The World Today for July 05, 2023

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Come Visit


Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, is giving out 700,000 plane tickets to folks who would like to visit the former British colony on the South China Sea. Would-be visitors must apply to receive the tickets, Time Out wrote.

Critics are calling out Hong Kong’s authorities, however. They’re saying that an enticement to visit won’t cover up the human rights abuses that routinely occur there since China imposed the National Security Law on the city archipelago three years ago, Deutsche Welle reported, undercutting its independence and expanding the control of China’s leaders in Beijing.

The trial of 47 pro-democracy activists recently began, for example, to consider charges that they held an unofficial primary election so as to join the local legislature and oppose the changes undertaken by Chinese officials in Hong Kong in recent years. “In much of the world, that’s called democracy,” opined Washington Post columnist Keith Richburg. “Here, it’s a violation of national security.”

Hong Kong border agents also recently barred a Japanese journalist from entering the city, a prohibition that the journalist told the Japan Times would have been unthinkable a few years before, when free markets and free expression were the mainstays of Hong Kong’s ruling system – in contrast to communist mainland China.

The online Citizens’ Radio station, launched in 2005 to broadcast news and opinions that were critical of government officials, is closing after intimidation and the loss of access to its bank account, reported Reuters.

And Hong Kong residents who sing or play the anthem “Glory to Hong Kong”, a popular song among pro-democracy activists, face prosecution under the National Security Law and other rules, added Politico.

The oppression can be even more insidious. As the Financial Times noted, American and British lawmakers have charged that London-based HSBC, the largest bank in Europe and which traces its origins to Hong Kong in the 1860s, has cooperated with Chinese officials and withheld pension payments from residents who want to emigrate from the city.

And Western governments and human rights advocates have just condemned Hong Kong police for putting up a $127,600 bounty for each of eight well-known democracy activists already self-exiled abroad in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, CNN reported.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee, who was the only approved candidate for the position when he ran for office last year, has defended China’s influence in the region. The National Security Law, he explained to the South China Morning Post, requires criminal intent for its charges to stick. Ten foreign judges also sit on Hong Kong courts, he added, proof that the system is not rigged.

Of course, who determines the criminal intent and how they determine it worries those who suspect the chief executive cares more about opinions in Beijing than those of his constituents.

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Ending Ambiguity


Senegalese President Macky Sall will not run for a third term in next year’s elections, ending months of speculation that have sparked political tensions in the West African country, the Financial Times reported.

On Monday night, the incumbent announced his decision not to run in the 2024 presidential race, adding that the country “is full of leaders who can manage it.”

His comments followed months of rumors that he might seek a third term in office, while many analysts and critics argued that such a step would in fact go against the country’s constitution, which limits presidents to two terms.

Sall was first elected for a seven-year term in 2012 after defeating incumbent Abdoulaye Wade – who at the time was himself running for a controversial third term. In 2016, Senegalese voters approved a constitutional amendment to shorten the president’s term from seven to five years.

Sall was reelected again in 2019, but his allies began arguing last year that the 2016 referendum reset the clock on his presidential term and would allow him to run again in next year’s polls.

Until Monday’s announcement, the president had been ambiguous about his intention to run again.

But his uncertainty flared up tensions in Senegal, with protests and riots breaking out in recent months. Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko – seen as Sall’s biggest challenger – has been calling for demonstrations if the incumbent decided to run again.

Following his decision, Sall’s ruling Alliance for the Republic party will now have to find a new candidate to potentially face Sonko.

Even so, Sonko’s candidacy remains unclear after a court last month sentenced him to two years in prison for “corrupting youth”. The opposition leader and his supporters allege that his conviction and other legal cases against him are politically motivated and aimed to sideline him.

Although he has not been arrested yet, Sonko’s conviction complicates his eligibility to run in the 2024 elections because electoral law bars those with criminal convictions from seeking political posts.

Brain Drain


The Hungarian parliament passed a bill Tuesday that will impact the country’s teachers, a move that critics believe could lead to the resignation of thousands of educators in protest, Bloomberg reported.

Lawmakers of the ruling populist Fidesz party – which controls two-thirds of parliament – approved the so-called status law, which will see teachers lose their status as public employees and limit their autonomy.

The new legislation will also raise the number of required hours of teaching per week and allow the government to relocate teachers.

The move follows months-long protests – including demonstrations during the 2022 general election – by teachers and students demanding better working conditions and higher wages.

Currently, Hungarian primary education teachers with 15 years of experience earn the second-lowest teacher’s wage among the 38 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Government officials said the legislation will ensure a steady increase in teacher’s wages, even though they have blamed the European Union for their inability to pay educators better – referring to the blocking of EU funds due to concerns held by the bloc about corruption and the rule of law in the country.

But critics warned that the bill will increase pressure on teachers and could push staffing in the education sector to critical levels. More than 5,000 teachers vowed to resign in protest if the law was passed.

Meanwhile, observers described the move as another effort by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to consolidate his more than decade-old hold on power. Orban and his ruling Fidesz party have extended their influence in the country’s media, courts, and across large swaths of the economy.

Following last year’s election victory, the government has since limited the right of teachers to strike and transferred oversight of education to the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for law enforcement.

Don’t Go Out


Taliban authorities Tuesday ordered the closure of beauty salons across Afghanistan, the latest shrinking of public access for Afghan women since the militant group returned to power nearly two years ago, Reuters reported.

The Ministry of Prevention of Vice and Propagation of Virtue announced that all beauty salons must close within a month, while providing no reason for the ban.

Beauty salons emerged across the Central Asian country following the United States-led invasion that ousted the Taliban in late 2001.

The armed group returned to power in 2021 following the withdrawal of foreign troops that year, but many of the salons remained opened and provided employment for some women.

Many of them were female-only and have their windows covered so that customers cannot be seen from outside.

However, the recent closures represent yet another set of limitations imposed by the Taliban on Afghan women following their return to power.

In the past year, the authorities have shut down most girls’ high schools, prohibited women from accessing universities, and prevented many female Afghan aid workers from working. Many public places, including bathhouses, gyms, and parks have been closed to women.

Human rights groups and Western governments have criticized the restrictions, saying that they hinder any possible progress toward international recognition for the Taliban administration.

The Taliban has countered that it respects women’s rights in accordance with its interpretation of Islamic law and Afghan customs.


Music of the Cosmos

An international science team discovered compelling evidence that the universe is humming from gravitational waves reverberating throughout the cosmos, the New York Times reported.

Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time caused by spinning objects, such as black holes. Unlike other types of waves, these waves stretch and squeeze space itself.

In a series of papers, researchers detailed how they monitored pulsars – rapidly spinning stars that emit radio waves – to detect gravitational waves. According to Einstein’s theory, these waves cause slight timing variations in the pulsars’ signals.

Using a network of telescopes, they collected data from 67 pulsars over 15 years and found a collective hum at low frequencies, indicating the presence of gravitational waves.

These waves are believed to be caused by thousands of supermassive black holes merging at the centers of ancient galaxies billions of light-years away.

“I like to think of it as a choir, or an orchestra,” said Xavier Siemens, a physicist who collaborated in the finding.

Siemens and his team noted that the findings support Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity and could provide insights into the structure of the universe and the existence of exotic forms of matter.

Although not claiming a definitive discovery, the scientists are confident in the results and plan to further explore the universe through gravitational wave observations.

They added that this discovery could be groundbreaking, comparable to the revelation of the cosmic microwave background in the 1960s, which significantly advanced our knowledge of the early universe.

“This is really just the beginning of a whole new way to observe the universe,” according to astrophysicist Chiara Mingarelli, who also participated in the studies.

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