The World Today for August 31, 2023

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Europe’s Growing Force


The conservative People’s Party (PP) won the most seats in Spain’s parliamentary elections last month. Because the PP has joined forces with the far-right Vox party, King Felipe VI has invited PP leader Alberto Nuñez Feijóo to form a government.

Many observers, however, think Feijóo might fail to forge a coalition and become prime minister when lawmakers vote on the matter on Sept. 27. Feijóo is now negotiating furiously to cobble together a coalition government or, failing that, at least demonstrate how he won’t compromise his values for power, noted Euractiv.

It’s not clear if Feijóo is willing to make the concessions necessary to add enough parliamentarians to his coalition, Reuters wrote. Many of Catalonia’s separatist parties, like the Basque Nationalist Party, for instance, have refused to work with Feijóo because he has teamed up with Vox, whose leaders are vehemently opposed to granting more independence to the country’s regions.

In addition to bolstering the central government’s control over Spain’s restive regions, Feijóo has also pledged to repeal progressive laws enacted under acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez that extended rights to transgender Spaniards and sought to atone for the legacy of the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, the Guardian reported.

Such views have become more widespread in Europe as of late. Right-wing governments are now in charge or exerting significant influence in Italy, Poland, Finland and Sweden, Al Jazeera wrote. Their power is growing elsewhere, too.

In Germany, for instance, Maximilian Krah, who is running for the European Parliament as a candidate from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), has called Pride Month disgusting and “peppers his speech with allusions to white-supremacist conspiracy theories,” the Washington Post wrote.

German conservatives, like those in Spain, have also been wrestling with whether they should join the AfD in order to secure power or take the high road and reject their hate – but descend into political opposition and, arguably, irrelevancy, according to the New York Times.

However, Germany’s main opposition leader, Friedrich Merz of the Christian Democratic Union, on Sunday ruled out cooperation of any kind with the far-right party: He was forced to backtrack from comments in July suggesting he could work with the AfD at a local level following a backlash from within his own ranks, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Carles Puigdemont, the former president of Catalonia region, might become a kingmaker in the political impasse in Spain.

Though he is now living in exile after kicking off a secession crisis in Catalonia six years ago, today he controls the seven lawmakers in the Junts political party, Politico explained. If he supports Sánchez, whose party received the second-most votes in last month’s election, he could dash the conservatives’ hopes for control in the capital of Madrid.

In the face of politicians who would keep Catalonia under Madrid’s control, Spanish democracy has given Puigdemont a decisive voice in a country he has vowed to break up.


A Coup, A Liberation


Gabonese high-ranking military officials seized control of the country and arrested long-time President Ali Bongo on Wednesday, in what appears to be the latest coup in West Africa that came only a month after a similar takeover in Niger, CBS News reported.

Coup leaders announced on public television that they were “putting an end to the current regime” of 55 years, adding that the president and his family have been placed under house arrest while declaring Republican Guard chief Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema as the country’s new leader, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, a video believed to be filmed inside the presidential palace showed a man claiming to be Bongo calling for international help. The person in the footage said he and his family have been detained and he “(doesn’t) know what’s going on.” A communications company that previously worked for Bongo said the footage was real, the BBC reported.

Outside, however, many residents in the capital Libreville rejoiced, hugging soldiers, dancing, and crying, reported Al Jazeera: “I am marching today because I am joyful … After almost 60 years, the Bongos are out of power,” said Jules Lebigui, an unemployed 27-year-old who joined the celebrations on Libreville’s streets.

Bongo has ruled Gabon for 14 years, following in the footsteps of his father who led the nation for more than four decades before him. Bongo has benefitted from his family’s monopoly on power and is considered the richest man in the country, with more than $1 billion in assets overseas, noted American Graduate School in Paris political scientist Douglas Yates.

The takeover came shortly after the country’s Aug. 26 general elections that saw Bongo win another term in office, to no one’s surprise, as he and his family have enacted electoral laws that favor the incumbent. The vote took place without election observers and many opposition politicians have cried foul at the results.

Following the coup, the military officials announced it would annul the results, noting that the vote “did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible and inclusive ballot so much hoped for by the people of Gabon.”

They also ordered the closure of the country’s borders “until further notice.”

However analysts have doubted the coup leaders’ disquiet over the implausible electoral results as their actual motive, saying the timing and speed of the takeover “suggests this was planned in advance,” said Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “While there are many legitimate grievances about the vote and Bongo’s rule, that has little to do with the coup attempt in Gabon. Raising those grievances is just a smokescreen,” he told the Associated Press.

Gabon is the most recent African nation to experience a military coup in recent years, following Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. In most of those cases, the military deposed a democratically elected leadership, with the help of Russian mercenaries. New elections have been put aside in all three.

Sprinting Ahead


New Zealand is planning to impose a digital service tax on large multinational corporations starting 2025, a move that comes amid delays among nations working to overhaul international tax rules, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The new levy will impose a three percent tax on multinationals that make more than $812 million annually from global digital services and earn at least $2.1 million a year from providing digital services in New Zealand.

It will specifically target firms that profit from New Zealand users of social media platforms, Internet search engines and online marketplaces. The levy is expected to generate more than $130 million in four years.

The bill, to be introduced later this week, is a response to the slow pace of creating new international tax rules for big multinationals that operate worldwide.

In 2021, countries reached an agreement on a global tax plan to determine how multinationals should be taxed worldwide. However, talks have been slow and most nations decided to postpone the first part of the tax agreement by a year following a recent meeting in France.

The implementation of the first phase of that agreement has already been moved to 2025.

New Zealand officials noted that while they support the global deal, they are “not prepared to simply wait around until then to find out.”

Meanwhile, Canada plans to impose a digital service tax at the beginning of next year, with lawmakers cautioning that they can’t support an extended pause on digital levies.

Stretching Remembrance


Germany plans to establish a “German-Polish House” in the capital that will serve as a memorial center for the Polish victims of World War II and chronicle Germany’s occupation of the country between 1939 and 1945, the Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, the German government unveiled plans for the documentation center, which aims to “commemorate Poland’s suffering … and the violent deaths of more than 5 million Polish citizens, including some 3 million Jewish children, women and men.”

The German-Polish House will inform visitors about the six-year occupation and cover a variety of topics, such as forced labor, deportations, and displacement during that period. It will also touch on the daily lives of Poles under Nazi Germany’s occupation and the armed resistance against the invaders.

Some parts will target the Soviet occupation and Germany’s loss of eastern territories after the war, as well as address the present-day relationship between Berlin and Warsaw, which Poland has complained is characterized by inequalities.

German Culture Minister Claudia Roth suggested the former Kroll Opera near the German parliament as a potential site for the new center. The opera was used as a temporary seat by the Nazi parliament after the original legislature burned down shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.

It was at the Kroll Opera that Hitler announced Germany’s attack on Poland on Sep. 1, 1939.

The initiative plans to remedy a lack of recognition of the suffering of Poles during the war, something Poland has long asked for.

“The knowledge about the suffering of the Poles under German occupation, the knowledge about the millions killed, murdered, is far too often missing in Germany and in Europe, especially also among the younger generation,” Roth said.


‘Double Shot at Life’

A new study found that used coffee grounds will be important for future engineers and address the issue of finite resources, New Atlas reported.

Scientists discovered that replacing sand with spent coffee grounds (SCG) can make concrete up to 30 percent stronger.

Globally, about 60 million tons of coffee grounds are generated each year, making it the largest waste product from coffee making – with the majority ending up in landfills.

SCG can serve as good fertilizer and the organic material has been proposed as a useful component for construction applications because of its fine particle size.

In their experiments, a research team collected coffee grounds from cafés in Melbourne, Australia, dried them, and heated them at two different temperatures – 662 and 932 degrees Fahrenheit – using a low-energy, oxygen-free process called pyrolysis.

Through this process, the researchers produced different types of biochar which they combined with concrete, with the SCG acting as a replacement for fine aggregate – in this case, natural sand – at different percentages.

Their findings showed the concrete’s strength increased by 29.3 percent when the team replaced 15 percent of sand with biochar pyrolyzed at 662 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lead author Rajeev Roychand explained that the study aims to give SCG a “‘double shot’ at life,” noting that the results are promising and could be used in construction globally.

Specifically, the authors hope that the study can provide a solution to the overuse of sand in concrete production, which damages the environment.

“With a circular-economy approach, we could keep organic waste out of landfills and also better preserve our natural resources like sand,” according to co-author Jie Lie.

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