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The World Today for February 28, 2024

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Kua takoto te Mānuka

NEW ZEALAND

Courses in the Māori language, te reo, are immensely popular in New Zealand, where people of all stripes want to learn how to speak the language of the indigenous people who occupied the islands before they became a British colony in 1840. Waiting lists for the courses are long.

As a result, many Kiwis today are worried that the government’s decision to spend less money on Māori cultural programs could put the courses in jeopardy, wrote Radio New Zealand.

A rightward shift in New Zealand’s politics has dampened officials’ enthusiasm for spending on pro-Māori policies, the New York Times reported. For years, the government invested in cultural programs to boost appreciation of Māori culture, and in social welfare policies to improve Māori citizens’ health, reduce economic disparities, and prevent crime in the Māori community.

Māori males, for example, suffer suicide rates that are nearly twice that of non-Māori males in New Zealand. Women Māoris take their own lives around 1.8 times more than non-Māori women, noted University of Waikato legal scholars in the Conversation.

Māoris have also raised concerns about how New Zealand culture still elides their history. In Invercargill on the country’s south coast, for instance, Māori representatives had to point out that government documents don’t include macrons, the lines above certain letters, as in “Māori.”

In October, however, Kiwis voted in the conservative government of Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, who has pledged to treat all citizens equally, which to him means no longer paying special attention to Māori issues.

Luxon has proposed reversing so-called “co-governance” policies that give Māoris a voice in issues that affect their community, eliminating a new health authority established specifically for Māoris, and canceling programs to clean up waterways in poor Māori areas, noted former Australian diplomat John Menadue in his blog, Pearls and Irritations.

Luxon also repealed a ban on cigarette sales to citizens born after 2008, a policy that aimed to cut high smoking rates in the Māori community, the Independent added.

And ahead of National Day ceremonies on Feb. 6, the anniversary of the founding of New Zealand with the Treaty of Waitangi signed by British colonists and Māori chiefs in 1840 – it establishes and guides the relationship between New Zealand’s government and its Indigenous population – the government was faced with angry Māori leaders because of its announced proposals to review the treaty and implement potential changes to how it affects modern laws.

Meanwhile, multiple protests have broken out since December over the change of direction.

“All the gains we’ve had to beg for are about to be turned back 50 years and we will be forced to try again,” Melody Te Patu Wilkie, a 52-year-old grandmother of six who organized a protest of 400 people in the western town of New Plymouth, told the Guardian. “I’m doing this for my mokopuna (grandchildren) who are too young to have a voice for themselves.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Speaking Up

GUINEA

Deadly clashes erupted in the Guinean capital this week after unions called for an open-ended general strike against the country’s military junta, a rare protest in the West African country after the army seized power in a coup more than two years ago, Al Jazeera reported.

A confederation of the main unions urged public and private sector workers to strike for the release of prominent media activist Jamal Pendessa, who was sentenced to six months in prison last week – with three months suspended.

Unions also demanded lower food prices and an end to media censorship.

The unrest has paralyzed the capital, Conarky, with businesses and schools being shuttered, while hospitals provided reduced services.

Skirmishes took place in some of Conarky’s outskirts, where two young men were shot dead.

The strike comes a week after the military dissolved the country’s transitional government – first formed in July 2022 – without giving any reason, nor saying when a new one would be installed. The army also ordered the confiscation of government officials’ passports and the freezing of their bank accounts.

Protests have become very rare in Guinea since Gen. Mamady Doumbouya led the military to take power in September 2021.

A year later, the military government banned all demonstrations, as well as detained a number of opposition leaders, civil society members and journalists.

Getting Too Close

KIRIBATI

Chinese police are working in Kiribati, the country’s police confirmed this month, prompting concerns that China is trying to further expand its influence into the remote atoll located more than 1,300 miles from the US state of Hawaii, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner Eeri Aritiera said last week that authorities in the Pacific island are working with uniformed Chinese officers in community policing and on a crime database program.

He explained that Kiribati had requested policing assistance from Beijing in 2022, but denied the presence of a Chinese police station. He added that up to a dozen Chinese officers arrived last year on a six-month rotation.

China has not commented on the presence of officers in the island nation, but a source in the Chinese embassy in Kiribati confirmed the cooperation, while also denying Beijing had set up a police station.

Kiribati, a country with a population of 115,000 people, is considered to have strategic value because of its proximity to Hawaii and by possessing one of the world’s largest exclusive economic zones, covering more than 1.35 million square miles of the Pacific.

It also hosts a Japanese satellite tracking station and a World War Two US military airstrip on Kanton Island.

Beijing has offered to rebuild the airstrip, prompting the US to counter with a pledge to upgrade Kanton Island’s wharf and open an embassy in Kiribati.

Currently, the US does not have any consular or diplomatic facilities there.

The presence of Chinese police officers in Kiribati comes as Beijing renews its push to expand security ties with many Pacific nations amid an ongoing rivalry with the United States.

Since 2022, China has been deploying officers in the Solomon Islands following a controversial security pact criticized by the US and Australia as destabilizing for the region.

Even so, China’s attempts to secure a broad security and trade agreement in the region were rebuffed by the Pacific Islands Forum in 2022.

Recently, Papua New Guinea rejected Chinese police assistance and surveillance technology after news it was negotiating a policing deal with China prompted criticism from Washington and Canberra.

On Monday, US officials cautioned Pacific countries against assistance from Chinese security forces and warned that Washington did not tolerate China’s “transnational repression efforts.”

Less is More

UNITED KINGDOM

A majority of the companies in the United Kingdom that participated in the world’s largest four-day working week trial have retained the policy, according to a study published this month, highlighting the model’s long-term benefits, the Guardian reported.

Sixty-one companies took part in the pilot from June to December 2022. One year after the trial program ended, nearly 90 percent still operate on a four-day weekly schedule, while half have already decided to make it permanent.

The study – conducted by the think tank Autonomy with researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Salford, and Boston College – also analyzed the effects of a four-day week on companies and their staff, with mostly positive results, according to 55 percent of executives.

With 82 percent reporting improvements in staff well-being, nearly half said it resulted in increased productivity. The researchers added that “burnout and life satisfaction improvements held steady” with better work-life balance.

The pilot aimed at having the same level of work output with 20 percent less working time. On average, participating companies had a rhythm of 31.6 hours per week. They could choose to either grant employees a universal day off or stagger it among staff.

The report showed that the most successful way to introduce this extra day off was to make it “clear, confident, and well-communicated,” as well as involve both staff and managers in the decision-making process to create the new schedule.

Nonetheless, enacting a four-day working week posed some challenges. It made it more difficult to work with partners still operating on a regular schedule.

Matthew Percival from the Confederation of British Industries said reduced working time was not a “one size fits all answer” and required certain budgetary measures. He argued that other options, such as increasing pay or parental leave, had their merits too.

As Scotland this month started a similar trial in the public sector, Autonomy has demanded that the central government in London allow a generalization of the policy.

The government responded saying it had no plans to introduce such measures. However, a spokesperson announced “changes to our flexible working legislation in April, including the right to request flexible working from day 1 of a new job.”

DISCOVERIES

Calling for Applications!

NASA is seeking adventurous volunteers for a year-long simulation of life on Mars, set to take place in spring 2025, Gizmodo reported.

The CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) project will see a four-person crew living in a Mars-like habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The habitat, called Mars Dune Alpha, is equipped with living quarters, a kitchen, workspaces, and recreational areas.

The deadline for applications is April 2.

To qualify, applicants must be healthy, non-smoking US citizens or permanent residents between the ages of 30 and 55. They must carry a master’s degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field and relevant professional experience, or 1,000 hours of piloting experience.

But the simulation will not be a walk in the park: The aspiring Martians will undertake various tasks mimicking a Mars mission, including spacewalks, habitat maintenance, and crop growth, while facing communication delays with ground control.

The CHAPEA project aims to study the physical and mental challenges of long-duration space travel, which is crucial for NASA’s future missions to send humans to Mars.

The first crew of volunteers entered the habitat in 2023, providing insights into daily life in a Mars-like environment.

The agency’s ultimate goal is to establish a human presence on the Red Planet, but it first must determine the psychological and physiological impacts of such missions.

A recent paper suggested that it may only take 22 people to maintain a colony on Mars. Still, these inhabitants should have agreeable personalities to better ensure survival on our inhospitable neighboring planet.

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