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In The News

Russia Pounds Ukraine, Mongolia Coal Protests, AI Chatbot Record

Russia Pounds Ukraine, Mongolia Coal Protests, AI Chatbot Record

A man carries a TV set after Russian rockets hit the town of Novosofiivka in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya region on Monday, killing at least four people.

Laure Gautherin, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས།*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Russia has launched its eighth large-scale wave of airstrikes on Ukraine, anti-government protesters try to storm Mongolia's State Palace and an AI-powered chatbot wins over a million humans in record time. Meanwhile, Francesca Mannochi for Italian daily La Stampa reports on the dramatic situation in Somalia, hit by unprecedented drought.

[*Tashi delek - Tibetan]


An end to the hijab law? Iranian protesters want to end the whole regime

Reported declarations by some Iranian officials on revising the notorious morality police patrols and obligatory dress codes for women are suspect both in their authenticity, and ultimately not even close to addressing the demands of Iranian protesters, reports Persian-language media Kayhan-London.

The news spread quickly around Iran, and the world: the Iranian regime's very conservative prosecutor-general, Muhammadja'far Montazeri, was reported to have proposed loosening the mandatory headscarf rules Iran places on women in public.

Let's remember that within months of taking power in 1979, the Islamic Republic had forced women to wear headscarves in public, and shawls and other dressings to cover their clothes. But ongoing protests, which began in September over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody over her headscarf, seem to instead be angling for an overthrow of the entire 40-year regime.

Che ba hejab, che bi hejab, mirim be suyeh enqelab, protesters have chanted. "With or Without the Hijab, We're heading for a Revolution."

Montazeri recently announced that Iran's parliament and Higher Council of the Cultural Revolution, an advisory state body, would discuss the issue of obligatory headscarves over the following two weeks. "The judiciary does not intend to shut down the social security police but after these recent events, security and cultural agencies want to better manage the matter," Montazeri said, adding that this may require new proposals on "hijab and modesty" rules.

A spokesman for the parliamentary cultural affairs committee, Ahmad Rastineh, recently said that "new methods" were needed to defend the regime's "sartorial values," and that parliament would debate the implementation of the original headscarf rules. He said the issue was also being "debated" at unspecified universities.

Others close to the regime have given conflicting indications about whether change is actually coming. Rahimpur Ozghudi, a member of the Higher Council of the Cultural Revolution, said the people had chosen the "obligatory hijab." In principle the state could ditch the hijab, he said, but "the people don't want it."

However, leaked internal information indicates that there is far from a popular consensus supporting the obligatory hijab. Recently the Fars news agency close to the Revolutionary Guards, had its emails and communications hacked, which led to the publication online of various private conversations and documents. Among the leaked documents was a private poll taken with a sample group of just under 4,000 respondents, which showed that 51% of them want headscarves to be optional.

On December 1st, the head of the presidency's public relations office, Ahmad Salehi, said it had received "a very small number" of petitions asking for the liberalization of hijab norms, which it had duly conveyed to senior officials in spite of this being a "minority position."

In recent weeks, there have been reports and pictures of an increasing number of women appearing in public without a headscarf.

Some politicians insist meanwhile that the hijab must be obligatory in principle. One conservative law maker Aliasghar Anabestani, said on December 2 that women seen in public without their headscarf should be denied social services. Anabestani, a member of the parliamentary social affairs committee, does however favor revising the morality patrols, apparently as recommended by reformists.

While mandatory wearing of the hijab in public remains the law, he said, the state should consider the modalities of its implementation and make greater use of "social persuasion" about its importance.

"I didn't see the guidance (morality) patrol model and structure as successful," he stated, adding that he "[was] not saying this [just because of] the events that have happened."

Regardless of the state's intentions on the scope of personal freedoms, this debate by now lags far behind the demands of the thousands of protesters that have loudly voiced their unqualified contempt for and rejection of the Islamic Republic.

And prominent Iranian dissidents and journalists located outside the country have voiced skepticism over claims that any substantive changes have been made to the morality police.

"It’s disinformation that Islamic Republic of Iran has abolished its morality police. It’s a tactic to stop the uprising. Protesters are not facing guns and bullets to abolish morality police or forced hijab.They want to end Islamic regime. #MahsaAmini" tweeted Iranian-American journalist and women's rights activist Masih Alinejad.

Opposed Iranians are concerned the regime will try "Chinese-style" flexibility by manipulating reformists who have nevertheless worked within the system for the past 20 years to curb the protests' momentum and snuff out all dissent.



• Ukraine facing new barrage of Russian air strikes: At least four people have been killed in the latest round of major Russian air strikes on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure targets, the eighth such barrage since October. Meanwhile, another reported drone attack at a Russian air field was reported Tuesday morning the second straight day Kyiv forces appear willing and able to hit targets inside Russian territory.

• Beijing drops negative COVID test requirement: China’s capital Beijing is no longer requiring a negative COVID-19 test to enter parks, supermarkets, offices and airports starting this Tuesday, in the latest loosening of the country’s strict Zero-COVID policy following last month’s rare protests.

• Mongolians protest alleged theft of coal sold to China: Protesters have tried to force their way into Mongolia's State Palace, incensed by allegations of corruption linked to the coal trade with China.

• Philippines inflation soars to 14-year high: Annual inflation rose to its highest since November 2008 in the Philippines, on the back of both higher global energy costs and higher food prices caused in part by recent typhoons.

• Indonesia passes law to ban sex outside of marriage: Indonesia’s parliament has approved a new criminal code that includes outlawing sex outside of marriage and cohabitation, as the Muslim-majority country experiences a rise in religious conservatism.

• Kirstie Alley dies at 71: American actress Kirstie Alley, best known for her Emmy-winning role in sitcom Cheers and films like Look Who’s Talkinghas died aged 71 after a brief battle with cancer.

• Meta threatens to remove U.S. content: Facebook owner Meta has threatened to remove news content from its platforms in the U.S. if the Congress passes a proposal aimed at giving news organizations more power to negotiate fees with tech companies


The official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Renmin Ribao dedicates its front page to the state funeral for former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, held on Tuesday in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The ceremony, which marks the end of a week of mourning, was attended by party elite, retired officials and Jiang’s family. Current leader Xi Jinping delivered a 50-minute eulogy, paying tribute to his predecessor who he called an “outstanding leader with great prestige and a great Marxist.”


5 days

It took only five days for the AI-powered chatbot ChatGPT to cross the one-million-users mark, as confirmed by OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman. The conversational chatbot has taken the Internet by storm, understanding prompts and turning out curated information in a never-before-seen way. How does the unprecedented sprint to a million users compare to other internet sensations? It took Instagram two months, Facebook 10 months and Twitter two years to reach that number of users.


How climate change and Ukraine war have put Somalia on the brink of famine

In Somalia, four rainy seasons have failed to arrive, leaving the land desiccated and people starving. But drought alone is not enough to cause these numbers. A perfect storm of factors is setting the stage for a monumental human tragedy that most of the world is ignoring, writes Francesca Mannochi in Italian daily La Stampa.

🇸🇴 In Somalia, four rainy seasons have failed to arrive, and a fifth is now failing as well. This means that land has been desiccated for almost three years, starving animals and people. But drought alone is not enough to cause these numbers. Somalia is once again a victim of the combined effects of climate change, a global food crisis, and the war that has been raging through the country for 30 years — with the jihadist group Al Shabaab controlling vast rural areas, besieging villages and towns.

⚠️ It’s a perfect storm that is bringing Somalia to the brink of a new famine. Repeated United Nations warnings have achieved little. Last December, when Russia's invasion of Ukraine had not yet begun, the Horn of Africa was already dealing with the consequences of a fourth waterless rainy season. The United Nations had issued repeated warnings that hunger levels had been catastrophic “for more than a year,” urging countries to act before not after a declaration of famine. But the alerts have been largely ignored, and less than half of the requested, and pledged, money has been sent.

⚰️ Somalia has experienced two famines before: in 1992 and 2011, resulting in at least half a million deaths. "The numbers and the degree of malnutrition we are seeing in children today is exactly the same as in 2011," says Mohamed Osman Wehliye, the doctor in charge of Baidoa’s Stabilization Center, which is run by Save the Children. He is in his early 30s and was born and raised here. He remembers the deaths of 1992 and 2011 because he was there. “I didn't think it would happen again,” he says.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


“Sport, in the case of football, has to serve the principles of Islam, which is respect, tolerance and coming together and not division.”

— The Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities has released a statement calling for calm ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup game between Spain and Morocco, amid past political tensions over the two countries on issues like illegal immigration. Morocco’s win last week over Belgium led to violence in several Belgian cities.


A man carries a TV set after Russian rockets hit the town of Novosofiivka in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya region on Monday, killing at least four people. — Photo: Dmytro Smolienko/Ukrinform/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Laure Gautherin, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Legalizing Moonshine, A Winning Political Stand In Poland

Moonshine, typically known as “bimber” in Poland, may soon be legalized by the incoming government. There is a mix of tradition, politics and economics that makes homemade booze a popular issue to campaign on.

Photo of an empty vodka bottle on the ground in Poland

Bottle of vodka laying on the ground in Poland

Leszek Kostrzewski

WARSAWIt's a question of freedom — and quality. Poland's incoming coalition government is busy negotiating a platform for the coming years. Though there is much that still divides the Left, the liberal-centrist Civic Koalition, and the centrist Third Way partners, there is one area where Poland’s new ruling coalition is nearly unanimous: moonshine.

The slogan for the legalization of moonshine (known in Poland as "bimber") was initially presented by Michał Kołodziejczak, the leader of Agrounia, a left-wing socialist political movement in Poland that has qualified to be part of the incoming Parliament.

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”Formerly so-called moonshine was an important element of our cultural landscape, associated with mystery, breaking norms, and freedom from the state," Kołodziejczak said. "It was a reason to be proud, just like the liqueurs that Poles were famous for in the past.”

The president of Agrounia considered the right to make moonshine as a symbol of "subjectivity" that farmers could enjoy, and admitted with regret that in recent years it had been taken away from citizens. “It's also about a certain kind of freedom, to do whatever you want on your farm," Kołodziejczak adds. "This is subjectivity for the farmer. Therefore, I am in favor of providing farmers with the freedom to consume this alcohol for their own use.”

A similar viewpoint was aired by another Parliament member. “We will stop pretending that Polish farmers do not produce moonshine for their own use, such as for weddings,” the representative said, pointing out the benefits of controlling the quality. “Just like they produce slivovitz, which Poland is famous for. It's high time they did it legally.”

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