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China Eases COVID Restrictions, Ramaphosa In Turmoil, RIP Christine McVie

President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa leaves 10 Downing Street after meeting British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, pictured here leaving 10 Downing Street after meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week, is targeted by a probe into his alleged cover-up of a $4-million theft at his farm back in 2020.

Emma Albright, Bertrand Hauger, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Laure Gautherin

👋 Halito!*

Welcome to Thursday, where China eases COVID restrictions in several major cities, South Africa’s president faces impeachment, and Fleetwood Mac bids adieu to its songbird Christine McVie. Meanwhile, in Denmark, we look at a controversy surrounding a blackface scene featured in a beloved Christmas TV special.

[*Choctaw, Native American]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• China eases COVID restrictions: China lifted some COVID-19 restrictions in several major cities like Guangzhou, after days of unprecedented confrontations between police and protesters demanding the easing of the country’s strict Zero-COVID rules.

• Letter bombs sent to Spanish PM and Ukraine embassy in Madrid: Spain has stepped up security at public and diplomatic buildings after at least five letter bombs were received, including one sent to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, all with an apparent link to the war in Ukraine. The first explosive letter arrived on Wednesday at the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid, which caused one minor injury.

• South African president faces impeachment: Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s President, is facing a possible impeachment motion over his alleged involvement in the “Farmgate” scandal where he’s accused of complicity in hiding a $4 million theft from his farm in 2020.

• Deadly landslide in Brazil: A landslide on a highway in southern Brazil has killed at least two people, with up to 50 others missing. As of now, six survivors have been found, including the mayor of the coastal town of Guaratuba.

• Hakeem Jeffries to succeed Nancy Pelosi: U.S. House Democrats have picked caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries to become the next leader of the Democrats in the lower house of Congress. The New York lawmaker will succeed current Speak of the House Nancy Pelosi, making Jeffries the first Black person to lead one of the two major parties in either chamber of Congress.

• French woman making history in World cup: Stéphanie Frappart is to make history today, being the first woman to ever referee a men’s World Cup match.

• Bye bye, Songbird: Fleetwood Mac singer-songwriter Christine McVie died on Wednesday, at age of 79, following a brief illness. McVie was behind some of the band’s most famous hits, including Everywhere, Little Lies, and Songbird.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo reports on a landslide on a highway in the southern state of Paraná which killed at least two people and left dozens missing on Wednesday. Rescue efforts are underway, as authorities estimate mud buried up to 15 vehicles.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

18.5 billion

Puerto Rican Reggaeton star Bad Bunny has been crowned most-streamed artist on Spotify for the third year in a row, with more than 18.5 billion streams in 2022. Following him in the worldwide top 5 are Taylor Swift, Drake, The Weeknd and K-pop band BTS.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Denmark, beloved Christmas TV special cancelled for blackface scenes

Most Nordic countries share a passion for what's known as the "TV Christmas calendar": 24 nightly television episodes that air between Dec. 1 and Christmas Eve. But this year in Denmark, one vintage episode has been pulled from the air because of a blackface scene. The director of the 1997 episode complained that TV executives are being "too sensitive."

🎄📺 Mette Nelund, the head of fiction at TV2, officially announced that the channel had decided to drop the Christmas calendar called Alletiders Julemand ("Santa Claus for the Ages"), originally produced in 1997, after rewatching it with a “fresh look.” The episode is part of the so-called “Pyrus Series”, a four seasons ensemble from the 1990s that tells the story of Pyrus, a Christmas elf who lives inside of a box in the National Archives of Denmark with his elf friends Kandis and Gyldengrød. Together, they explore Denmark’s history, especially in connection with the traditions around Christmas.

⚠️ In its statement, TV2 stated that “the Christmas calendar contains outdated depictions of people and culture,” with one scene in particular that might be perceived as offensive in today’s context: When a white boy, who has been painted black, is teased by some white children. In reaction, they are dipped in black ink and turn black. “We take responsibility now, because we don't want to risk some children sitting out there feeling it's wrong to have dark skin,” said Nelund.

✂️ In an interview with Danmarks Radio, Martin Miehe-Renard, the director of the series, expressed his disappointment over the decision, arguing it would have been possible to edit out scenes perceived as problematic, a suggestion that was ruled out by TV2. The filmmaker added that “we just have a tendency to be too sensitive these days.” In the meantime in Denmark, TV2 already found a replacement for the Christmas calendar, and “Fairytale for the Ages”, the next calendar in the Pyrus series, will be shown this year.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

Look, I screwed up.

— Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, made his first public appearance on Wednesday since his $30 billion business imploded. The 30-year-old declared that he “did not ever try to commit fraud,” though he also took responsibility for the collapse, “Look, I screwed up. I was CEO.” FTX is currently being probed by federal investigators, and Bankman-Fried said that he was speaking publicly against the advice of his lawyers.

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


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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Paris-Berlin, Warsaw-Kyiv: Europe's Balance Of Power Will Never Be The Same

A new future is unfolding in real time, one that leaders in France, Germany and beyond could not have envisioned even a year ago.

Photo of Bundeswehr soldiers in Lest, Slovakia, with a training anti-tank missile and a G22 sniper rifle.

Bundeswehr soldiers in Lest, Slovakia, with a training anti-tank missile and a G22 sniper rifle.

Kay Nietfeld/dpa via ZUMA
Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Quick question: do you know which country is on its way to having the largest army in Europe? The obvious answer would be France, the Continent's only nuclear power since the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and a military that has been tested in multiple foreign operations in recent years.

But the answer is about to change: if we put aside the nuclear factor, Europe's leading military will soon be that of Poland.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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This is one more direct consequence Russia's invasion of Ukraine: a close neighbor of the conflict zone, Poland is investing massively in its defense. Last year, it concluded a huge arms purchase contract with South Korea: heavy combat tanks (four times more than France), artillery, fighter jets, for 15 billion euros.

Warsaw also signed a contract last month to purchase two observation satellites from France for 500 million euros.

This former country of the Warsaw Pact, today a leading NATO member, intends to be ever more consequential in European affairs. The investments in defense are one way of doing that. Yet this is not the only impact of the war in Ukraine.

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