The World Today for October 06, 2023

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Poet Mustafa al-Trabelsi penned eerily prescient lines in the days before he would die in a flood in the city of Derna, on eastern Libya’s Mediterranean coast.

“The rain /Exposes the drenched streets, /the cheating contractor, /and the failed state,” he wrote after attending a public meeting dedicated to the city’s crumbling dams and the risk of a deluge, according to the Guardian. “It washes everything, /bird wings /and cats’ fur. /Reminds the poor of their fragile roofs /and ragged clothes.”

Soon after the floods in September devastated the city of poets, as Derna is known, protesters hit the battered streets against the government while law enforcement arrested Libyan officials who had failed to take action before rains triggered the collapse of the two dams, killing at least 4,000 people, reported Agence France-Presse.

Meanwhile, Derna’s fate has become a symbol of the frustration that many Libyans feel with the years of civil war, competing militias, and unstable government that the North African country has endured for more than 10 years, reported National Public Radio.

“The flood not only wiped away large parts of the city, ripping it in two with a wall of water and earth and killing thousands of its inhabitants, but it also destroyed a cradle of Libyan culture,” wrote the New York Times.

Derna traces its origins to an ancient Greek colony – the floods revealed ruins dating to this period, noted Euronews. But its modern history started when Muslims fleeing the Spanish Inquisition settled there in the late 15th century. As a result, the city’s architecture has many examples of unique grand structures resembling those in Andalusia, a Spanish region once under Moorish control.

Some of those treasures are now destroyed.

The tragedy unleashed by the flood is not over, the United Nations warned recently. More than 43,000 people, including 16,000 children, are displaced, for example. Another 9,000 people are still missing as the recovery continues.

Scientists at World Weather Attribution claimed that climate change contributed to the heavy rainfall – 50 percent more than usual – that caused the floods. The Arab News reported, moreover, that Libya was one of many examples of war-torn, developing countries suffering inordinately due to more erratic weather patterns, citing Somalia and Yemen as other examples.

Al-Seddik al-Sour, the prosecutor general who arrested the Libyan officials allegedly responsible for the dams, is part of the internationally recognized government that rules in Tripoli. Military strongman Khalifa Haftar runs the country’s flood-stricken east. Haftar announced a plan to raise money for aid and reconstruction from international donors – but has come under criticism for not cooperating with his rivals in western Libya.

Haftar was recently in Moscow to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose support has been vital to him keeping power, Al Jazeera wrote.

Still, locals, who express pride in the cultural and intellectual legacy of their city, say its years-long neglect is punishment for the rebellious tradition of its inhabitants, many of whom are now considering leaving.

Mahbuba Khalifa, a poet from Derna, put that sentiment into verse: “I used to carry your great legacy in my conscience and on my shoulders, and I walked with arrogant pride and I had a certain pride that I did not deny …/But you are tired of the injustice of history and the injustice of tampering with you and your city’s legacy /So you chose to leave when the water met the water to hide in the depth of the sea, pure and pure.”


The Dragging Feet


The Guatemalan government resumed its presidential transition with representatives of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo this week, a move that comes after weeks of disputes and controversy following Arévalo’s landslide victory in an August run-off, Reuters reported.

Arévalo won Guatemala’s presidential elections on promises to root out corruption in the Central American country. But his transition to the presidency has faced a series of challenges. For example, Guatemalan authorities have launched raids on his leftist Seed Movement party’s offices and the country’s main electoral tribunal.

Last month, the president-elect temporarily halted his participation in the government transition, saying that actions taken by Guatemalan authorities have raised doubts about the peaceful transfer of power.

But the resumption of talks came after Arévalo traveled to the United States earlier this week, where he met with senior officials in the Biden administration, as well as business leaders and the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro.

Almagro and others urged the president-elect to resume talks.

Meanwhile, the OAS and the US State Department have been closely monitoring the situation and expressed grave concerns about the actions of Guatemalan officials, Reuters wrote separately.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva also complained about the actions of Guatemala’s prosecutors, noting that these could undermine the integrity of the electoral process and the rule of law.

Meanwhile, Arévalo and his supporters have labeled these attempts to stymie his transition as a “coup d’état.”

The president-elect is expected to assume the presidency in January.

Unwelcome Visitors


French Transport Minister Clément Beaune urged calm this week amid widespread reports of bedbug infestations across the country, an issue that comes as France prepares itself to host next year’s Olympic Games, CNBC reported.

In recent weeks, videos on social media have been showing the presence of bedbug infestations affecting many areas across France, including homes, hospitals, high-speed trains, and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The environment ministry said there has been a resurgence of the pests since they disappeared in the 1950s, due to international travel and increased resistance to pesticides.

The issue has caused such a furor that the government stepped in to calm an increasingly anxious nation set to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games – a prime venue for infestations of the crowd-loving insects.

Beaune said authorities and cleaning companies are holding talks to address the situation, but denied that there was a resurgence, cautioning that “we must not fall into madness.”

Bedbug infestations have affected more than one in ten households in France between 2017 and 2022, according to the Associated Press.

Analysts said the parasitic insects make no distinction regarding hygiene or social class. They can live without a meal (of human blood) for up to a year, making them resilient pests. The pests can also easily travel with humans, making them a challenge for densely populated areas such as Paris.

Companies specializing in bedbug extermination are seeing a surge in business as people become more vigilant. To eradicate the insects, these firms use heat, especially steam.

Worrisome Pattern


Indian police raided the homes of journalists linked to an independent news outlet critical of the government – and accused of spreading Chinese propaganda – a move that has sparked concern over eroding press freedoms in the world’s largest democracy, CNN reported.

The raids targeted reporters, editors, and contributors of NewsClick, a left-leaning news organization known for being fiercely critical of the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Authorities questioned more than 40 people, and seized digital devices and documents for examination as part of an investigation under an anti-terror law.

Two individuals, including NewsClick’s founder and editor, were arrested under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – an anti-terror legislation that critics describe as “draconian” and makes it nearly impossible to receive bail.

NewsClick said it is being accused of spreading Chinese propaganda on its website. The outlet denied the accusations, saying it “does not publish any news or information at the behest of any Chinese entity or authority.”

The police action prompted outrage among media organizations and civil society groups in India. Critics warned that the raids underscore continuous efforts by the government to stifle independent journalism and curb press freedoms.

According to the annual World Press Freedom Index, India’s ranking has fallen from 140th in 2014 – the year Modi assumed office – to 161st out of 180 nations on this year’s list. This places India lower in the rankings than countries such as Laos, the Philippines and Pakistan.

The raids on NewsClick come eight months after Indian tax authorities raided the BBC’s offices following the airing of a documentary critical of Modi’s role in deadly riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002.


This week, the European Union reaffirmed its commitment to supporting Ukraine in its struggle against Russia’s invasion, as schisms over the issue continued to grow in the United States and Europe, Al Jazeera reported. A delegation of EU foreign ministers visited Kyiv and expressed unity in their support for Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed that the duration of the war depends on the quality and quantity of support from allies. However, signs of fractured support are emerging in both the US and Europe, with some conservatives in the US opposing assistance, and some EU countries becoming more critical of supporting Ukraine.

Also, this week:

  • Russia has no plans for any additional troop mobilization in Ukraine, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, with more than 335,000 individuals enlisting in the armed forces or volunteer units this year, Reuters wrote. Shoigu said more than 50,000 recruits signed contracts in September alone, including former Wagner Group mercenaries joining voluntary formations. At least 51 people including a six-year-old boy were killed in a Russian missile strike on Hroza, a village southeast of Kharkiv, just after midday Thursday, the BBC reported. Many were attending a wake for a local resident when the missile struck, in an area that the defense ministry said had no military targets. The village is in the Kupyansk district, the scene of heavy fighting since the invasion and recaptured last September by Ukraine. Zelenskyy denounced the attack as a “brutal Russian crime” as part of the latter’s efforts to make its “genocidal aggression a new norm for the whole world.”
  • Armenia’s parliament ratified the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), allowing itself to come under the Netherlands-based court’s jurisdiction, the Guardian noted. This decision carries implications for Armenia’s relationship with Russia: It opens the possibility of Yerevan arresting Russian President Vladimir Putin if he enters the country because of an ICC arrest warrant. The ratification is primarily in response to alleged war crimes committed by Azerbaijan and is not specifically targeted at Russia, however. Even so, relations between the two countries have become strained as a result of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and its perceived inaction during the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, when Azerbaijan regained control of the region.
  • United Nations investigators have verified six more cases of Russian executions of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the year following Russia’s invasion, according to the New York Times. These cases add to the 15 Russian executions of Ukrainian soldiers documented in a previous UN report in March. The earlier report also found that Ukrainian forces had executed 25 Russian prisoners of war, but the new report does not document any additional cases on the Ukrainian side. These findings suggest possible violations of the Geneva Convention, which mandates the humane treatment of prisoners of war.
  • Slovakia accused Russia this week of interfering in the country’s recent elections won by populist Robert Fico, who pledged to end military aid to Ukraine, Agence France-Presse reported. This accusation follows Moscow’s foreign intelligence service director’s pre-election remarks claiming that Slovakia’s pro-Ukraine centrist party were “US proxies.” While Moscow rejected these claims, Slovakia summoned a Russian embassy official and called on Moscow to “stop disinformation activities.” Fico’s election has raised concerns about support for Kyiv from Western states: The new leader had vowed to cut off military aid to Ukraine and has called for closer ties with Russia.
  • Soccer’s global governing body FIFA lifted its blanket ban on Russian football teams competing in international tournaments, allowing the Russian youth teams to participate in the men’s and women’s under-17 World Cup tournaments, Politico reported. The ban had been imposed in February 2022 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This decision follows a similar move by UEFA, the European soccer governing body, which faced a backlash from several countries refusing to play against Russian teams despite UEFA’s ruling. FIFA’s decision comes with conditions, including Russian teams playing under the name “Football Union of Russia” and not displaying their national flag, anthem, or colors at matches. FIFA also reiterated its condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine.


Extreme Pathogen

Scientists recently discovered a new virus in the deepest part of the Earth’s oceans, Euronews reported.

The pathogen was located in sediment taken more than 29,000 feet underwater in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench – considered the planet’s deepest location, researchers wrote.

The Mariana Trench’s lowest point is more than 36,000 feet down.

Dubbed vB_HmeY_H4907, scientists said the virus is a bacteriophage, known to infect and replicate inside bacteria. They added that it belongs to a new viral family called Surviridae.

This bacteriophage specifically targets Halomonas bacteria which are ubiquitous in the Mariana Trench, Antarctica, and around hydrothermal vents – fissures on the sea floor through which heated water is released.

The team noted that the discovery is important in revealing the enormous diversity and ecological significance of viruses living in the ocean’s hadal zone, which is at a depth of between 20,000 and 36,000 feet.

Currently, only two strains of hadal viruses have been isolated.

The hadal zone houses various distinctive organisms capable of adjusting to its harsh environment that is characterized by low temperatures, high pressure, and darkness in the deep sea.

Marine researchers are currently on the hunt for additional novel viruses in similarly extreme settings.

“Extreme environments offer optimal prospects for unearthing novel viruses,” said co-author Min Wang.

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