Daily Digest: Bahrain, Belgium, bibulousness

Katherine Lymn

Your Daily Digest for Thursday, Feb. 17: 

In one of the most violent crackdowns, riot police in Bahrain took to rioters with rubber pellets, shotguns and teargas earlier today, leaving five dead.  The violence here is more complex, the New York Times reports, because Bahrain, a Persian gulf nation with a population of 600,000, is ruled by a Sunni minority. Riots are waking a sleeping bear in the Shiite majority’s discontent. The riot police’s abrupt 3 a.m. attack on protesters — some of whom were sleeping — reignited the anger toward Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The protests, modeled after Egypt and Tunisia’s, began Monday. “As the sun rose over the square, the [Thursday] night’s events came into sharp focus. The entire field was trampled and crushed. Canvas tents and a speaker’s podium lay crushed. The sound of ambulances continued to wail, and a helicopter circled the square.”

In a completely different kind of protest — or celebration? — Belgium is comically standing up against its non-government. The Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south have been at odds for more than 249 days, so 249 Belgians are stripping down naked in Ghent. In other cities, organizers will hand out free beer and chips to mark the record of the longest wait for a government. Last June, elections did not produce a clear winner, so a caretaker government has been running the county. The hope is for the protests to “break the impasse” and stabilize the government, BBC reports.

Check out this Economist graphic on the world’s heaviest-drinking countries. It came from this World Health Organization report, published last week. The “biggest boozers,” the report showed, were mostly European and former Soviet nations. Moldova won first place, attributed largely to the moonshine that makes up more than 10 liters of each Moldovan’s annual consumption. The majority of North America’s consumption rates fall between those of northern Africa (less than 2.5 liters pure alcohol a year) and the highest consumption rates in the former Soviet countries. On average, world citizens drank 6.1 liters of pure alcohol a year.