The World Today for February 21, 2024

Listen to Today's Edition
Voiced by Amazon Polly


A Popular Resistance


In Nam Hpat Kar in northern Myanmar, a towering golden Buddha statue stands above the wreckage of civil war. Much of the village is now rubble after the central government fired heavy artillery and launched air strikes against rebels in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), who claim they captured the village last month.

“From where I was hiding I heard the sounds of fighter jets flying overhead and I thought our village … will be destroyed completely,” local resident Nann May said in an Agence France-Presse interview.

It’s not clear how long the military junta, which has been running the country under army Gen. Min Aung Hlaing since a coup three years ago, can maintain the pace of destruction, however. As World Politics Review explained, Myanmar’s path to democracy was troubled before the coup, but it was progressing under Noble Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies until 2021.

The burgeoning conflict with multiple ethnic militias and pro-democracy forces since then has exacted a heavy price on Myanmar, a poor country in South Asia that was formerly called Burma.

First, as the East Asia Forum noted, rebels have hurt trade with China and forced the central government to increase military spending unsustainably – at the cost of undermining basic but vital public services.

Second, Myanmarese soldiers are suffering from terrible morale and failing supply chains, the Washington Post reported. Mass surrenders have occurred as commanders have failed to resupply and reinforce their troops. Rebels have seized more than 400 army bases and around 35 towns in the country since October, added France 24. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that more than 100 members of Myanmar’s border police forces have taken refuge in Bangladesh.

In what looks like a desperate move that could escalate tensions further, the regime recently issued an order to draft young men and women into the army, wrote the New York Times.

“National defense is not the sole responsibility of the soldier,” said military spokesman Gen. Zaw Min Tun. “I would like to ask everyone to serve with pride and joy.”

But citizens of Myanmar told Nikkei Asia that they would rather injure themselves so they could claim they were unfit for service rather than join the junta’s army.

Others from affluent families said they could likely bribe their way around conscription. Still, others said they were considering becoming monks who were exempt from fighting. Those who said they had no money or other ways to avoid the draft pledged to become informers or saboteurs who would damage the military from the inside.

Min Aung Hlaing is under intense pressure to resign, reported Reuters. Pro-government YouTubers are calling for his exit, a criticism that would have been unthinkable a few months ago. But then so was a strike on the third anniversary of the coup recently, commentators said, that left the streets of Yangon silent.


Nowhere Is Safe


Ukrainian and Spanish intelligence officials confirmed this week that a former Russian pilot, who had defected to Ukraine last year, was found shot dead in southern Spain, a death that came a few days after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in a Russian prison, CBS News reported.

Last week, authorities in the Spanish coastal town of Villajoyosa announced they were investigating the death of an unknown person with multiple gunshot wounds.

On Monday, Ukrainian intelligence said the body belonged to former Russian pilot Maxim Kuzminov, but did not provide further details. Spanish officials told the BBC that Kuzminov was living under a false identity.

Kuzminov gained attention in August following a brazen operation where he flew a Mi-8 helicopter into eastern Ukraine and defected. The former pilot had reportedly contacted Ukraine’s secret service to inform them of his decision to defect.

Two fellow helicopter servicemen, unaware of Kuzminov’s intentions, were shot dead when they fled toward the border after landing. Kuzminov, wounded in the leg, accused Russian forces of the killings.

In a September press conference, he cited opposition to Russia’s war on Ukraine as his reason to defect. He also claimed Ukraine offered him $500,000, new documents and protection for his family.

On Tuesday, Russian spy chief Sergei Naryshkin called the late pilot a “moral corpse,” while denouncing his defection as a “dirty and terrible crime.” He did not confirm nor deny Russian involvement in the Kuzminov’s death.

Even so, Russian state media last year quoted a Russian intelligence officer suggesting that the former pilot will not live “long enough to face a trial.”

Kuzminov’s death comes less than a week after Russian popular opposition leader Navalny died while serving a prison sentence at a remote Arctic penal colony.

Russian prison officials alleged that he suffered from “sudden death syndrome,” but critics blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for Navalny’s demise.

Kuzminov and Navalny join a number of dissident figures opposing Putin’s regime who have been assaulted or killed abroad, or forced to flee Russia in fear of their safety, according to World Politics Review.

Too Much of a Good Thing


More than 1,600 trainee doctors in South Korea staged a walkout Tuesday to protest a recent government plan to admit more students to medical schools, a move that has resulted in cancelations of treatments and surgeries in many major hospitals across the country, Reuters reported.

The South Korean government recently announced a proposal to increase medical school admissions by 2,000 from the 2025 academic year, against a current annual figure of around 3,000. Officials added that they plan to add 10,000 more by 2035.

President Yoon Suk Yeol said the move will help improve access to basic healthcare in remote areas and develop better medical technologies.

But many medical practitioners rejected the proposal, countering that there are already enough doctors in the country. They added a boost in doctors’ numbers could lead to unnecessary medical procedures and undermine the country’s national health insurance plan.

Following the government’s announcement, nearly half of the 13,000 doctors and interns at large hospitals handed in resignations.

The walkouts took place despite government orders and pleas for the doctors to stay at work, citing the wellbeing of patients and citizens.

A recent Gallup Korea poll revealed that approximately 76 percent of South Koreans support increasing the number of medical students. This comes in response to concerns over a severe shortage of doctors, particularly in pediatrics, emergency units, and clinics outside the greater Seoul area.

South Korea, with a population of 52 million, had only 2.6 doctors per 1,000 people in 2022, far below the average of 3.7 for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Sorry, We’re Closed


Tourists faced disappointment again on Tuesday as a strike closed the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris over financial mismanagement for the second consecutive day, the Associated Press reported.

Eiffel Tower workers, who launched a strike this week over the way the monument is managed financially, want to align salaries with revenue generated from ticket sales. Workers also want better maintenance of the 135-year-old landmark, which is a focal point during the upcoming Paris Summer Olympic Games and Paralympics.

The General Confederation of Labour (CTG) union – which represents many of the tower’s employees – and others have criticized the Eiffel Tower operator’s business model, saying it prioritizes inflated visitor estimates over essential maintenance costs and fair compensation for employees.

On Tuesday, employees voted to extend the strike for another day.

Despite warnings of disruptions on the tower’s website, some tourists expressed disappointment upon arriving at the closed monument, while others said they adjusted their plans to visit later.

This week’s strike marks the second closure of the landmark in two months over labor disputes, France’s Le Monde newspaper noted.

The Eiffel Tower – open nearly every day – attracts nearly seven million visitors a year, around three-quarters of them foreign, according to the landmark’s website. Tourist numbers are expected to soar during the Olympic games.


Mixing To Thrive

Blue whales are the largest animals on Earth, capable of reaching lengths of 110 feet long.

Unfortunately, they are also listed as an endangered species as a result of intense commercial whaling over the 20th century.

But even as their numbers rebound, there is a blue whale subspecies, Balaenoptera musculus musculus, that is most at risk.

Now, marine scientists discovered that members of this subspecies have found ways to multiply their numbers without inbreeding, Live Science reported.

In a new study, researchers meticulously analyzed the genomes of B. musculus musculus whales in the North Atlantic, painstakingly piecing together DNA from different individuals to create a comprehensive genetic blueprint.

Their findings showed that each sampled whale harbored DNA from fin whales, their smaller counterparts.

On average, around 3.5 percent of blue whale DNA originated from fin whales, indicating extensive introgression between the two species – described as the transfer of DNA from one species to another via interbreeding.

While scientists previously believed that hybrids resulting from blue and fin whales were infertile, recent studies – including this one – have challenged this notion.

The new analysis suggested that the hybrids have been successfully mating with blue whales and creating “backcrossed” offspring – which exhibit mostly blue whale and some fin whale DNA.

Even so, past research has found no evidence that fin whales have inherited any blue DNA via introgression, which means that this introgression seems to be “unidirectional,” according to the authors.

They noted that this introgression could reduce the genetic diversity of blue whale populations, potentially impacting their resilience to future challenges, such as climate change.

Still, the good news is that inbreeding between the North Atlantic marine mammals is less than expected and there is a substantial gene flow between western and eastern Atlantic blue whale populations.

Thank you for reading or listening to DailyChatter. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can become one by going to

Not already a subscriber?

If you would like to receive DailyChatter directly to your inbox each morning, subscribe below with a free two-week trial.

Subscribe today

Support journalism that’s independent, non-partisan, and fair.

If you are a student or faculty with a valid school email, you can sign up for a FREE student subscription or faculty subscription.

Questions? Write to us at

You don't have credit card details available. You will be redirected to update payment method page. Click OK to continue.