The World Today for January 02, 2024

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Envy Thy Neighbor


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Guyanese President Irfaan Ali recently committed to refrain from resorting to force to settle their dispute over the oil-rich Essequibo region on the border between the two South American countries.

As the BBC explained, Essequibo is a 60,000-square-mile area of jungle that comprises around a third of Guyana’s land mass. Venezuela has long claimed the region, but renewed its interest when American multinational corporation ExxonMobil discovered oil in the waters off Essequibo.

These riches have transformed Guyana. The former British colony’s gross domestic product increased by 62 percent in 2022. In 2023, GDP is forecast to grow by 37 percent. These are the highest growth figures on the planet, wrote El País. Around 35,000 Venezuelans have migrated to the country to find jobs and other economic opportunities.

In early December, after a referendum in which Venezuelans voted overwhelmingly to annex the territory, Maduro ordered Venezuelan energy companies to prepare to enter Essequibo to begin drilling and mining for minerals, Al Jazeera reported. Maduro, a dictator who runs his resource-rich – but economically struggling – socialist country with an iron hand, gave Guyanese companies now working there three months to leave, added Voice of America.

The move might have been tailored for domestic consumption, contended the Financial Times. Between Venezuela’s poor economy, Maduro’s suppression of human rights, and a massive exodus of Venezuelan migrants, Maduro needs a cause to rally support.

As a result, Maduro even had printed a new map of Venezuela that includes Essequibo. “I have immediately ordered for it to be published and taken to all schools, colleges, community councils, public establishments, universities and in all homes in the country,” he said, according to the Guardian.

Ali rejected the idea immediately, mobilizing his military and appealing to the US and United Nations for help, Bloomberg wrote. American officials offered Guyana support as Brazil deployed troops along its borders with Guyana and Venezuela in case a conflict erupted.

Venezuela is much stronger than Guyana, the National Review magazine noted. The former has a military with 350,000 personnel while the latter has only 4,000 troops. Still, argued Responsible Statecraft, the campaign would not be easy. No roads lead from Venezuela to Essequibo, so the terrain prevents Venezuela from utilizing its battle tanks or other heavy artillery.

Maduro and Ali then convened a day-long summit on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean where they committed to peace, reported CNN. Guyana maintained that the International Court of Justice should mediate the dispute, but Venezuela doesn’t recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

In the meantime, Guyana has plenty of cash to pay for more weapons and training.


Holding the Breath


Japanese authorities issued a series of tsunami warnings and evacuation orders across the country Monday after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake shook the country’s western coast, sparking fears of a repeat of 2011’s disaster, the Washington Post reported.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake erupted off the Noto Peninsula and was followed by at least 59 smaller aftershocks, at least nine of which had a magnitude of more than five. By Tuesday morning the death toll had reached 48 people as the search for survivors continued, the BBC reported.

There were dozens of reports of buildings collapsing in the city of Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture, the earthquake’s epicenter. Meanwhile, the agency also issued tsunami warnings or advisories to almost all of its western coast, urging people to move to higher grounds or designated evacuation buildings.

It warned that more earthquakes with intensity nearing 7.0-magnitude could hit already seriously affected areas in the coming days.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered authorities to prioritize human life and spare no effort in the emergency disaster response.

The tremors have sparked fears of a potentially devastating tsunami in Japan, where a 2011 quake off the northeastern coast sent gargantuan waves, some reaching 130 feet in height, crashing into coastal towns and killing at least 18,000 people.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake was the third-largest ever recorded in the world since 1900.

The 2011 earthquake also led to one of the worst nuclear disasters in history: A surge of seawater flooded electricity generators at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, with its three reactors, resulting in explosions that released radioactive material.

Bowing Out


Europe’s longest-serving monarch, Danish Queen Margrethe II, will abdicate the throne this month, after serving as Denmark’s beloved monarch for more than five decades, the Guardian reported.

The queen made the surprise announcement during her New Year’s speech, saying she would step down on Jan. 14, the 52nd anniversary of her ascension to the throne after the death of her father King Frederik IX.

The throne will now go to her son, Crown Prince Frederik and his wife, Australian-born Mary Donaldson.

In her speech, the queen cited back surgery in early 2023, saying that it made her reassess her position and wonder “if the time had not come to leave the responsibility to the next generation.”

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen thanked the queen for her service, adding that she had been of “undeniable importance” to Denmark and its two semi-independent territories, the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

The monarch has been one of Denmark’s most popular figures, known for her down-to-earth nature, warmth and talents as a linguist and a designer.

During her time as a princess, Margrethe was a member of the Danish women’s air force unit and took part in judo courses and endurance tests in the snow. She also regularly visited Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which are autonomous territories of Denmark, where she was met with cheering crowds.

The Opaque Landslide


Incumbent Felix Tshisekedi won the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s presidential elections, a victory that many opposition candidates quickly disputed as fraudulent and called for protests, the Financial Times reported Monday.

Election officials announced Sunday that Tshisekedi secured more than 72 percent of the vote during elections Dec. 20, while one of his rivals, Moïse Katumbi, came in second with 18 percent.

The results came nearly two weeks after the vote, which was marred by irregularities – two-thirds of polling stations failed to open on time, for example – prompting authorities to extend the presidential race to Dec. 21.

But soon after the election results were announced, Katumbi and other candidates challenged them as “electoral fraud” and urged their supporters to take to the streets.

Last week, authorities broke up crowds in the capital, Kinshasa, preparing to march on the headquarters of the country’s election commission. Opposition politicians have accused the commission of supporting the government.

Even so, analyst Alex Vines of the United Kingdom-based analytical group Chatham House said it was unlikely that the results would be overturned, adding that Tshisekedi’s victory was possible because the opposition failed to unite.

He said the government is likely to withstand opposition challenges, from both street protests and at the constitutional court.

Congo possesses half of the world’s cobalt and vital minerals crucial for the global shift to net zero carbon emission goals. Despite being rich in resources, Congolese politicians have struggled to improve living standards for most of its citizens, with nearly two-thirds living on less than $2.15 a day.

The country is also home to the Congo Basin rainforest, the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world, known as the “lungs of Africa.”


Sing – Sing a Song

People go to the gym to stay in shape. Songbirds, meanwhile, sing their hearts out to stay fit, according to Cosmos magazine.

That’s because singing is an important facet of a songbird’s life, helping them attract potential mates, protect their territory and maintain social bonds.

Now, in a new study, a research team discovered that male birds work out their vocal muscles in the same way that an athlete exercises to build their muscles.

They analyzed the recordings of male zebra finches singing before and after vocal exercises. When female finches heard these recordings, they easily spotted which male stayed fit and which one skipped training days.

The findings also showed that the vocal muscles became weaker and slower in avians that didn’t use their voice boxes at all – the muscles would become 50 percent weaker after seven days, even when only singing was cut out.

“Our results now show that if they don’t exercise every day, their muscle performance decreases,” said co-author Coen Elemans. “On top of that, the lack of exercise is audible in their song and the females prefer songs from exercised males.”

The researchers noted that the study helps explain why songbirds keep singing every day – even when there is no reason to do so.

It’s likely they are just trying to “beef up.”

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