The World Today for May 28, 2024

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Stopping the Hopping


Voters in Vanuatu, an archipelago in the South Pacific, will decide on May 29 whether to approve two constitutional amendments that would compel their lawmakers to choose – and stick with – a single political party rather than switch in the middle of their terms.

The amendments reflect concern among Vanuatuans about the stability of their government, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Last year, the country cycled through three prime ministers due to no-confidence votes. The last prime minister, incumbent Charlot Salwai, hopes that preventing lawmakers from switching parties might bring some constancy to the capital of Port Vila.

Some voters are supporting the amendments because they at least try to address the country’s political problems.

“I wholeheartedly support the ‘yes’ vote to halt this practice, as it is a key factor causing instability and hindering development,” Lopez Adams, a businessman in Port Vila, told BenarNews, an outlet affiliated with Radio Free Asia. “Using someone to ascend a ladder and then shifting to another (party) is unethical and lacks principles.”

But critics have plenty to say about the amendments and the process that is putting them before voters. Former prime minister and parliamentary opposition leader Ishmael Kalsakau resigned from office recently, for instance, because Salwai rebuffed his suggestion to put the referendum off for a year. Voters have had only two months to consider the amendments, wrote Radio New Zealand.

The amendments will likely not function as planned, too, argued professor of comparative politics Jonathan Fraenkel at Victoria University of Wellington. Politicians will find loopholes that will help them extend or withdraw support for different leaders. Parliamentary officers like the speaker will become more politicized as they enforce these rules, too – potentially leading to new crises.

International pressures are also at play. Many Vanuatuans live in New Caledonia, a French territory where locals have staged deadly protests in favor of independence, clashing with those who want to remain part of France, wrote Asia Pacific Report. Six people have died in the protests, reported CNN, raising questions about whether Vanuatuans will be able to cast ballots.

Like other small countries in the region, powerful forces are working to sway Vanuatuan leaders to ally with the West or China, the country’s biggest creditor, noted Al Jazeera. Kalsakau, for instance, reached a security pact with Australia that his rivals said would compromise the country’s neutrality. The country could use Chinese financing for important services, for example, to relaunch Air Vanuatu, a state-owned carrier that recently filed for bankruptcy, according to the Associated Press.

But first, analysts say, the country arguably needs a strong and stable executive who can make the hard decisions necessary to grapple with these issues.


Rocks and Hard Places


A devastating landslide buried more than 2,000 people in a remote Papua New Guinea village and work camp this week, authorities told the United Nations Monday, a disaster that has been exacerbated by the difficulty in delivering aid and fears of tribal violence, the Associated Press reported.

The disaster occurred in Enga Province in the early hours of Friday morning when residents were asleep. The landslide caused major destruction to buildings and essential food plots, with the UN estimating that more than 250 houses were abandoned and roughly 1,250 people were displaced.

Enga Province, near the Porgera gold mine operated by Canadian and Chinese companies, is densely populated and situated in difficult jungle terrain.

Officials visited the site Sunday where they initially projected the death toll at a few dozen people, before revising it steeply upward. They expect it to grow over the coming days.

Rescue operations have also been hampered by blocked highways and unstable ground. An aid convoy delivered tarps and water Saturday, and local authorities secured provisions for 600 people.

However, heavy equipment has yet to reach the site, leaving residents to search for bodies with small tools.

Complicating rescue efforts are tribal tensions, with local representatives warning that the region has experienced tribal clashes in recent months. Amid fears of post-disaster violence, two clans fought against each other Saturday, an incident that resulted in fatalities and saw dozens of houses burned down.

Papua New Guinea, characterized by its tropical climate and diverse tribal, ethnic, and linguistic groups, is rich in natural resources but remains largely underdeveloped, making it particularly susceptible to natural disasters.

Popular Pariah


Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) was expelled from the Identity and Democracy (ID) political group in the European Parliament this month following a series of scandals that have damaged the far-right party’s popularity and sparked concerns about rising extremism in the movement, Politico reported.

The expulsion came last week after Maximilian Krah, the AfD’s lead candidate for next month’s European elections, told an Italian newspaper that not all members of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary group “Schutzstaffel” (SS) were criminals, prompting a severe backlash.

Krah’s remarks prompted the AfD to suspend him and ban him from public appearances. The anti-immigrant group blamed Krah for causing “massive damage to the party in the current election campaign, for which the candidate had provided the pretext.”

Despite his expulsion, Krah’s comments also drew criticism from the ID bloc: Marie Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Rally party, which is also part of the ID bloc, said she no longer wants to sit with the AfD, adding that it is “clearly controlled by radical groups.”

The grouping voted to expel the AfD, two weeks before millions of Europeans will cast their ballots to elect lawmakers in the European Parliament.

The move also comes as some AfD officials and leaders have been embroiled in a number of scandals in recent months that have impacted the party’s popularity.

In January, a report found that AfD politicians participated in a secret meeting where right-wing extremists proposed a plan of “remigration” that would deport foreigners and “unassimilated” citizens.

Recent incidents also include allegations that some AfD members are spying for China and accepting bribes from Russia. Earlier this month, AfD regional leader Björn Höcke was fined for using banned Nazi slogans.

Also in May, a German court ruled that the country’s domestic security service can continue spying on the AfD because of the threat it poses to Germany’s democracy.

Political analysts Lorenz Blumenthaler told CNN that the AfD only acts when electoral prospects are threatened. The suspension of Krah, this close to an election, is seen as a drastic step reflecting internal party crises and potential impacts on voters’ perceptions.

Others suggested that expulsion is also part of an effort by European far-right parties to appear more moderate to their electorate.

But despite these issues and concerns of increasing radicalism within the group, observers said the party remains resilient in Germany and is polling higher than each of the three parties in the country’s ruling coalition.

No Quarter


Gunmen killed 10 people and kidnapped at least 160 others from a village in central Nigeria this week, the latest abductions that human rights groups say underscore the deteriorating security situation in the West African country, the BBC reported Monday.

Local officials said a large number of armed men entered the village of Kuchi in the Niger state over the weekend. Most of the kidnapped individuals were women and children, while the casualties included local hunters who were providing security for the area.

The gunmen are suspected to be members of the Islamist group Boko Haram. They reportedly had time to cook, drink tea and loot houses before leaving the village two hours later.

Niger state has experienced an increasing number of attacks in recent years, although it is unclear if all the attacks are led by jihadist groups.

Amnesty International blamed Nigerian authorities for failing to prevent the Kuchi invasion.

The advocacy group explained that the village has faced constant attacks since 2021, with gunmen sexually assaulting women and girls, as well as demanding high ransoms for those kidnapped.

They called on security forces to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“Frequent mass abductions and killings are clear evidence of the failure of authorities to protect the people,” it added.


Ready for Battle

In 1960, archaeologists found body armor in the village of Dendra, near what was once the ancient Greek city of Mycenae, with a helmet clad with boars’ tusks and a suit consisting of bronze plates.

While it appeared quite sturdy, archaeologists wondered whether Mycenaean soldiers used it in battle or if it was only ceremonial.

Now, after a group of scientists tested the armor’s effectiveness, they found that it could survive hours of intense warfare, LiveScience reported.

That’s because early metalworkers and smiths strongly kept to the “built to last” standard when making their products, according to a new study on Bronze Age armor that dates back 3,500 years.

To learn how these ancient artisans achieved this, the researchers developed nearly identical replicas of the artifact using the closest alloy to the original bronze material. The team also copied the measurements right down to the “dimension, curvature and perforations of the original.”

They then equipped 13 soldiers from the Hellenic Armed Forces with the armor and weapon replicas and had them simulate 11-hour Bronze Age battles.

The simulations were based on historical data taken from Homer’s “The Iliad,” an epic account of the Trojan War.

“We extracted the information needed to create a Late Bronze Age combat simulation protocol, replicating the daily activities performed by elite warriors in the Late Bronze Age,” the team wrote in their paper.

This data also included combat conditions, such as the climate in that period and the diet Mycenaean soldiers subsisted on – the latter was made up of bread, beef, goat’s cheese, green olives, onions, and red wine.

The findings found that the 51-pound armor did not hinder movement or cause significant strain. Participants engaged in various combat scenarios, such as duels and chariot battles, demonstrating that the armor was practical for combat, not merely ceremonial.

“We found that the armor allowed full flexibility of movement and did not exert excessive physiological stress on the body,” lead author Andreas Flouris said in a statement. “This means … the armor could be worn for extended periods by fit individuals in battle.”

Correction: In Monday’s THE WORLD, BRIEFLY section, we said in our “A Matter of Interpretation” item that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital. It is in fact Jerusalem. We apologize for the error.

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