Ziguinchor in southern Senegal said that police shot and killed 17-year-old Ousmane Badio during a demonstration that was less than 1,000 feet from his home, Amnesty International wrote. In the meantime, the scars of the violence are already visible. Ousmane’s father has been in shock and can’t speak.

Many fear what might occur if Sall runs for a third term, reported the Associated Press. The ex-French colony’s constitution limits the head of state to two five-year terms, but Sall argues that changes made to the limits in 2016 would allow him to “reset” his term count. Africa has many examples of that kind of preternaturally long-lasting autocratic leader. Many Senegalese might be prepared to take the streets so they do not suffer the same fate.

It’s a fate that Senegal has escaped for most of its existence since independence from France in 1960. Instead, its stability has been held up as a model for other West African nations, often wracked by repeated coups.

Meanwhile, if Sonko doesn’t beat the charges against him, he might be disqualified to run for president in the next general election in February, Foreign Policy magazine noted. The same pent-up frustration that erupted into protests and police crackdowns might again appear.

Meanwhile, Sall is racking up a record that might convince voters that they would be better off sticking with him. As Reuters reported, he recently struck a $2.74 billion deal with wealthier countries to develop renewable energy and decarbonize the economy, a massive amount for the relatively poor country.

Both sides have plenty worth fighting for.


A Foot Out the Door


Lawmakers in Bosnia’s autonomous region, Republika Srpska, voted this week to suspend rulings from the country’s constitutional court, a move that risks deepening the ongoing political and ethnic divisions in the fractured Balkan nation, Reuters reported.

The region’s separatist President Milorad Dodik ordered the vote a week after the top court decided to modify the regulations enabling sessions and decision-making without the presence of Serb judges.

Bosnian Serb lawmakers agreed to suspend the implementation of the constitutional court’s decisions in their region until a nationwide law on the court is passed.

They also decided that Serb representatives in state institutions will not participate in reforms talks needed for Bosnia’s integration into the European Union until the constitutional court is reformed and the international peace overseer’s office is closed.

After the 1990s war, Bosnia was divided into two self-governing regions: The Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – the latter shared by Bosniaks and Croats.

These regions are connected through a limited central government.

The 1995 Dayton peace agreement established the constitutional court and granted it the sole authority to resolve disputes that may arise between the regions, between the state and the regions, or among state institutions.

The court is comprised of nine members: Two Serb judges are appointed by the Republika Srpska legislature, while the rest are picked by the president of the European Court of Human Rights and the other regional parliaments.

But Dodik – who has called for the secession of his region from Bosnia – has criticized the court for having foreign judges and accused it of acting against Serb interests.

The recent dispute comes as Republika Srpska’s parliament has yet to nominate a new candidate to fill a vacancy in the constitutional court.

Bosnian leaders criticized the move and called for sanctioning Dodik and his allies. Christian Schmidt – the international peace envoy who oversees the implementation of the Dayton agreement – warned that the move marks a serious violation of the peace deal.

Meanwhile, analysts described the move as “a long-announced legal secession,” adding that it could trigger the “deepest crisis since the Dayton peace deal.”

By the Numbers


Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio was sworn in Tuesday, shortly after electoral officials confirmed his victory in Saturday’s general elections amid protests from the opposition, CNN reported.

The country’s election commission said Bio won more than 56 percent of the vote, while his rival Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) party secured 41 percent of the vote.

His victory was immediately disputed by Kamara and the APC.

The opposition group rejected previous provisional results that showed an early lead for Bio as “cooked-up figures.” They accused Sierra Leone’s electoral body of failing to be transparent in the tallying of the ballots.

APC officials also complained that its agents “were neither allowed access to participate (at voting centers) nor were they allowed to verify results prior to the announcement.”

Meanwhile, international monitoring groups, including the US-based Carter Center, alleged the counting process “lacked adequate levels of transparency.”

The election commission countered that Saturday’s polls were relatively peaceful, but acknowledged instances of violence and delays in some areas.

On Sunday, a woman died after security forces fired shots and tear gas at the APC’s headquarters in the capital, as voters waited to hear the official election results, the Guardian noted.

Kamara described the event as an “assassination attempt,” but police denied firing live rounds.

Saturday’s vote was the fifth election since the end of the 2002 civil war. Key among voter concerns were high inflation rates, unemployment levels, political violence and corruption.

Man and Monkey


A year-long investigation by the BBC uncovered a global monkey torture ring spanning from Indonesia to the United States that has prompted an international investigation and more monitoring efforts from social media platforms.

The investigation found that customers from the US, Britain, and other countries were paying individuals in Indonesia to torture and kill baby long-tailed macaques, filming the horrific acts for their pleasure.

The torture ring began on YouTube but later moved to private groups on the Telegram messaging app.

The BBC journalists went undercover in one of the main Telegram groups, where participants discussed brutal torture ideas and commissioned torturers in Indonesia and other Asian countries to carry them out.

They tracked down the torturers in Indonesia, as well as distributors and buyers in the US, and collaborated with international law enforcement efforts to bring them to justice.

At least 20 people around the world are currently under investigation, including individuals in the UK and the US who have already been arrested.

Some of the suspects recounted their experiences to the BBC, including the various grotesque methods the torturers would use to harm the animals. One ringleader, a US citizen, admitted that he was responsible for the deaths of at least four monkeys and the torture of many more.

Monkey torture videos can still be found on platforms like Telegram and Facebook, despite efforts to remove such content, according to the British broadcaster.

Animal rights activists are calling for updated laws to hold individuals accountable for paying for the creation of these torture videos. YouTube and Facebook said they were committed to removing such content and taking action against violators.

Meanwhile, Telegram noted that it’s dedicated to safeguarding privacy and upholding freedom of speech, adding that its moderators are unable to actively monitor private groups in a proactive manner.


The Modifiers

Past studies have shown that cephalopods, such as the octopus and the squid, possess a unique ability to alter their genetic code.

Scientists remain unsure as to why the creatures do this, but a new study on octopuses discovered that they can tweak their RNA to adapt to temperature changes, New Scientist reported.

Researcher Eli Eisenberg and his colleagues experimented on California two-spot octopuses to see how the creatures responded to changes in water temperatures.

They gradually shifted the temperature to around 55 degrees Fahrenheit for one group and 72 degrees Fahrenheit for another.

The team noticed that the octopuses in the colder tank made more than 13,000 edits to their RNA, which resulted in changes to proteins made in the nerve cells.

Specifically, two proteins experienced major alterations in response to the temperature: Kinesin-1 and synaptotagmin, which are both critical for the functioning of the nervous system.

Eisenberg’s team noted that there are still many questions about how these changes benefit the cephalopod and the exact drivers behind it.

“Thousands of proteins are different in the cold and warm, so to understand how they all work in concert to give the octopuses resilience to temperature changes is very complicated,” Eisenberg explained.

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