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What We're Watching: Zelensky snubs Berlin, IMF warns of debt shock, Indonesia passes sexual assault bill

Zelensky snubs Berlin, IMF warns of debt shock, Indonesia passes sexual assault bill

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.


The latest from Ukraine

In a stunning rebuke, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday refused to host German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was planning a solidarity tour to Kyiv along with the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Zelensky’s snub comes just days after he rolled out the red carpet for British PM Boris Johnson and strolled around the Ukrainian capital with him. Part of this is about Steinmeier specifically: during his two stints as German foreign minister – including in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea – he showed great deference to Moscow. What’s more, he’s good buddies with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is famously cozy with the Kremlin himself. But Zelensky is also peeved at the Germans more broadly for failing to kick their Russian gas habit and sever economic ties with Moscow. Critics have also condemned Berlin for not sending Kyiv enough weapons. Still, was Zelensky’s decision to shame Europe’s largest economy a wise move? After all, he will still need Germany on board to further isolate Vladimir Putin – economically and militarily. That’s all the more true since Putin said Tuesday that peace talks with Kyiv have reached “a dead end,” vowing that his troops would continue to pursue their “noble” aims in Ukraine.

A developing world debt bomb

Poorer countries face a perfect storm of debt problems, according to a new report by the International Monetary Fund, and wealthier countries must take notice. “Most emerging market and developing economies are ill-prepared to face the coming debt shock,” said David Malpass, president of the World Bank Group, on Monday. The pandemic forced many developing countries to borrow heavily to manage the emergency. Sharp increases in food and fuel prices triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine make matters worse. China is lending less as it manages private-sector debt problems, a surge in COVID cases, and fears that existing debts to developing countries won’t be repaid. Rising interest rates in the US and Europe will make borrowing more expensive for poorer countries. “About 60 percent of low-income countries are now in, or at risk of, distress,” the report says. But debt isn’t a problem only for those who owe. Lender countries know they need to work with heavily indebted governments not only to ensure debts can be repaid as fully and as quickly as possible, but to help them avoid the human, economic, and political emergencies that create crises that cross borders. That’s why the IMF has called on lending nations to take “a cooperative approach to ease the debt burdens of the most vulnerable countries, [and] foster greater debt sustainability.”

Indonesian parliament greenlights sexual assault bill

After six years of stalling and deliberations, Indonesia’s parliament has passed a landmark sexual assault bill. The measure includes prison terms of up to 12 years for sexual assault committed within a marriage – something excluded from earlier definitions of sexual abuse – and formally outlaws forced marriages. The bill’s passage is a triumph over resistance that came chiefly from Islamist parties. But critics say the law still doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t include a clear definition of what constitutes rape, and it caps punishment for sexual abuse of minors at just nine years. What’s more, the new law won’t apply to Aceh province, home to 5.5 million people, which is governed by Sharia law under an agreement between Jakarta and local insurgents that dates back to 2005. Flogging in Aceh for adultery and “promiscuous” activity, which includes gay sex, is commonplace. More broadly, gender-based violence is rife in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Women are often treated as second-class citizens, while rape and abuse often go unpunished.


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