The World Today for December 06, 2023

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Ye Htut is a 64-year-old retired lieutenant colonel in the Myanmarese army, who also served as a spokesperson and information minister in the military-backed government of President Thein Sein from 2013 to 2016. Recently, he was arrested on charges of corruption and sedition due to his Facebook posts that offended military officials who ousted the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi almost two years ago.

As the Associated Press reported, Ye was among a “deluge” of such legal actions against critics of the military junta that runs the Southeast Asian country. But the prosecution of a preeminent military officer and public servant might also indicate serious division within Myanmar’s military leadership as they face increasing pressure from their opponents.

“Ye Htut’s downfall may be a hint of labyrinthine power struggles within the upper echelons of the military administration, as it suffers continued battlefield reversals,” wrote the Diplomat.

A civil war has broken out in Myanmar since the military junta took over in 2021. Public protests followed the military’s action. The crackdown in response escalated in violence. Now an armed rebel movement has gained significant momentum against the generals – potentially enough to topple them, according to the Globe and Mail. More than 6,300 civilians have been killed and 2,600 wounded since the coup, Deutsche Welle added.

Zin Mar Aung, the foreign minister of Myanmar’s shadow civilian government, recently told Nikkei Asia that the army was on the “brink of collapse.” She vowed that more attacks would be coming soon. The Washington Post editorial board agreed.

Armed ethnic militias – who have been battling the oppressive central government for years – and resistance forces united to oppose the junta. They have defeated the army in numerous engagements, seizing key border towns, strategic positions, and trade routes, chipping away at the junta’s authority.

The so-called Three Brotherhood Alliance has also pledged to stop the online fraud and illegal gambling that plagues the China-Myanmar border, where human traffickers run junta-sanctioned, Chinese-run bookmaking, hacking and online scamming operations, added CNN.

Chinese leaders appear to be ready to support the rebels, who have vowed to uphold trade ties with China, as much as they would the government, however. As the Diplomat explained, for example, Chinese authorities recently issued arrest warrants for members of a crime family with links to the junta. This family was involved in the online scamming mills on the border.

The junta, some say, is facing the bully’s comeuppance.


The Winds of Change


Thousands hit the streets of New Zealand Tuesday in protest at the new government’s plan to reconsider policies that helped the indigenous Māori community, Al Jazeera reported.

Following a call by the Tē Pāti Māori party, protesters gathered in front of parliament in Wellington, as well as on highways throughout the North Island, even as the new legislature elected in October was being sworn in.

The coalition, led by the center-right National Party with the support of the libertarian ACT New Zealand and right-wing populist New Zealand First parties, has decided to roll back affirmative action initiatives, turn Māori names of departments into English, and strip references from a key treaty in legislation.

The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand, signed by British colonial settlers and the Māori in 1840, which established equal rights for the Indigenous peoples.

Protesters called the move an “assault” on the Māori that would set New Zealand back decades, while nullifying efforts made over many years toward post-colonial reconciliation.

The leadership, meanwhile, said the changes were necessary to move the country forward. ACT chairman David Seymour criticized Tē Pāti Māori’s “divisive theatrics,” while Prime Minister Chris Luxon asked his citizens to give him time to show his government’s commitment to “get things done for Māori and non-Māori.”

New Zealand is in transition after six years of left-wing Labour rule, led by former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Some of her administration’s policies are those that Luxon’s coalition wants to remove.

The Price of Sustainability


Norway on Tuesday approved deep-sea mining exploration, becoming the first country to do so, even as it has received harsh criticism from environmental groups and the fishing industry over the potential damage such extraction can cause marine ecosystems, the Financial Times reported.

Norway’s minority center-left government said it received support from the two main opposition center-right parties for the plan, but added there would be strict environmental criteria set for any extraction.

Under the proposal, Norway would open up nearly 110,000 square miles of sea for exploration. The proposed area is close to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic, to which Norway says it has exclusive mining rights.

Sea beds in Norway and elsewhere are believed to carry a vast amount of minerals used by green-tech industries for products such as electric batteries and wind turbines. These resources include copper, cobalt and rare earth metals, such as neodymium and dysprosium.

The government hailed the move as a “responsible and sustainable” effort to extract crucial minerals to reduce reliance on China in the supply chain of many such industries.

However, the country’s own environmental agency advised against the proposal over concerns that it would threaten the fragile marine environment. Environmental groups, such as the Norwegian affiliate of the World Wide Fund for Nature, called it “the biggest disgrace in Norway’s management of the oceans in modern times.”

Even so, Norway’s offshore oil and gas industry welcomed the plan, saying it could provide new jobs as petroleum activities wind down.

The country is Western Europe’s largest petroleum producer.

Dissolving Problems


Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo dissolved the country’s opposition-controlled parliament this week, just days after an attempted coup by members of the country’s National Guard, Bloomberg reported.

Embalo announced Monday that the West African country is experiencing “a serious political crisis,” saying there was “strong evidence of political complicity” in last week’s attempted takeover.

Fighting broke out between members of the National Guard and forces of the presidential guard in the capital Bissau last week when members of the National Guard tried to illegally free two ministers, who were being held on charges of corruption.

Embalo described the violence as a failed coup.

Even so, the legislature’s dissolution was swiftly criticized by opposition lawmakers, who called the president’s move unconstitutional. They said Guinea-Bissau’s constitution does not allow parliament to be dissolved in the first 12 months after an election, the Associated Press wrote.

The attempted coup was the second in less than two years. Following the last one in February 2022, Embalo also dissolved parliament, citing “unresolvable differences” with the legislature.

Observers said the dissolutions underscore the ongoing disputes between the president and the opposition-controlled parliament.

Guinea-Bissau’s semi-presidential system restricts the president’s powers by allowing the majority party in the legislature to appoint the government. This means that the National Guard – which is under the Ministry of Interior – is mainly controlled by parliament, while the Presidential Palace Battalion is loyal to Embalo.

Since its independence from Portugal in 1974, the country has experienced a series of coups and coup attempts, some of which have been tied to the government’s fight against drug trafficking.


A Fleeting Wonder

Axolotls are a wonder of nature: These amphibians have the ability to stay young – known as neoteny – and fully regenerate lost limbs.

But sadly these unique abilities haven’t prevented the salamander species from becoming critically endangered.

Mainly found in Mexico City’s Lake Xochimilco, censuses have shown their populations have significantly dipped in the past years.

More than two decades ago, there were about 6,000 of these tiny salamanders for every square kilometer in the lake. But the last count from 2014 showed only around 36 axolotls per square kilometer, according to Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) ecologist Luis Zambrano, who helped conduct the recent census.

As a result, UNAM is stepping up to protect one of the country’s most unique amphibians, NPR reported.

It has relaunched a campaign to ask people to virtually adopt axolotls. The project will provide donors with an adoption certificate and allow them to name their pet salamander. They can pay for the creature’s meal and their habitat.

Zambrano and his team explained that the same campaign last year raised nearly $30,000, which allowed conservationists to maintain 40 refuges.

However, they will need 10 times that figure to ensure the axolotl populations return to healthy levels.

In recent years, the little salamander has become popular thanks to social media and the Minecraft video game, which has led to an increased demand for pet axolotls.

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