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UKRAINE LAUNCHES OFFENSIVE
Ukrainian government forces launched an offensive against pro-Russian rebels near the port city of Mariupol today, Reuters reports. Leaders from Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia are set to gather tomorrow in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss a possible ceasefire. After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged that there were “tactical disagreements” between the two, CNN reports. Merkel has repeatedly expressed her strong opposition to “a military solution to this conflict,” but Obama reasserted that his administration was considering all options, including sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. Read more from The Washington Post.

ON THIS DAY

Bob Dylan’s third studio album, The Times They Are a-Changin", was released on this day in 1964. Time for your 57-second shot of history.

ASSAD’S ANTI-ISIS INTELLIGENCE
In a BBC interview, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his government was receiving information about the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS in Syria from third parties, among them Iraq, where the terrorist group also controls a large territory. Assad added that there had been no direct cooperation or dialogue with the coalition “because we cannot be in an alliance with countries which support terrorism,” an apparent reference to Gulf states, Turkey and others, which have been accused in the past of aiding jihadist groups. Although he appeared open to the idea of some cooperation, he said he wouldn’t talk to U.S. officials “because they don't talk to anyone, unless he's a puppet.”

  • Assad also denied accusations that the Syrian army was using barrel bombs indiscriminately on rebel-held areas, killing scores of civilians in the process. “In most of the areas where the rebels take over, the civilians fled and come to our areas," he said. "So most of the areas that we encircle and attack are only filled with militants.” Watch the whole interview in English here.
  • Syrian Kurdish forces, meanwhile, continue to gain territory around the town of Kobani on the Turkish border and now control one-third of the surrounding villages, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. According to The Independent, ISIS is experiencing growing defections, many of those leaving having been marked for suicide bombing missions.

TWITTERVERSE SNOOPING
Twitter’s semi-annual transparency report showed a 40% increase in government requests for user information from six months ago. Russia, Turkey and the United States were responsible for most of the increase. The countries with the most requests to remove content are Turkey (477), Russia (91), and Germany (43).

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Caixin reports, more than 1,000 acres of historical areas have been lost since 1990 in Beijing alone, and the country must figure out how to balance urbanization with preservation. “In the next six years, as many as 100 million Chinese people will migrate from rural areas to cities,” the newspaper writes. “Towering skyscrapers, massive street blocks, industrial parks, multi-lane highways and shopping malls have and will replace ancient temples, traditional courtyards, palaces and tombs. The Chinese sense of community is changing. In many cases, people can no longer walk to work or shop in their own neighborhoods. Driving has become a basic requirement — which means that cities are being built for cars instead of people.”
Read the full article, As China Urbanizes, History Is Lost Forever.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

SOUTH SUDAN OIL TOWN SHELLED
Rebel fighters in South Sudan attacked government positions in the oil town of Bentiu, where as many as 53,000 people are sheltering inside a United Nations camp. The shelling marks a brutal return to violence after slim hopes that a peace deal could be reached. “This is a violation of the cessation-of-hostilities agreement, and we will act in self defense,” the country’s defense minister told AFP. UN official Valerie Amos warned yesterday that 2.5 million people were facing starvation, and she called for an arms embargo, which the U.S. has so far resisted, The Guardian reports. The next round of faltering peace talks between the government and the rebels, led by the former vice president, is due to resume on Feb. 19.

$975 MILLION
Chinese antitrust regulators have fined U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm $975 million, the largest in China’s corporate industry, after finding the company guilty of abusing its dominant position on patent licensing, The Wall Street Journal reports. Qualcomm is also required to lower its royalty rates, a decision that could help Chinese smartphone makers Xiaomi and Huawei.

DEFEAT FOR RULING DELHI PARTY
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s honeymoon appears to be over after his Bharatiya Janata Party was defeated by opposition in an election for the Delhi state assembly. According to NDTV projections, the Aam Aadmi Party, led by former tax inspector Arvind Kejriwal, is poised to win at least 67 of the 70 seats in the assembly. “When you are on the path of truth, all the forces of universe come together to help you,” Kejriwal said. His campaign was particularly successful with the working class and the poor, which comprise 60% of Delhi’s population. Read more from The Times of India.

VERBATIM
“My sculpture will replace the Eiffel Tower,” Paris PSG footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic joked as a 35-kilo wax figure of himself was unveiled at a Paris museum.

NETFLIX IN CUBA
In yet another sign of improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Netflix has launched its service in the communist island. But some are wondering why, given that the subscription fee represents half of the average monthly wage there and just 0.0004% of Cubans have broadband access.

Crunched by Marc Alves

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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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