The World Today for March 27, 2024

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Last Stop Before Paradise


Sixteen-year-old Adam migrated with his father and younger brother from Sierra Leone in West Africa to Tunisia on the Mediterranean coast two years ago. Today, after their father was arrested in Algeria, the two brothers live on the street in Al Amra, a coastal city in eastern Tunisia.

Adam, whose name was changed in the Guardian, and his brother are two of at least 1,500 migrant children living in Tunisia, a major disembarkation point for Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian migrants seeking safety and economic opportunities in Europe. Many of these migrants die when the rickety, overburdened boats carrying them sink in the Mediterranean, as Le Monde noted.

The migrant crisis in Tunisia is one of the many destabilizing factors now rocking the country, which was, until recently, one of the few functioning democracies in the region following the Arab Spring, when Tunisians ousted dictator President Ben Ali in 2011 after 23 years in office.

Instead, protests are breaking out, such as one earlier this month in the capital Tunis protesting deteriorating living conditions under President Kais Saied.

Detailing those conditions is a recent French broadcaster’s investigation called, “Between Poverty and Dictatorship, The Grand Step Backwards”. The one-hour documentary highlights how Saied has allegedly undermined human rights, promoted racism and violence toward sub-Saharan migrants, and mismanaged the economy since he won office in 2019, the New Arab reported.

Tunisian Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani lambasted the film as a hit job produced by the country’s enemies.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International, however, have echoed the film’s accusations, such as Saied’s racist and xenophobic comments last month that prompted a series of attacks on Black individuals as well as summary arrests of foreign sub-Saharan nationals.

Saied has also had arrested political dissidents, opposition leaders and others who criticize or challenge his rule, which many in Tunisia and internationally view as a de facto coup d’état, added World Politics Review.

Regardless, the leader’s crackdown on civil society and focus on migrants are designed to draw attention away from the inflation, food shortages, and the government’s debt challenges, say analysts. Saied has called on the Central Bank of Tunisia to help plug the country’s deficits and the need for additional debt, but critics suggest the move will further harm the economy, wrote Al Jazeera.

Foreign investors certainly will think twice before lending Tunisia money when the country needs the Central Bank to pay its bills. The move would probably cause the value of Tunisia’s currency, the dinar, to drop like a stone. In 2022, the International Monetary Fund loaned the country $2 billion, Agence France-Presse wrote. Yet, at present, the Tunisian economy is barely growing and the rate of unemployment is one of the highest in the region.

Meanwhile, as the migrants remain stuck in this hostile and impoverished weigh station, protests broke out in the small coastal village of El Hancha near Sfax: The village is missing about three dozen people under the age of 35, Al Jazeera reported, and their families want to know what happened to them.

Like thousands of migrants from Africa, in January these young Tunisians boarded a boat to try to make the dangerous route to Europe to win a better life.

Their boat was lost. The government has said nothing.


Intimidation Games


The United States and the United Kingdom on Monday imposed sanctions on Chinese state-backed hacking units for allegedly intruding into American energy and defense systems and stealing British voting registration data, signaling an escalation of cyber conflict between Beijing and the West, the New York Times reported.

US intelligence found malware in the country’s electrical grids, defense systems and other critical infrastructure. They believe the intention was to distract Americans from supporting Taiwan with attention instead turned toward electricity, food, and water supplies.

In a separate case, the Justice Department indicted seven Chinese individuals, part of a group known as Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 31. The group has targeted officials and politicians in a 14-year intimidation campaign, sending over 10,000 emails with hidden tracking links.

In a joint move with Washington, London also sanctioned the group, accusing it of stealing the registration data of around 40 million British voters. The motive behind this intrusion remains unclear, as it appears the hackers did not try to manipulate the data, which is publicly available. Observers suggested this may have been a testing round.

Britain also accused APT31 of unsuccessfully attempting to hack the email accounts of lawmakers known for having criticized China.

This marked a shift in the UK’s stance on China. So far, it had refrained from making hawkish comments on Beijing as it sought to enhance trade relations following its exit from the European Union’s single market.

The US, too, was reluctant to call out Chinese hacking efforts, despite a previous incident under Barack Obama’s presidency that had led to the loss of 22 million critical security-clearance files.

Now, both countries are coordinating with other allies to protest the intimidation campaigns. On Monday, New Zealand said another Beijing-sponsored group, APT40, had hacked its Parliament, Al Jazeera reported.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused Britain of spreading “fake news” and lacking “objective evidence.”

The Art of Technical Difficulties


Venezuela’s main opposition coalition accused authorities of blocking its candidate from registering in the upcoming presidential elections, the latest setback for President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents who have been facing bans and arrests ahead of the July 28 vote, the BBC reported.

On Monday, the opposition Unitary Platform (PUD) said it was unable to access the electoral council’s website to register its presidential contender, Corina Yoris.

Yoris and her team alleged that they had repeatedly tried and failed to log into the council’s website. They added that they also visited the council in person to ask for an extension to the Monday deadline, but officials refused.

Yoris alleged that her rights as a Venezuelan citizen were “violated” by being blocked from registering, adding that the government was seeking to prevent the PUD and other opposition parties from registering their candidates, Bloomberg added.

Monday’s debacle marks the latest setback for the PUD, whose leader María Corina Machado has been barred from running for office and its party officials have been detained on various charges, including conspiracy to overthrow Maduro.

Machado made headlines last year when she won more than 90 percent of votes in the opposition primary election. But Venezuelan authorities criticized the vote as illegitimate.

With Machado’s ban still in place and the deadline approaching, the PUD picked Yoris as their candidate. The 80-year-old academic is relatively unknown in opposition circles, but observers noted that her opponents would have a harder time discrediting her.

Meanwhile, Maduro and nine other contenders were able to register their candidacy, including Zulia state governor Manuel Rosales of the opposition party A New Era.

Rosales previously lost to Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, in the 2006 vote. He was once banned from running for office and his candidacy could still be blocked by the government, according to Bloomberg.

Many aspects of the presidential vote are still unclear: The government invited eight international groups, such as the Carter Center, the European Union, and the United Nations, to observe the elections, but none have yet confirmed their attendance.

The New Republic


Togolese lawmakers this week voted in favor of a new constitution that would move the small West African country from a presidential to a parliamentary system, a vote that comes less than a month ahead of its legislative elections, Agence France-Presse reported.

The new constitution says that lawmakers will choose the president “without debate” for a single six-year term. Currently, the president can serve a maximum of two five-year terms.

The changes also introduce the position of “president of the council of ministers,” who will have “full authority and power to manage the affairs of the government and to be held accountable accordingly.”

Tchitchao Tchalim, chairman of the parliamentary committee on constitutional laws, legislation, and general administration, explained that the head of state – i.e. the president – will lose power to the president of the council of ministers, who will represent Togo abroad and in effect manage the country’s daily affairs.

Lawmakers voted on the new constitution almost unanimously, but it’s unclear when the changes will come into force.

Meanwhile, Togo is slated to elect a new parliament on April 20. The current legislature is dominated by the ruling Union for the Republic and the opposition is poorly represented.

In 2019, parliament amended the constitution to restrict presidential terms to two, but the change wasn’t retroactive, allowing President Faure Gnassingbe – in power since 2005 – to run for two more terms and remain in power until 2030.

Gnassingbe succeeded his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who seized power in a coup more than 50 years ago.

Now, under the new constitution, which does not take into account the time he has already spent in office, Faure Gnassingbe could stay in power until 2031 if he is re-elected in 2025, Reuters wrote.

“This is the umpteenth preparation of a constitutional coup by a monarchical regime that has held the country’s destiny hostage for almost 60 years,” said one of Togo’s opposition parties, the Democratic Forces of the Republic.

Numerous African countries, including the Central African Republic, Rwanda, the Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast and Guinea, have pushed through constitutional changes in recent years to allow their presidents to extend their terms in office, the news wire wrote.



Modern life in cities has eroded the human gut’s ability to digest fibers from plant matter, Science Alert reported.

In 2003, scientists discovered that the human gut could digest the fibers in plant matter via a bacterium capable of breaking down cellulose. This compound, the most abundant on Earth, lines cell walls in plants. Before this discovery, the common belief had been that only cows, horses, sheep, and other mammals had that ability.

Using the genes of the bacterium found in 2003, researchers analyzed fecal samples from humans living in different places and times. They found more species of microbes feeding on cellulose, also found in ruminants and primates, belonging to the genus Ruminococcus.

Samples from hunter-gatherers, rural populations, and humans around 2,000 years ago all had an abundance of Ruminococcus microbes. The same microbes were “conspicuously rare” in modern humans living in industrialized areas, according to a recent study which highlighted how people living in cities were losing the ability to digest plants,

Some studies have noted that urban humans’ diets are low in fiber, exposing them to health risks. But research on addressing this discrepancy and the health benefits of cellulose supplements is still scarce.

In the current study, evolutionary analysis suggested that the human strain of Ruminococcus microbes was transferred from the guts of animals. This indicates that living with animals may have helped us digest plants better.

Living in concrete jungles may have made our guts less hospitable for these microbes.

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