The World Today for December 20, 2023

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When Cynics Win


Musa Bi, a 42-year-old mother, is one of the nearly 7 million internally displaced people in Congo. She fled M23 rebels who have sown chaos in the central African country, walking for seven days with six children to reach a United Nations refugee camp. She doesn’t know the whereabouts of her husband and two other children.

“M23 came,” she told the BBC. “They were fighting with our (government) soldiers. We started running and those who could not run away, they were killed.”

Because polls are closed in her war-torn region of the country, Bi won’t be able to vote in the Dec. 20 presidential election that analysts view as a referendum on the job performance of incumbent President Félix Tshisekedi.

Tshisekedi assumed power in elections in 2018, succeeding Joseph Kabila, who had run the country for 18 years after his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who also served as president, was assassinated in 2001, explained the Council on Foreign Relations. The Kabila family and others were among those who fought a series of wars in Congo and surrounding countries from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

Tshisekedi managed to assert his independence from the Kabila political machine. But rebels are active in eastern Congo, the numbers of displaced people are at a record high, corruption throughout the country is rampant, and the president’s signature initiative of free primary education has faltering progress.

As the Economist argued, Congo has raw materials – it produces 70 percent of the world’s cobalt, a vital material for green technologies – a young population, and other assets. Yet poor governance and war have undermined the state. Congo’s infrastructure is antiquated or nonexistent. Around 60 percent of the country lives in extreme poverty.

Embezzlement scandals involving the country’s state-owned mining firms have also dogged the president and emboldened his critics, added Al Jazeera.

One of those critics, millionaire businessman Moise Katumbi, is currently the president’s main rival, reported the Associated Press. But other challengers include Martin Fayulu, who lost to Tshisekedi in 2018 but has contended that the election was stolen, as well as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Denis Mukwege, a doctor who has treated victims of sexual violence from eastern Congo.

In a sign of the violence hanging over the vote, however, Katumbi recently suspended his campaign temporarily after police fired live rounds during a raucous political rally, resulting in several injuries, Reuters wrote.

Cynics could be forgiven for not expecting anything to change much here, no matter who wins.


Bursting a Hot Bubble


A volcanic eruption began in the region of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik on Monday night, a long-expected event that is threatening towns in the vicinity and could leave hundreds homeless, NBC News reported.

The eruption was detected at 10:17 p.m. local time by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, which had focused its attention on seismic attention in the southwestern Reykjanes peninsula over recent weeks. The sky in the area turned red as molten rock was spewed 300 feet into the air, while a river of lava started flowing toward nearby settlements.

Meanwhile, officials said the volcano has been spewing out “life-threatening toxic gas pollution” since it began erupting, Reuters reported.

The lava flow peaked late Monday night, the climax of a tense saga. For weeks, Icelanders had worried over the activity in the peninsula, where more than 20,000 quakes had been recorded since October. In anticipation of the eruption, authorities declared a state of emergency and closed tourist attractions – including the iconic Blue Lagoon resort – the BBC reported.

The 3,400-inhabitant town of Grindavík was evacuated in November after cracks spitting out steam split up its roads. Underneath, a 6.2-mile tunnel of magma was forming, slowly moving up to the surface.

Even so, earlier this month, seismic activity decreased. Scientists were left wondering over the likelihood of an eruption, which was described recently merely as “possible,” Newsweek reported.

That had offered a glimmer of hope to the families from Grindavík, who wished to return home around Christmas. Now, that prospect is off the table, and the town’s mayor told local media they were in urgent need of housing until at least January.

Meanwhile, the Meteorological Office said the eruption’s intensity was decreasing. However, some scientists warned about unexpected developments, saying the lava river’s flow is unpredictable.

Although Monday’s eruption was the fastest and most powerful in recent years, experts said it would not match the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption that had sent a massive cloud of hot ash into the sky, grounding hundreds of thousands of flights in the Western Hemisphere. The capital’s airport was kept open, albeit suffering delays.

Goodbye, Haven


Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took control of the southeastern city of Wad Madani this week, forcing many to flee from the former safe haven that had housed hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people since the conflict began earlier this year, the Middle East Eye reported.

On Monday, the RSF announced on social media that it had taken control of the army’s First Infantry Division in Wad Madani, one of Sudan’s largest cities and the capital of the Jazira state.

The offensive began last week when paramilitary troops, riding in with hundreds of weapons-mounted vehicles, came in from the capital Khartoum in the north and west, as well as eastern routes through al-Butana.

Although Sudan’s military launched airstrikes, residents living in the villages on the road between Khartoum and Wad Madani said there was no sign of government troops as the RSF charged through the state.

The attack caused panic among Jazira’s residents and its displaced population, resulting in thousands of people leaving Wad Madani. The city had served as an aid hub at the start of the civil conflict in April following a fallout between Army Chief Abdel Fattah Burhan and his former deputy, RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti.

Following the RSF’s seizure, the United Nations and other aid organizations said they left Wad Madani and suspended their operations in the state.

Jazira, home to nearly six million people, including half a million displaced by Khartoum’s fighting, is a crucial breadbasket situated between the Nile River’s two main tributaries – the White and Blue Niles.

Recent attacks have exacerbated food security concerns.

The RSF’s expansion into the southeastern state follows the seizures of four out of Darfur’s five states, significant parts of Khartoum, and regions in Kordofan in recent months.

More than 12,000 have died in the conflict with both sides accusing each other of indiscriminately bombing civilian areas, according to estimates by the Armed Conflict Locations and Events Data project.

The UN said more than five million people have been internally displaced and 1.3 million Sudanese have fled abroad during the fighting.

Crying Foul


Hundreds of opposition protesters took to the streets of the Serbian capital Belgrade this week, shortly after Sunday’s parliamentary elections saw the ruling party of President Aleksandar Vučić secure a major victory, despite allegations of fraud and irregularities, Radio Free Europe reported.

Results showed that the governing Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won around 46 percent of the vote, while the leading opposition coalition, Serbians Against Violence (SPN), received just over 23 percent.

Vučić’s party also secured a win in the municipal elections, including in Belgrade.

But criticism soon emerged over the polls’ results, with international observers alleging a series of “irregularities” during the race, including “vote buying,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s monitoring mission lamented that Vučić’s involvement in the election and pro-Vučić media bias made for a campaign that it deemed unfair.

Germany called the alleged irregularities “unacceptable” for a country that aspires to join the European Union.

Meanwhile, the SPN accused the government of busing in unregistered voters from neighboring Bosnia and other Balkan nations to illegally cast their ballots in the capital.

Analysts described Sunday’s elections as a referendum on Vučić’s rule.

In November, the president dissolved parliament and called for early elections, a move that came amid months-long demonstrations following two back-to-back mass shootings that killed 19 people in May.

The protests initially focused on violence in the Balkan country but soon evolved into calls for Vučić and other leaders to resign.


Young, Hungry and Picky

Many humans like drumsticks, not least because they are easy to eat.

So too did one young dinosaur, the Gorgosaurus libratus, which lived around 75 million years ago.

That’s according to paleontologists, who recently discovered the last meal of this relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex, marking the first instance of a tyrannosaur’s stomach contents being identified and studied, CNN reported.

The teen dinosaur’s remains were initially excavated in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park in 2009.

During lab studies, the research team noticed a number of small bones in the Gorgosaurus’ ribcage which turned out to be the hind legs of two baby birdlike dinosaurs, both belonging to the species Citipes elegans, according to a new study.

“It must have killed … both of these Citipes at different times and then ripped off the hind legs and ate those and left the rest of the carcasses,” said co-author Darla Zelenitsky. “Obviously this teenager had an appetite for drumsticks.”

The juvenile tyrannosaur, weighing around 772 pounds and measuring 13 feet in length, was probably between five to seven years old at the time of its death. His prey would have been younger than one year old, according to the authors.

They explained that the findings are particularly significant because they offer valuable insight into the dietary patterns and preferences of juvenile tyrannosaurs.

The choice of meal shows that teen Gorgosaurus were picky eaters compared with their parents: The fossil indicates that juveniles likely hunted small and swift prey, as their bodies were not yet well-suited for tackling larger creatures.

The findings also address a long-standing puzzle in paleontology: The scarcity of small and midsize dinosaur fossils in the record, especially during the Mid- to Late Cretaceous Period.

“We are missing mid-sized … predators from that ecosystem. So yeah, there’s been the hypothesis that, the juvenile tyrannosaurs filled that niche,” added Zelenitsky.

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