The World Today for January 15, 2024

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Simmer, and Boil


On Jan. 12, the United States and its allies launched more than 100 missiles at 60 targets in Yemen, including “control nodes, munitions, depots, launching systems, production facilities, and air defense radar systems,” reported CNN.

Five people perished and six were wounded in the attacks.

The American, British and other allies’ air strikes against Houthis that control northern Yemen, including the capital of Sanaa, are aiming to punish the Iranian-backed militant group for attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea.

But the incident is just one of many troubling events around the region that could stack up into larger conflicts, wrote Reuters.

The Red Sea region, which spans from the Suez Canal to the Arabian Sea, is vital to world trade. The Houthis, acting to profit from piracy while making a statement in protest of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, are seeking to exploit their presence there, wrote World Politics Review.

And for the Houthis, who rule much of Yemen after being engaged in a civil war there for more than a decade, the war in Israel has given the rebel group new momentum.

Firstly, public outrage in Arab countries over Israel’s devastating response to the horrific attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 is widespread. Jordanian officials, for instance, have repeatedly said that Israeli “war crimes” against the Palestinians were increasing regional tensions and violence in the region.

On Friday, tens of thousands of Yemenis gathered in several cities to protest the war on Gaza and condemn US strikes on their country. “Your strikes on Yemen are terrorism,” said Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, referring to the United States.

Secondly, Iran appears to be flexing its role as leader of the so-called Axis of Resistance, or militant groups that oppose Israel and Western influence in the region, suggesting that more widespread fighting throughout the Middle East is likely, the Atlantic magazine wrote.

“The (January 12) attacks are happening in an effort to extend the full support of the US and UK in approximately the past 100 days for the war crimes of the Zionist regime against the Palestinian people and the besieged citizens of Gaza,” the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to Al Jazeera.

To the north, Israel is already fighting with militants in Lebanon. Israel recently killed a Hezbollah commander in Lebanon and a Hamas leader in Beirut with an airstrike. Hezbollah, meanwhile, fired and hit an Israeli base with rockets, reported the Associated Press. Israeli military forces told the Times of Israel they would not allow terrorists to attack their country from Syria. Foreign Policy warned of a full-blown war erupting between the two sides.

Iranian-backed Iraqi militants also fired rockets at a US military base in eastern Syria in retaliation for American support of Israel despite the bloodshed in Gaza, added Press TV, an Iranian state-owned media outlet. The same militants also claimed to have hit Israeli military installations near Galilee and the port of Eilat in Israel.

And in Iraq, the militia group Harakat al-Nujaba, also aligned with Iran, said that American interests and countries allied to the US would not be safe from now on.

US and allied forces have been attacked at least 130 times in Iraq and Syria Since Oct. 17, according to Washington.

The Houthis, meanwhile, have vowed to keep plundering ships off their coast and warned all vessels heading to Israel they are not safe, no matter where they are, CBS News wrote.

Perhaps a widespread, regional war is already underway.


A Vote for Independence


William Lai, the candidate for Taiwan’s ruling party, won Saturday’s presidential election in a vote that defied China’s ambition of “reunification” but also expressed citizens’ concerns over domestic woes, Reuters reported.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is staying in office following on from Tsai Ing-wen’s eight-year mandate. It is the first time in Taiwan’s 30-year democratic history that a party has secured three consecutive terms.

In his first speech as President-elect, Lai promised he would “safeguard Taiwan from threats and intimidation from China.”

His stance on Taiwan’s sovereignty and identity earned him the label of “dangerous separatist” from neighboring China, which sees the self-governing island as part of its country. In the days before the election, the mainland had sent warning signals to the Taiwanese in the form of surveillance balloons, calling on them to shun the DPP.

After the opposition conceded defeat, Beijing reaffirmed its desire for reunification. The DPP “cannot represent the mainstream public opinion,” Chinese officials said.

With an unusually low 40 percent of the vote, Lai owes his victory to the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system, while his party fell short of a majority in the concurrent legislative election.

The outcome reflected voters’ concerns beyond its giant neighbor. The DPP has been accused of failing to adequately address issues such as youth unemployment, rising housing prices, and slowing growth, the BBC reported.

Recognizing his party’s failings, Lai said he welcomed talent from the opposition.

With 51 seats, the DPP failed to dominate the legislature, while the Kuomintang (KMT) party secured 52 seats. The KMT, China’s favored party, also failed to secure a majority in parliament, leaving the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) with its eight seats as kingmaker.

Following the election, the TPP showed openness to a coalition agreement with Lai’s faction. “Whoever speaks reasonably, we will support,” its leader Ko Wen-je said.

Pomp, Danish Style


Denmark’s King Frederik X officially took the throne Sunday following the abdication of his mother, Queen Margrethe II, in a royal ceremony that diverted from tradition and underscored the country’s understated approach to its constitutional monarchy, the Guardian reported.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen proclaimed Frederik X as king on the balcony of Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, shortly after Queen Margrethe II formally signed her abdication.

She announced her abdication in her New Year’s speech earlier this month, ending her 52-year reign as Europe’s longest-serving living monarch. She is also the first Danish monarch to voluntarily abdicate in almost 900 years.

The ceremony received attention mainly because there was no coronation: Denmark has not conducted any coronation since the introduction of its democratic constitution and the abolition of its absolute monarchy in 1849.

“The Danish way is meant to show the link between democracy and royalty,” royal commentator Jakob Steen Olsen told the Washington Post. “In (centuries past), the king decided over us and our lives, now it’s the other way around. We have democracy. They serve us, not the other way round.”

Thousands of people greeted King Frederik X and Australian-born Queen Mary, the first so-called commoner to become queen in Denmark. Many Danes celebrated the new monarch and the outgoing queen, who has remained a hugely popular figure in the country for her down-to-earth approachability: She often took walks in the city or sat in parks painting.

Frederik and Mary are assuming the role at a time when they and the Danish monarchy have high approval ratings, in contrast to Spain or the UK, according to polls.

In 2022, Margrethe II slimmed down the monarchy by stripping four of her grandchildren of their royal titles to allow them to lead more normal lives, according to CNN.

Danish royals were also allotted $13 million in public funds, notably compared with the British royal family which received around $109 million.

Going Twice


Myanmar’s military and an alliance of ethnic rebel groups agreed to a Chinese-brokered ceasefire this week, after more than two months of intense fighting in the country’s northeast that has posed a major challenge for the ruling junta following its coup nearly three years ago, the Independent reported.

The ceasefire agreement came after representatives of both sides held talks last week in the Chinese provincial capital of Kunming, located around 250 miles from the border with Myanmar.

Chinese officials said the two sides agreed to a temporary ceasefire that would see the army halt its aerial bombing and artillery shelling in Myanmar’s northern Shan state, near the Chinese border.

For its part, the rebel groups, known as the Three Brotherhood Alliance, will cease its offensive and seek to capture more towns and army bases.

Even so, the truce would not apply to fighting in other parts of Myanmar and is not expected to impact the fate of imprisoned civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi or other political prisoners detained by the junta.

The agreement comes as the military junta is facing strong resistance from armed ethnic groups across the country since it ousted Suu Kyi and her elected government in February 2021.

Since the coup, Myanmar has been embroiled in a bloody civil conflict that has seen the junta crushing the rebels with both arbitrary detention and brute force.

The Three Brotherhood Alliance – which comprises the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army – intensified its attacks on the military in late October, including the seizure of more than 250 military posts and five major border crossing points controlling crucial trade with China.

Last month, the army and the alliance reached a similar deal following Beijing-mediated talks, but fighting continued after neither side honored that ceasefire, wrote Nikkei Asia.


Extreme Nappers

Many bird species tend to take short naps throughout the day, sometimes lasting around 10 seconds at a time.

But one species of penguin in the Southern Ocean takes napping to a whole other level, taking thousands of naps a day, according to New Scientist.

Recently, a research team studied the sleeping patterns of chinstrap penguins during nesting season, attaching sensors to 14 of the birds and remotely monitored their brain activity for 11 days.

During this period, the males incubate their eggs while their partners go on long foraging trips – sometimes for days. This means that the father penguins must remain awake and alert to protect their eggs from preying seabirds.

Their findings showed that flightless birds are extreme power nappers: They slept for about 11 hours a day, taking more than 10,000 naps – each lasting roughly four seconds.

These microsleeps were spread out over 24 hours and allowed them to keep a close eye on their unhatched offspring.

“It’s just a permanent state – they are constantly living between awake and sleep,” said co-author Paul-Antoine Libourel.

Libourel and his colleagues added that the avian species don’t seem to be missing out on the benefits of longer rest, because of their success rate in breeding and foraging.

Still, other researchers said that further study is needed to tell whether this fragmented sleep comes at a cost.

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