The World Today for June 17, 2024

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Just Say No

CANADA

Two years ago, officials in British Columbia decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamines to end the stigma that often keeps addicts from seeking help.

“Addiction is a health issue, not a criminal one,” wrote the western Canadian province’s website. “Decriminalizing people who use drugs is one of the many actions B.C. is taking to respond to the toxic drug crisis that is killing our loved ones, so people live to get the care they need – from prevention and harm reduction to treatment and recovery.”

The problem was, more drug users started shooting up, smoking, nodding off, and sometimes perishing in parks, on beaches and on public transportation. A record 2,511 drug deaths occurred in British Columbia last year, reported the New York Times, noting that overdoses claimed more lives of individuals between the ages of 10 and 59 than homicides, suicides, accidents, and natural causes. More than 42,000 have died for similar reasons since 2016.

Folks had enough. Last month, officials in the province recriminalized hard drugs, banning people from using in public spaces, the BBC reported. Possessing small amounts of hard drugs is still legal, but use must occur in residences, clinical settings and other safe spaces.

Politics played a big role in the shift. The center-left New Democratic Party that runs British Columbia championed the soft-on-drugs policy. In the run-up to provincial elections in November, however, the Conservative Party has gained in the polls after they pledged to adopt nearby Alberta’s “recovery-oriented approach,” which aims to help users overcome their addiction rather than reduce the harm their habits might cause, according to the Washington Post.

Still, opioid-related deaths in Alberta have increased significantly over the past year, according to Health Canada. And the rate of opioid deaths per 100,000 people through the first 10 months of 2023 in Alberta was only slightly below the rate in British Columbia.

Meanwhile, the concerns over the soft-on-drugs policy are echoing in the federal capital of Ottawa, too. Officials in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party recently rejected Toronto’s request to decriminalize drugs, the BBC noted, citing public safety and the unpopularity of the request.

Before that decision, Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre blasted Trudeau for even considering Toronto’s request, reported Canada’s Global News. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a conservative, opposed the move, too, the Toronto Sun added, saying he didn’t want a drug epidemic to explode in his province.

In another potential sign of the shift in attitude, law enforcement in British Columbia recently charged two drug decriminalization advocates with trafficking after they said they would give pure cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin to addicts in a “compassion club,” added the Guardian.

Unfortunately, these developments don’t get at the heart of the problem, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation analysis found, noting that whether or not illicit drug use is criminalized, people keep turning to these risky substances.

“One conclusion to be drawn … might be that the scourge of opioid addiction continues to defy simple answers,” the broadcaster wrote. “But all such nuance is in danger of being drowned out by the shouting.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Let’s Make a Deal

SOUTH AFRICA

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected for a second term over the weekend after his African National Congress (ANC) reached a coalition agreement with three other parties following last month’s dismal showing for the party in the general election, Al Jazeera reported.

The ANC, which dominated South Africa’s politics since the end of apartheid in 1994, lost its majority for the first time in the May 29 parliamentary vote, paving the way for coalition talks with other parties.

On Friday, the anti-apartheid movement reached a deal with the main opposition party and rival Democratic Alliance (DA) to form a unity government. The coalition will also include two other parties, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Patriotic Alliance.

Soon after the agreement was signed, lawmakers participated in a marathon parliamentary session to reelect Ramaphosa, despite a boycott from the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party of former President Jacob Zuma, who fell out with the ANC.

Meanwhile, parliament picked a lawmaker from the ANC and the DA as its speaker and deputy speaker, respectively – the first instance of power-sharing between the two parties.

Ramaphosa hailed the new coalition deal as a “new birth, a new era for our country,” adding that it was time for parties “to overcome their differences and to work together.”

The agreement marks the end of the ANC’s dominance in the country’s politics: The party of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela has been losing popularity in recent years amid rising poverty, inequality, spiking crime, and corruption scandals.

Despite ending the political gridlock, analysts said the new coalition agreement is raising questions about whether the two parties will be able to govern effectively, the Associated Press noted.

They disagree on numerous issues, including nationalization and privatization of key industries, healthcare, labor rights and foreign policy, such as South Africa’s pro-Palestine stance.

The coalition agreement has caused internal divisions within the ANC, too, with some senior leaders preferring a coalition with Zuma’s MK or the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, the BBC added.

To the Streets

BRAZIL

Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets in cities across the country over the weekend to protest a bill that would equate abortions with homicide, including in cases where the pregnancy is the result of a rape, Le Monde reported.

On Saturday, about 10,000 demonstrators – predominantly women – marched through São Paulo to protest the new measure, with demonstrations also taking place in other cities, including Rio de Janeiro and the capital, Brasilia.

The proposed law, supported by conservative lawmakers, would equate abortions after 22 weeks with homicide.

Currently, Brazil permits abortion only in cases of rape, a significant risk to the mother’s life, or when the fetus has no functioning brain. Violating this law results in prison sentences of up to three years.

But the new bill would offer sentences of up to 20 years. Health professionals carrying out the procedure would also be punished.

Supporters of the bill said that Brazil’s 1940 penal code did not account for modern abortion capabilities, equating late-term abortion with infanticide. However, the bill is seen as a political move to galvanize Evangelical support ahead of municipal elections in October.

Critics say such late-term abortions are often sought by child rape survivors who detect their pregnancies much later than most women. They also pointed out that convicted rapists are usually sentenced to around 10 years, according to the BBC.

Data from 2022 showed that of the 74,930 rape victims in Brazil, 61.4 percent were under 14, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety. Researchers highlight that late-term abortion restrictions disproportionately affect children, poor women, Black women, and those in rural areas.

Left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, facing pressure from both sides, emphasized treating abortion as a public health issue while denouncing the harsh penalties proscribed by the bill.

Feminist movements across Latin America have recently achieved significant victories, with Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina moving toward decriminalizing or legalizing abortion.

Brazil’s top court also began considering decriminalization last year.

Throwing the Dice

FRANCE

Hundreds of thousands of people marched across France over the weekend to protest against the country’s far-right National Rally party as polls project it to secure more seats than ever before in parliamentary elections later this month, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Officials said more than 250,000 people demonstrated in various French cities, including Paris, Marseilles, Nice, and Toulouse.

In the capital, around 75,000 marched on Paris’ streets, displaying anti-racist slogans and pro-Palestinian messages, France24 reported. Anti-racism groups, unions, student groups and a new coalition of left-leaning parties also joined the rallies.

The mass demonstrations follow historic gains by the National Rally of Marine Le Pen and other far-right parties in the European Parliament elections earlier this month. The Renaissance party of President Emmanuel Macron won about 15 percent of the vote in those elections, while the far-right group won roughly 32 percent, NPR wrote.

After the results were final, Macron dissolved the National Assembly last week and called for an early vote that will take place in two rounds on June 30 and July 7. Analysts called the move a major gamble for the embattled leader, who is hoping to muster enough support in parliament for his remaining three years as president.

But the decision could be costly for Macron as polls show that Le Pen’s forces would qualify for the runoffs and gain up to 270 seats – just a little short of the majority needed in the 577-seat lower house.

If National Rally becomes the biggest party, it would have a stronger voice in picking the next prime minister and would be able to effectively block Macron’s policies, making him a lame duck, analysts added.

Macron said he will remain president until the end of his second term in 2027. Le Pen claimed that she will not seek his resignation if National Rally wins, Politico added.

DISCOVERIES

Woolly Luxury

Muslims around the world are celebrating the holiday of Eid al-Adha this week to commemorate the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismail, as an act of obedience to God.

The celebration generally involves the slaughter and consumption of sheep, so the animals are in high demand near the holiday.

In Senegal, however, one special type of sheep is always spared, noted the Associated Press.

Meet the King of Sheep, the prized Ladoum, a breed that is considered the Ferrari of sheep and can command prices of up to $70,000 in the West African nation, where the average annual income is less than $5,000. As a result, to own one is the ultimate status symbol.

It is, as National Geographic noted, the most expensive sheep in the world.

“Owning a Ladoum differentiates you from other people,” chef Fatou Sen told Quartz Africa in 2022. “Ladoums are for the stars, not ordinary people.”

The majestic-looking breed is a cross between the Mauritanian Touabire and the Malian Bali-bali sheep. Weighing up to 397 pounds, these sheep are praised for their glossy fur and symmetrical horns.

Although smaller Ladoums may be sacrificed, it’s the big ones that get pampered: The woolly creatures spend their days getting groomed and fed vitamins in special parlors.

Some Ladoum even compete in beauty pageants, popular in the West African nation.

And because they are so valuable, sheep theft has become a problem for some breeders and owners, the Guardian noted.

Meanwhile, the wooly creatures also serve as emotional support animals.

“When you are stressed out and you go in front of the sheep, you are cool,” Ladoum parlor owner, Ball Gadiaga, told the AP. “You feel at ease.”

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