The World Today for July 07, 2023
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The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, has earned plaudits from many of his people – and brickbats from human rights activists – for his crackdown on the gangs that have long run rampant in the Central American country.
Now El Salvador’s neighbor to the northeast, Honduras, is getting in on the act.
Honduran police recently “frog-marched” tattooed inmates around a prison in a video that was clearly inspired by Bukele’s conflicts with convicts who orchestrate drugs trafficking, rackets, violence, and other criminal schemes from behind bars, the Associated Press reported.
Critics said the police were treating the criminals unfairly, citing images of half-naked men sitting in cramped groups on the ground. Honduran military police commander Ramiro Muñoz dismissed that criticism out of hand. “These criminals violate people’s human rights, they kill, kidnap and extort money, who is defending those rights?” he said.
Recent prison violence included gangs fighting in a women’s prison near the capital of Tegucigalpa that resulted in the deaths of 46 women, wrote National Public Radio. Honduran President Xiomara Castro said gang leaders organized the bloodshed, but prison officials were also involved. Muñoz ordered his troops into the prison in order to bring it back under control. They retrieved a massive cache of weapons, drugs, and other contraband.
Muñoz urged his soldiers not to allow gang members to bribe them, reported the Tico Times, an English-language newspaper based in Costa Rica. “No more corruption and collusion with prisoners,” he told them.
A few days later, a gunman fired shots in a pool hall in the northern city of Choloma, killing 13 people.
Castro responded by mandating a curfew and other curtailments of liberty in order to preserve public safety, wrote Reuters. It’s not the first time she’s taken such action.
Late last year, Castro suspended constitutional rights to empower law enforcement to arrest or kill gangsters who extort law-abiding citizens, explained Agence France-Presse. Gangs, for example, would force bus drivers to collect protection fees, known as a “war tax” because the fees paid for inter-gang conflicts, added InSight Crime. Experts told Deutsche Welle that extortion generated almost $750 million for criminals in the country, or three percent of its gross domestic product.
Gang violence has worsened however, prompting the latest draconian crackdown that mirrors Bukele’s no-holds-barred approach to bringing peace to Salvadoran communities.
Observers at Gzero Media wondered whether Castro, a leftist, was becoming an authoritarian. But they also concluded she might simply be a good politician. Bukele’s approval rating is around 90 percent. He hasn’t allowed democratic norms to prevent him from bringing law and order to his country.
Nobody knows if he’s ever going to bring the democratic norms back, however.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
No Rush, Please
Germany’s coalition government announced it will delay the vote on a contentious energy bill, a day after the country’s top court shot down plans to push the draft law through parliament this week, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Lawmakers of the ruling three-party coalition said Thursday they will seek to have the vote in early September when the legislature’s next regular session is scheduled.
The government hoped to pass the bill that would call for the installation of new heating systems that can be at least 65 percent powered by renewable energy. But the Federal Constitutional Court halted the vote Wednesday, granting an injunction requested by a conservative opposition lawmaker who contended that the lack of sufficient time for thorough deliberation would infringe upon his rights.
The ruling denied the chance to move quickly on the bill, which had been a source of conflict for members of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition.
His two coalition partners, the environmentalist Greens and pro-business Free Democrats, spent months publicly arguing about details of the draft law, before emerging in mid-June with a bare-bones compromise over plans to replace old fossil-fuel heating systems with alternatives such as heat pumps.
The bill based on the compromise was finalized just last week, causing opposition lawmakers to express anger at the coalition’s rush to pass it before the summer break, as initially intended.
Stamp of Approval
Japan will soon start releasing more than one million tons of treated radioactive water after the United Nations’ nuclear safety watchdog gave the country its approval this week, Axios reported.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted a review and found that Japan’s plan to release water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station complies with international safety standards.
The approval comes 12 years after a devastating sub-sea earthquake that unleashed a powerful tsunami on the country and the power plant that led to one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.
The catastrophe caused nuclear meltdowns, and Japanese officials used water to cool the reactors. But the contaminated water has been stored on-site for more than a decade.
In 2021, the Japanese government announced plans to release the water, saying that it had been treated to remove almost all its radioactive components, except for tritium – which cannot be easily separated from water.
In its assessment this week, the IAEA said the “discharges of the treated water would have a negligible radiological impact to people and the environment.”
Despite the approval, scientists, fishermen, and neighboring nations have expressed concern about the risk of contamination, the New York Times added.
The water will undergo dilution prior to its discharge in order to reduce the tritium content, which is utilized for generating luminescence, to levels that comply with regulatory standards.
The director-general of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi added that the agency will assess the safety of the operation throughout its duration, which is expected to span several decades.
The Netherlands will ban the use of phones, tablets, and smartwatches in classrooms starting next year, a move that the government said is aimed at decreasing distractions among students, Sky News reported.
Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf said the ban will be issued on January 1, 2024, adding that schools will manage the implementation of the restrictions themselves.
The ban is meant to limit distractions from social media, messaging, and other sites, with Dijkgraaf noting that students “need to be able to concentrate and need to be given the opportunity to study well.”
Devices will only be allowed if they are needed for the lesson, for medical reasons, or for people with disabilities.
He warned that the government will pass laws banning the devices in schools if the measure is shown to be insufficiently effective.
The move follows a similar one by the French government in 2018, which introduced a phone ban for elementary and middle school pupils in an effort to improve focus and prevent online bullying.
The United Kingdom has also considered similar restrictions, with officials saying the measures are necessary to “calm classrooms” and help pupils’ mental health.
In 2019, more than 120 British school leaders endorsed an open letter advocating for classrooms without phones.
Even so, union leaders argued against a complete prohibition, stating that it would be ineffective and could push phone usage “underground,” making it more challenging to supervise.
This week, Ukrainian forces began employing tactics that prioritize manpower conservation, which may result in slower territorial advancements, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), as reported in Euronews. However, the ISW emphasizes that this pace does not indicate a stalemate or suggest that Ukraine is incapable of reclaiming large areas.
Also this week:
- Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary force Wagner Group, has returned to Russia, according to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, as noted in the Washington Post. Lukashenko’s statement raises questions about the agreement that allowed Prigozhin to evade insurgency charges and avoid prosecution in Russia. The Kremlin had previously announced the deal, stating that Prigozhin and his loyal fighters could escape prosecution by relocating to Belarus. However, Lukashenko revealed that the final details of their move to Belarus were still unsettled. Prigozhin’s presence in Russia was confirmed by a St. Petersburg businessman who stated that Prigozhin had returned to reclaim seized money and weapons. Although he may still face potential criminal cases related to financial crimes, Prigozhin retains influence and connections in Russia.
- An international center has opened in the Netherlands to support countries building cases against senior Russian leaders for the crime of aggression in Ukraine, the Associated Press wrote. The Hague-based center will assist ongoing investigations in Ukraine and a number of Baltic countries. The European Union is funding the initiative, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating crimes in Ukraine. The ICC does not have jurisdiction over aggression in Ukraine as neither Russia nor Ukraine has ratified the Rome Statute underpinning a country’s recognition and membership of the ICC. However, Ukraine plans to join the ICC.
- Switzerland has announced its intention to participate in the European Sky Shield Initiative, which aims to strengthen air defense capabilities in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, AP reported. Switzerland, along with Austria, is the second non-NATO country to join the initiative. The memorandum of understanding will be signed by Swiss and Austrian defense ministers, along with Germany’s representative. The initiative aims to consolidate European efforts to defend against potential aircraft or missile attacks, complementing existing NATO defense systems. Switzerland and Austria have clarified that their involvement does not entail participation in international military conflicts. Seventeen other countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, have already joined the initiative, but France has raised concerns about the reliance on non-European systems.
- Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was released in a prisoner swap with US basketball player Brittney Griner, has been selected as a candidate for a seat in a Russian regional legislature by the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Al Jazeera added. Bout, also known as “the merchant of death,” served a portion of his 25-year sentence in US prisons on arms dealing charges before being released in December 2022. The LDPR, despite its name, holds far-right, ultra-nationalist views and strongly supports Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
A Common Language
Humans and some animal species use a series of high-pitched sounds and sing-song words when talking to their babies.
A research team recorded the signature whistles of 19 mothers in Florida’s Sarasota Bay when accompanied by their young offspring, alone or with other adults.
They explained that bottlenose dolphins’ signature whistles are unique and are integral to their communication, such as helping them recognize and track each other.
The researchers noticed that the pitches in the signals became higher when mothers directed them at their calves. This higher pitch was demonstrated by all 19 mothers, they noted.
The findings focused mainly on the signature call of the marine mammals with the team saying that there are still a few mysteries regarding the use of “baby talk.” They are pondering whether this change of voice is used for other exchanges or to help dolphin calves to learn “talk.”
“It would make sense if there are similar adaptations in bottlenose dolphins – a long-lived, highly acoustic species,” where calves must learn to vocalize many sounds to communicate, said co-author Frants Jensen.
Scientists are unsure why humans, dolphins, and other animals engage in baby talk, but they think it could aid young ones in learning new sounds.
Studies from the 1980s proposed that human babies are more attentive to speech that has a wider range of pitches.
For example, female rhesus monkeys adjust their calls to capture and maintain their offspring’s attention.
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