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Russia's Duplicity, Haiti's Deadly Carnival, Chelsea's Racist Fans

UKRAINIAN FORCES PULL BACK
Ukraine’s government forces began withdrawing today from the eastern and key strategic city of Debaltseve, which has been under siege from pro-Russian separatists, Reuters reports. Semen Semenchenko, who heads the Ukrainian paramilitary battalion, wrote on Facebook that “the withdrawal of forces from Debaltseve is taking place in a planned and organized way.” But he added that “the enemy is trying to cut the roads and prevent the exit of the troops.”

  • But Mykola Kolesnyk, another pro-government paramilitary leader, told Ukrainian television channel 112 that not all troops were withdrawing. “We are talking only about units that are surrounded in populated areas in and around the town.”
  • The U.S. and UN have accused Russia of violating the Minsk ceasefire that became effective Saturday at midnight, The Guardian reports. “The idea that Russia, which manufactured and continues to escalate the violence in Ukraine, has tabled a resolution today calling for the conflict’s peaceful solution is ironic to say the least,” said Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN.
  • Pro-Russian separatists claim the Minsk ceasefire doesn’t apply to the city of Debaltseve, a rail hub that links eastern Ukraine’s two rebel-controlled regions, Reuters reports.

SNAPSHOT
Photo above: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire/ZUMA
Sky watchers were able to enjoy the stunning aurora borealis, or northern lights, Tuesday over Dunstanburgh Castle in Northumberland, UK.

PROSECUTORS INVESTIGATE SWISS BANKS
Officials in Switzerland have opened an investigation into suspected money-laundering by HSBC’s private banking subsidiary in Geneva, the country’s authorities announced in a statement. The bank’s premises were being searched this morning in the Swiss capital amid revelations that the bank turned a blind eye to illegal activities, the Swiss dailyLe Tempsreports. HSBC is currently at the heart of a vast tax fraud scandal revealed by “Swiss Leaks,” a journalistic investigation published Feb. 8 by several newspapers.

  • Meanwhile, The Telegraph’s chief political commentator Peter Oborne has resigned from the conservative British daily over its virtually non-existent coverage of HSBC’s alleged wrongdoing. In a post on openDemocracy, Oborne explains that the newspaper put the bank’s interests ahead of its readers’.

VERBATIM
“Such behaviour is abhorrent and has no place in football or society,” the London soccer club Chelsea FC said in a statement Wednesday. It came after Chelsea fans were involved in a racist incident in Paris before the Champion’s League match against Paris Saint-Germain Tuesday. In a video sent to The Guardian, a group of men can be seen repeatedly pushing back a black man trying to board a Paris Metro, before chanting, “We’re racist and that’s the way we like it.” The Chelsea FC statement said the franchise would “support any criminal action against those involved in such behaviour.”

SYRIA TO SUSPEND ALEPPO STRIKES
The Syrian government is willing to freeze its aerial and artillery strikes on the northern city of Aleppo to allow a localized humanitarian ceasefire, Staffan de Mistura, UN special representative for Syria, announced Tuesday. He said the start date of the “truce” had not been determined yet. “I have no illusions, because based on past experience, this will be a difficult issue to achieve,” he said.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
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WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Le Nouvel Observateur’s Doan Bui recounts, French police seized a huge stash of previously unseen Picasso drawings at the home of the late artist's electrician in 2010. An ongoing trial will decide whether they were gifts or stolen goods. “The box reappeared almost half a century later, and in a completely unexpected way,” the journalist writes. “In 2010, electrician Pierre Le Guennec and his wife Danielle made themselves known to the Picasso Administration and claimed certificates of authenticity for these unpublished works. The box, they said, was given to them by Pablo Picasso and Jacqueline, his late wife who died in 1986. During the 40 previous years, they claimed to have forgotten it in their garage, at the back of their small house in Mouans-Sartoux, near Cannes.”
Read the full article, The French Electrician With 271 Picassos In His Garage.

16 DEAD IN HAITI CARNIVAL ACCIDENT
A stampede caused by a popular singer hitting an overhead power line while on a Carnival float in Port-au-Prince Tuesday killed at least 16 people and injured 78, Le Monde reports. The last day of Carnival has been cancelled in the Haitian capital, and the government has declared three days of mourning.

5%
Only about $300 million — or 5% — of the $5.4 billion world leaders pledged to help rebuild Gaza have actually reached Palestinian territory so far, Al Jazeera reports. The Israeli military’s operation in Gaza last summer killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and destroyed almost 100,000 homes.

BOKO HARAM THREATENS NIGERIA ELECTION
In a video released Tuesday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatens to disrupt Nigeria’s March 28 presidential election, France 24 reports. “We say that these elections that you are planning to do will not happen in peace, even if that costs us our lives,” the leader of the terrorist group says. The video appeared as two suicide bombings killed at least 38 people and injured 20 others in northeastern Nigeria Tuesday.

ON THIS DAY
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On Feb. 18, 1978, Hawaii hosted the first Ironman Triathlon, now an annual event. Time for your 57-second shot of history.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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