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Record Brexit Support, Obama's Oil Tax, Johnny Cash Spider

SYRIANS FLEE ALEPPO AMID FIGHTING

Up to 70,000 Syrians may be heading north to Turkey as a consequence of heavy fighting near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the figure was more likely around 40,000. "Now 10,000 new refugees are waiting in front of the door of Kilis (Turkey's border town) because of air bombardment and attacks against Aleppo," the BBC quotes Davutoglu as saying.

  • Saudi Arabia, an enemy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, may be preparing to send ground troops to fight ISIS in Syria in coordination with Turkey, The Guardian reports.
  • The Financial Times warns that Europe's Mediterranean ports are vulnerable because ships are free to sail without any oversight. According to the newspaper, 540 cargo ships entered European waters after "suspiciously" sailing through "the territorial waters of terrorist hotspots Syria and Libya."
  • A report in The New York Times shows that thousands of Iraqi refugees are returning home, disappointed with a life in Europe that's "was not what we were expecting."
CLINTON, SANDERS FACE OFF

For their last debate before next week's New Hampshire primary, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed last night on the establishment, what it means to be progressive, Wall Street money in politics and foreign policy. According The Hill, Clinton "came into the debate seeking a jumpstart of momentum after Sanders fell within a hair's breadth of knocking her off in Iowa." But New Hampshire polls shows she's 20 points behind Sanders on average. Among Republicans, Trump still holds a substantial lead, but support for Cruz and Rubio is rising, The Wall Street Journalreports.


45%

A YouGov poll published in The Times shows that 45% of Britons support the country leaving the EU, with 36% opposed to the idea of a so-called Brexit. It's the Vote Leave campaign's biggest lead yet ahead of a referendum scheduled to take place by the end of 2017. The poll found that 17% were undecided and 2% planned not to vote at all. The results represent a blow for Prime Minister David Cameron, who recently presented the outline of a deal to keep the UK in the EU but with "substantial changes" to Britain's membership terms.


FIRST PREGNANT EU WOMAN DIAGNOSED WITH ZIKA

Photo: Diego Herculano/Xinhua/ZUMA

Authorities in Catalonia, Spain, confirmed yesterday that a pregnant woman had been diagnosed with Zika, the first such case reported in Europe, according to El País. The 41-year-old woman is between her 13th and 14th week of pregnancy and is said to have contracted the disease during a recent trip to Colombia, where three patients have died. A total of six people have been diagnosed with Zika in Catalonia.

For more, read this Folha de S. Paulo/Worldcrunch piece, Zika Outbreak Exposes Brazilian Incompetence.


FAREWELL SHINING STAR

Maurice White, co-founder and singer of Earth, Wind & Fire, has died at the age of 74, after more than two decades with Parkinson's disease.


HISTORIC MEETING FOR POPE AND RUSSIAN PATRIARCH

Pope Francis and his counterpart from the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, have confirmed an unprecedented meeting of the leaders of two branches of Christianity that have been separated since the Great Schism of 1054, Rome-based daily La Repubblica reports. The Feb. 12 meeting in Havana will include Cuban President Raul Castro to serve as a go-between for a ceremony that will include a handshake and signing of a joint declaration, said a Vatican spokesman who gave details of what he called "good news." Francis will stop off in Cuba on his way to an already scheduled one-week trip to Mexico.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Niki Lauda is a Formula 1 legend. After the accident at the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring nearly killed him, Lauda was back in the driver's seat seven weeks later. In an exclusive interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, the son of Austrian industrialists speaks about his family's attempt to derail his career, living with the daily risk of death on the job and the loneliness of a life in which, at the age of 66, his only real friend is his wife.

Read the full article, Formula 1 Icon Niki Lauda: No Friends If You Want To Finish First.


ASSANGE'S FATE UNCERTAIN … FOR THE MOMENT

A press conference with Julian Assange and his legal team began at noon in London, as television cameras (and British police) waited to see if the WikiLeaks founder would walk out of the Ecuadorian embassy today as he has pledged to do, risking arrest. A UN panel has ruled that Assange has been "arbitrarily detained" by the UK and Sweden, confirming a report published yesterday by the BBC. Assange, who's been staying at the embassy in London since mid-2012 to avoid being arrested and deported over sexual assault charges in Sweden, should also be entitled to "an enforceable right to compensation," the panel said. Britain's Foreign Office said it "completely rejects" the ruling, and Swedish authorities released a similar statement.


ON THIS DAY


It's soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo's 31st birthday and the anniversary of the largest gold nugget ever discovered. See what else we've got for you in today's video shot of history.


OBAMA UNVEILS OIL TAX PLAN

U.S. President Barack Obama proposed a $10 tax per barrel of oil yesterday in a bid to create "a clear incentive for private sector innovation to reduce our reliance on oil and at the same time invest in clean energy technologies that will power our future," The White House said in a statement. Though the fee is meant to be paid by oil companies, White House economic adviser Jeff Zients admitted that the companies "will likely pass on some of these costs" to customers.


MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD



JAPANESE VOLCANO ERUPTS

Mount Sakurajima, a volcano that overlooks the city of Kagoshima and is located 30 miles from a nuclear power plant, erupted just before 7 p.m. local time today with a fiery blast that sent lava rolling down its slope, Japan Today reports. There were no immediate reports of injuries, but the Meteorological Agency expanded a no-go zone around the volcano and warned that areas near residential districts could be affected.


SOUTH AFRICAN MINERS TRAPPED

About 87 people are trapped after a building collapsed at a gold mine in eastern South Africa, AP reports. A miners union spokesman said that 80 people had already been rescued and had no serious injuries.


THE JOHNNY CASH TARANTULA

"It's a perfect name. It fits the spider — it's found around Folsom and the males are predominantly all black, so it fits his image." Meet Aphonopelma johnnycashi, one of 14 new species of tarantulas.

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Ideas

Iran: A Direct Link Between Killing Protesters And The Routine Of State Executions

Iran has long had a simple and prolific response to political opposition and the worst criminal offenses, namely death by shooting or hanging. Whether opening fire on the streets or leading the world in carrying out the death penalty, the regime insists that morality is on its side.

Protesters linked to the Iranian group Mojahedin-e Khalq demonstrate in Whitehall, London in 2018

Ahmad Ra'fat

-Editorial-

In early September, before Iran's latest bout of anti-government protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, there was another, quieter demonstration: Relatives of several prisoners sentenced to death staged a sit-in outside the judiciary headquarters in Tehran, urging the authorities to waive the sentences. The crowd, which doggedly refused to disperse, included the convicts' young children.

Executions have been a part and parcel of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its inception in 1979. The new authorities began shooting cadres of the fallen monarchy with unseemly zeal, usually after a summary trial. On Feb. 14, 1979, barely three days after the regime was installed, the first four of the Shah's generals were shot inside a secondary school in Tehran.

To this day, the regime continues to opt for death by firing squad for its political opponents; the execution method-of-choice for more socio-economic blights like drug trafficking has been death by hanging.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

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