The World Today for May 10, 2024

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Proximity Politics


Few countries have supported Ukraine’s fight against Russia more than Lithuania, a former Soviet republic on the Baltic Sea bordering Russia whose leaders have made eminently clear that they will live free of Moscow’s influence or die.

For example, earlier this year, Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda announced a $215 million aid package for Ukraine – a hefty sum for a small country of fewer than 3 million people, Euronews reported. The money will pay for ammunition and other military hardware.

Meanwhile, a battalion of American soldiers will remain indefinitely in the country to ward off potential Russian aggression, wrote the Kyiv Independent. Nausėda recently also made it easier for foreign defense firms to open and establish operations in the country, added Defense News. The president wants to avoid any shortage of guns and bullets if the Russians cross the border.

Lithuania as well as Poland – two countries that once formed a powerful united commonwealth that controlled a large chunk of territory now in Ukraine – have also pledged to help the Ukrainian government repatriate men who have fled their country’s military service, the Financial Times reported.

Who wins Lithuania’s presidential election on May 12 is therefore important on a European or even a global scale. The Lithuanian president is a non-partisan head of state, but the job is more than a ceremonial position; The president acts as commander of the armed forces and oversees foreign policy, among other responsibilities, noted the Associated Press.

Nausėda, a former banker who is running for re-election, is now expected to defeat his main rivals, lawyer Ignas Vėgėlė and Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė.

Vėgėlė, whom Lithuanian National Television and Radio described as a “vaccine opponent,” is running as an outsider and reformer. Šimonytė is also staunchly opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as she discussed with Business Insider. But, as the Robert Schuman Foundation explained, many Lithuanians feel she should have stepped down from her job before running for president.

Nausėda has made missteps. For example, he wrote a post on social media telling supporters who signed a petition to allow him to run for office that he would invite them to the coffee. “We will have a frank discussion about books, basketball, and the future of Lithuania,” he wrote. Unfortunately, as related by Politico, that offer amounted to a quid pro quo that was against the country’s election rules, and was criticized by the election commission and on social media.

The president then revised his offer – the invitation remained, but attendees would pay for their own java.


The Open-air Prison


Ukraine’s parliament on Wednesday passed a bill allowing convicts to voluntarily trade jail time for military service, part of an effort by the government to mobilize more soldiers in its fight against Russia – which includes an unpopular lowering of the draft age, Politico reported.

The bill drew inspiration from the practices of the Russian mercenary force, Wagner Group, the outlet noted. However, it differed in that those prisoners convicted of serious crimes – such as murder, rape and terrorism – would be ineligible to apply.

Under the new law, convicts could appeal to local courts to obtain conditional early release in exchange for military service that would last until the government announces a demobilization.

The convicts will only return to prison if they have committed another crime before the end of their service.

Ukraine has tried this type of recruitment before: After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Kyiv pardoned more than 300 prisoners who pledged to join the military. Justice Minister Denys Malyuska said thousands of others were interested in a similar scheme.

While introducing the bill in March, he had previously said that he saw nothing wrong in recruiting individuals who know how to kill – if those skills are directed against the enemy.

Nonetheless, after pressure from activist groups, parliament agreed to amendments to narrow the scope of the recruitment effort. Lawmakers and government officials who committed crimes will also be ineligible to benefit from the new law or reduce their jail time.

A Ukrainian watchdog, the Anti-Corruption Action Center, said this represented “a victory with a bitter taste,” because individuals from the presidential staff, heads of public companies and members of the judiciary can also apply.

Desperate for more soldiers, Ukraine hopes the law could allow up to 10,000 convicts to join the army’s ranks. A controversial bill to lower the draft age for men from 27 of age to 25 is still in the works.

The bill’s approval came after Russia hit Ukraine with one of its biggest missile attacks Wednesday. The strikes targeted the country’s energy sector in regions including Zaporizhzhia, home to a nuclear power plant, and Lviv.

The attacks occurred as Ukraine commemorated its Day of Remembrance of victory over Nazism at the end of World War II, CNN wrote.

Catching Up


Fiji’s high court on Thursday sentenced former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to one year in prison for influencing a 2019 graft investigation while he governed the Pacific Island nation, the Guardian reported.

The case is centered on allegations of financial mismanagement at the University of the South Pacific, one of the top universities in the Pacific and collectively owned by 12 nations in the region. Its main campus is in Suva, the capital of Fiji.

Prosecutors charged Bainimarama – the country’s prime minister at the time – with perverting the course of justice by telling the then-Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho to drop the investigation.

Suspended Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho received a two-year prison sentence on a conviction for abuse of office, the Fiji Times newspaper reported.

Both men initially avoided convictions last year in a lower court, but the case moved to other tribunals before the high court’s ruling Thursday, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Thursday’s conviction is just one in a series of charges the former long-serving leader faces after his ousting from office following his party’s loss in the 2022 general elections.

Bainimarama first came to power in a coup in 2006, and later won democratic elections in 2014 and 2018. He remains an influential figure in Fijian politics, although his 16-year rule was marked by tense relations with Pacific nations, including New Zealand and Australia.

He received praise abroad for his efforts to push for stronger action on climate change.

However, critics made allegations of corruption against his officials and complained of tough restrictions on civil liberties.

Meanwhile, his supporters have labeled the legal challenges against him as a witch hunt.

In spite of his conviction, he is expected to remain the leader of the FijiFirst party, party officials said.

Back to Business


Kenyan doctors returned to work Friday, two days after they reached an agreement with the government to end nearly two months of strikes that crippled hospitals and left patients in limbo, the Voice of America reported.

On Wednesday, the government and the doctors’ union which represents 7,000 physicians signed a return-to-work deal following weeks of negotiations and legal battles over salary and working conditions.

The strike began in mid-March over payment disputes: Some doctors voiced concerns over a 2017 collective bargaining agreement, particularly regarding raises, medical insurance coverage for doctors and their dependents, as well as risk and emergency allowances.

Officials had previously refused to fully implement the 2017 deal because of financial constraints and concerns that other sectors would demand similar treatment for their employees.

Davji Atellah, the union secretary general, said doctors agreed to trust the government to implement a deal aimed at resolving the issues that triggered the strikes. Still, he added that the matter of hiring intern doctors is still pending, but that they will fight for it.

The walkouts put a strain on Kenya’s healthcare sector, prompting some hospitals to hire temporary doctors for emergency services, the Associated Press noted.

The strike came as Kenya reels from devastating floods that have impacted some 235,000 people since mid-March when the rainy season began.


Hopping to New Heights

In Australia and the neighboring island of New Guinea, paleontologists have found evidence of three unknown extinct species of kangaroos, the Independent reported.

All three species existed between 5 million and 40,000 years ago and belong to a genus that has since disappeared, Protemnodon.

Though fossils of that genus are often found across Australia, their scattered locations have made it difficult for scientists to establish species, Popular Science explained. In this study, researchers analyzed fossils found in Lake Callabonna in South Australia.

One of the species they discovered, Protemnodon viator – whose Latin name indicates it used to travel – thrived in central Australia and weighed up to 375 pounds, twice as much as the largest red kangaroo still living today.

The scientists said it had long limbs and hopped quickly.

The other two species they found hopped differently, and even suggested that one, Protemnodon mamkurra, walked on four legs and only hopped occasionally, “perhaps just when startled.”

The researchers added that the animals roamed Australia’s arid deserts as well as Tasmania and New Guinea’s tropical rainforests. It’s rare for members of a single genus to live in different habitats, they explained.

Though the Protemnodon went extinct in Australia 40 millennia ago, they may have survived a bit longer in Tasmania and New Guinea.

How they disappeared from Earth’s surface remains a mystery.

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