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Our world this week | The World Weekly

It has been another whirlwind week around the world, ranging from new sanctions against Russia and another North Korean missile test to worsening unrest in Venezuela and political upheaval in Pakistan. 

Here’s a roundup of some of the events that shaped our world this week.

Election fever in Africa

Preparations for the election in Kenya on August 8 were overshadowed by the murder of a senior election official. A government autopsy revealed that Chris Msando, an information officer responsible for the live transmission of election results, was strangled to death. The opposition National Super Alliance said the killers wanted to send a “chilling message that they will stop at nothing to ensure the outcome they desire”.

The race between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga is as tight as ever. The kind of large-scale post-election violence that rocked the country 10 years ago is not expected but there are fears clashes between rival supporters could break out after election day.

Further west in Rwanda, President Paul Kagame, a darling of Western donors who has been in power since 2000, is predicted to score an easy victory and secure another seven-year term. The country’s election chief, however, was adamant in an interview with Voice of America that the election, which will mark the third time Rwandans go to to the polls after the 1994 genocide, was “not a foregone conclusion”. The president’s critics have long accused him of authoritarianism, while supporters cite steady economic growth, steps towards gender equality and poverty reduction as accomplishments. Large parts of Rwanda’s population still live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.25 a day. 

Showdown in Venezuela

All eyes are on Venezuela where tensions are escalating after President Nicolás Maduro claimed victory in a controversial election boycotted by the opposition. Once the shining star of leftist governments in Latin America under Hugo Chávez and one of the continent’s wealthiest countries, Venezuela has descended into a state of chaos, leaving at least 120 people dead. While President Maduro invokes the influence of foreign powers behind the protests against him, Venezuelans struggle to afford daily necessities, often queuing for hours to buy goods. 

The struggle seems far from over, as the opposition proclaims the beginning of a “new stage in the democratic struggle” and Mr. Maduro vows a crackdown on “terrorists”.

Trump and Russia

In the US, an almost unanimous vote in both chambers of Congress to slap new sanctions on Russia put the Trump administration in an awkward position. Speculation that President Trump would veto the bill proved unfounded, though he signed it only grudgingly. The sanctions received a sharp riposte from his counterpart Vladimir Putin, who announced that 755 people working at US missions in Russia would have to “terminate their activity”. This marks the largest forced reduction of embassy staff between the two countries since the closure of the US mission in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. 

Whereas Mr. Trump seemed more concerned about Congress asserting itself in foreign affairs than in Russia’s election meddling, his deputy, Mike Pence, slammed Moscow on a tour of Eastern Europe, accusing it of seeking to “redraw international borders by force, undermine democracy in sovereign nations”. During a visit to Montenegro, which joined NATO this year, he praised his hosts for standing up to Russian pressure. 

For now, any hope of a swift improvement in US-Russian relations under President Trump has faded.  

The Panama Papers claim another scalp

“My family has faced a barrage of accusations,” Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lamented last year after the Panama Papers were leaked to the press. The trove revealed the Sharif family’s involvement in offshore companies, facilitated by Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the centre of the scandal. Following pressure from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, Mr. Sharif asked the Supreme Court to investigate. The judges initially ruled that there was insufficient evidence to remove the prime minister, but ordered a further investigation into the family’s wealth. 

The Papers eventually brought about Mr. Sharif’s downfall last week when the Court barred him from public office, forcing him to resign. The Court disqualified the prime minister for not declaring income from a company based in the United Arab Emirates, which was not cited in the Panama Papers.

In the current state of play, however, another scion of the Sharif family, the ousted PM’s brother Shahbaz, is set to take over after a transitional period. As Mr. Khan is facing his own disqualification investigation, there is yet to be a Pakistani prime minister who completes a five-year term. 

‘The party commands the gun’

The message Chinese President Xi Jinping wanted to send was hardly lost on anyone. In two major speeches, Mr. Xi demanded loyalty from the People’s Liberation Army, ordering it at a military parade to march “wherever the party points”. But Mr. Xi, keen to shore up support before the upcoming 19th Communist Party congress this autumn, also looked abroad. “No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests,” he said, speaking at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. 

One of China’s foreign policy headaches stems from the behaviour of a neighbour south of the border, North Korea. On Saturday, Pyongyang announced it had successfully conducted a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could strike the US. President Trump subsequently berated the Chinese leadership for not doing enough to stop North Korea, a charge Beijing vehemently denies. 

Scientific breakthrough in embryo mutation

Gene editing is one of the most controversial fields of science - think ‘designer babies’ and the like. Researchers have now reported that they used the gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas9 to correct a genetic mutation linked to heart failure. After the mutant gene sequence was cut, the embryos (which were created in a lab) were prompted to repair the DNA and in many cases eliminated the disease-causing sequence.  

This method could have huge benefits. “This embryo gene correction method, if proven safe, can potentially be used to prevent transmission of genetic disease to future generations,” said Paula Amato, a fertility specialist involved in the US-Korean study at Oregon Health and Science University. Others however remain concerned about how safe the CRISPR technology is, and ethical concerns are unlikely to disappear in the near future.

The power of images

When scores of journalists trekked to a remote part of northeastern Lebanon, one of the country’s most powerful armed groups wanted to send a clear message. “We are the force that fights terrorism,” said a spokesman for Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group that had recently driven out Sunni militants from the area. “The current American president is ignorant of the region,” he added according to Liz Sly, the Washington Post’s Beirut bureau chief, who was part of the trip. 

The episode harks back to a statement by Donald Trump during a joint press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in which he claimed that Lebanon was “at the front lines in the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah”. The problem is, Mr. Hariri actually negotiated an alliance with Hezbollah to secure his post. Apart from demonstrating the complex political situation in Lebanon, the press trip also showed how much power Hezbollah, which is actively fighting in neighbouring Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, wields. The group remains on the US list of foreign terrorist organisations.

Manuel Langendorf,

Editor-in-Chief, The World Weekly

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