New COVID Variant, Black Friday Amazon Strikes, Tiny IKEA Flat

A migrant kisses the shore after crossing the English Channel on a small boat arriving in Dungeness in southern England

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Selamat pagi!*

Welcome to Friday, where a new fast-spreading coronavirus variant has been identified in South Africa, Amazon is hit by global protests on Black Friday and IKEA is renting a tiny apartment for a tiny rent in Japan. Meanwhile, boars, jaguars, pumas and bears invade our newsletter as we look at how wildlife is moving into cities around the world.



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• South Africa identifies new coronavirus variant: Scientists in South Africa have identified a new coronavirus variant, called B.1.1.529, with mutations that appear to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country. Health Minister, Joe Phaahla said the variant was of "serious concern" and behind an "exponential" increase in reported cases, making it "a major threat." Within hours, the U.K, Israel and Singapore had restricted travel from South Africa and some neighboring countries, with the European Union and India among those announcing stricter border controls. The World Health Organization is scheduling an experts meeting on Friday to assess the new variant, and what it may mean for vaccines and treatments amid growing concern.

• Rio Olympics chief sentenced to 30 years in prison: Carlos Arthur Nuzman, head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee for over two decades, has been sentenced to 30 years and 11 months in prison for allegedly buying votes for Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympics. The 79-year-old was found guilty of corruption, criminal organisation, money laundering and tax evasion.

• Amazon faces protests and strikes on Black Friday: Protests organized by an international coalition of unions and environmental groups called "Make Amazon Pay" are being staged in Amazon buildings in Europe and the U.S. on Black Friday, one of the company's busiest sales days. The coalition's demands include a raise of warehouse workers' pay and an end to worker "surveillance."

• Libya gunmen storm court before Gaddafi's son appeal: An attack of armed men on a court in the southern town of Sebha prevented Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libya's slain former ruler Muammar Gaddafi, from lodging an appeal against his disqualification from next month's presidential election.

• Death toll of Russian mine blast soars to 52: A gas leak in a Siberian mine has killed at least 52 people, including six rescuers trying to recover missing miners, in Russia's worst mining disaster in a decade.

• Italy gives safe haven to National Geographic "Afghan girl": Sharbat Gula, who was made famous after National Geographic featured her on its 1985 magazine cover when she was just 12 years old, has been granted refugee status by Italy amid efforts to evacuate Afghans after the Taliban took over the country three months ago.

• The twist of Thailand's cannabis pizza: A restaurant chain has been successfully promoting "Crazy Happy Pizza" which is topped with a cannabis leaf. Despite Thailand's strict drug laws, the pizza is perfectly legal. The only "crazy, happy" high it provides is, well, eating pizza.


South African daily The Citizen reports on the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in the country which scientists believed to be the most heavily mutated version yet, meaning that vaccines may not be as effective.



Swedish retailer IKEA is renting a tiny 10-square-meter apartment in the Shinjuku district in Tokyo for just 99 yen ($0.86) per month. The company will provide the unit with its own furniture and accessories and will accept applications from potential tenants until Dec. 3. The trend of micro apartments has been surging in Tokyo, which is one of the world's most densely populated cities with more than 14 million residents.


Urban jungles? See wildlife moving into 7 cities around the world

In recent decades, deforestation, changing agriculture and livestock practices, global warming and the rapid expansion of urban areas into the natural habitats of animals have forced a growing number of species to adapt to life in the city. From New York to Berlin to Manizales, here's how cities around the world are affected by urban wildlife — and vice-versa.

🐗 Boars roam streets of Rome: In Rome, wild boars are increasingly seen strutting around the gardens and busy streets of the city. As late as last month, a dozen boars were filmed walking alongside the traffic on Via Trionfale, a busy road in the northern suburb of Monte Mario. While boars have been invading Roman suburbs for some time, they're recently becoming more brazen, moving deeper into urban areas where they rummage through piles of rubbish. Residents of Italy's capital see the multiplying herds as another sign of their city's decay — from the rubbish-riddled streets to the unkempt parks and graffitied houses.

🐆 Jaguars and pumas in Colombia: In Colombia, where the expansion of urban areas into the countryside is encroaching on the traditional habitats of animals, wildcat sightings are becoming more common in cities. Last week, a puma entered a residential complex in Manizales at night. According to the regional director of the Panthera South America organization, Dr. Esteban Payán, these encounters will become more even more regular as jungles, forests, moors, mangroves and plains are being cut down and the food supply of great cats like jaguars and pumas are diminished.

🐻❄️ Climate change changes bear habitats in Canada and Russia: In the 900-strong Canadian town of Churchill, located some 1,600 kilometers north of Winnipeg, polar bears in search of food are becoming more frequent visitors. Every year, some 900 bears in the western Hudson Bay area must be airlifted out of the town. As temperatures increase, the sea ice sometimes melts away as soon as July and takes longer to freeze back during the autumn and winter. The result is that the polar bears have less time on the ice to hunt the food needed to build up fat reserves for the warmer season.

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We must not look the other way.

Pope Francis tweeted on the 22nd International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, emphasizing that "women victims of violence must be protected by society." Thousands of protesters hit the streets of Europe and Latin America on Thursday to demand an end to violence against women. This year has been marked by the continued consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a spike in domestic violence, which the United Nations Secretary-General described as a "shadow pandemic."


"She asked for it" — Rape culture in spotlight at Miss Senegal beauty contest

As a defense mechanism, Amina Badiane could not have done worse. It was last Thursday, Nov. 18, when the chairwoman of the Miss Senegal organizing committee spoke with Dakarbuzz, a website based in the capital.

The interview was an opportunity to respond to the revelations of Ndèye Fatima Dione, Miss Senegal 2020, who had revealed publicly the violence she'd suffered during her time as the nation's No. 1 beauty queen. Her mother had also revealed that Dione's pregnancy was the consequence of rape, committed during a trip organized by the committee.

"Rape is between two people, isn't it? It's not just about one individual," Badiane told reporters. "If she was raped, she must file a complaint." The contest organizer added that during the pageant's sponsored travels, the conditions of entry into young women's bedrooms are subject to very strict instructions.

"No one is allowed in, not even friends. The girls receive a very strict education," Badiane said. Then after asking confirmation of her words from another Miss Senegal contestant, added in the regional Wolof language, without anyone around her objecting: "Kougnou violer, yaw la nekh". This translates to "If she was raped, it's because she asked for it." After making the outrageous remark, Badiane chuckled, and added: "After all, she is an adult."

It quickly set social media alight across Senegal, where the hashtags #JusticeforFatima proliferated. A petition from the platform "Ladies Club Senegal," demanded "the immediate withdrawal of the operating license of this committee and its dissolution." Within three days, it had already accumulated more than 50,000 signatures, while calls spread for Badiane's resignation.

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✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]


Iran's hard line on nuclear talks keeps getting harder

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear power watchdog, reported yesterday that Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more efficient advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant. It’s just the latest sign, write Kayhan London’s Ahmad Ra'fat and Hamed Mohammadi, that the talks that reopened this week on Iran’s nuclear program have slim chances of forging a deal:

After a four-month hiatus, Iran has resumed talks on its nuclear program with other signatory countries of the suspended, multilateral pact of 2015. These are Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, and the European Union (EU). The talks that began this week in Vienna exclude the United States, an original signatory that withdrew from the pact in 2018 — and while the U.S. administration under President Joe Biden says it favors a deal, it is only indirectly involved, through the EU.

Prospects for this round remain dim, given Iran's preconditions and the stated objectives of Western states. The Iranian deputy-foreign minister, Ali Baqeri-Kani, said on a recent trip to several EU states that Iran would only resume talks to discuss ending sanctions on it, and there would be no discussions for a nuclear agreement. He was suggesting that an end to all sanctions — whether for Tehran's nuclear program, rights violations or terrorism abroad — was the central condition for more talks.

It was also reported Wednesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear power watchdog, that Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more efficient advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant.

Likewise, a recent and fruitless trip to Tehran by IAEA head Rafael Grossi will not help. Grossi could not persuade Iran to allow renewed IAEA inspections of its atomic sites, which will impede an agreement in Vienna. The three European signatory powers have already criticized Iran's refusal to open up its sites, though Iranian officials dispute that interpretation, saying an agreement was reached "in principle" to resolve "technical" issues.

The latest report by the IAEA chief to its governing board, currently meeting in Vienna, says Iran has augmented its enriched uranium reserves (of potential use in weapon-making) to 2,489 kilograms. The European countries say there is no reason for Iran enriching uranium to 20% and 60% levels, without military objectives. They are also concerned with Iran's continued renovation and updating of centrifuges.

U.S. military and diplomatic officials have warned that the United States is ready to give Iran a firm response if it pursues its furtive activities and refuses to negotiate in Vienna. In the Middle East, Israeli officials alternately say they could accept a pact that blocks Iran's nuclear weaponization and warn Israel will strike Iran, if this turns out to not be possible.

Iran promised Grossi last September that it would repair IAEA cameras at its nuclear installations, thus evading a rebuke by the IAEA governing board. This time, it seems to be playing hardball. It has not only banned access to the Tesa complex outside Tehran, of interest to the IAEA, but insisted the international agency must condemn Israel's suspected sabotage of Iranian installations, and desist any investigation into the sources of uranium traces found at undeclared installations in Iran.

Iran also wants the Biden administration not just to lift all sanctions, but bind future administrations to a new pact. Does it really imagine that a U.S. president is willing or empowered to commit his successors to a pact?

Iran has also complained about the damages it suffered for the non-implementation of the 2015 pact. All these suggest it doesn't really want a practical agreement with the West.

As Western powers intermittently threaten it with an "alternative" response, at least part of Iran's top leadership is already envisaging turning the country into a militarized bunker to safeguard the regime. This means spending more on missiles and arms for proxy militias in the region — which are precisely the other issues the West is keen to discuss, to Iran's utter dismay.

Amid reports of the "strategic" hoarding of basic goods and multiple military maneuvers, are Iran's rulers preparing themselves for a state of crisis or utter calamity? In case of any attack, could they count on the backing of a nation they have mistreated and impoverished over decades?

Ahmad Ra'fat and Hamed Mohammadi / Kayhan-London


• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.


South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.



In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.


Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

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"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”


A “pro-life” activist in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C, as the abortion battle heats up in the United-States — Photo: Stefani Reynolds/CNP/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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