Temporary Ukraine Truce, Petrobras Scandal, Pope On Spanking

WARRING UKRAINE PARTIES CALL TRUCE
Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have reached agreement with government forces on a humanitarian corridor to allow the evacuation of civilians out of Debaltseve, a key railway hub in the heart of the latest fighting, AP reports. A rebel spokesman said 1,000 civilians would be evacuated today, though it’s not clear where they’ll go.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande are due to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow following their meeting yesterday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Merkel and Hollande are eager to broker a lasting peace deal, which Le Monde characterizes as a “last chance” to end the conflict. Their peace plan is said to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity but also to offer some autonomy for separatist-held areas. Pictured: Night shelling over Donetsk.
  • European leaders are wary of an all-out war in eastern Europe and have repeatedly opposed sending weapons to Kiev. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was also in Kiev yesterday, said that President Barack Obama was “reviewing all his options” amid mounting calls to send military aid.
  • Putin’s spokesman reacted angrily to news that a 2008 Pentagon report claimed the Russian president suffered from Asperger’s syndrome. “That is stupidity not worthy of comment,” he said. Read more from AFP.

$200 MILLION
A former head at Brazil’s Petrobras oil giant alleged yesterday that the governing Workers’ Party had received between $150 million and $200 million in kickbacks from 90 of the biggest contracts Petrobras signed with major companies from 2003 until 2013, O Globo reports. This tops a difficult week for the government and the state-owned company, which saw its boss and five senior executives resign. Read more and see the newspaper’s front page in our feature Extra!

JORDAN EXPANDS ISIS STRIKES
Jordan continued to strike ISIS positions, including training centers and weapons storage sites, yesterday and characterized it as “only the beginning” of retaliation after the brutal ISIS murder of a Jordanian pilot, Al Jazeera reports. According to The Independent, some of the missiles carried messages written in chalk. One read, “For you, the enemies of Islam.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
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Argentine President Cristina Kirchner graced us with yet another verbal woopsie Wednesday when she mocked Chinese pronunciation of Ls and Rs in a tweet — while on a state visit to China seeking investment, no less. It’s not the first time she’s launched inappropriate zingers and WTF remarks. For a little trip down blunder lane, we’ve compiled a list of other notable Kirchner faux pas.

Read the full story, Cristina Kirchner’s 11 Worst Gaffes Ever.

MASS UK SURVEILLANCE UNLAWFUL
A secret court in Britain ruled that mass Internet surveillance by the country’s intelligence agency GCHQ was unlawful before December and breached human rights law, The Independent reports. It’s the first time that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, set up in 2000, has ruled against intelligence agencies. The legal challenge was brought by several associations, including Amnesty International and Privacy International. Privacy International’s deputy director praised the ruling, saying that “for far too long, intelligence agencies like GCHQ and NSA have acted like they are above the law.”

VERBATIM
“One time, I heard a father say, ‘At times I have to hit my children a bit, but never in the face so as not to humiliate them.’ That's great. He had a sense of dignity. He should punish, do the right thing, and then move on,” Pope Francis said about corporal punishment during his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

FAILED ENGINES CAUSED TRANSASIA CRASH
Taiwanese officials have concluded that the TransAsia plane crash in a Taipei river was caused by the failure of both engines to produce enough thrust at takeoff, moments before the crash, Reuters reports. After pilots signaled a problem with the first engine, the crew apparently turned off the second and restarted it in an attempt to gain power, but it failed. The dead pilot was hailed as a hero yesterday for having managed to avoid buildings. His body was found with his hand still clutching the aircraft’s joystick. At least 35 people are now known to have died. Eight people are still missing.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
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JAPAN TO ENFORCE VACATION TIME
There’s a Japanese word for working literally to death, “karoshi.” With an estimated 200 such deaths every year, the Japanese government is reportedly planning to introduce legislation that will make it the legal responsibility of employers to ensure workers take their holidays. According to AP, the average Japanese workers barely take half of their vacation days, preferring to keep them in case of illness and fearing resentment from co-workers.

ON THIS DAY

On this day in 1945, Bob Marley was born. Time for your 57-second shot of history.

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Society

The Barber Of Amsterdam? Dutch Culture Sector's Hair-Razing COVID Protest

Theaters, museums and cinemas welcomed "essential services" on their stage floors to make a point about the industry's struggles during the latest COVID lockdown.

Theater Hairdresser a peaceful protest against Netherlands' continued nationwide lockdown in the arts sector

It’s an unusual sight even in these unusual times: in the Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's prestigious concert hall, a man sits on stage getting his hair cut. Behind him, an orchestra plays Charles Ives' Symphony no. 2. In front of him, dozens of people are watching — both the orchestra, and to see when it's their turn for the next haircut.

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