Greek Banks Reopen, Cuba-U.S. Thaw, Searching For Aliens

Greek Banks Reopen, Cuba-U.S. Thaw, Searching For Aliens


Photo: Marios Lolos/Xinhua/ZUMA

Greek banks reopened today for the first time in three weeks, marking the return of some semblance of normalcy for the bankrupt country.

  • The withdrawal limit of 60 euros per day has been changed to a maximum of 420 euros per week, potentially meaning the end of interminable queues at ATMs all over the country.
  • The BBC reports that many restrictions remain, including a block on money transfers abroad. Greeks also still face rising prices, with an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods.
  • Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested Sunday in an interview for Germany’s ARD TV channel that she was open to discussing reduced interest rates and extended maturity dates â€" though she again ruled against "a classic haircut," i.e. writing off part of Greece’s huge debt.
  • European markets reacted well to both the reopening of Greek banks and Germany’s flexibility, with stocks opening higher this morning (0.4% higher for the pan-European Stoxx 600, 0.3% for Britain's FTSE 100, 0.7% for the French CAC, 0.6% for the German DAX).


“The conditions of the agreement, however, are positively alarming for those who still believe in the future of Europe,” former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn wrote on his blog about the agreement Greece reached last week with its creditors, which calls for pension and tax reforms. “Without entering into detail about whether the measures imposed on Greece were welcome, legitimate, effective, appropriate, what I want to underline here is that the context in which this diktat was issued has created a crippling situation.”


It’s the end of 54 years of Cold War enmity: The U.S. and Cuba have formally restored full diplomatic relations by reopening their respective embassies in Havana and Washington â€" a crucial step in the rapprochement initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro last year. Diplomatic ties were severed in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s revolutionary coup.

"It's a historic moment," Cuban diplomat and analyst Carlos Alzugaray told AP, though there are still lingering difficulties such as restrictions on Americans wanting to travel to Cuba, mutual claims for economic reparations, the resolution of the decades-long trade embargo on Cuba as well as calls for Havana to improve human rights and democracy.


Today marks 64 years since Jordan’s King Abdullah was assassinated and, more encouragingly, 46 years since Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind.” Time now for your 57-second shot of history.


An explosion has killed at least 27 people at a cultural center in Suruc, southern Turkey, near the Syrian border. According to Turkish daily Hürriyet, the attack is believed to be an ISIS suicide bombing. More than 40 were wounded in the blast in the garden of the Amara Cultural Center close to the Syrian town of Kobane, a battleground between ISIS militants and Kurdish fighters, France TV Info with AFP report. About 300 delegates from youth associations were reportedly staying at the center.


From launching new air routes to studying Mandarin, Egypt's tourism industry isn't just standing idly by while post-revolution problems keep American and European visitors away. As Mada Masr"s Edmund Bower reports, the only market for cultural tourism in Egypt that hasn't shrunk is the Chinese market. Far from decreasing, the number of Chinese visitors is expected to double from pre-revolution levels. “It's not just the government that has been working to attract Chinese tourists,” he writes. “Individual tour guides have also been marketing themselves to this new group of visitors. Like so many in Egypt, 40-year-old Hani Hamid has worked most of his life in tourism. He has been a tour guide for the past 28 years. The problems Egypt has faced since 2011 have really damaged his work. ‘I earn a quarter of what I used to, and I have a family of four,’ he says. ‘I need to find a new market.’”

Read the full article, Egypt Taps Chinese Tourists As Western Visitors Stay Away



The trial of former Chad President Hissene Habré for crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes is due to open today in the Senegalese capital Dakar. Nicknamed “the African Pinochet,” Habré is accused of carrying out thousands of executions during his eight-year rule from 1982 to 1990. According to Human Rights Watch, a 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused his government of systematic torture and 40,000 political murders.


Yuri Milner, a Russian entrepreneur, announced today in London that he would spend a whopping $100 million in the next decade to search for signals from alien civilizations. Read more about it in the New York Times.


At least eight Afghan troops have been killed in a NATO airstrike in Logar province, eastern Afghanistan, according to security officials. Five other soldiers were also reportedly wounded as an army checkpoint was hit in the latest case of friendly fire in the region, Al Jazeera reports.


Three-time winner of the World Surf League Mick Fanning had a lucky escape after he had to fend off a shark in the middle of Sunday's final in South Africa. Today’s front-page story in the South African daily Cape Times includes pictures of the 34-year-old Australian swimming away after he was knocked off his board. Read more in our Extra! feature.


This year’s Miss Réunion beauty pageant opened in slippery style. Check out the video here.

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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