The World Today for April 04, 2024

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Between 2005 and 2020, the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan had five presidential transitions of power. Three occurred due to widespread protests and civil unrest. Two occurred through peaceful and democratic means.

Now current Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, who won 80 percent of the vote in 2021, has been changing that tradition, and the country’s reputation as one of the only places in Central Asia where the public has fiercely fought – and won – battles against the government when its rights have been threatened.

“Increasingly his style of leadership has taken a leaf out of Putin’s playbook,” argued Arizona State University politics and global studies professor Keith Brown in the Conversation.

Japarov supported a successful 2021 referendum that expanded his powers and reduced those of parliament, for example. He’s passed laws that are used to crack down on media. He’s also building a new presidential palace five miles outside of the center of the capital of Bishkek, where protesters have gathered and ousted the country’s leaders in the past.

The latest example of the Putin-ification of Kyrgyz politics involves a proposed new law that would curtail the activities of non-profits and non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding. Think Western foundations funding anything from women’s rights initiatives, economic development, public health and workplace safety campaigns, wrote Amnesty International. The law would also require these groups then to register as foreign representatives. The legislation is clearly modeled after Russian initiatives.

“Such unreliable sources speculate on their ‘difficulties’ and ‘persecutions,’ which, in turn, force sponsoring foreign structures to follow their lead, engage in wastefulness, wasting money of taxpayers in the United States and (European Union) countries,” Japarov wrote in a letter to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in response to criticism of the law.

Human rights groups disputed that characterization.

“Many of the organizations vital to Kyrgyzstan’s political pluralism, democracy and human rights development will shut down, while the more service provision-oriented organizations may need to scale down the scope of their operations,” Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Syinat Sultanalieva told Nikkei Asia.

At the same time as he undermines his citizens’ human rights, Japarov is presiding over an incredibly corrupt country. As the Global Investigative Journalistic Network explained in an interview with Bolot Temirov, a Kyrgyz reporter who was deported from his home country to Moscow after publishing stories that embarrassed Japarov’s regime, self-dealing, graft, nepotism, embezzlement of public funds, and similar schemes are rampant in the country.

Meanwhile, journalists in the country are being targeted at an increasing level, noted. In February, for example, a court ordered the closure of an investigative news outlet, Kloop, because prosecutors said it was harming the public’s mental health and driving them to drugs and sexual depravity because of its negative reporting on public institutions.

The climate in Kyrgyzstan makes it hard to believe officials when they announce that former customs official Rayimbek Matraimov hired Azerbaijani thugs to assassinate Kyrgyzstan’s political leadership, analysts say. Officials claimed that Matraimov, whom the US government sanctioned for allegedly stealing $700 million in Kyrgyz public funds, was seeking to stop their investigations into his corrupt dealings.

In late March, officials in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku extradited Matraimov to Kyrgyzstan to face justice, reported Radio Free Europe. Photos released of the prisoner during his flight seemed designed to humiliate the 52-year-old man who usually leads a lavish lifestyle.

As critics of the regime noted, it was a sign of what happens to enemies of the state.


The Perpetual Outsiders


Thailand’s constitutional court agreed Wednesday to consider a case that could lead to the dissolution of the opposition Move Forward Party, a decision that dealt another blow to the country’s anti-establishment movement advocating for major institutional reforms, Reuters reported.

The case stems from a complaint filed by the election commission, alleging that Move Forward’s controversial campaign to reform a law protecting the monarchy from criticism violated the constitution.

The upcoming proceedings follow a previous ruling in January by the same court, which deemed Move Forward’s proposed amendments to the law unconstitutional and as an attempt to undermine the governmental system headed by the king.

Move Forward has denied the allegations, asserting it seeks to defend the constitutional monarchy but also prevent the law from stifling political opposition.

More than 260 people have been prosecuted under Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws over the past few years.

The party could face potential dissolution and political bans for its leadership if the court rules against it.

Move Forward gained considerable support in last year’s elections, particularly among young and urban voters. It is the biggest party in parliament holding around 30 percent of its seats and recent opinion polls show that it is still the country’s most popular party.

Its reform agenda also includes ending military conscription and challenging business monopolies, threatening Thailand’s traditional conservative order.

Observers noted that the party’s popularity and its contentious agenda prompted an unusual governing coalition between the populist Pheu Thai Party and the military’s political proxies.

Last month, opposition leader and former prime ministerial hopeful Pita Limjaroenrat said his Move Forward party would “fight tooth and nail” against what he perceives as efforts to suppress its reformist agenda by the conservative establishment.

The Eye of the Storm


Iran vowed retaliation against Israel following a deadly strike in the Syrian capital this week that killed 12 individuals, including two high-ranking Iranian generals, an attack that has intensified tensions in the region, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

On Monday, an alleged Israeli airstrike hit Iran’s consulate in Damascus, killing Iranian Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi – who led the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016 – and his deputy, Gen. Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi.

The death toll also included a member of Iran-backed Hezbollah and four Syrian nationals.

Damascus officials did not disclose any information on the Syrian nationals, but the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleged that the individuals were members of a pro-Iran militia.

Following the strike, Iranian senior officials decided on a “required” response to the strike but did not elaborate. Meanwhile, Iranian diplomats at the United Nations accused Israel of jeopardizing regional stability and peace, adding that “the United States is responsible for all crimes committed by the Israeli regime.”

Hezbollah, a key ally of both Iran and the Syrian government, also pledged “punishment and revenge” against Israel.

Israel – which has previously targeted Iranian officers in the region in surgical strikes – did not confirm Monday’s attack.

Despite Iran’s accusations, the US denied any involvement in the strike, emphasizing its commitment to de-escalation efforts in the region.

It is unclear if, when, or how Iran will retaliate, but the Damascus strike has raised concerns about the potential for a broader conflict, with fears of a dangerous escalation between Iran, Israel, and potentially the US.

Tensions have escalated in the Middle East amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Iran-backed Hamas that began in October. Since then, Iran’s proxies have stepped up their assaults, engaging in almost daily cross-border skirmishes between Hezbollah and Israel, alongside frequent attacks on Red Sea vessels by Yemen’s Houthi rebels – who are also backed by Iran.

The UN condemned Monday’s attack, stressing the importance of upholding diplomatic immunity and respecting international law.

Meanwhile, Gulf states and the Arab League also joined in denouncing Israel’s actions, expressing deep apprehension about the possibility of further destabilization in the already volatile Middle East.

Amid ongoing skirmishes and international criticism, Israel has warned about the possibility of full-fledged war with Iran, citing continuous attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi missiles from Yemen.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed the country is fighting a war on multiple fronts “both offensively and defensively.”

An Elephantine Dispute


The president of Botswana threatened to send 20,000 elephants to Germany if the European country insisted on curbing imports of hunting trophies, as tensions mount over a dispute over nature conservation and the interests of the African nation, the BBC reported.

German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke from the Green party said earlier this year that strict limits should be imposed on hunting trophies imports, which make up a significant part of southern African nations’ incomes.

But that suggestion angered Botswana.

“It’s very easy to sit in Berlin and have an opinion on our own business in Botswana,” the country’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, told Germany’s Bild. He explained that conservation efforts had led to an exponential increase in the elephant population and that hunting was necessary to control it. A ban on trophy imports would impoverish his people, he added.

In the interview published on Tuesday, Masisi made the “dead serious” offer to ship the pachyderms to force Germans to “live together with the animals, in the way you are trying to tell us to.” He emphasized that he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Over 130,000 elephants – a third of the species worldwide – live in Botswana. The number increases by 6,000 each year.

The situation has grown out of hand for Botswanans, the news outlet said. “In some areas, there are more of these beasts than people. They are killing children who get in their path. They trample and eat farmers’ crops leaving Africans hungry,” said Wildlife Minister Dumezweni Mthimkhulu.

Since 2019, the country has imposed quotas on trophy-hunting and officials said the practice is monitored through the issuing of licenses, which allow rich Westerners to shoot an animal and bring home its head or skin – in exchange for a few thousand dollars. Germany is the largest importer of these trophies in the European Union. Countries like Botswana and Namibia have argued the money is used for conservation measures and to support local communities.

But animal rights groups have described the practice as cruel, calling for its prohibition.

Berlin denied being informed of Masisi’s elephantine gift and insisted on ensuring the sustainability of the trophy hunting trade.


All Work, All Play

Research has shown that play is vital for the young chimpanzee’s physical and psychological development. Great apes, such as gorillas and bonobos, engage in some form of play, too, such as tickling, joking and chasing each other.

But during periods of food scarcity, chimps usually tone down their playful shenanigans to conserve energy, New Scientist reported.

That doesn’t seem to deter mamas, however, according to a new study.

For around a decade, researcher Zarin Machanda and her team monitored a community of about 60 eastern chimpanzees at the Kibale National Park in Uganda.

Throughout periods of ample food supply, the team documented play occurring on 97 percent of observation days at least once.

This behavior dropped to 38 percent when food became difficult to find, but chimp mothers kept playing with little ones at even higher rates during these difficult periods.

Researchers were surprised at the findings because food is very important for females to make up for the high energy costs of reproduction.

“The fact that moms are continuing to play with their babies at a cost to themselves indicates how important it is for their development,” said Machanda. “It’s almost like the hidden cost of motherhood.”

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