BRUSSELS MANHUNT CONTINUES

Belgian police are hunting two suspects believed to have participated in Tuesday’s Brussels terror attacks that killed at least 31 people and injured 270, Le Monde reports. One of them can be seen on airport security footage accompanying killers Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui. Police believe he fled after dropping off a bag containing a bomb and that the other at-large suspect was in the Brussels metro with the third bomber, Khalid el-Bakraoui, moments before his accomplice blew himself up. According to the newspaper, the three dead suicide bombers, and potentially the other two suspects, were part of the Paris terrorist network and known to the police. Laachraoui is believed to have made the bombs used in November in Paris. Turkish President Erdogan told reporters yesterday that Ibrahim el-Bakraoui had been arrested in Turkey and deported to Europe last June as a potential Islamist militant, claims that represent “a major political embarrassment for Belgium,” the Financial Times writes.

  • Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure reports that the initial targets of the el-Bakraoui brothers, both of whom were supposed to be in jail, were Belgium’s nuclear power stations. The recent arrest of Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam, who appears to have been part of the same group of French-Belgian terrorists, reportedly forced the attackers to change their plans and act quickly before being caught.
  • Abdeslam’s lawyer Sven Mary has claimed that his client didn’t know anything about Tuesday’s attacks. He has also said Abdeslam wants to return to France “as soon as possible … to explain himself.” The terrorist had initially refused extradition after his arrest last Friday. According to newspaper Le Soir, the last surviving terrorist behind the Paris attacks hasn’t been talking to investigators since Tuesday’s killings. Yesterday, Belgian media reported he had been placed in a cell close to Mehdi Nemmouche, who is suspected of killing four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels in 2014. According to the reports, Nemmouche kept Abdeslam up to date during the attacks and told him several times to keep his mouth shut. Abdeslam’s lawyer dismissed the claims as “materially impossible.”
  • While some experts and EU leaders fear new attacks, AP reports that ISIS has trained at least 440 fighters to attack Europe in deadly waves. They are reportedly organized in a “network of agile and semiautonomous cells.”

VERBATIM

“If European politicians, European elites, believe that we can solve the problem of terrorism by organizing another protest march, laying flowers where victims were killed or by lighting up monuments with the colors of the attacked countries, they’re being terribly naive,” Niezależna quotes Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło as saying. She also announced she was suspending Poland’s commitment to welcome more refugees as part of an EU-wide relocation program. “I do not see it possible to allow migrants in Poland at the moment,” Szydło said. Read more from Reuters.


SYRIA, IRAQ CLOSE IN ON ISIS-HELD CITIES

A Syrian army offensive to retake the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS is underway. Government troops backed by the Russian warplanes that remain in the country have entered the “heart” of the city, which has been held by ISIS since May 2015, Al Arabiya reports, citing Syrian state media. If successful, the offensive would represent both a major boost to President Assad and his allies, and a major blow to ISIS. Meanwhile, across the border, Iraqi ground troops backed by U.S. airstrikes have launched an offensive to retake the ISIS-held city of Mosul. Read more from Newsweek.


NORTH KOREA HAILS SOLID-FUEL SUCCESS

North Korea is claiming to have successfully tested a solid-fuel rocket engine. If true, it would bolster Pyongyang’s missile capabilities, The New York Times reports. Using solid fuel instead of liquid fuel means a greater ground mobility for missiles that can also be launched much quicker. “We have anticipated this and we have been making necessary preparations,” the spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry said.


SNAPSHOT

Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire/ZUMA

More than 5,000 of the world’s best Irish dancers, aged between 8 and 30, are participating in the 46th annual world Irish dancing championships at the Glasgow Royal concert hall, from March 19-27.


DEBRIS “ALMOST CERTAINLY” FROM MH370

Debris recently found by an American tourist on a beach in Mozambique is “almost certainly” from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which went missing two years ago with 239 passengers on board, the BBC reports.


$416 MILLION

The record industry made $416 million from U.S. vinyl sales last year. The figure represents a 27-year high, as vinyl purchases brought in more money than free, ad-supported streaming.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Suffering with a low birth rate and grappling with how to maintain a workforce and economic development, Japanese officials believe they have a solution in AI. “Over the past few years, Japanese firms have competed in investing huge amounts of funds in the research and development of artificial intelligence,” China’s Economic Observer reports. “Toyota, the largest Japanese automobile maker, is among them. In a recent press conference, company president Akio Toyoda announced that the firm will spend $1 billion over the next five years in a joint AI research project with Preferred Networks, a small company located near Tokyo University.”

Read the full article, Can Artificial Intelligence Solve Japan’s Demographic Decline?


ROCKEFELLERS ABANDON EXXONMOBIL

The Rockefeller family, which has played a crucial role in the development and expansion of the oil industry, has announced that it is divesting from fossil fuels and its holdings in ExxonMobil, one of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil “babies.” According to the Rockefeller Family Fund, Exxon’s conduct on climate issues is “morally reprehensible.”


ON THIS DAY


Hungarian-American illusionist Harry Houdini was born on this day in 1874. That and more in today’s shot of history.


KIWIS KEEP THEIR FLAG

After months of drawing, campaigning and debating, and after spending no less than $17 million, New Zealand voters have decided to keep their flag as it is. Prime Minister John Key said he was disappointed that New Zealand would keep its Australia-like banner, but he urged all Kiwis “to use it, embrace it and, more importantly, be proud of it.”


MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD



WEIRDOVISION

If you thought the Eurovision song contest couldn’t get any weirder, this year’s contestant from Belarus will make you think again.

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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