The World Today for May 30, 2024

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An Open Race

ICELAND

A 700,000-year-old glacier called Snæfellsjökull almost appeared on Iceland’s presidential ballot for June 1.

“It’s time to challenge the status quo and elect a candidate that symbolizes endurance, resilience, and global interconnectedness,” said campaigners who collected signatures for the glacier, which is featured in Jules Verne’s novel, ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, according to Firstpost. “Snæfellsjökull is already an emblem of Iceland and a custodian of geo-cultural wisdom, representing the very essence of stability and sustainability.”

The bid was unsuccessful, reported Positive News. But the move injected environmentalism into debates among Icelanders as they pondered who might next lead their Nordic island nation, wrote the Guardian, at a time when erupting volcanoes have forced thousands of Icelanders to evacuate their homes. A CNN video showed the stunning lava flows and the damage they’ve caused.

Icelanders now have around 76 other candidates potentially on the ballot when they head to the polls, noted Bloomberg, describing how the country’s online systems make it easy to enter the race. Scores of folks accidentally threw their hats in the ring via the country’s online election platform, in fact, before withdrawing.

These issues reflect Iceland’s small size and its more than a thousand years of democratic tradition. The country only has a population of 400,000 people, or slightly less than Tampa, Florida. As Le Monde explained, that number is 23 percent higher than the country’s population in 2008 when its banking sector collapsed due to the worldwide financial crisis. Foreign workers represent much of that gain. Immigrants are now 18 percent of the population in a country that has over the years severely restricted it. Unemployment is around 3 percent.

These newcomers to tiny Iceland have stirred controversies, however, especially as high inflation and interest rates put pressure on folks and the government’s controversial sale of its stake in a bank stirred protests. Officials sold their shares at a discount, noted Iceland Monitor.

The Icelandic parliament recently enacted legislation, for example, that absolves the government from fulfilling international human rights laws and other measures to protect immigrants in the country, the Reykjavik Grapevine reported. Critics of the measure said the country was abandoning its obligations. Supporters said they did not want taxpayers subsidizing migrants.

Former Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir, who resigned her job for the ceremonial post of president, saying she wanted to rise above politics, is now leading in the polls with almost 33 percent support among voters, wrote the Iceland Review. Political scientist Baldur Þórhallsson has around 27 percent support. Former Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr, a comedian, is drawing almost 20 percent.

The glacier is not predicted to win.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Weaponizing Insults

THAILAND

Thai authorities on Wednesday accused former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of violating the country’s strict royal insult laws, the latest twist in a long-running saga against one of Thailand’s most influential political figures, CNN reported.

The charges stem from comments he made during an interview with a South Korean newspaper in 2015, police said. Thaksin will be required to present himself to the attorney general’s office on June 18.

He has denied the allegations and reaffirmed his loyalty to the monarchy.

The recent charges come less than a year after the former leader, who governed Thailand from 2001 until his ousting in a military coup in 2006, returned to the country after 15 years in self-imposed exile.

Shortly after his arrival in August, he was sentenced to eight years in prison on a slew of charges, including conflict of interest, abuse of power and corruption. However, his sentence was reduced to one year in prison and he was later released on parole in February after serving six months in a police hospital.

The lèse-majesté charge against Thaksin is seen by some analysts as politically motivated. It comes a week after the Thai constitutional court accepted a petition seeking the removal of current Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over the appointment of Pichit Chuenban, a Thaksin aide with a criminal record, to his cabinet, wrote the South China Morning Post.

Observers suggest these actions aim to curb Thaksin’s influence: He heads the Shinawatra political dynasty that has dominated Thai politics for two decades.

Thaksin’s return came amid a political alliance between his Pheu Thai party and former military rivals following the May 2023 election.

Meanwhile, legal analysts and human rights groups said Thaksin’s indictment marks another use of Thailand’s strict royal defamation laws to stifle dissent.

Under the lèse-majesté laws, violators can face up to 15 years imprisonment for criticizing or insulting members of the royal family. Thaksin’s indictment follows the death of a young activist in pre-trial detention for breaking the lèse-majesté laws, sparking calls for legal reforms.

Since the 2020 youth-led protests demanding democratic reforms, more than 1,950 people, including 286 minors, have been prosecuted or charged by the previous military-backed government.

Despite a shift to civilian rule, rights advocates said surveillance and intimidation persist.

The Comeback

PAKISTAN

Militants set fire to a girl’s school in northwestern Pakistan Wednesday, the latest such attack in a region that was formerly a Pakistani Taliban stronghold, the Associated Press reported.

Police in North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said the assailants used kerosene to set fire to the school, which destroyed furniture, computers and books. No one was hurt in the attack.

No one has claimed responsibility for the incident but authorities suspect the perpetrators are Islamic militants who had previously targeted other girls’ educational institutions.

Wednesday’s attack follows other attacks earlier this month when unidentified militants bombed two other girls’ schools in North Waziristan.

The region was once a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group that is a close ally of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban leaders – although it remains a separate movement.

The Pakistani Taliban believe that women shouldn’t be educated and had orchestrated hundreds of attacks on girls’ schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province until their ousting in 2014 by Pakistan’s security forces, according to the Interpreter, a blog by the Australia-based think tank Lowy Institute.

The return of the Afghan Taliban to power in 2021 and their subsequent restrictions on women and girls pursuing education have emboldened the TPP to again enforce its creed in Pakistan’s tribal areas by force, analysts said.

Small Steps

HAITI

United Nations development director Garry Conille was appointed as Haiti’s new prime minister Tuesday, amid criticism of the lack of transparency in the process used to select him to lead the troubled country, Al Jazeera reported.

The nine-member transition council was formed following former Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation in April. Its mandate is to return Haiti to democracy and stability – armed groups and a humanitarian crisis have battered the island, where no election has been held since 2021 following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse that year.

Gang violence killed 1,500 people from January to March and has displaced more than 362,000.

Meanwhile, last week, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that Haiti’s healthcare system was nearing collapse, Agence France-Presse reported.

Conille, a doctor, has served as UNICEF’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean since January 2023. Appointed as Haiti’s prime minister in October 2011, he stepped down four months later after clashing with then-President Michel Martelly.

A member of the council told the Associated Press that the choice of Conille was made by a six-to-one vote. Two council members do not have voting rights.

Tuesday’s breakthrough came weeks after an initial attempt to appoint a prime minister failed. An initiative by four council members to name former Sports Minister Fritz Belizaire was withdrawn amid outrage over a lack of regard for the council’s protocol.

After Conille’s appointment, some civil society groups including the Montana Accord, criticized the lack of transparency by the council in selecting the prime minister and its pace.

The group accused the council of not taking any “consequential measures” since being installed as “the suffering of the people is getting worse, while the gangs are taking control of more territory and committing more crimes,” the AP wrote.

The new prime minister will succeed Michel Patrick Boisvert, who had an interim post after Henry resigned in April when he was locked out of Haiti after gangs seized Port-au-Prince’s airport.

Henry was on a visit to Kenya to discuss a UN-backed police mission led by the African nation.

That mission is aiming to assist Haiti’s beleaguered police force in fighting gang violence that has swept large parts of the country and seen 80 percent of Port-au-Prince fall under the control of criminal gangs.

After Conille’s nomination, the transition council will have to establish a provisional electoral commission to organize a presidential election by 2026, when the council’s mandate expires.

DISCOVERIES

The Missing River

Archaeologists have long wondered how the ancient Egyptians moved the massive materials they used to build the pyramids.

“Many of us who are interested in ancient Egypt are aware that the Egyptians must have used a waterway to build their enormous monuments … but nobody was certain of the location, the shape, the size, or proximity of this mega waterway to the actual pyramids site,” said Eman Ghoneim, lead author of a new study, in a statement.

Now, a groundbreaking discovery of a long-buried branch of the Nile River has potentially solved that age-old mystery.

Using radar satellite imagery, Ghoneim and his team discovered a 40-mile river branch that lay hidden under desert and farmland.

They named it Ahramat – “pyramids” in Arabic – and said the once mighty waterway ran by more than 30 pyramids, including the Great Pyramid of Giza

Field surveys and sediment cores also confirmed the presence of the river, which became increasingly covered by sand around 4,200 years ago due to a major drought.

This long-lost river likely played a crucial role in transporting heavy building materials and workmen to the pyramid sites, significantly simplifying what would otherwise have been a formidable logistical challenge.

The discovery aligns with recent efforts to understand and restore Egypt’s ancient wonders.

Earlier this year, a project was launched to restore the smallest of Giza’s three iconic pyramids to its original form more than 4,000 years ago.

Last year, an archeological team used a new novel technique that relies on rays of radiation from space to reveal a hidden 30-foot corridor inside the Giza pyramid.

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