Welcome to Thursday, where Tunisia's president tightens his grip, Lithuania tells people to throw away their Made-in-China phones, and a memeworthy side-eye gets the NFT treatment. Chinese-language weekly Economic Observer also explains why some cities in China waste millions in massive building projects that go unused.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Myanmar junta abducting children of opposition figures: The United Nations has accused the Myanmar military of abducting infants as young as 20 weeks old as well as other family members when the soldiers are unable to locate those it wishes to arrest. According to the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, more than 8,000 people have been imprisoned since the junta took power in February in a military coup.
• Tunisian president pushes for one-man rule: President Kais Saied declared that he will rule by degree and shift the political system to give himself what amounts to almost unlimited power. Citing a national emergency, this summer, Saied fired his prime minister and suspended parliament, which his opponents described as a coup in the North African country where the Arab Spring began a decade ago.
• Somalia hosts first public film screening in 30 years: Two short films by Somali director Ibrahim CM were shown at Mogadishu's National Theatre, which had previously been a target for suicide bombs and housed warloads. The event marked a potential cultural revitalization in the conflict-ravaged East African country.
• COVID update: The U.S. authorizes Pfizer booster doses for those 65+, who have pre-existing conditions or work in high-exposure jobs. President Joe Biden also announced 500 million extra vaccine doses will be donated to countries struggling with the pandemic. Another clue into the origin of the coronavirus was discovered by scientists in Laos who found bats in a cave carrying a similar pathogen.
• Algeria closes its airspace to Moroccan planes: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune adds the latest escalation to a standoff between the two North African neighbors, largely over the disputed Western Sahara territory. Algeria broke off diplomatic ties with its neighbor in August. The latest move is expected to affect only 15 flights weekly, according to Royal Air Maroc.
• Lithuania: throw away Chinese-made cell phones: Citing censorship concerns, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry recommended not purchasing and getting rid of phones made by Chinese behemoth Xiaomi Corp. These devices can detect and censor phrases like "democracy movement," "free Tibet" and "long live Taiwan independence." While this feature is turned off in the European region, it can be activated remotely.
• "Side-eying Chloe" to sell meme as NFT: When she was 2 years old, Chloe Clem gave an aggressively unenthusiastic reaction to a surprise trip to Disneyland. Now, her Utah-based family is auctioning the popular internet meme as an NFT with a starting price of 5 Ethereum, a cryptocurrency that's worth about $15,000. Now that's nothing to frown at.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
Today's front page of Vienna-based daily Kurier warns people to be careful of fake COVID-19 vaccination passports, as the police announce stricter controls amid a rise of forged passes.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Why Chinese cities waste millions on vanity building projects
The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. The latest is a 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting, reports Chen Zhe in the Chinese-language weekly Economic Observer.
🏙️ A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.
💸 The city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu, to boost tourism. He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own would-be "intellectual property". Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million).
🛑 Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
Authorities in Assam, northeastern India, burnt and destroyed 2,479 rare rhino horns during an anti-poaching operation. The horns were seized from illegal traders, or recovered from dead rhinos in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries since 1979. Officials say that it was the world's largest stockpile of rhino horns.
""It's an all-hands-on-deck crisis."
— At a virtual COVID-19 summit organized with the United Nations, Joe Biden urged the world to "go big." He called on world leaders, pharmaceutical executives and civil society organizations to set up a global plan to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. An immediate consensus on a plan was very unlikely as many of the leaders at the summit had sent pre-recorded videos. A deal between the Biden administration and Pfizer was announced on Wednesday: The U.S will buy a further 500 million doses and donate them to nations lacking the shots.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger