The World Today for March 28, 2024

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Echoes of a Boom


March 1 is Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Day in the South Pacific. In the Marshall Islands, however, it is Nuclear Survivors’ Day.

It is a day of anger, a day of grief.

On this day, islanders recall the 67 nuclear tests conducted on the archipelago nation, including Castle Bravo, the code name for the first thermonuclear hydrogen bomb test held in the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954, at the Bikini Atoll, one of 29 ring-shaped islets in the country.

Code Bravo’s explosion registered 15 megatons, or 15 million tons of TNT – around 1,000 times more powerful than the atom bombs dropped on Japan in World War II, noted the Washington Post. It vaporized at least two islands and forced the permanent displacement of communities contaminated by radioactivity. The blast was twice as large as researchers expected. It was the biggest nuclear test in American history.

“Hundreds of people living on Ailuk and Likiep were never evacuated, even though US ships were close enough to help,” wrote the Diplomat, referring to inhabited atolls where the winds had blown winds from the Castle Bravo blast. “Then the US government lied about the danger. Radioactive material had fallen on a nearby Japanese fishing vessel, and when the crew returned home with acute radiation sickness, the world learned of Bravo and the ‘ashes of death’ it had unleashed.”

In another nearby atoll, Rongelap, residents suffered burns, lesions, and hair loss. Women suffered miscarriages and stillbirths, and gave birth to disabled children. A third of the atoll’s people developed thyroid problems and other cancers: Thyroid tumors afflicted 90 percent of the children.

The Marshall Islands has a long colonial history involving Spain, Germany, Japan and the US, Radio New Zealand explained. Today, the Marshall Islands is an independent republic that has signed a so-called compact of free association that gives the US military wide latitude within its border. Because of the bitter legacy over American nuclear tests on the islands, however, China has been able to exploit divisions that have undermined the Marshall Islands’ relationship with leaders in Washington, DC, explained the United States Institute of Peace.

In recent years, China has leveraged this history to increase its influence in the country, wrote the Associated Press. Chinese officials and enterprises have funneled investment into the South Pacific. In 2022, China inked a security deal with the Solomon Islands, expanding China’s naval footprint in the region.

Trying perhaps to make amends for their country’s past actions as well as counterbalance China’s plans, American officials recently approved $7.1 billion in aid to the Marshall Islands as well as Micronesia and Palau, added the South China Morning Post.

Still, protesters marking the commemoration say they haven’t received justice for the generations impacted by the tests, reported Global Voices, echoing others on the islands.

“While we have come a long way in mending past grievances,” said Henry Puna, secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, “regrettably, the terms of resolving nuclear legacy issues in the Marshall Islands have been inadequate, and therefore remain unfinished.”


The Pawns Are Falling


Thousands of people protested near the Hungarian parliament in the capital Budapest Tuesday after a former government insider accused senior officials of meddling in a corruption case, adding to the recent troubles of powerful Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Reuters reported.

Marching from the chief prosecutor’s office toward parliament, protesters demanded that both the prosecutor and Orbán step down. Péter Magyar, a lawyer who is also the ex-husband of former Justice Minister Judit Varga, also attended the demonstration.

Earlier Tuesday, he released a recording online, which he also presented to the prosecutor’s office, that featured Varga saying that aides to Orbán’s cabinet chief, Antal Rogan, attempted to remove documents from a graft case involving other government officials. Magyar said he made the recording in January 2023 at the couple’s home when they were still married.

The recording centers on a case involving Pal Volner, a justice ministry official under Varga’s tenure. He resigned in 2021 and was charged the following year for allegedly accepting kickbacks from the head of the court bailiffs, Gyorgy Schadl. Both men face jail terms.

“(Rogan’s aides) told the prosecutors what should be deleted but they did not entirely follow up on that,” Varga is heard saying on the tape.

In a social media post, she did not deny the authenticity of the recording but accused her former spouse of betraying her trust and having his own political agenda. Magyar plans to launch a new party against Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz party.

Meanwhile, the opposition argued the tape “shows that the justice system is under political influence” and accused Varga of giving her blessing for manipulating the judicial process, Politico reported.

The leak comes amid a tense situation for Orbán, who has faced the largest outcry against his rule since he entered office in 2010.

In February, a case involving the pardoning of a state official who interfered in a child abuse investigation triggered widespread outrage, leading to the resignations of Varga and President Katalin Novak.

Varga, one of Orbán’s protégées, retired from public life, leaving the prime minister without a charismatic lead candidate for June’s European Parliament elections.

Risks and Rewards


Five Chinese nationals working on a major infrastructure project died in a suicide bombing in northern Pakistan Tuesday, the latest in a series of attacks targeting Chinese interests in the country and elsewhere in the developing world, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Pakistani authorities said a van carrying the Chinese workers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was struck by a car carrying explosives. The Chinese embassy in Pakistan added that the Chinese were heading to a dam construction project when they were attacked.

The bombing underscores the mounting security risks Beijing is facing in developing nations, such as Pakistan, which are major recipients of Chinese investments as the country attempts to expand its global influence. Some of these projects, which span Asia and Africa, have led to resentment by locals who say they fail to benefit from these investments and “lopsided” lending deals.

These projects, meanwhile, have led to numerous attacks against Chinese workers and institutions.

In Pakistan, insurgents have repeatedly targeted Chinese construction sites and personnel over the past few years.

For example, two years ago, a suicide bomber blew herself up outside Karachi University’s Chinese language institute, killing three Chinese teachers and a Pakistani driver. The Baloch Liberation Army – a separatist group in the southwestern Balochistan province – claimed responsibility.

Also, the army said it thwarted two major attacks by militants in Balochistan in the past week, including an attempt to storm a part of the Gwadar port complex, a major part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Meanwhile, nine Chinese workers were killed by a gunman at a gold mine run by a Chinese company in the Central African Republic last week, reported Reuters. The Chinese embassy said Sunday there had been many “vicious” security incidents against workers of foreign mining enterprises in the area.

The Big Performance


Chad’s constitutional court this week barred 10 candidates, including three principal opponents of the governing junta, from May’s presidential election, a vote that aims to bring about the return of democratic rule three years after the military seized control of the Sahel nation, Radio France Internationale reported.

The top court rejected the applications of the candidates, including opposition politicians Nassour Ibrahim Neguy Koursami and Rakhis Ahmat Saleh, because of “irregularities” in their paperwork.

However, 10 other candidates will contest the May 8 elections, including current leader Mahamat Idriss Deby and his Prime Minister Succes Masra.

Military generals proclaimed Deby as Chad’s interim president in 2021 shortly after the violent death of his father Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the country for more than 30 years.

Masra, a former opposition leader, signed a reconciliation deal with the Deby government earlier this year.

The May vote is part of a transition to return Chad to democracy after the junta took power in 2021 – one of the numerous military governments currently in power in West and Central Africa, according to Al Jazeera.

Deby initially promised to hold elections 18 months after seizing power, but the junta later passed a series of resolutions that delayed the polls until 2021 and allowed him to run for president.

The delay sparked protests in the country that were brutally squashed by security forces.

Before the court’s decision, the opposition criticized the upcoming vote as a “charade” and urged its supporters to boycott it. They alleged that Deby is guaranteed to win and that Masra’s participation is a ploy to make the polls appear fair and free.

The barring of opposition candidates comes a month after the death of prominent opposition leader Yaya Dillo.

Dillo, who was expected to challenge Deby, was killed last month when Chadian soldiers stormed his party’s headquarters in the capital.

Authorities alleged that the opposition leader died during a shootout when security forces were trying to apprehend a member of Dillo’s party.

But Dillo’s supporters accused authorities of executing him, claiming that photographs of his corpse show a single shot to the head.


Falling on the Moon

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is known for its tangerine-colored skies and nearly six million square miles of large, dark dunes that cover its surface.

Some of them are as big as the massive dunes found on Earth, but how they formed has been a topic of debate among astronomers.

Now, a new study is suggesting that Titan’s dark sand mounds are the product of comets and other space objects that fell on the moon millions of years ago, Science News reported.

A research team based their findings on a popular theory on how our solar system evolved some four billion years ago: Before they took their current positions, giant planets migrated from where they formed.

During this migration, the planets and their moons passed through the Kuiper Belt, a region of the solar system packed with comets, rocks and dwarf planets. Crossing this area would have bombarded them with comets, space dust and other space debris, according to the researchers.

They ran a series of computer simulations on how Saturn, Jupiter and their moons evolved during this period to estimate the scale of the impacts they received.

Their findings showed that dust and the impactors could have delivered enough material to form Titan’s dark dunes. Researchers also noticed that this material also struck Jupiter’s moon Calisto and another Saturnine moon Iapetus – both of which have large patches of dark material.

Still, astronomers have suggested that Iapetus’ dark patches emerged from somewhere else, further complicating the origin of Titan’s sands.

The authors and others hope that NASA’s upcoming Dragonfly mission to Titan – scheduled to launch in 2028 – will provide some answers about the lunar dunes.

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