The World Today for September 08, 2023
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Resetting the Rudder
In early August, the supreme court of the Maldives, the archipelago nation off India’s southwest coast, ruled that ex-President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom could not take up his former job again because of his conviction on corruption and money laundering charges while in office between 2013 and 2018.
As Reuters explained, the ruling was a blow to the Progressive Party of Maldives, who nominated Gayoom before a court found him guilty late last year. Gayoom is now serving an 11-year prison sentence. The Progressives duly nominated Mohamed Muiz, the mayor of the capital of Malé, instead.
That wasn’t the only sign of splintering and factionalism in the country. Incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih faces several challengers before Maldivian voters elect a new head of state on Sept. 9, reported the Associated Press. At the same time, Solih has clashed with his one-time ally, former President Mohamed Nasheed, who broke away from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party and created a new organization, the Democrats, which has put forward the lawmaker Ilyas Labeeb as its nominee to run for president.
Among the other candidates are two former cabinet ministers, billionaire Qasim Ibrahim, and Faris Maumoon, the son of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country for 30 years until multiparty presidential elections took place in 2008. (Yameen Abdul Gayoom is Maumoon Gayoom’s half-brother.)
The election is about much more than its candidates, however. The Maldives is currently torn between forging closer ties with either China or India, two regional powers that want the strategically located islands in the Indian Ocean to aid their economic and military interests.
Solih and other allies of the ruling party are close to India. He also expanded defense ties with Australia and the United States, Athaulla Rasheed, a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University, noted in East Asia Forum. Yameen Abdul Gayoom and other opposition figures want to leverage Chinese connections to reduce Indian influence in the country, added Stratfor, a think tank.
When Yameen Abdul Gayoom was president, China financed major projects in the country, including a bridge connecting the capital with the country’s international airport, reported Nikkei Asia. Under Solih, India has given the Maldives $2.7 billion in loans and assistance.
It might be a mistake to think that competition between the global powers is driving politics in the Maldives, argued the Interpreter, a publication of the Australian think tank the Lowy Institute. In the 1880s, for example, the Maldives negotiated an agreement with the United Kingdom that ensured British protection but retained the country’s national sovereignty.
Even so, the next leader will likely set the direction of foreign policy for the coming years.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
The Last Resort
Around 800 political prisoners and human rights advocates continued a mass hunger strike at Bahrain’s Jau prison this week, in protest of conditions at the facility, the Middle East Eye reported Thursday.
The protest, now in its fourth week, marks one of the most significant acts of civil disobedience since the mass demonstrations in Bahrain more than a decade ago during the Arab Spring.
Many of the prisoners are imprisoned for their involvement in the pro-democracy protests in 2011 and for criticizing the Bahraini government. Human rights groups have long complained that their trials were unjust and aimed at suppressing dissidents.
Since the strike began early last month, the protesting detainees have been demanding better living conditions, including an end to solitary confinement, access to proper medical care, and unrestricted family visits.
Advocates and the prisoners’ relatives alleged that the conditions within Jau prison are grim: Inmates spend nearly 23 hours a day in their cells and have limited access to medical attention. Some reports allege physical, sexual, and psychological abuse.
The hunger strike has also triggered protests by families of the prisoners who have taken to the streets to demand the release of their relatives. Observers said that while these demonstrations are small in scale, they are considered very significant considering the vehemence with which the Bahraini government cracks down on its critics.
Meanwhile, the Bahraini government has denied the allegations of medical neglect and limited visitation rights, adding that the prison conditions are in line with international standards.
African leaders proposed a global carbon tax aimed at tackling climate change and providing financial assistance to less developed nations, following a three-day climate summit in Kenya this week, the Financial Times reported Thursday.
Known as the Nairobi Declaration, the initiative advocates for the establishment of a global carbon levy that targets the fossil fuel trade and shipping. It also calls for the implementation of a worldwide financial transaction tax.
The declaration said a carbon price was important to ensure “affordable and accessible finance for climate positive investments at scale,” and called for the “ringfencing of these resources and decision-making from geopolitical and national interests.”
Kenyan President William Ruto, who hosted the summit, voiced support for the carbon tax, saying that all countries should participate in this endeavor instead of it burdening only major polluters.
The Nairobi Declaration was agreed to following the African Climate Summit, an event that marked the first time the nations of the African continent have come together to seek solutions on how to tackle the climate crisis.
Even though Africa accounts for about four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the continent is one of the areas in the world worst affected by climate change.
The initiative is intended to serve as an important negotiating tool at COP28, the upcoming United Nations climate summit scheduled to take place in the United Arab Emirates later this year.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who attended the summit, urged world leaders to work together in creating a plan for a global carbon price at COP28.
The International Monetary Fund has previously said that a global carbon price would be one of the most expeditious and effective methods to curtail carbon dioxide emissions around the world.
However, the concept of implementing such a tax has faced challenges and resistance from numerous countries.
Cheers and Tears
Mexico’s supreme court ruled to decriminalize abortion nationwide, a ruling that marks a major victory for women’s rights advocates in the predominately Catholic country, CNN reported.
On Wednesday, the court said in its judgment that national laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional because they violate “the human rights of women and people with the capacity to gestate.”
The verdict will require the federal public health service and all federal health institutions to offer abortion services to anyone who requests them, the Associated Press added.
The supreme court’s decision represents a significant step toward expanding abortion access in Mexico, the news outlet said.
In 2021, the top court ruled against a law in the northern state of Coahuila that threatened women who undergo abortions with up to three years in prison and a fine. It said in that verdict that criminalizing the procedure was unconstitutional.
The new verdict was hailed by supporters of reproductive rights, who see it as a major step forward for gender equality.
Opponents, however, said they will continue their fight against expanded access to abortions.
Analysts said that despite the supreme court’s ruling, the battle over abortion is not over in Mexico: Currently, 12 out of the country’s 32 states have decriminalized the procedure.
Others added that it will take time to see how the new ruling will be implemented, especially in states that still uphold restrictive abortion laws.
This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv and pledged more than $1 billion in additional aid for Ukraine as it continues its counteroffensive against Russia, according to the Wall Street Journal. Blinken’s visit aimed to demonstrate ongoing US support and strengthen Ukraine’s long-term defense capabilities. Ukraine’s counteroffensive has recently shown progress, but it faces challenges in overcoming entrenched Russian positions. Long-term US support is crucial, analysts have said, considering the Kremlin’s indication of a years-long war.
Also this week:
- Ukrainian forces have made a series of gains this week as they battle to retake Russian-occupied territories, according to Ukrainian officials, Newsweek reported. Ukrainian troops have made gains near Klishchiivka, close to the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast. Over the past week, they’ve liberated about 1.15 square miles, adding to the 18 square miles gained since the counteroffensive began in June. Ukrainian forces are also pushing toward Melitopol along the Sea of Azov, part of the “land bridge” to occupied Crimea. Meanwhile, Russia claimed naval aircraft from its Black Sea Fleet destroyed four US-made Ukrainian military boats carrying paratroopers heading toward Crimea, and shot down two Ukrainian drones.
- Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was replaced this week in a significant leadership reshuffle, Time noted. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cited the need for new approaches as the reason for the change and nominated Rustem Umerov as the new defense minister. The decision follows a series of corruption scandals related to procurement within the defense ministry. Still, Reznikov had played a key role in securing military aid and modernizing Ukraine’s military capabilities. Now, Umerov, with a background in economics and political negotiation, is seen as having the credentials necessary for the role during Ukraine’s quest for continued international support.
- Meanwhile, Ukrainian billionaire and former Zelenskyy supporter, Ihor Kolomoisky, has been sentenced to two months in jail on charges of fraud and money laundering, according to Reuters.
- The United Kingdom government is set to designate the Russian mercenary Wagner Group as a terrorist organization, making it illegal to be a member or support the group, the BBC noted. A draft order will allow its assets to be categorized as terrorist property and seized. British officials called Wagner “violent and destructive” and a “threat to global security.” Wagner has been involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has operated in Syria, Libya, Mali, and other African countries. The group has faced accusations of numerous crimes, including killings and torture. The new British designation will make it harder for members of Wagner to move money and also allow for potential compensation claims through British courts.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected efforts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to revive a United Nations-backed grain deal for Ukraine, NPR reported. Putin complained that the previous agreement favored Ukraine and said Russia would only rejoin it once Western-imposed restrictions were lifted. Erdogan defended the deal’s benefits for poorer countries and expressed hope for a resolution. Russia’s blockade on Black Sea shipping, initiated with its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, has disrupted commercial vessels’ entry to Ukrainian ports. The Black Sea Grain Initiative had allowed safe passage for Ukrainian grain and other commodities, but it has been in limbo since Russia exited it in July.
- The Nobel Foundation has reversed its decision to invite ambassadors from authoritarian states involved in the Ukraine war to its annual awards ceremony, following strong condemnation from Kyiv and other European capitals, Politico reported. In response to mounting criticism, the Swedish trust has disinvited the ambassadors of Russia, Belarus, and Iran to the Nobel Prize award ceremony in Stockholm. The move comes amid ongoing tensions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and concerns about Russia’s crackdown on civil society, including the recent labeling of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov as a “foreign agent.”
- Russian taxi companies will have to share passenger trip data with the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB), as part of a new law enacted this month, Radio Free Europe wrote. Taxi firms will also be forbidden from disclosing their collaboration with the FSB. The law also grants the FSB access to taxi company databases, obliging them to store passenger travel information for six months.
Cheating at Love
Males from a South American spider species woo female arachnids by offering them gifts to raise their chances for mating.
Male Paratrechalea ornata spiders capture an unsuspecting insect, wrap it in a ball of silk then go in search of a female that would take their gift.
Once the female takes the aptly-called “nuptial gift” and begins feasting, the male spider sees an opportunity and starts mating.
But hard times and scarcity can force some of these eight-legged Casanovas to cheat their way to love, Live Science reported.
Scientists wrote in a study that male P. ornata would sometimes prepare a fake nuptial gift to trick the female, such as using a dead leaf or leftover bits of an insect.
They studied spider species from two different habitats in Uruguay.
Southern regions had stable habitats and saw an abundance of food. But northern ones, impacted by the El Niño weather phenomenon, are more unstable for the spider.
When researchers studied the gifts, they noticed that southern spiders only offered worthless treats 38 percent of the time. Sadly, this rate rose to 96 percent in northern male arachnids.
The team suggested that this prevalence of worthless gifts highlights the male spider’s strategy to survive harsh environments, forcing them to keep food for themselves instead of giving it away – even for love.
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