News That Matters

19/02/2023 ---- 08/03/2023

Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe that gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The country has a long and complex history, marked by periods of foreign rule, including Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian, as well as occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. Since gaining independence, Belarus has been ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. Lukashenko has been accused of human rights abuses, suppression of opposition, and rigged elections. In August 2020, Lukashenko faced a significant challenge to his rule when he claimed a landslide victory in a presidential election that was widely considered rigged. The opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, disputed the result, and large protests erupted nationwide. The protests were met with a violent crackdown by the government. Thousands of people were arrested, with reports of torture and other abuses in detention. The international community, including the European Union and the United States, has condemned the actions of the Belarusian government and imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and his associates.

Ales Bialiatski is a prominent Belarusian human rights activist and the founder of the human rights organization Viasna (Spring). He was born in 1962 in Grodno in the Soviet Union. Bialiatski continued his activism throughout the 2000s, documenting human rights abuses in Belarus and advocating for the release of political prisoners. He also worked to raise awareness of the situation in Belarus internationally, meeting with European Union officials and participating in international human rights conferences. In 2011 he was arrested by the Belarusian government and charged with tax evasion. The charges were widely believed to be politically motivated. During his imprisonment, Bialiatski continued to be a vocal advocate for human rights. He was awarded the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize in 2013. He was released in 2014 following a presidential pardon. Since his release, Bialiatski has continued to work as an activist and human rights defender in Belarus. In 2021 he was arrested again as he was among the individuals and organizations targeted by a government crackdown on civil society and the opposition following disputed presidential elections. In 2022 he was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize. Although his international figure is widely recognized worldwide, on Friday, March 2, he was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. Shortly after, on March 6, the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who lives in exile, was sentenced to 15 years.

The reactions to the news were quick. A series of mass protests followed met with thousands of arrests, cases of torture, the death of several demonstrators, harsh sentences and forced exile. Tikhanovskaya vowed to continue her struggle and political activities. She labelled the trials a "farce". "Today I don't think about my sentence. I am thinking of thousands of innocents, detained and those sentenced to real prison terms," she said on Twitter. "I will not stop until each of them is released." The EU is following these recent events very closely, condemning Lukashenko's regime and supporting the civil society of Belarus. In general, the international relationship between Belarus and the Western countries is gradually deteriorating on all fronts. The West has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Minsk for its ongoing crackdown after the 2020 elections. However, the regime still enjoys unwavering support from Moscow. Belarus agreed to serve as a staging ground for Russian troops to attack Ukraine in February 2022; however, the Belarusian army has taken no direct part in the fighting yet.


The ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has gained popularity recently as a weight loss and health improvement strategy. The diet involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fats to put the body into ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for energy instead of glucose, leading to weight loss. However, recent evidence highlights the negative impact that this diet can have on human health.

A recent research led by Dr Iulia Iatan with the Healthy Heart Program Prevention Clinic, St. Paul’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Heart Lung Innovation in Vancouver found that regular consumption of a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat was associated with increased levels of LDL cholesterol – or “bad” cholesterol – and a higher risk of heart disease. This study contributes to the scientific literature and suggests the harms outweigh the benefits. In the study, researchers defined a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet as 45% of total daily calories from fat and 25% from carbohydrates. The researchers compared the diets of 305 people eating an LCHF diet with about 1,200 people eating a standard diet, using health information from the United Kingdom database UK Biobank, which followed people for at least a decade. The researchers found that people on the LCHF diet had higher levels of low-density lipoprotein, also known as LDL, cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B. Apolipoprotein B is a protein that coats LDL cholesterol proteins and can predict heart disease better than elevated levels of LDL cholesterol can. The researchers also noticed that the LCHF diet participants’ total fat intake was higher in saturated fat and had double the consumption of animal sources (33%) compared to those in the control group (16%).

After an average of 11.8 years of follow-up and after adjustment for other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking, people on an LCHF diet had more than two times higher risk of having several major cardiovascular events, such as blockages in the arteries that needed to be opened with stenting procedures, heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. It is essential to highlight that this study can only show an association between the diet and an increased risk for major cardiac events, not a causal relationship because it was observational. However, their findings are worth further study, especially when approximately 1 in 5 Americans report being on a low-carb, keto-like or full keto diet.


It is a scientific fact that human life depends on oceans and their biodiversity. In the last decades, an incredible number of species in the sea have reduced in number so much that they are now at risk of extinction. The scientific community found that under business-as-usual global temperature increases, marine systems will likely experience mass extinctions on par with past great extinctions. Therefore, protecting the biodiversity created in the seas in the last 50 million years is now a critical and urgent global matter. In late August, a fifth round of negotiations for a UN ocean treaty to protect and manage the high seas failed in New York. However, last Saturday, March 4, these negotiations concluded positively. For the first time, the United Nations members have agreed on a unified treaty to protect biodiversity on the high seas. This marks the end of 15 years of arduous negotiations and a historic moment for our species' future survival.

The exact content of the treaty has yet to be released. Still, the negotiations focused on four key areas: (1) Establishing marine protected areas for more than 30% of the earth's surface; (2) Improving environmental impact assessments; (3) Providing finance and capacity building to developing countries; (4) Sharing of marine genetic resources - biological material from plants and animals in the ocean that can have benefits for society, such as pharmaceuticals, industrial processes and food. One of the most sensitive issues revolves around sharing possible profits gained from developing genetic resources in international waters, where pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetic companies hope to find miracle drugs, products or cures. Such costly research at sea is primarily the prerogative of wealthy nations. Still, developing countries want to be included in potential windfall profits drawn from marine resources that belong to no one. Similar issues of equity between the Global North and South arise in other international negotiations, such as on climate change, where developing nations feel outsized harms from global warming and try in vain to get wealthier countries to help pay to offset those impacts.

The treaty now aims to protect the high seas, which begin at a maximum of 200 nautical miles, or 370 kilometres, from the coastline and are not under the jurisdiction of any state. Those waters, representing more than 60% of oceans, have long been ignored in environmental regulations. And only around 1% of the high seas are currently subject to conservation measures. Once enacted, the new agreement will create a new body to manage the conservation of ocean life and establish marine protected areas on the high seas. During the conference, global powers also pledged billions of euros worth of funds to help protect the world's oceans. The European Union promised 40 million euros to facilitate the treaty's ratification and to help with its implementation. Beyond that, it has also pledged more than €800 million for ocean protection in general by 2023. There were "341 new commitments" worth nearly €18 billion made at the conference, including almost €5 billion from the United States. Despite the breakthrough in agreeing on the treaty, there is still a long way to go before it is legally agreed upon. The treaty must first be formally adopted at a later session. Then it only enters "into force" once enough countries have signed up and legally passed it in their own countries. Russia was one of the countries that registered concerns over the final text. Governments have to start looking at practically how these measures would be implemented and managed.


Nigeria's importance to the world lies in its vast natural resources, its position as a regional power in Africa, and its potential for growth and development. Nigeria is a country located in West Africa, and it is the most populous nation on the African continent. Its history is rich and diverse, from pre-colonial times to its current state as an independent nation. Various indigenous tribes initially inhabited the country. Over time, different groups migrated and settled in Nigeria, including the Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo people. Nigeria was colonized by the British in the late 19th century. It remained under colonial rule until 1960 when it gained independence—the period of colonial rule significantly impacted the country's development, as the British implemented policies that favoured their economic interests and disrupted the social and political structures of the Nigerian people. Following independence, Nigeria struggled to establish a stable and democratic government. The country was plagued by political instability, coups, and civil war, which led to a cycle of military dictatorship and civilian rule. In 1999, Nigeria returned to democratic governance with the election of Olusegun Obasanjo as president. Nigeria has vast natural resources, including oil and gas. Still, its political history has been marred by corruption, tribalism, and religious conflicts. These factors have contributed to the country's economic underdevelopment and slow progress towards social and political stability.

Currently, Nigeria is facing significant political and social challenges. The country's economy has been hit hard by falling oil prices, and corruption remains a pervasive issue. The current president of Nigeria is Muhammadu Buhari, re-elected in 2019 for a second term in office. Buhari is a retired major general in the Nigerian Army and served as military ruler of Nigeria from 1983 to 1985. He won the 2019 presidential election defeating his primary challenger Atiku Abubakar of the People's Democratic Party (PDP). His campaign focused on his track record of fighting corruption and promoting security and his plans to improve the economy and create jobs. During his time in office, Buhari has implemented various policies to strengthen the economy, such as diversifying the country's revenue sources away from oil, investing in infrastructure, and promoting agricultural development.

However, Buhari's administration has faced criticism for handling social and political issues, particularly regarding human rights and press freedom. The government has been accused of clamping down on dissenting voices and failing to protect citizens from violent attacks by criminal groups. The government has been criticized for handling security issues, particularly in the country's northeastern part. The Boko Haram insurgency has caused widespread destruction and displacement of people. Additionally, there have been increasing tensions between various ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria, leading to violent conflicts in some areas. The government has responded to these challenges by implementing different policies promoting peace and development, but progress has needed to be faster. In recent years, the country has seen a surge in youth-led protests calling for an end to police brutality and corruption. The #EndSARS movement, which began in 2020, was a nationwide protest against the brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian police force. The protests sparked a conversation about governance and accountability in Nigeria. They highlighted the frustrations of young Nigerians with the current political system.

On February 25, 2023, more than 93 million voters were called to elect the country's next president and their representatives in Parliament. At only three weeks from the elections, two major crises have impacted the vote considerably. The Central Bank of Nigeria introduced the redesigned notes and new limits on large cash withdrawals to help curb money laundering and make digital payments the norm. The push to replace the old banknotes with new ones has left minimal cash in circulation, causing frustration and anger for many people who spend hours at the banks attempting to withdraw their money and the possibility of theft for business-owner. On top of this, in the same days, an oil shortage also forced car owners to have extremely long queues to buy fuel.

After eight years in office, Muhammadu Buhari will be stepping down as president. Bola Tinubu from the ruling All Progressives Congress Party is the new president to replace him. Tinubu received 37% of the vote, or nearly 8.8 million while leading opposition candidate Abubakar won 29% with almost 7 million. Third-place finisher Obi took 25% with about 6.1 million, according to the results announced on live television by the Independent National Electoral Commission. During the votes counting, several party agents, including those from the main opposition PDP and Peter Obi's Labour Party, alleged over-voting and disparities between results announced from some states and what electoral officials uploaded on the election commission's result portal. Tinubu's ruling All Progressives Congress party urged the opposition to accept defeat and not cause trouble after they demanded a revote for irregularities. The president-elect thanked his supporters in the capital, Abuja, after his victory was announced and struck a reconciliatory tone in a message directed at his political adversaries. "I take this opportunity to appeal to my fellow contestants to let us team up together," Tinubu said. "It is the only nation we have. It is one country, and we must build together." The new government inherits a critical situation of long-term underfunded public services, widespread corruption, meagre salaries (a teacher earns about $65/month) and significant tax evasion. Hopefully, it will be the beginning of a new era for Nigeria.


Northern Ireland is a region in the northeast of the island of Ireland that has been a part of the United Kingdom since its creation in 1921. The region was created due to the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which partitioned Ireland into two separate entities: Northern Ireland, which remained part of the UK, and the Irish Free State, which later became the Republic of Ireland. The partition of Ireland was a contentious issue, with many Irish nationalists opposing it and seeking a united Ireland. This led to a conflict known as the Troubles, which lasted from the late 1960s until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The conflict was primarily between Irish nationalists, who wanted Northern Ireland reunited with the rest of Ireland, and unionists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. The Good Friday Agreement established a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, with representatives from both nationalist and unionist parties. The agreement also included provisions for decommissioning paramilitary weapons and prisoners' early release.

Brexit has had significant implications for Northern Ireland, as it shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. The UK's decision to leave the EU meant that a border would need to be established between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which raised concerns about the potential impact on the peace process. The Northern Ireland Protocol, included in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, aims to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland aligned with some EU rules, which has led to some trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The Protocol has been a contentious issue in Northern Ireland, with some unionists opposing it and some nationalists supporting it.

On Monday, February 27, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and EU Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen sealed a deal to resolve their strained post-Brexit trade dispute over Northern Ireland. The critical point of the agreement is the definition of two different lanes for good export from the UK to Ireland. Goods from Britain destined for Northern Ireland will travel through a new "green lane, " with reduced checks and paperwork. A separate "red lane" is instead for goods at risk of moving into the EU, which will be subject to usual checks according to the EU regulations. Under the new deal, UK VAT and excise rules will apply to Northern Ireland for alcoholic drinks for immediate consumption and immovable goods such as heat pumps - EU VAT rules will still apply for other items. A procedure is also agreed on to allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to object to new EU rules that introduce substantial changes. Finally, it will be easier for pet owners to travel between the UK and Northern Ireland. Monday's outcome has been primarily hailed positively between Dublin, Belfast, London and Brussels. But the deal is not yet entirely over the line, as Sunak still needs to appease and get the backing from some Conservative party members and Northern Ireland's politicians – especially the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members.


Ginger is a flowering plant whose root is used as a spice and herbal remedy. It's native to Southeast Asia but is now cultivated in many other parts of the world, including India, China, and the Caribbean. Ginger is a versatile and flavorful ingredient with a long history of culinary and medical use. It has a spicy, savoury flavour and warming quality, making it a popular ingredient in many cuisines, especially in Asian and Indian dishes. It's often used in teas, soups, curries, and desserts.

Beyond its culinary uses, ginger has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. It's believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-nausea effects, among other health benefits. Some people use ginger to alleviate symptoms of conditions such as nausea, vomiting, arthritis, and menstrual cramps. Ginger is becoming increasingly popular in Germany as a medicinal plant or as food. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, the annual import volume of the fruity-hot root has almost quadrupled over the last ten years to around 31,600 tons.

A team led by Veronika Somoza, director of the Leibniz Institute in Freising, Germany, conducted extensive research to clarify if normal ginger consumption levels are sufficient to achieve health effects. The starting point was a result of a pilot study which showed significant amounts of aromatic ginger compounds enter the blood about 30 to 60 minutes after consuming one litre of ginger tea. The study results suggest that ginger stimulates the functionality of our immune system. Small amounts of an aromatic ginger constituent in laboratory tests put specific immune cells - white blood cells - on heightened alert. These cells are mainly involved in the protection against bacterial infection. The study also shows that this process consists of a type of receptor that plays a role in the perception of painful heat stimuli and the sensation of spiciness in food. Although more research is needed to understand its full potential for therapeutic applications, it is now demonstrated that the typical ginger intake may benefit our immune system's functionality, particularly against bacterial infection. Nevertheless, many unanswered questions at the epidemiological and medical levels still need to be addressed.


Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a progressive loss of memory and cognitive function, along with changes in behaviour and personality. It is the most common form of dementia, affecting millions of people worldwide, and is typically diagnosed in individuals over 65. However, early-onset forms of the disease can occur in younger individuals. Alzheimer's is caused by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits in the brain, which can interfere with communication between brain cells and ultimately lead to their death. While the major hallmarks of Alzheimer's are well-known, we still have little idea what triggers it. Specific genes and lifestyle factors such as loneliness, lack of exercise and poor diet can all increase the risk of Alzheimer's, but how and why it begins remains a mystery.

Since the mid-80s, a handful of scientists worldwide have doggedly pursued the idea that either a virus or a bacterium could play a role in Alzheimer's. Studies show that people with herpes are more likely to get Alzheimer's. In particular, evidence pointed towards herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) – a pathogen found in 70% of the UK population and the cause of oral herpes. When Prof Ruth Itzhaki from Oxford University's Institute of Population Ageing – who has done more than any other scientist to advance the HSV-1 theory of Alzheimer's - examined post-mortem brain samples from patients, she found more significant amounts of the virus's DNA than in people who had not died of the disease. Moreover, other studies show that treatment with a standard antiviral drug decreased the risk of dementia ninefold. Others have suggested that bacteria may also be capable of initiating the neurodegeneration that leads to Alzheimer's. Chlamydia pneumonia, which causes lung disease, and Borrelia burgdorferi, associated with Lyme disease and gum infections, have all been put forward as possible triggers. The main reason viruses like HSV-1 and possibly bacteria may be capable of triggering Alzheimer's is that they invade the body before burrowing into the central nervous system and travelling to the brain sometime in midlife. Once there, they stay dormant for many years before being reactivated in old age, either because the ageing immune system can no longer keep them in check or something else – a traumatic episode, a head injury or perhaps another infection – spurs them to life. Once awakened – so the theory goes – they begin to wreak havoc. Davangere Devanand, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center, is running a clinical trial investigating whether a herpes antiviral drug called valacyclovir could slow the progression of Alzheimer's in patients in the early stages of the disease. The ongoing trial, expected to be completed by early 2024, could significantly affect how we view the condition.


The tensions between the European Union and Russia have grown over the Ukraine war in the last two months. The Ukraine crisis has yet to have a favourable negotiation in sight today. On January 23, after weeks of Poland and other NATO members openly pressuring Germany to permit the dispatch of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, the US and EU allies decided to send armour. With this decision, NATO demonstrated continued assistance to Ukraine despite this meant crossing what was previously called Russia's "red lines". In the following days, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev reiterated in a written interview that the Russian response to attacks in Russian territory can be of any nature and that these will be consistent and immediate - referencing the country's nuclear arsenal.

Additionally, on February 2, EU President Ursula Von Der Leyen visited Kyiv along with 15 European Commissioners. The meeting discussed the numerous reforms needed for Ukraine to achieve EU membership. President Von Der Leyen also confirmed support in funds for 1 billion and further sanctions against Russia to be enacted by the end of the month. On February 8, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited London and urged the allies to send combat aircraft. He obtained more support in training Ukraine pilots, which may be a premise for effectively using NATO's jets. Zelensky travelled to Paris in the evening, following his visit to the United Kingdom, to meet France's leader Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. On February 9, he met in Brussels with European Union leaders as they gathered for a summit. "A Ukraine winning is going to be a member of the European Union," Zelenskyy said. The Ukrainian president's main messages in London, Paris and Brussels were pleas for long-range missiles and fighter jets to beef up his armed forces and (to the EU) the necessity of rapid entry into the bloc. Following these visits, the European Parliament voted with a large majority and heavy resolution on February 15, condemning Russia's invasion and annexation of Ukraine's territories. In the document, the EU reiterates its support for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, stating that the outcome of the war and the stance taken by the international community will play a crucial role in affecting future action by other authoritarian regimes. Besides demanding that Russia withdraws its troops, it confirmed a steady and continued increase in the supply of all types of weapons to Ukraine, without exceptions, mentioning for the first the possibility of sending fighter jets and missile systems. Additionally, more sanctions against Russia will be put in place by the end of February, and a legal frame to confiscate frozen Russian assets - is to be devolved to Ukraine's reconstruction.

Following the Plenary at the EU Parliament, a Security Conference of the G7 took place in Munich on February 17 and 18. For the first time since the outbreak of COVID, China was represented in Munich at a high level this year in the form of its most senior diplomat, former Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Wang told the audience that China had tried and would continue to try to broker Ukraine peace talks. "There were multiple rounds of peace talks. And we saw a framework text on the peaceful resolution of the crisis. However, that was stopped. We do not know why. The process was cut short. Some forces might not want to see peace talks materialize. They don't care about the life and death of Ukrainians, not the harm to Europe. They might have strategic goals larger than Ukraine itself." Wang also used the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to say that "for a safer world, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected". In his introductory remarks, Wang had said that COVID had shown how the world was "one global village" and could only "win the victory when we trust each other." However, the US, German, and French representatives expressed perplexity about finding a diplomatic solution in the immediate future. In its final statement, the G7 confirms support for Ukraine until necessary and condemns Russia's actions. Today February 20, two more critical meetings took place. US president Joe Biden met Volodymyr Zelensky during a surprise visit to Kyiv, where he promised increased arms deliveries. In the meantime, Chinese Minister Wang Yi visits Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin.