The World Today for December 15, 2023

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Political Whiplash


In September 2022, the new left-wing president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, and his progressive allies asked voters to ditch the business-friendly constitution written under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and opt for a new document that would uphold social and indigenous rights, protect the environment, and mandate gender parity.

Even after mass protests in the capital of Santiago against sky-high living costs in 2019 rocked the country and demonstrated the need for change, Chilean voters overwhelmingly rejected the left’s proposed constitution.

Now the right is trying its hand at constitutional-building. On Dec.17, the South American country is holding a referendum to adopt a new constitution authored by conservatives, reported Reuters.

This result is Boric’s doing. After the first constitutional proposal failed, he created a commission of experts whom Congress would appoint. They would write a first draft. Then 51 elected representatives would craft a final version. As the Americas Society/Council of the Americas explained, conservatives dominated the latter process.

The constitution would enshrine “a social and democratic state of law” in the country – but, critics said, the new framers undercut that premise by limiting rights to health, education and pensions, wrote El País. It would define children under the age of 18 as “humans,” a move that appears to threaten abortion rights, critics said. It also lacks language that would protect sexual and gender minorities, added the Washington Blade.

The document would make it easier for the government to expel migrants. It would also allow convicted felons to request house arrest if they can demonstrate a terminal illness and don’t represent a danger to society – moves that could benefit former soldiers in Pinochet’s oppressive regime now serving prison time for their crimes against humanity and violating human rights.

Supporters of the proposed constitution were running ads referring to soaring crime rates and illegal migration as reasons why voters should back it, Bloomberg reported. Polls, however, said that voters are likely to reject this constitution, noted the Christian Science Monitor’s Editorial Board.

What happens next – after neither right nor left can replace a constitution penned under dictatorship – is the question. Boric has said he won’t pursue a third constitution referendum. Will others agree? Will future elections become more fraught? Will frustrated voters on either side of the spectrum opt for other means to achieve their political goals?

“While Chile’s upcoming constitutional referendum is unlikely to drastically change the country’s socio-economic model, it highlights ideological divisions that will create long-term political and economic uncertainty in the country,” cautioned Stratfor, a strategic analysis firm.

On the other hand, maybe the Chileans can compromise with each other.


Outsourcing Migration


Albania’s constitutional court temporarily suspended a migration deal between the Albanian and Italian governments, which would have allowed Rome to send thousands of asylum seekers to its neighboring Balkan country for processing instead of remaining in their country of arrival, the BBC reported Thursday.

The court’s ruling follows two petitions by the country’s opposition, who warned the deal would violate international law and threaten Albania’s territorial sovereignty.

In its Thursday verdict, judges said the ruling would temporarily block the ratification of the deal, and they ordered a hearing next month to decide whether the agreement violated Albania’s constitution.

Albania’s ruling Socialist Party, which has a majority in parliament, was set to ratify it.

The agreement was signed last month by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Albanian counterpart Edi Rama, prompting criticism from opposition politicians in both countries.

Under the plan, the Italian government would build two reception centers in northeastern Albania to annually process around 36,000 migrants attempting to stay in Italy. Italian authorities would operate the facilities and in certain cases have immunity from Albanian law.

The court’s ruling throws a wrench into Meloni’s plans to make the centers operational by next spring.

Observers compared the Italian-Albanian agreement to the British government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to the African country of Rwanda for processing.

The British scheme received harsh criticism from human rights groups and faced legal challenges at home, with the UK’s top court ruling it illegal last month.

Despite the United Kingdom sending more than $300 million to Rwanda, no asylum seekers have so far been sent there under the program, which the government is trying to revive following the court ruling.

Getting To First Base


A Senegalese judge ordered the reinstatement of jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on the electoral roll Thursday, allowing him to participate in the upcoming presidential election next year, Agence France-Presse reported.

The recent ruling is the latest in a series of court cases over the past two years involving Sonko, who has been clashing with the government ahead of the February 2024 elections.

Previous cases against him triggered deadly unrest across the West African country.

Sonko had been removed from the electoral roll after receiving a two-year prison sentence in June for allegedly morally corrupting a young person.

In late July, he faced additional charges, including allegedly fomenting insurrection, criminal association with a terrorist group and endangering state security.

Thursday’s ruling in the capital Dakar echoed an October verdict by a court in Ziguinchor, where Sonko serves as mayor. Last month, Senegal’s top court had disagreed with that regional court’s decision, but ruled that Sonko’s case should go back to the Dakar court.

Sonko, a popular figure among Senegal’s youth, now has until Dec. 26 to submit his candidacy for the upcoming election and secure the required sponsorships.

He has condemned the recent court cases as a plot by the government to exclude him from the presidential race.

A Sensory Heritage


French lawmakers passed a bill this month that will give existing farms more protections from lawsuits by city residents who move to the countryside and are offended by the smells and noise that come from farms, Euronews reported.

Currently, about 500 farmers face lawsuits from neighbors, mainly from newly arrived ex-city residents who have taken issue with the noise from farm machinery or the smell of animals.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the law seeks to end “abusive lawsuits against farmers who do nothing but their job: feed us.”

The bill was passed by the lower house of parliament and will now proceed to the upper house.

If passed, it would ban newer residents from filing complaints about the activity of farmers who were operating in the area before they arrived.

One lawmaker noted however that the activity must comply with legislation and regulations, adding that the proposal does not “give a blank cheque” to farmers for “abnormal disturbances” in the area.

Conflicts between former city dwellers and their rural neighbors are not new in France or other countries.

For example, in 2021, France introduced the “Maurice the Rooster law” aimed at safeguarding the “sensory heritage” of the French countryside.

The law was inspired by a 2019 case where a rooster named Maurice on the French island of Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron was allowed to continue crowing despite complaints from neighbors.

Meanwhile, French farmers are so frustrated with complaints, suits and also regulations that they have recently launched a campaign turning road signs upside-down to protest the challenges they face, according to the BBC.

Farmers complained about contradictory government instructions, ecological demands conflicting with the push for increased food production, and mental stress.

So far, that campaign has helped secure a government retreat on two tax measures next year. Still, the signs remain upside-down.


This week, a cyberattack hit Ukraine, particularly affecting its largest mobile network operator, the Washington Post reported. More than 24 million subscribers of provider Kyivstar both in-country and abroad lost service, preventing the delivery of air-raid warnings to their mobile phones. Among them was the vice prime minister for European integration, who was at the time in Brussels to promote Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union. The attack also knocked out local siren systems and bank machines. It is unclear who was behind it, though Ukrainian intelligence said they suspected Russia. In an apparent act of retaliation, their cyber forces hacked the Russian Federal Tax Service, in effect paralyzing its operations. These developments coincided with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the US, a trip aimed at convincing a divided Congress to allow a $60 billion aid package to his country.

Also this week:

  • After Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden agreed to discuss support for Ukraine’s air defense systems, Russia launched a missile attack on Kyiv, injuring 53 people, Al Jazeera reported. The attack also damaged a children’s hospital in the capital. Air defense systems brought down 10 ballistic missiles, and debris left a large crater in the eastern part of the city. It was the second time the Kyiv region was hit by Russian missiles this week after another attack in a suburb on Monday injured four and cut off electricity to more than 100 homes.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated the goals of his “special military operation” in Ukraine – “demilitarization” and “denazification” – during his traditional December press conference, the New York Times reported. Putin also said he would not call another military draft. Waves of military conscription have deeply affected the president’s popularity, Al Jazeera reported in 2022. This year, in the context of the barely existent campaign for the 2024 presidential election, Russians are preoccupied with the rising cost of living. Putin admitted inflation could rise to eight percent. While he rejoiced over the growing reluctance of the West to support Ukraine, he said that his government was in talks with the US to discuss the release of two Americans detained in Russia on espionage charges. “We are ready to build relations” with the US, Putin added.


The Secret Chambers

In 1836, archaeologists exploring the Pyramid of Sahura in Egypt noticed a series of passages full of “debris and rubbish.”

They suspected that the passages would lead them to some special store rooms, but nobody actually bothered to investigate – until now.

Recent conservation and restoration work in the pyramid unveiled the existence of a number of previously hidden storage rooms within the 4,400-year-old burial site, Popular Mechanics reported.

Meanwhile, researchers surveying the monument said they were able to properly determine the pyramid’s original dimensions: Over millennia, the pyramid’s initial floor plan had deteriorated and the old walls gave way to new retaining walls.

“Although the northern and southern parts of these magazines, especially the ceiling and the original floor, are badly damaged, remnants of the original walls and parts of the floor can still be seen,” they explained.

To get a better view of the secret rooms, they used 3D laser scanning with a portable LiDAR scanner, which gave them a thorough picture of the site’s interior.

The team is now planning to restore these chambers, a process which they say will “revolutionize the view of historical development of pyramid structures and challenge existing paradigms in the field.”

The Pyramid of Sahura sits at the Abusir complex, a site near the Nile River for pharaohs of the Fifth Dynasty of ancient Egypt.

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