Panama Papers & Politics, From Pakistan to Iceland


It’s been more than six months since a massive leak first exposed vast networks of offshore financial dealings linked to a Panama-based law firm. But the reverberations of the so-called “Panama Papers” continue to show up in unlikely places. Pakistan’s opposition party announced today that two of its supporters have died after police fired tear gas to stop protesters from marching to the capital Islamabad to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Driving the opposition’s outrage are revelations from the leaked Panama documents that appear to show Sharif’s family owned offshore holding companies. Opposition leader Imran Khan, a cricket hero turned politician, has vowed to send a million supporters to the city tomorrow to force Sharif to step down or agree to a corruption investigation.

In a starkly different corner of the globe, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson announced his resignation on Sunday. His Progressive Party was routed in a general election that had been scheduled after his predecessor was forced out after another series from the Panama leaks showed that he and his wife had stowed away millions offshore.

While it’s indisputable that leaks from tiny Panama have shaken far-flung parts of the world, it remains to be seen which political players will gain from it. It’s fitting that Iceland’s Pirate Party, which saw strong gains in the election, was founded by activists, anarchists and former hackers. It’s also true that Pakistani opposition leader Khan, who’s calling for the graft inquiry, was himself forced to admit to using an offshore company to avoid paying tax on the sale of a London property.



Iraqi troops have entered the outskirts of Mosul for the first time since the battle to retake the city from ISIS began just over two weeks ago. According to the BBC, Iraqi forces are “facing very stiff resistance.”


Russia is being “increasingly aggressive” and is prepared to use “propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyber-attacks” in order to “to push its foreign policy abroad,” and especially across Europe and the UK, the director general of MI5 Andrew Parker told The Guardian.


FBI investigators continue to sift through some 650,000 emails potentially linked to Hillary Clinton, and experts believe they will find any relevant material by election day, The Wall Street Journal reports. Meanwhile, other documents leaked by Wikileaks continue to damage the Democratic nominee, including information related to what The Hill describes as “Team Clinton’s sordid financial dealings.” The New York Times this morning reports that in the early 1990s, Donald Trump used a “legally dubious method” to avoid paying tax. For the latest state-by-state polls, check out this map, which shows Clinton holding on to a narrow lead.


Actress Tippi Hedren, famous for her role in The Birds, writes in her new memoir that she was sexually assaulted by director Alfred Hitchcock. “It was sexual, it was perverse, and it was ugly, and I couldn’t have been more shocked and repulsed,” the 86-year-old wrote.


"Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.." Pope Francis said at a Mass this morning on the second day of a historic trip to Sweden to seek reconciliation with Protestants. Next year will mark 500 years since Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the church door in the town of Wittenberg, Germany, which set off the Reformation and led to the spread of Protestantism around the world and centuries of conflict with the Catholic Church. Read more from the Associated Press.


It’s safe to assume a lot of people went “Wow” in the Sistine Chapel, 504 years ago. Find out why in your 57-second shot of history.


China unveiled its fifth-generation J-20 fighter jets earlier today at the country’s biggest air show in Zhuhai, where radar equipment and close to half of Chinese weapons systems were also on display, the South China Morning Post reports.


South Korean prosecutors have placed Choi Soon-sil, a close friend of President Park Geun-hye and the woman at the center of a massive influence-peddling scandal, under emergency detention, Yonhap reports. Opposition leaders are calling for Park’s resignation.


The deadly 1933 earthquake and other seismic events in the Los Angeles region in the early 20th century may have been caused by oil drilling, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey concluded in a report published yesterday. Read more from the Los Angeles Times.


How does a parapsychologist deal with people who say they’ve seen ghosts? That is the question Victoria Michalczak tries to answer in a disturbing, spooky piece for Süddeutsche Zeitung. “It's the summer of 2006, and Farnaz Azadi, a 16-year-old German-Iranian, heads on vacation with her boyfriend and his family to Portugal. One night, shortly before midnight, a friend of Azadi’s screams in panic â€" she had heard footsteps in the corridor and the sound of a knock from her cupboard. Azadi’s boyfriend searches the house for burglars but doesn’t find anyone.

The following night, Azadi, whose name has been changed, experienced something she will never forget. She thinks about the incident a lot but rarely speaks about it. It was a "little traumatic," she recalls and recounts the tale: Azadi and her boyfriend had gone to bed and turned off the light. Her boyfriend had fallen asleep immediately. When Azadi turned around, she saw a dark figure standing next to her bed. She clearly sees its shape â€" the head, the neck, the shoulders. The figure could not be older than an eight-year-old. Azadi is certain it’s not a shadow. And she faints.”

Read the full article, Parapsychology, Serious Study Of The "Ghost" In Your Life.


Going North â€" Road to Mo i Rana, 1967



Caitlín Nic Aoidh appeared to be hit by lightning and disappeared in a cloud of smoke live on TV, as she was presenting the weather forecast on an Irish news broadcast. Apparently Halloween has merged with April Fools’ Day ...

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A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]


Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.



• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.



Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.


The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.


Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.


Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

DO YOU FIND PEOPLE WHO WRITE IN ALL CAPS PARTICULARLY ANNOYING? Feel free to COMPLAIN, or otherwise let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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