The World Today for April 22, 2024

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My Enemy, Myself


Life in Russia has become difficult for migrants from Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries since four Tajiks were among those arrested for allegedly killing 145 people in a terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall in Moscow on March 22. The Islamic State terrorist group took credit for the massacre.

In the Siberian region of Novosibirsk, for example, officials have prohibited migrants from driving taxis or selling beverages and tobacco at shops, reported the Moscow Times. Migrants from Central Asia have also faced hassles obtaining their work visas, added Radio Free Europe.

Migrant advocates accused Russian security officials of conducting sweeping raids, unlawful arrests, beatings, and mass deportations to kick potential terrorists out of the country, wrote the Daily Beast. The police often target folks who aren’t blonde and blue-eyed like many Russians, the advocates claimed, saying some are forced to pay bribes to be allowed to be freed after being detained.

Since the Crocus City Hall attack, about 6,000 cases against migrants have been filed with the courts, the publication wrote. And migrant advocates said about 2,500 acts of aggression were reported in the two days following the attack, the BBC wrote.

Leaders in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan now fear the harsh policies could endanger the remittances of money from the estimated 3 million Tajik workers in Russia, a vital revenue stream for corrupt, authoritarian Tajikistan’s lackluster economy.

Tajikistan’s Ministry of Labor has recorded a surge of its nationals leaving Russia, Reuters reported.

At the same time, noted Business Insider, the crackdown on migrants will further undermine Russia’s already precarious economy after more than two years of Western sanctions. Russia already suffers from a serious labor shortage. It has perhaps 5 million migrants working in the country now because they are necessary for many local industries and services.

For example, in North Ossetia, garbage piled up on the city streets after security forces detained foreign employees of local garbage companies, the Times of London wrote.

Testifying to the lack of able-bodied Russians, officials in the Kremlin have been drafting migrants who otherwise would be performing low-wage menial jobs into the Russian army, added the newspaper. These developments have led to ethnic tensions that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely wants to suppress so they don’t somehow complicate his war in Ukraine, contended the Kyiv Independent.

As the Diplomat explained, plenty of Muslims in Central Asia have fallen victim to radicalization exported from Afghanistan and elsewhere. Russia’s fight against jihadists in Syria and other places, furthermore, has made the country a target of the Islamic State and other militants. More than 2,000 Tajiks joined terror groups in Syria and Iraq between 2012 and 2018, for example.

Instability has helped foster support for the Islamic State in Tajikistan, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Soviet officials didn’t pay much attention to the country, leaving it underdeveloped. After the fall of the Soviet Union, a civil war in Tajikistan between 1992 and 1997 claimed 100,000 lives. The country is the poorest of the former Soviet republics. Seventy percent of the population live in remote, rural areas where child marriage, polygamy, and high unemployment rates among women are common.

“Few nations in history have seen their standing so dramatically reduced as the Tajiks have over the past 100 years,” wrote Concordia University religion and culture professor Richard Foltz, in the Conversation, attributing some of the blame to Russian policy toward Tajiks in that period. “Russia’s laughable attempt to somehow link the Moscow attacks to Ukraine is a clumsy diversion from the consequences of its relations with Central Asia.”


Critical Mass


Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian denied that Israel was behind a strike in central Iran this week, an attack that heightened worry over a regional war breaking out, while the United States approved a new aid package to the Jewish nation over the weekend, NBC News reported.

On Thursday, Israel conducted a strike on a military airfield near the Iranian city of Isfahan. Iranian officials said there were no casualties and the nuclear facilities in the area were not damaged.

Thursday’s attack followed a barrage of missiles and drones launched by Iran at Israel. That assault, although it caused little damage, marked the first time Tehran had staged an overt military attack on Israel.

The attack was in retaliation for a strike by Israel on an Iranian consular building in the Syrian capital of Damascus, which killed two generals and five officers in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In an interview with NBC, Amirabdollahian countered that Thursday’s incident “was not a strike” and described the weapons used as “more like toys that our (children) play with – not drones.” He went on to say that Iran was not planning any retaliatory attacks unless Israel launched a significant attack.

He also called the April 13 missile and drone strike a “warning” to Israel.

Israeli officials did not comment on Thursday’s strike.

Both countries have been locked in a shadow war for years, but the recent military exchanges come amid the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which began after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and its allies on southern Israel that killed more than 1,200 people and saw more than 240 taken hostage.

More than 34,000 people in Gaza have been killed in the conflict, the Guardian reported.

Amid the ongoing fighting, the international community has expressed concern about a major regional war between Israel, Iran and the latter’s proxies breaking out, prompting calls for deescalating tensions and a ceasefire. Talks in Egypt last week failed to reach an agreement between Israel and Hamas on a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the US House of Representatives approved a $26.4 billion aid package for Israel, that includes about $9 billion for aid to Gaza, according to CBS News.

At the same time, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition announced this week it is organizing a flotilla departing from Turkey to Gaza, intending to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the enclave to deliver aid, the Washington Post added.

The initiative seeks to draw attention to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has been exacerbated by obstacles to making deliveries by land. Despite potential opposition from Israel and regional governments, organizers are determined to proceed, highlighting the urgency of addressing the dire situation in Gaza, where residents face severe shortages of essential supplies.

Also over the weekend, thousands of people took to the streets of Tel Aviv in what have become almost weekly protests, with demonstrators demanding new elections and the return of the remaining hostages held in Gaza, Reuters reported.

The protests reflect widespread anger directed at the government: Many blame Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu for the security failures prior to the Oct. 7 attack and for not doing more to return the more than 130 hostages still being held.

Netanyahu has ruled out early elections, saying it would only reward Hamas. Polls show he would lose.

The Deluge


Tens of thousands of people protested across the Canary Islands over the weekend, calling on authorities to revise the Spanish archipelago’s tourism strategy over concerns that the model has made life unaffordable for the locals and is not sustainable for the environment, the Guardian reported.

Demonstrators marched under the banner “The Canaries have a limit,” with similar protests taking place in mainland Spain. Island authorities said around 20,000 people participated, but organizers estimated that nearly 50,000 marched across the archipelago.

The protests took place as some members of the collective “Canarias se Agota” (The Canaries Have Had Enough) have been holding a hunger strike for a week to protest the construction of two luxury megaprojects on the Canary Island of Tenerife, which they consider illegal and unnecessary.

The movement’s spokesperson Victor Martin criticized the local government’s focus on tourism, saying the island was experiencing climate issues, such as dry winters, that have led to a water emergency there.

He also noted that the housing situation in the Canary Islands has become very difficult for locals and workers because of high prices, low wages and a lack of public housing.

Martin and demonstrators noted that the movement is not anti-tourist and the islands are still open to visitors.

But they demand the government implement policies to resolve the issue: These include halting the completion of the Tenerife projects, a tourist moratorium and a study on the Canaries’ tourism-related problems.

Martin explained that a rethink of the tourism model “could put the Canaries on the map as an example of sustainable tourism development.”

Nearly 14 million people visited the Spanish archipelago last year, with tourism making up around 35 percent of its gross domestic product. Even so, residents lament the strain on natural resources and housing affordability: Statistics show that almost 34 percent of Canaries’ residents face poverty.

In response, island authorities said they are already taking action and acknowledged that the region’s tourism strategy “could be perfected.”

In Spain, over-tourism has sparked protests in Barcelona and prompted other cities, such as Seville, to consider charging fees to visit major sites, such as the Plaza de España.

Some Remains the Same


Togo’s parliament approved a new constitution over the weekend that critics and opposition lawmakers described as “a coup d’état,” with the aim of keeping long-time President Faure Gnassingbé in power, the BBC reported.

The new charter will transform the small West African nation from a presidential to a parliamentary system. The country’s president will now be elected by parliament, serve two terms and the term of office shortened from five to four years.

The changes also created a new role, the president of the council of ministers, with extensive authority to manage government affairs, Reuters wrote. This position has no term limit.

Lawmakers initially approved the reforms last month, but Gnassingbé delayed their passage after widespread public anger.

Government officials and supporters said the new constitution would “improve democracy in the country” and reduce Gnassingbé’s powers to a ceremonial role. But opposition leaders pointed out that the amendments do not take into account the president’s time already spent in office, meaning that he could be in power until 2033.

Others noted that even after his tenure, Gnassingbe could be appointed as president of the council of ministers – in effect prime minister.

Gnassingbé has been in power since 2005, following the death of his father, Eyadema, who had ruled Togo for decades following a 1967 coup.

Some opposition parties and civil society groups called for mass demonstrations against the new constitution, with the high likelihood of a bringing about a strong government crackdown – a signature tactic under the Gnassingbés.


Seafaring Potters

Archaeologists unearthed dozens of pottery fragments on an island on the Great Barrier Reef dating back 2,000 to 3,000 years, marking the oldest pottery ever found in Australia, Science Alert reported.

Crafted from locally sourced clay and sand, the pottery challenges colonial stereotypes and showcases the innovation of Aboriginal communities. The excavation, led by researchers from Monash University, involved collaboration with Dingaal and Ngurrumungu Aboriginal community members over two years.

In their study, the research team wrote that the pottery pieces were found amid shellfish remains and charred plant materials on Jiigurru – or Lizard Island. Radiocarbon dating showed that the site was occupied as early as 6,510 years ago, with a significant population increase around 3,000 years ago.

These artifacts are older than previously discovered pottery in the Torres Strait and highlight Jiigurru’s significance as the earliest occupied offshore island in the region

“We think that the ancestors of contemporary Traditional Owners (of Jiigurru) were engaged in a very widespread trading system,” said co-author Sean Ulm. “So they traded technology, goods and ideas, knew how to make pottery, and made it locally.”

The knowledge of pottery-making, once prevalent among the ancient inhabitants of Jiigurru, has since been lost, possibly due to factors such as the arrival of British colonizers and the dispersion of communities over time.

Despite this, the excavation will help foster deeper connections between Indigenous communities and their ancestral lands, researchers said.

“Every bit of knowledge we gain helps us tell the story of (our ancestors),” noted Ngurrumungu elder Brian Cobus.

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