The World Today for January 05, 2024

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The Fix Is In


The prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, recently launched her ruling Awami League party’s campaign for the South Asian country’s general election on Jan. 7.

Speaking at a massive rally in the eastern city of Sylhet, reported the Associated Press, Hasina blamed the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its leader, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, for sabotaging a passenger train and causing a fire that killed four people just a few days before.

“They thought that with some incidents of arson the government will fall,” Hasina told her supporters. “It’s not that easy. Where do they get such courage? A black sheep sitting in London gives orders and some people are here to play with fire. … Their hands will be burned in that fire.”

Hasina was referring to Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, who was sentenced to jail on corruption charges but has escaped prison by living in exile in the United Kingdom since 2008, explained Reuters.

Rahman and his allies in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party have a decidedly different perspective on the elections. Hasina won’t allow anyone but her party to win office, they say. Ballot-box stuffing and other meddling, they allege, were rampant in previous elections. They have therefore opted to boycott the vote this time around, Al Jazeera wrote.

“The predetermined upcoming election is non-participatory not just for the political parties, but for the voters as well,” Rahman told the Diplomat.

The oldest daughter of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina has overseen crackdowns on human rights, freedom of the press, dissidents, opposition activities, and anti-government demonstrators during her four terms in office. Police arrested 8,000 opposition figures in a nationwide crackdown in early November, for example, after major rallies. As Agence France Presse reported, this dragnet was likely orchestrated to undermine the Bangladesh Nationalist Party before Jan. 7.

These developments are important because Bangladesh – a major textile exporter – is a huge, low-income country that needs able leadership to grow sustainably. As the Dhaka Tribune noted, nearly 120 million people will be eligible to cast ballots in this election.

The tension between Hasina and her detractors reflects how Bangladesh is at a tipping point. As the Atlantic Council said, Hasina enjoys the support of the military and has won “seriously flawed” elections. She is also arguably dragging the country into an autocracy that won’t be good for its people.

The US, for example, has already slapped visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals who are allegedly undermining democracy in the country, and imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion, a paramilitary force accused of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations, reported Nikkei Asia.

Hasina will likely win the elections. But governing will become increasingly hard.


Weakening the Shock


An Argentine court this week suspended a series of labor law changes decreed by newly-elected President Javier Milei, reforms that are part of the “shock” therapy the libertarian leader seeks to implement to improve Argentina’s deep economic crisis, Agence France-Presse reported.

Last month, Milei issued an edict that would change or remove more than 350 economic regulations, prompting jurists to question their constitutionality.

The reforms would see an increase in the legal job probation period from three to eight months, cut pregnancy leave, and eliminate a law regulating rent. They also included the privatization of state enterprises and the termination of around 7,000 civil service contracts.

As a result, thousands of people protested against the changes, with the country’s national trade union federation, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), challenging the decree in court on the grounds that it eliminated basic worker protections, such as the right to strike and parental leave.

On Wednesday, three judges of Argentina’s labor appeals chamber froze elements of Milei’s reforms, questioning the “necessity” and “urgency” of the changes. One of the judges, Alejandro Sudera, noted that some of the measures appeared to be “repressive or punitive in nature” and wondered how it would help the president to create jobs.

The decree follows Milei’s victory at the polls, in which he rode a wave of anger over the South American country’s decades of economic malaise marked by debt, a ballooning fiscal deficit and three-digit inflation.

Milei – a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” – said the goal of the decree was to “start along the path to rebuilding the country … and start to undo the huge number of regulations that have held back and prevented economic growth.”

Shortly after being sworn in, he ordered a devaluation of Argentina’s peso by more than 50 percent and announced large cuts in state subsidies for fuel and transport.

The Business of War


McDonald’s Malaysia filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against a pro-Palestinian group promoting boycotts against companies allegedly supporting Israel, saying that movement has hurt its business, Reuters reported this week.

The licensee of McDonald’s in Malaysia, Gerbang Alaf Restaurants Sdn Bhd, sued the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Malaysia movement for a series of social media posts allegedly linking the fast-food giant to Israel’s “genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza.”

The franchise said the boycott movement made “false and defamatory statements” that also led to a loss of profit and job cuts.

McDonald’s added that it “does not support nor condone the current conflict in the Middle East,” Agence France-Presse noted.

BDS Malaysia denied the defamation allegations, adding that it will leave the matter to the courts. The group is part of the global BDS movement that aims to end international support for what it says is Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and pressure Israel to comply with international law.

The legal dispute is taking place against the backdrop of Malaysia’s strong support for Palestinians, with some Muslim-majority nations targeting Western brands over Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7.

Even so, Malaysian netizens have voiced opposition against the lawsuit and have defended BDS Malaysia, according to the South China Morning Post.

The Stickers of Peace


Serbia began allowing drivers with Kosovo license plates to enter the country, ending a long-running dispute between the two Balkan neighbors that at times has turned violent, Euronews reported.

Following Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008, the issue of license plates sparked disputes between the two countries over their display of national symbols.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence and vehicles from both countries could cross the border only if they placed stickers on their plates to hide the respective symbols.

But from Jan. 1, vehicles with Republic of Kosovo plates can enter Serbian territory without the stickers. Serbian officials added, however, that the move does not mean Belgrade has recognized Kosovo’s statehood.

The European Commission welcomed Serbia’s decision as a positive step to normalizing relations between the Balkan nations.

Even so, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti noted that Pristina would only abolish stickers from Serbian license plates when its independence was respected.

A former Serbian province, Belgrade lost control of the ethnic Albanian-majority territory following the 1998-1999 war against independence fighters, who were helped by an intervention from NATO.

Following the conflict, Kosovo was placed under a United Nations mandate. Nearly a decade later, it declared independence from Serbia.


This week, the European Union added a Russian diamond miner, the largest in the world, to its list of nearly 2,000 individuals and entities facing sanctions in the context of the Ukraine war. Alrosa, the Associated Press explained, is responsible for 90 percent of diamond production in Russia, making it an “important part of an economic sector that is providing substantial revenue,” according to the bloc. The sanctions include freezing Alrosa’s assets in the EU and barring trade with EU countries and clients. Its chief executive officer, Pavel Marinychev, was already hit with a European travel ban. The new sanctions, which the bloc framed within the renewal of their “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine, came amid escalating violence in the conflict.

Also this week:

  • On Saturday, more than two dozen civilians died in the shelling of the Russian border city of Belgorod. The Kremlin accused Ukraine of carrying out the attack, one of the deadliest against Russia. Ukrainian security sources told the BBC it was in retaliation for Russian missile strikes that killed 39 people a day earlier, adding that “the incompetent work of Russian air defense” was to blame for the death toll in Belgorod. In response to what he called a “terrorist act,” a visibly furious Vladimir Putin promised that strikes in Ukraine would intensify. In the early hours of Jan. 1, Russia launched 90 drones carrying explosives at Ukraine, the Associated Press reported. At least nine people were killed across the country, including in the regions of Odesa and Kherson. On Tuesday, the two largest cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv, were hit by some of Russia’s most powerful weapons, including hypersonic missiles that could evade Ukrainian air defense systems, the New York Times reported.
  • Meanwhile, the southwestern Russian village of Petropavlovsk was also hit by missiles, the Kyiv Post reported. Russian army officials admitted it was an accident, while the local governor said there were no casualties. However, villagers complained that a dozen houses and a street were damaged. After the bombardment, Ukraine and Russia agreed to the largest prisoner swap since the beginning of the war, the Guardian reported. The deal, mediated by the United Arab Emirates which maintains close relations with Moscow, will free 230 Ukrainians and 248 Russians. The respite is likely only temporary: a Ukrainian Air Force official said on local television that Russia needed four days to prepare for the next series of mass strikes.


Wavy Wavelengths

Mesopotamia, an ancient civilization that thrived in what is now Iraq, has long guarded its mysteries. Now, ancient bricks that linger from that period are helping to illuminate more about its history and also the Earth’s, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Archaeologists have traditionally relied on methods such as carbon-14 dating to help them determine age. However, this method requires organic material, which is not found in bricks nor other remains of ancient civilizations.

Instead, the researchers analyzed magnetic evidence in the bricks, on which the names of Mesopotamian kings were scribed.

The geomagnetic field of our planet can vary dramatically. And as its strength changes, the Earth’s geomagnetic field leaves different signatures on compounds such as iron oxide.

Using a magnetometer, the scientists could identify these signatures on the bricks. In their study, they matched the magnetic clues with the reigns of the kings mentioned on the bricks to create a “historical map” of magnetism.

The study confirmed the so-called “Levantine Magnetic Anomaly” – referring to a period between 1050-550 BCE, during which magnetic intensity reached a peak amounting to double the current strength of Earth’s magnetic field.

The results laid the groundwork for dating remains that do not feature royal inscriptions and provide a better understanding of the behavior of the Earth’s magnetic field in the Mesopotamian era.

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