Welcome to Wednesday, where Joe Biden defends his decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan, a new COVID variant of interest has emerged in South America and the Paralympics gets a dramatic late arrival. We also feature a Le Monde report from Jordan's sputtering economy, where women are finally breaking into professions barred in the past by a "culture of shame."
• Biden defends decision to pull out troops: President Joe Biden has defended his decision to pull out American troops from Afghanistan, in an address to the nation a day after the end of a 20-year U.S. presence in the war-torn country. Biden declared: "The war in Afghanistan is now over," while the Taliban Islamist group used the occasion to reaffirm their victory in taking back control of virtually all of Afghanistan.
• New COVID-19 variant to watch: A new coronavirus variant named Mu has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organization. Although its global prevalence is still low, it already accounts for about 39% in its country of origin, Colombia. A full 70% of all adults, or 250 million people, in the European Union are now fully vaccinated against COVID, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
• Hong Kong activists jailed: Seven democracy activists from Hong Kong were sentenced to up to 16 months in jail for their role in an unauthorized assembly at the height of anti-government protests in 2019. They plead guilty to the charges.
• Air pollution is cutting short the lives of billions: According to a new report, dirty air is a far greater killer than smoking, car crashes or HIV/Aids. Coal burning is the main culprit, the researchers say, and India is worst affected with the average citizen dying six years early.
• Concern for global coffee shortage: Coffee traders are struggling to get coffee beans to ports for exports due to tough coronavirus travel restrictions imposed in Vietnam, the world's second biggest exporter of coffee. The latest delta variant outbreak has disrupted several supply chains in the country as big brands like Samsung, Nike and Adidas have also been affected.
• Britney Spears' father accused of extortion: Britney Spears' attorney has accused the 39-year-old singer's father, Jamie Spears, of trying to extort $2 million in exchange for stepping down from her conservatorship that controls her finances and other parts of her life.
• Rescued Afghan athlete belatedly competes in Paralympics: Hossain Rasouli, one of the two Paralympic athletes evacuated from Afghanistan last week, has been able to take part in the competition. The 26-year-old track and field competitor wound up last in the T47 long jump, but beat his personal best.
"Electricity bill skyrockets," titles Brazilian daily Extra, as the country faces an unprecedented energy crisis: a record drought hampers hydropower generation and drives electricity prices up by more than 6%. Brazil's Energy minister has asked the population to reduce its consumption and announced a program of incentives for consumers. "But the bonus money comes from the taxpayers themselves," writes the daily.
Jordanian women break workplace barriers to gain independence
In a country plagued by economic crisis, women are entering professions usually reserved for men. Against societal expectations, they are striving for independence, reports Laure Stephan in French daily Le Monde.
👩💼 The low employment rate of women in Jordan has been the subject of countless studies: The percentage of working women is less than 15%, a figure lower than in neighboring Arab countries. And it's not for lack of education. Enrolment in girls' schools has been steadily increasing, and more female students are attending university than their male peers. But traditions are strong. For one, there's the persistent association between women and the home.
👉 One of the obstacles to women's employment is what's called the "culture of shame." Nivine Madi and Inas Shenawi explain that this represents the stigma associated with manual labor and the scorn cast on women who practice "unconventional" jobs. While working as a butcher, Madi had to deal with the harsh remarks of customers who felt that a woman didn't belong behind the counter, or even refused to let her serve them.
⚖️ To help these women, some employers are looking for solutions. Before the pandemic, Mouaffaq sought to identify a place to open a daycare center, perhaps to share with other nearby factories. An amendment to the labor law expanded the requirements for companies to provide this service, a move considered essential by women's employment advocates. Another revision is that equal pay for men and women is now enshrined in law.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
A study by Brazilian researchers, published in the scientific journal Molecules finds that the venom of the Bothrops jararacussu pit viper, a snake endemic to South America, may be used in drugs to combat COVID-19 at an early stage.
Magnet fisherman finds Cartier and Bulgari watches at bottom of French canal
Magnet fishing isn't what it sounds like. The pastime has nothing to do with pulling in big fish, but treasures, thanks to a long rope and a strong neodymium magnet that you cast into your local (polluted) body of water.
The usual catches are hardly shiny trophies: discarded bicycles, shopping carts, tools, old boots, nuts and bolts, and other debris that have been rusting at the bottom of a pond, river or lake for years. (Yes, the hobby is also ecological!)
But last month, a Frenchman was lucky enough to find the holy grail of magnet fishers in the canal of the northern town of Neuville-sur-Escaut: two small safes. And while one was empty, the other contained an actual treasure, reports local daily La Voix du Nord. And inside? Mud, rocks … and a 1982 Cartier watch and a Bulgari one that he later authenticated. There were also coins from the 1960s and a magnifying glass made out of "9 or 18 carats gold" that transforms into theater glasses.
The lucky magnet fisherman isn't interested in selling his treasure but instead plans on "conducting a search to find the owner" of the safes. The question for him or her will be the same for the owners of the various bicycles and shopping carts that are usually pulled out of the local river: Why?
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
"We have thrown everything at this, but it is now clear to us that we are not going to drive these numbers down."
— says Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as the authorities extended the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne for another three weeks. The focus is now shifting towards rapid vaccination, in order to reach the goal of 70% of all adults receiving at least one dose by September 23. Reaching this milestone will allow an easing of the toughest restrictions.
✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet