Weekly Roundup: August 28, 2016

Macedonia ∙ D.R.Congo ∙ Spain ∙ Cuba ∙ Panama ∙ Sweden ∙ Philippines ∙ Iran ∙ Suriname ∙ Brunei

Once weekly I share the top stories from ten countries based on a simple random sample from the U.S. Department of State’s list of countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. If you like what you read, please subscribe to receive these Roundups weekly in your mailbox: http://eepurl.com/b-SrOb.


Macedonia, or the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRoM)” when you’re speaking near Greek ears, is the happy recipient of 25 new Škoda Yeti police cars to add to its border police. The gift comes from the Czech Republic as its donation to improving European border security in the midst of a massive migration crisis that Macedonia has been party to. Macedonian Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov said the donation “will contribute to building the police capacity in dismantling criminal gangs which exploit the hardship of refugees.” Macedonia has been a candidate for membership into the European Union since 2005, but Czech support is countered quite emphatically by Greek resistance, mainly due to the allegedly irredentist name of the republic itself.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Congolese are still in mourning over the recent attack in Beni in the northeastern part of the country where at least 64 people were “hacked to death” with melee weapons on August 14. The killings are only part of a long chain of massacres in and near the city since October 2014. Most recently, however, residents of Beni have been gathering in large scale protests in anger that their government is not doing enough to protect its citizens there. When Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo visited the city last Tuesday, he was in fact booed quite loudly, and the people clamoured for his and President Joseph Kabila’s resignations.


I’ve been waiting most excitedly for Spain to pop up for these Roundups. Without getting into too much detail, basically there was a general election on December 20, 2015. The election saw the traditional two-party system in Spain evolve dramatically into a multi-party system where each of the four biggest parties all hate each other so much that they’re unwilling to form coalitions to, you know, govern. Thus, a second round of elections was held on June 26 where the only difference was a union of the far-left party and the even farther-left party. Again there has been no success at coalition negotiations. Thus has been the majority of Spanish political news for the last almost-year, as can be seen in this recent article where the first line reads, “The fifth meeting between Mariano Rajoy [sitting president and leader of PP, the #1 party] and Pedro Sánchez [leader of PSOE, the #2 party], this Monday, has ended the same as the four before: with a round no from PSOE to support the investiture [of Rajoy as president].”


The big news this week in Cuba is the return of air service between the island nation and the United States, a tangible symbol of political friendship (or at least not enemyship) not seen since 1961. JetBlue will be the first American commercial airliner to begin routine flights to and within the country beginning on August 31. Delta, United, American, Alaskan, Spirit, and Southwest will also offer limited routes. But don’t get too excited; to visit, you must still fall into one of 12 categories, and “tourism” isn’t one of them.


Residents in the Coco del Mar neighborhood of Panama City, for whom a row of coast-hugging towers along their beach is a sudden new reality, are protesting a total of 91 zoning changes that have led to the construction of buildings far taller than the previous zoning limit of 11 stories. Complaints range from unmonitored and effectively “not-to-code” construction methods and environmental distress. Protestors marched with signs that read “We fight for our right to a dignified life.” To add to the scene, construction workers have been present to protest against the protestors. So far, the protests have been non-violent.


Not that I’m suggesting this — I AM NOT — but if Cruella de Vil was still looking for 100 small animal pelts, Halland Country in southern Sweden has recently found itself with 100 cats, the fates of which are yet unknown. A couple living in the county had been in the news before for violating the probably rarely-mentioned law that prohibits the undocumented keeping of an excess of nine cats. That the cats were strapped to highchairs and breastfed as if humans did not help their cause. The couple was banned from keeping any animals. Well they’re back in the news because, in blatant disregard for their banning, they somehow acquired ONE HUNDRED adult cats living in a fully reproductive and self-sustaining cat society. When authorities seized the property, ten of the 100 ran away, but 90 have been sent to a veterinarian hospital for processing.


The United States isn’t the only country where a male president(ial candidate) explicitly calls for the death of his biggest female opponent. The Philippines’ve got you covered there! President Rodrigo Duterte has been feuding with female Senator Leila de Lima for quite a while now, and on Monday suggested that she should be hanged because she is “not setting a good example to other women.” “Is this how to be a woman of the world?” he asked after he traced her to a would-be-if-true high-profile drug smuggling group. De Lima has denied the connection, saying, and I quote, “Is this a joke? […] Even a 12-year-old can draw such a matrix.”


Iran is taking a step into an alternative dimension this week by the introduction of the National Network of Data, an Iranian intranet and effective alternative to the World Wide Web. The project is a decade in the making, and the second phase will be rolled out between February and August 2017. This news follows the unfortunate events from earlier this month wherein hundreds of social media users had to be arrested because of irresponsible “immoral activities” they were performing online. Oops.


A crash in commodity prices drove Suriname to request aid from the International Monetary Fund earlier this year, and a recent check-up visit from the IMF gave a mixed report card. Some austerity programs — like ridding all but ten official vehicles from the Ministry of Justice and Police HQ to save on gas — have worked well, in addition to other programs and the preparation for the introduction of a value-added tax. On the flip side, there were many ways the country could have done better in the eyes of the IMF, specifically by increasing fuel and energy prices and tariffs.


Our Bruneian news seems most fitting with the news to me that the official name of Brunei is apparently the “Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace.” I love that! The prison system in Brunei seems to be rather enterprising, because just today there were two stories about its nature in this regard. The Prisons Department rehabilitation program has seen success in its tree planting and horticultural education initiative. Inmates have been planting and caring for longan and soursop trees, the fruits of which are in high demand locally, to learn skills in agriculture that may be useful upon their release and to generate revenue through fruit sales. Likewise, the handicraft program will be improving their online sales presence soon. Currently, one can buy things like coffee tables, bookshelves, rihal, and model ships in person at the prisons or on the phone. This, like the tree planting project, helps to generate revenue and to give the inmates important skills.

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