The World Today for June 28, 2024

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Match Point

FRANCE

French authorities recently charged two boys aged 12 and 13 with raping a 12-year-old girl in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie in what they believe was an anti-Semitic attack. The boys mentioned Palestine during the incident, according to a lawyer and Jewish leader quoted by the Associated Press.

This story is horrific and comes after French President Emmanuel Macron called snap French legislative elections on June 30 and July 7, after far-right parties in France and throughout Europe won big in recent European Parliamentary elections.

Macron called the elections to force a face-off between his allies and the far-right (and far-left) politicians who have been criticizing his centrist policies. His gamble is that, when put to the test, French voters aren’t as extreme as the recent European Parliamentary ballot suggested. The move was daring and arguably foolhardy: Foreign Policy magazine described Macron as a “pyromaniac firefighter, or someone who sets fires to put them out.”

Macron has good reason to think the same results won’t occur, however. As World Politics Review explained, the European elections use proportional voting, with each party receiving the percentage of legislative seats equaling their share of the vote, while French elections use single-member constituencies.

Still, the alleged rape in Courbevoie is exactly the sort of crime that far-right French candidates would blame on Muslim migrants, and their advocates, who have flooded into Europe from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia in recent years.

Marine Le Pen, the figurehead for the far-right National Rally party, for instance, immediately blamed leftists for the incident, saying they have stigmatized Israel for its devastating response in the Gaza Strip to Hamas’ devasting attack on Israel on Oct. 7, reported Euronews.

As the investigators look into the French attack, meanwhile, the campaign continues.

Appealing to French voters seeking widespread change, National Rally President Jordan Bardella said he needs an absolute majority to push through policies to end migration, cut fuel taxes designed to fight climate change, and other left-of-center policies, Reuters wrote.

Macron’s inner circle is not happy, Politico added. The upcoming vote will greatly impact the 2027 election when the French choose a new president. Macron will not be able to run for reelection, but no liberal exists at present to take his place yet. Perhaps a champion will emerge from the legislative elections. Or perhaps Macron’s allies will suffer losses that will consign them to the dust heap of history.

It’s a toss-up that voters will decide.

Meanwhile, the elections are coming just before the Olympics begin. Some worry that they could impact the Games, especially if no party gets a majority.

“France risks becoming ungovernable (then),” Karim Émile Bitar, a political analyst at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris, told the Washington Times. “What’s also likely to happen is a third round (of elections) on the streets with massive demonstrations from both sides that could jeopardize the Olympics.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

In and Out

BOLIVIA

Bolivian authorities arrested a military leader on Wednesday evening hours after he apparently led a failed coup attempt during which soldiers stormed the presidential palace, the BBC reported.

Gen. Juan José Zúñiga, whose military command had been withdrawn a few days before, had ordered troops to gather on Plaza Murillo, a central square in the capital La Paz where the presidential palace and the parliament are located.

Eyewitness footage showed a military vehicle ramming the palace’s doors as soldiers forced themselves in.

In response to the attempted coup, left-wing President Luis Arce urged Bolivians to “organize and mobilize against the coup in favor of democracy.”

Zúñiga, appointed army commander in 2022, said he wanted to “restructure democracy” in Bolivia.

On Monday, he said he would arrest former President Evo Morales, a controversial figure in the country, if he ran in the upcoming general election. That comment cost him his job on Tuesday.

After the coup attempt was launched, Arce was seen confronting Zúñiga inside the palace, asking him to stand down.

Amid the chaos, the president then appointed a new trio at the head of the Bolivian armed forces, replacing him with Gen. Jose Wilson Sanchez.

In his first speech, Sanchez ordered military units to withdraw from Plaza Murillo and the streets, an order followed by putschists. The vehicle carrying Zúñiga was the first to retreat, TeleSur reported.

Later that night, the former army leader told reporters Arce had asked him to organize the coup to boost the president’s popularity. He was arrested seconds after and taken to an unknown location.

Opposition Senator Andrea Barrientos said she agreed with Zúñiga’s claims that Arce orchestrated the coup himself, while Bolivia’s government faces a tough economic and judicial crisis with skyrocketing living costs and plummeting foreign exchange reserves.

The country is also bracing for a tense election next year, Reuters wrote. Morales, who ran Bolivia between 2006 and 2019 before being ousted by protestors and the military, is expected to run against Arce, though the two men are from the same socialist party and used to be allies.

Nonetheless, Morales also condemned the coup, along with conservative figure and ex-interim President Jeanine Áñez, who was imprisoned in 2022, and Latin American governments across the political spectrum.

Meanwhile, the US government said it was closely monitoring the situation and called for calm.

Last Minute Changes

IRAN

Two Iranian presidential candidates withdrew their candidacies this week as voters in Iran head to the polls this Friday to pick the country’s next president following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month, Al Jazeera reported.

On Thursday, hardline contender Alireza Zakani, the mayor of the capital Tehran, announced his withdrawal from the race, a day after another candidate, Vice President Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, dropped his bid to run in the early polls.

Hashemi also the other conservative contenders to unite “so that the front of the revolution will be strengthened,” while Zakani called on them to stop reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian from winning the June 28 polls, according to Radio Free Europe.

Currently, only four candidates remain that will contest Friday’s polls comes a little more than a month after the death of hardliner Raisi and other senior Iranian officials.

The conservative camp consists of former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and Parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf. Observers noted that there were expectations that one of them would withdraw in order to back the other, with supporters warning of a split conservative vote if there is no consensus.

Meanwhile, Pezeshkian has received support from pro-reformist parties and moderates, including former President Hassan Rouhani – who is remembered for the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Another surprising candidate is cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who has been accused as a “notorious human rights violator” by the US State Department over his role in the 1988 mass execution of several thousand political prisoners at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, the Associated Press noted.

Even so, the conservative Pourmohammadi has befuddled many in Iran for proposing a series of reformist ideas, including pledges to end the country’s morality police and calling for negotiations with the United States, according to the Middle East Eye.

Still, opinion polls show Pezeshkian performing better than his conservative rivals, but that his success will depend on voter turnout.

Previous Iranian presidential elections saw low voter participation, prompting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to call for a “maximum” turnout in the June 28 polls.

Seek and Protect

SOUTH AFRICA

South African scientists this week injected radioactive material into live rhino horns to make them detectable at border posts, in a pioneering effort to combat rhino poaching, CBS News reported.

South Africa is home to the majority of the world’s rhinos but it is facing significant issues with poaching because of demand in Asia, where horns are used for traditional medicine.

Around 15,000 rhinos live in the southern African nation, according to an estimate by the International Rhino Foundation.

The initiative, led by James Larkin from the University of the Witwatersrand, involves implanting “tiny little radioactive chips” into the rhino horns. The chips will render the horns “poisonous for human consumption”, but will not harm the animals or the environment.

Named “Rhisotope,” the project aims to make the horns detectable by radiation detectors at ports, airports and international borders to help deter illegal trade.

Despite government efforts, rhino poaching remains rampant in South Africa, with 499 rhinos killed in 2023, an 11 percent increase from the previous year.

The Rhisotope project plans to involve 20 rhinos initially, Agence France-Presse wrote.

Conservationist Arrie Van Deventer expressed hope that this innovative approach might finally stop poaching, as previous methods like dehorning and poisoning horns have been ineffective.

Researchers explained that the radioactive material in the horns will last up to five years and the project will ensure the animals’ aftercare and follow scientific and ethical protocols.

The high demand for rhino horns is driven by their purported medicinal properties and continues to fuel an illegal market.

Efforts to protect rhinos have included relocating them and removing their horns safely, but poaching surged during the Covid-19 pandemic due to funding shortages in conservation areas.

DISCOVERIES

My Kingdom for a Horse

Domesticated animals deserve a lot of praise for humanity’s advancements over thousands of years.

A lot of that credit goes to horses, which have contributed to transport, hunting and warfare.

Historians lately have been investigating the origins of this human-horse bond. Now, a new genetic study has pinpointed the when and where of this domestication.

Researchers believe that humans began to harness the power of horses around 2200 BCE, about 1,000 years later than previously believed, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Writing in the journal Nature, scientists analyzed DNA from 475 ancient horse genomes and 77 modern breeds, uncovering that the domestication of modern horses traces back to the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

This region, stretching across modern-day Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, saw the rise of a dominant horse lineage around 4,200 years ago. Within just a few centuries, these horses had spread across Eurasia, transforming from local assets to global game-changers.

“We saw this genetic type spreading almost everywhere in Eurasia – clearly this horse type that was local became global very fast,” co-author Ludovic Orlando told the Associated Press.

Orlando and his colleagues explained that the findings challenge previous, long-held theories about the origin of equine domestication.

Previously, scholars suggested the Botai people of what is now Kazakhstan first domesticated horses around 3500 BCE for meat and milk. However, this practice did not endure, and horses continued to roam wild.

The new findings suggest it was the Bronze Age Sintashta culture that made successful strides in domesticating the animals for mobility around 2200 BCE, propelling human societies into a new era of expansion and connectivity.

The DNA analysis also disputes last year’s study that showed the Yamnaya people, known for their migrations across Europe and Asia around 3300 BCE, were the first horse riders.

Meanwhile, the new genetic evidence also underscores changes in the horse genome, including a mutation that likely made them easier to ride. The domestication process led to reduced genetic diversity and shorter generational intervals, from seven years to four, indicating intensified human-directed breeding.

“Humans changed the horse genome stunningly quickly, perhaps because we already had experience dealing with animals,” paleogeneticist Laurent Frantz, who was not involved in the study, told AP. “It shows the special place of horses in human societies.”

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