Election Galore, Stress Tests, Smuggler's Got Guts

Dilma Rousseff was re-elected president of Brazil on Sunday.
Dilma Rousseff was re-elected president of Brazil on Sunday.

Monday, October 27, 2014

It was "election weekend" around the world, with notable ballots held in five countries, though not always without problems. In Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc and the party of his Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk were holding talks Monday to create a coalition after the two led in preliminary results of yesterday’s parliamentary elections. In a statement, Poroshenko thanked voters for their vote “for a democratic, reformist, pro-Ukrainian and pro-European majority.” But according to AFP, heavy shelling resumed between government and pro-Russian separatist forces near the rebel-held city of Donetsk this morning.

Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff won a second term in office after a fiercely fought election that leaves the country split in two. After a particularly vitriolic final two weeks of campaigning, Rousseff struck as humble a note as she could muster in her victory speech.

Another South American country, Uruguay, was voting for a new president yesterday, but despite a strong lead for leftist ruling coalition candidate Tabaré Vazquez, he will face center-right opposition candidate, Luis Lacalle Pou in a run-off vote next month.

In post-Arab Spring Tunisia, early results show secular party Nidaa Tounes in the lead with 80 seats in a new 217-member parliament. Islamist party Ennahda is a close second with 67 seats, but if confirmed, the result would be a setback for the governing party. Official results are expected late Monday.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, a planned poll of protesters on the future of the pro-democracy movement was unexpectedly cancelled by leaders, citing differences in objective and a lack of preparation, a decision that raises questions about their unity. One co-founder of the Occupy Central movement explained however that a vote could still be held soon.

Syrian Kurdish fighters repulsed a new ISIS offensive over the weekend in Kobani amid fresh strikes from the U.S.-led coalition near the besieged town at the border with Turkey. Airstrikes also targeted ISIS positions near the Mosul dam in northern Iraq, The Guardian reports. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 815 people have been killed in and around Kobani since the battle began, including 481 ISIS fighters.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo decided late Sunday to loosen Ebola quarantine restrictions in the face of what The New York Times describes as “fierce resistance from the White House and medical experts.” Cuomo’s backpedalling also came after Kaci Hickox, a nurse placed in an isolation tent at University Hospital in New Jersey denounced on CNN the restrictions as “knee-jerk reaction by politicians” and threatened to sue. “I feel like my basic human rights have been violated,” she said. While thousands of U.S. Ebola fighters are heading to West Africa, the World Health Organization announced that the number of people infected by the virus this year had now passed 10,000, with 4,992 deaths.

Radical Islamists zero in on young people in the West who are lonely and disaffected by modern life. Speaking to therapists, Swiss daily Le Temps’ Rinny Gremaud tries to find out why more and more young people who live in stable environments are choosing to risk their lives for a cause they knew little about just months ago: “Youths nowadays are suffering from a feeling that their existence is trite. War, on the other hand, whatever we may think of it, is a group project, a relational phenomenon that appeals to solidarity and requires that all work together. Our valueless world is a fertile ground for all sorts of fundamentalisms, because these give lives a purpose.”
Read the full article, The Psychology Of What Drives Young People To Jihadism.

British troops have ended their combat operations in Afghanistan, 13 years after joining the U.S.-led war against the Taliban regime. The official end Sunday of Britain’s presence came with the death toll at 453 UK soldiers and 2,210 U.S. troops, The Daily Telegraph reports. Assessing the war, the BBC says that the two key aims of the British operation, defeat the Taliban and stop poppy cultivation, failed. “The Taliban are stronger than ever and mounting their most determined attempt to retake the province, and poppy growing is at record levels,” the article reads. According to The New York Times, the value of last year’s opium production in Afghanistan was $3 billion, despite Washington having invested $7.6 billion in the last dozen years to end it.



Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered that plans be advanced for 1,060 new settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem amid pressure from Jewish Home, the far-right party of his Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, which threatened to destabilize the governing coalition, Haaretz reports. A Palestinian leader in Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party said the construction of more settlements “will lead to an explosion” of violence. The news comes after reports yesterday that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon will implement a policy that will effectively prevent West Bank Palestinian workers from riding in buses with Israeli settlers to reach their jobs in Israeli cities. Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem denounced it as a “military procedure” that is in fact “thinly veiled pandering to the demand for racial segregation on buses.” Meanwhile, Egypt announced yesterday it would close the Rafah crossing into Gaza, the only entry into the Palestinian enclave that is not controlled by Israel, after a car bombing in the Sinai killed 30 soldiers on Friday. Read more form Al-Akhbar.

European banking regulators have published results of the toughest-ever stress test, showing that 13 banks risk closure. A total of 25 banks technically failed the stress tests, facing a cumulative shortfall of 24.6 billion euros.

South Korean prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the captain of the ferry Sewol, which sank in April with 476 passengers, most of them high school students, and left more than 300 dead, news agency Yonhap reports. The prosecutors said that 68-year-old Lee Joon-seok, who is charged with homicide, had “abandoned his duty” when he fled the sinking ship “without making any efforts to rescue passengers.” They also demanded life sentences for three other members of staff, and 15 to 30 years in prison for the 11 others. The court is expected to deliver its verdict in early November.

If you are sickened by the sight of an entire concert hall filled with people holding up their smartphones to take bad photos or record crappy videos ... there are some solutions in the works.

A 40-year-old woman has been arrested by police after allegedly trying to smuggle $70,000 into the Dominican Republic in a most unlikely place.

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Iran To Offer Master's And PhD In Morality Enforcement

For those aiming to serve the Islamic Republic of Iran as experts to train the public morality agents, there are now courses to obtain the "proper" training.

Properly dressed in the holy city of Qom.

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

A woman in Tehran walks past a mural of an Iranian flag

The traffic police chief recently said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

New academic discipline

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

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