Must-Reads from Around the World

South Korea is dubbed the "Republic of Samsung," atheists around the world suffer from persecution and Romanian elections stoke a political feud.

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Republic of Samsung — The Washington Post reports that South Korean conglomerate Samsung wields so much economic and political power that the country is referred to as “The Republic of Samsung.” According to the Post, “Samsung no longer merely powers the country but overpowers it, wielding influence that nearly matches that of the government.” As Koreans head to the polls to pick a new president next week, Samsung has become the focal point of a debate over curbing the power of family-run conglomerates, known as chaebol.

Human Rights Day — In observance of Human Rights Day, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, hasĀ called for governments worldwide to allow their citizens to participate in the way their societies and economies are run. “We all should have a voice that counts in our societies [and] we should all have free, active and meaningful participation in both economic and political affairs,” she said in a statement. On Dec. 10, 1948 the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal of Human Rights. This year’s theme for Human Rights Day is “inclusion and the right to participate in public life.”

Persecution of Atheists — A new study shows that atheists and religious skeptics are victims of discrimination and persecution in many parts of the world, notes Reuters. The “Freedom of Thought 2012” report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union reveals that nonbelievers in Islamic countries face the most severe persecution at the hands of the government or followers of the official religion. In some countries, “there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, [and] restrict their right to marry,” said the report.

Romania’s ‘Ogre’ Election — Romania’s center-left government swept the country’s Sunday parliamentary election, but not everyone is happy about it. The current president, Traian Basescu, has indicated that he will not appoint the leader of the winning alliance, Victor Ponta, as prime minister. Why? Basescu, a 61-year-old sea captain, said his younger rival is a “compulsive liar” and an “ogre,” and that making him prime minister would be akin to swallowing a pig, reports the New York Times. The two men have been at loggerheads for quite some time — during the summer, Ponta led an effort to impeach Basescu. Basescu said he has the constitution behind him, but members of Ponta’s coalition maintain they’ll try to oust him again if he refuses to give Ponta the post.

Celebrating Niemeyer — The famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer died last week at age 104, and over the weekend several critics reflected on his influence. The first modern-day architect to emerge from a country outside of North America or Europe, Niemeyer “brought movement to modern architecture,” writes the Guardian. His “flowing designs infused Modernism with a new sensuality,” noted the New York Times, a talent which he applied most memorably to Brasilia’s National Congress and cathedral. A slideshow of his work is available here.