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In The News

China Rolls Back Zero-COVID, Democrats Win In Georgia, Morocco Celebrates

In Gaza, Palestinian fans celebrate Morocco's historic victory over Spain in the World Cup.
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

👋 Kamusta!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where China abandons key parts of its Zero-COVID strategy, U.S. Democrats secure a 51-49 majority of the Senate with a runoff victory in Georgia and Morocco makes history at the World Cup in Qatar. Meanwhile, French daily Les Echos looks at the unlikely methods Paris’ authorities are applying to detect and neutralize drones that could potentially be used as weapons by terrorists.

[*Tagalog, Philippines]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. says it did not aid in drone attacks inside Russia: After unprecedented attacks deep inside Russian territory this week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said American forces did not offer any support in carrying out the attacks. Most believe Ukraine orchestrated the attacks on Russian airbases that left three dead, even if Kyiv has not confirmed. Since the early days of the war, Western allies of Ukraine have made a point of wanting to avoid escalation of the war or providing weaponry with the capacity of striking Russian targets. “We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia,” Blinken said.

• Democrats win Senate majority: Democratic Senator from Georgia Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in the Georgia runoff election on Tuesday. His reelection ensures Democrats the majority (51-49 seats) in the Senate for the rest of President Joe Biden’s current term. The shift of party position in the upper chamber of Congress caps a disappointing round of midterm election results for the Republicans.

• China effectively ends Zero-COVID: Following recent street protests and months of public frustration, China is lifting its most severe COVID policies in what appears a veritable end to the strict Zero-COVID strategy. Citizens can now travel freely around the country, and sick people are able to isolate themselves at home, rather than in state facilities.

• Germany arrests 25 suspects for plotting a coup: At least 25 people have been suspected of trying to overthrow the German government, following raids across 11 German states. Investigators say the coup organizers don’t recognize the modern German state, and some may be part of the racist and violent “Reichsbürger” movement.

• Trump Organization found guilty of tax crimes: The Trump Organization, former President Donald Trump’s family real estate company, has been declared guilty of tax crimes. The company is accused of having provided untaxed luxury benefits to its employees. Trump called the verdict “a witch hunt.”

• Spanish train collision: At least 155 have been injured after two trains collided in the periphery of Barcelona, paralyzing train service for hours.

• “Once-in-a-lifetime” medieval necklace found in UK: Archeologists have found a 1,300-year-old gold necklace in a grave thought to be of a woman of high status near Northampton in England, in what was hailed as an internationally significant discovery.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

“A historic verdict.” Argentinian daily Clarín dedicates its front page to a guilty verdict Tuesday against Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in a federal fraud case related to public works contracts awarded to one of her friends. The former President was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from public office for life. Kirchner, who isn’t expected to serve any jail time due to her immunity as vice president and head of the senate, announced she would not run for any office in 2023, but denounced what she called the “judicial mafia.”

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$225

Nigeria’s central bank has imposed restrictions on over-the-counter cash withdrawals, limiting them to 100,000 naira ($225) per week for individuals and 500,000 naira ($1,125) for companies, in an effort to promote cashless transactions. The institution also fixed a new maximum daily withdrawal from ATMs, as part of a circular that will come into effect on Jan. 9.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Beyond Ukraine, how to defend against drones as a weapon-of-choice for terrorists

The war in Ukraine has shown how civilian drones can be effectively used as weapons. Meanwhile in Paris, with preparations on to host the Olympics in 2024, the city is testing some unlikely solutions to make sure the devices can't be employed by terrorists, reports Jacques Henno in French daily Les Echos.

🚨 Police in Paris are busy walking through the worst-case scenarios. One is a drone appearing out of nowhere, undetected because it flies low and emits no radio waves thanks to its autonomous navigation. The reason? They've been tasked with protecting two major events being organized in France: the Rugby World Cup in September 2023, and then the 2024 Olympic Games. The war in Ukraine has also upped the stakes. Numerous videos show how both Ukrainian and Russian forces have turned simple commercially purchased drones into weapons.

📈 A recent French Senate report, "Drones in the Armed Forces," reveals that the number of civilian drones in France has grown from 400,000 in 2017 to more than 2.5 million today. As a result, authorities fear how terrorists could use recreational drones (less than 25 kg). "Imagine a drone spreading baby powder during a soccer game. This will cause a panic with potentially deadly consequences," says Mary-Lou Smulders, marketing manager at Dedrone, a U.S.-based company that provides anti-drone warfare (ADW) solutions to civilian authorities as well as the military.

📡 ADW can be broken down into three phases: detection, classification, and neutralization. "Detection can be done by radar, by direction finding to detect the radio frequencies used by the drone, and by all-weather infrared and optical cameras," says Thierry Bon, director of anti-drone solutions at Thales. Artificial intelligence algorithms can predict the drone's trajectory and advise the operator on the most opportune moment to intervene, minimizing the risk of collateral damage caused by the fall of the aircraft. This is the third step: neutralization.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

“These calls only strengthen Vladimir Putin.”

— Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told Polish radio station RMF FM that the only approach to the Kremlin is a strict policy of isolation. He warned against Western leaders trying to remain in contact with Putin, including a recent phone call from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron declaring that he wants to keep lines of communication open with the Kremlin. Przydacz argues that Putin “believes: if they call me, they’re weakened, so I must continue my policy.”

✍️ Newsletter by Renate Mattar, Laure Gautherin and Anne-Sophie Goninet


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Economy

Why Are Zimbabwe’s Gold Miners Risking Deadly Mercury Exposure

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Photo of a group of miners digging for gold.

A group of miners searches for gold along the Odzi River.

Linda Mujuru

The young men brace for the first shock of cold water as they enter the river, easing their way into another day of illegal gold mining.

David Mauta and Wisdom Nyakurima, both 18, stand knee-deep in the Odzi River near the eastern Zimbabwe mining city of Mutare and shovel gravel onto a woven mat. They hinge their hopes on finding flakes of shiny gold. But it’s another metal whose dangers they don’t recognize that may have a more lasting impact.

Every day, they touch and breathe mercury, a silverly chemical element that carries deadly implications. The toxic liquid metal is key to their gold-mining efforts, as is the government, which purchases their gold even as officials vow to eliminate mercury’s use. The young men are unregistered artisanal miners, freelance workers who don’t have a license to operate. They sift through rocks in the river and dump beads of mercury over the sediment, which clings to gold. Then they light a match, using the flame to separate the mercury from the gold, a process that shoots toxic vapors into the air.

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