The World Today for July 04, 2024

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NEED TO KNOW

‘A Radical Reset’

UNITED KINGDOM

In late May, just six weeks before the election, British Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that he would introduce a National Service plan to allow young people to “gain valuable skills, make our country more secure and build a stronger national culture.”

The reaction was fierce.

“Does (Sunak) want us to vote for him?” wondered Mathew Matos Gillingwater, 22, as reported by the Washington Post. “Is he trying to get ousted?”

Whether that is Sunak’s intention or not, it’s likely on July 4 when Brits go to the polls that he will be out, along with his party, which has governed the island country on the edge of Western Europe for 14 years. Ironically, Sunak called a snap election to energize his base in the hope that he might receive a mandate to retain power.

Regardless, voters are fed up with the Conservatives’ handling of the economy, which has been stagnating. Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, said her policies would be innovative and liberating, but instead caused turmoil, earning her ousting in 2022, as the BBC explained. Sunak has struggled to improve the mess he inherited, mitigate the arguably insurmountable trade problems associated with Brexit – the European Union is the United Kingdom’s biggest trading partner – or release a plan to revive the moribund British economy. Instead, Brits are extremely cynical about their future, according to Gallup.

Meanwhile, recent allegations that he presided over officials betting on the timing of the election based on their inside information has further undermined the prime minister’s chances at winning at the polls, reported Al Jazeera.

“(The scandal fueled) the perception that we operate outside the rules we set for others,” Michael Gove, one of the Conservatives’ highest-profile lawmakers, told the Times of London. “That was damaging at the time of Partygate and it is damaging here.”

Sunak also failed to create a campaign infrastructure that could capitalize on the energy that a snap election might generate, argued World Politics Review. Meanwhile, his personal messaging, like when he describes the racism he and his family have experienced in the UK as South Asians, as the Guardian described, probably won’t be enough to persuade sufficient voters of his fitness for the job.

King Charles III is likely to be happy with the change in personnel: On issues like climate change, housing, immigration, and relations with the EU, the monarch is almost certainly more sympathetic to the man expected to replace Sunak: Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, the New York Times wrote.

Starmer is a center-left moderate who models himself after former Labour titan Tony Blair, in office from 1997 to 2007, contended Politico. Like Blair, Starmer has pledged economic stability, improving the public healthcare system – where delays can be heartbreaking – adopting a “tough but realistic” stance on migration, and similar middle-of-the-road proposals.

Starmer, who called for the end of the monarchy in his youth but accepted a knighthood in 2014, would describe himself as a socialist and progressive, University of Sussex political sociologist Luke Martell wrote in the Conversation. But he has purged the Labor Party of the leftists allied with his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s militant political network, incidentally, has found a new home in the Palestinian solidarity movement in the UK, according to Middle East Eye.

Other past faces are back from the dead, such as Nigel Farage and his Reform UK party. The party may only win a very small number of seats, but nonetheless is drawing a very significant tranche of support from former Conservative voters disaffected with the current government, and by splitting the vote will cost Sunak’s party dearly, Politico noted.

Meanwhile, some of the most stalwart supporters of the Conservatives over the past decades, including the Times of London, the Sunday Times and the Financial Times have endorsed Labour.

The Sunday Times said in an editorial that the country needs a “radical reset” after 14 years of Conservative rule and that the country could not carry on with an “exhausted” party. “There comes a time when change is the only option.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Never Too Late

JAPAN

Japan’s top court on Wednesday ruled that a now-defunct post-war law allowing the forced sterilizations of people with disabilities was unconstitutional, and demanded the government pay damages to thousands of victims, the Guardian reported.

The 15 judges’ unanimous verdict brought relief to victims and their relatives, ending a decades-long legal battle, with the government arguing to the court that it was already too late to launch legal procedures over the matter.

But it would never be too late for those who suffered the sterilizations: “I was robbed of my life and I want it back,” said one 81-year-old victim.

The so-called Eugenic Protection law, enacted in 1948, saw more than 25,000 people as young as nine sterilized because they had genetic physical or mental disorders, according to a report released by the Japanese government in 2023.

Most sterilizations occurred during the baby boom period, between the 1950s and the 1970s. The law was repealed in 1996.

About 16,500 people were operated on without their consent. Lawyers said another 8,500, who authorities claim gave their approval, were “de facto forced” because of intense pressure. Doctors were also allowed to use physical restraint, anesthesia, and “deception,” according to a government notice from 1953.

The Supreme Court, arguing that the purpose of the eugenics law was not legitimate “even considering the social situation at the time,” said it violated parts of the constitution stipulating the right to equality and respect for personal dignity and integrity, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported.

The debate over the eugenics law was reignited in 2018 when a woman sued the state over the forced sterilization she had endured when she was 15.

It prompted the government of late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to apologize and offer each victim compensation of about $20,110 – a sum victims said did not match their suffering.

Some took their complaints to the lower courts, one of which invoked a 20-year statute of limitations, meaning that the delay to apply for higher compensation had expired.

But lawyers said some victims who were sterilized without their knowledge only found out about it after that deadline, the BBC wrote.

On Wednesday, the high court ruled that the statute of limitations argument was unacceptable.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reacted to the verdict by promising to meet victims later this month to apologize in person, the Japan Times reported. “We will promptly provide compensation based on the ruling,” said a government spokesperson.

I Don’t

SIERRA LEONE

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio this week signed a new law that will ban child marriage in the West African nation, a move aimed at tackling the practice in a country where hundreds of thousands of girls marry before turning 18, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act will implement strict penalties and fines for people complicit in the marriage of a girl below the age of 18, including jail terms of at least 15 years, a fine of around $4,000, or both.

Those facing penalties include the groom, the parents or guardians of the child bride and even wedding attendants, according to the BBC.

The legislation also bans men from living with underage girls and establishes a compensation package for those who are married or become pregnant before turning 18.

Parliament approved the law last month and Bio signed it Tuesday in a ceremony organized by his wife, First Lady Fatima Bio in the capital, Freetown.

“Freedom has come for our women,” the president said during the ceremony that was attended by feminist groups and West African first ladies.

Human rights advocates welcomed the law as a watershed moment.

There were 800,000 child brides in Sierra Leone in 2017, according to the United Nations children organization, UNICEF. Even so, the rate of child marriage has declined in the West African country, with 30 percent of girls married before 18 in 2017, down from 37 percent 25 years earlier.

The country has a population of nine million.

Child marriage leads to lifelong disadvantages, such as exclusion from education and economic opportunities, Save the Children’s Patrick Analo told AFP.

A Little Rocky

MAURITANIA

Violent clashes between police and protesters killed at least three people in Mauritania this week, as demonstrations gripped the country following the re-election of President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, Africanews reported.

On Monday, protests erupted across the northwestern African country after the electoral commission declared Ghazouani the winner of Sunday’s presidential election.

Results showed that Ghazouani secured 56 percent of the vote, while his main opponent and anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid received around 22 percent.

Abeid claimed the results were falsified and called for “peaceful demonstrations and peaceful gatherings.”

But skirmishes between demonstrators and security forces took place in the southern city of Kaedi – Mauritania’s largest city and an opposition stronghold with a large Black majority, according to the Associated Press.

On Tuesday, officials confirmed the fatalities while not identifying the three people killed in Kaedi nor specifying the circumstances behind their deaths. An unspecified number of people were injured during the violence, they added.

The electoral commission dismissed the allegations of fraud. Meanwhile, three international observers said in their preliminary statements that the election took place in a “peaceful and transparent atmosphere.”

Ghazouani campaigned on a pledge to enhance security and boost the economy. He remains a popular figure in the nation, with supporters seeing him as a beacon of stability in a region that has been plagued by military coups and Islamist insurgents.

However, his opponents have accused him of corruption and mismanagement.

Meanwhile, slavery remains an issue in Mauritania, where the economic and political elite made up of Arab and Amazigh groups enslaved Black Mauritanians for centuries.

The country made slavery illegal in 1981 – the last one in the world to do so – but the practice still persists: Around 149,000 people are still enslaved in the nation that has a population of fewer than five million, according to the 2023 Global Slavery Index.

DISCOVERIES

A Reverence for Cherries

Cherries were an important part of George Washington’s life.

The founding father and first president of the United States loved an alcoholic drink known as “Cherry Bounce.” Meanwhile, most children in the country have heard the legend of how he cut down his father’s cherry tree.

Now, archeologists at Washington’s Mount Vernon home have discovered a batch of 35 glass bottles from the 18th century in the mansion’s cellar, 29 bottles of which are intact, all containing perfectly preserved cherries and various berries that had been buried since the early days of the Revolutionary war in 1775.

“These artifacts likely haven’t seen the light of day since before the American Revolution, perhaps forgotten when George Washington departed Mount Vernon to take command of the Continental Army,” Mount Vernon President & CEO Doug Bradburn said in a press release.

This discovery comes two months after Mount Vernon officials said they found two glass jars of cherries, liquid and pits in the cellar.

They are now partnering up with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to analyze the 250-year-old produce, including extracting its DNA to identify the cherry species and potentially germinate new trees.

Researchers believe the cherries are of the tart variety and hope to pinpoint the exact species that the founding father grew and enjoyed on his estate. There is hope that some cherry pits might be viable for germination, which could lead to the planting of new trees, they told NPR.

Meanwhile, others noted that discovery and subsequent research could provide insights into 18th-century food preservation, plantation food customs and the cuisine of the period.

The recent find is part of a $40 million Mansion Revitalization Project aimed at preserving Mount Vernon for the 250th anniversary of the United States in 2026.

“It’s so appropriate that these bottles have been unearthed shortly before the 250th anniversary of the United States,” Bradburn said.

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