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Starving Syria, David Bowie Dies, Extraditing El Chapo

Starving Syria, David Bowie Dies, Extraditing El Chapo

UN TO RELIEVE STARVING SYRIAN CITY

The United Nations is expected to send an aid convoy to the Syrian town of Madaya, where at least 23 people have recently starved to death. About 42,000 people in Madaya have had little to no access to food for the past two weeks, after government forces sealed off access to the city, demanding that opposition groups lay down their weapons, according to Al Jazeera. The rebel-held town outside Damascus has been under siege by government forces and their Hezbollah allies since July 2015, and emergency food supplies that were set to arrive Sunday were delayed, the BBC reports. Residents have reportedly resorted to eating grass and insects to survive. The UN, along with other aid groups such as Doctors Without Borders, are set to send convoys to two other Syrian cities, Kefraya and Foua, located in the north and besieged by rebel groups. According to the UN, about 400,000 people in 15 Syrian locations have no access to the life-saving aid they urgently need.


FAREWELL, DAVID BOWIE

Photo: Ben Stevens/i-Images/ZUMA

Beloved British musician David Bowie has died at age 69 after an 18-month battle with cancer. "Very sorry and sad to say it's true," Bowie's son Duncan Jones wrote on Twitter. The singer's official Facebook page said today that his family was with him at the end. Bowie's latest album Blackstar was released Jan. 7 to coincide with his 69th birthday. Tony Visconti, Bowie's longtime friend and producer, wrote in a statement that "he made Blackstar for us, his parting gift." Iggy Pop, also a close friend, wrote "David's friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is." David Bowie's career and influence span almost 50 years, starting with the album Space Oddity.


VERBATIM

"We still want all countries, both in Europe and the whole world, to join their efforts to combat these threats," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published today in German tabloid Bild, expressing his wish for a global coalition against terrorism. "Yet this does not mean that it is us who should agree with everything that others decide on these or other matters," he added. The interview is available in English here.


EL CHAPO TO BE EXTRADITED TO U.S.

Mexican authorities began U.S. extradition proceedings late Sunday against the world's most prominent drug trafficker, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. He was captured Friday in northwestern Mexico after a manhunt lasting several months. He had escaped from a Mexican maximum-security prison in July. Rolling Stone revealed Saturday that actor Sean Penn met and interviewed Guzman in October while he was on the run. Mexican authorities, who want him to face U.S. justice for the tons of drugs he has exported across the border, say they helped plan meeting between Penn and Guzman, Reuters reports. Read more from Le Blog.


ON THIS DAY


The NBA's "Chocolate Thunder" and the Grand Canyon National Park. We've got that and more in today's shot of history.


COLOGNE POLICE PROBE ATTACKS ON FOREIGNERS

German police are investigating whether Sunday's attacks against three foreign men in Cologne by a gang of about 20 people were racially motivated and retaliation for hundreds of New Year's Eve assaults on women. According to the local newspaper Express, the attackers had arranged to meet via Facebook to start a "manhunt" for foreigners. The group reportedly attacked six Pakistani men Sunday evening, injuring two, before wounding a Syrian man a few minutes later. The New Year's Eve assaults on women have now prompted more than 600 complaints. Authorities are focusing the investigation on asylum seekers in the city.


MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD



WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

The boom of platforms for freelance workers, on the Uber model, presages a world where the wage system will no longer dominate. This will require new social protections for the good of workers — and the economy, Les Echos writes. "The trend isn't limited to low-skilled jobs: In the U.S., the platform Upwork claims 2.5 million freelance service providers working intellectual jobs (developers, lawyers, graphic designers, assistants, etc.). According to a study commissioned by the Freelancers Union, 53 million people are independent, or one in three working Americans. With rising online platforms, as many as half of American workers will be self-employed by 2020."

Read the full article, Freelance Or Bust? Stitching A Safety Net For Workers 2.0.


GOLDEN GLOBE GAGS

Drink in hand, comedian and Golden Globe Awards host Ricky Gervais spared few last night. See the winners and the best Gervais barbs here.

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Economy

Russian Diamonds Are Belgium's Best Friend — But For How Much Longer?

Belgium has lobbied hard for the past year to keep Russian diamonds off the list of sanctioned goods. Indeed, there would be a huge impact on the economy of the port city of Antwerp, if Europe finally joins with the U.S. and others in banning sale of so-called "blood diamonds" from Russia. But a 10th package of EU sanctions arriving this month may finally be the end of the road.

Photo of a technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

A technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

Wang Xiaojun / Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

Since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to nine different packages of sanctions against Russia. With the aim to punish Moscow's leadership and to cripple the war economy, European bans and limits have been placed on imports of a range of Russian products from coal, gas and steal to caviar and vodka — were successively banned over the past 11 months.

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Still, one notable Russian export is a shining exception to the rule, still imported into Europe as if nothing has changed: diamonds.

Russian state conglomerate Alrosa, which accounts for virtually all of the country's diamond production (95%) and deals with more than one-fourth of total global diamond imports, has been chugging along, business as usual.

But that may be about to change, ahead of an expected 10th package of sanctions slated to be finalized in the coming weeks. During recent negotiations, with 26 of the 27 EU members agreeing on the statement that ALSROA’s diamonds should no longer be imported, the one holdout was not surprisingly Belgium.

The Belgian opposition to the ban is explained by the port city of Antwerp, where 85% of the rough diamonds in the world pass through to get cut, polished, and marketed. There are estimates that 30,000 Belgians work for Alrosa.

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