Welcome to Thursday, where boosters appear to work on Omicron, Jimmy Lai is found guilty and there’s a mind-blowingly bad idea for a new wine. We also see how Ukrainians are measuring the Russian threat of an invasion.
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• COVID update: Vaccine manufacturers BioNTech and Pfizer said booster jabs of their coronavirus vaccine were able to neutralize the new Omicron variant. Three doses provide a similar level of antibodies against the variant to that of two doses against other variants. China’s medical products regulators announced it granted emergency approval for the country’s first specialized treatment against COVID-19, found in clinical trials to significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths among high-risk patients.
• Jimmy Lai and other Hong Kong activists found guilty: Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai, alongside two other prominent activists, has been found guilty for their involvement in the territory’s annual vigil to mark the Tiananmen square crackdown that left thousands of people dead.
• Lithuania braces for China-led boycott over Taiwan row:China has told multinationals to cut ties with Lithuania or face being shut out of the Chinese market, according to officials and firms in the Baltic state, as a dispute over Taiwan deepens. China downgraded its diplomatic ties with Lithuania last month after Taiwan opened a de facto embassy in Vilnius - its first in Europe 18 years, brushing aside China opposition.
• Looting of food aid in Ethiopia: The World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food distribution in Ethiopia's Kombolcha and Dessie towns after looting of supplies, after WFP staff were held at gunpoint, a UN spokesman said on Wednesday. A large quantity of humanitarian food supplies were stolen, including nutritional items for malnourished children.
• Indian farmers end year-long mass protests against Modi reforms: Indian farmers formally ended year-long protests Thursday after the government agreed to abandon controversial reforms. Thousands of farmers had camped at the outskirts of the capital New Delhi, with dozens dying from heat, cold and Covid.
• New Zealand to ban cigarette sales for future generations: New Zealand will ban the sale of tobacco to its next generation, in one of the world’s toughest crackdowns on the tobacco industry. People born after 2008 will never be allowed to purchase cigarettes or tobacco products in their lifetime, under a law expected to be enacted next year.
• A glass of Château d’Oreo, anyone? Oreo has partnered with Barefoot Wine to create a wine with “flavors of chocolate and cookies and creme along with notes of oak,” available for purchase starting Dec. 9, at $25 a bottle. Drink (and eat Oreos) responsibly.
Irish daily The Journal reports on the controversy shaking the country’s government following allegations of Christmas parties held at 10 Downing Street when the UK was under coronavirus regulations that prohibited such social events.
The number of journalists around the world imprisoned during 2021, a year that saw record numbers of members of the press being jailed and killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual report. For the third year in a row, China imprisoned the most reporters, with 50 behind bars, followed by Myanmar (which rose in the ranking following the February military coup), Egypt, Vietnam and Belarus.
Waiting for Putin: Is Ukraine caught in a new kind of Cuban missile crisis?
Will there, or will there not be a Big War with Russia? Ukrainians try to gauge what happens next as tensions remain following the call between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.
☎️ The two-hour conversation between the Presidents of the United States and Russia, to the surprise of virtually nobody, ended without any break in the tension. Both Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin spoke in clear and plain terms during the talk Tuesday, over a secured video link, as Russian troops have amassed at the Ukrainian border and the world fears the growing risk of an invasion. Putin insisted that NATO missiles in the region are a red line, while Biden threatened to cut Russia out of the international financial system if Russia invades Ukraine.
🇺🇸🇷🇺 Yet as this conflict looks to occupy our attention at the dawn of 2022, it may be worth looking back 60 years to the Cuban Missile Crisis for clues of what could happen, writes Aleksander Demchenko, the editor of Livy Bereg, an independent Ukrainian media. Though Moscow and Washington are unlikely to face off directly in Ukraine, are we in for another high-stakes game of chicken between nuclear-armed world powers? Demchenko thinks that Moscow is again, like 60 years ago, underestimating Washington's resolve.
🇺🇦 Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov is deeply convinced that Ukrainian society has changed during the war, and whatever the results of negotiations between the countries' leaders, Ukrainians have already made their choice. "All citizens must be ready to defend the country. So that the Kremlin has no desire for a relapse," stated Reznikov in his recent interview in Ukrainian magazine Army Inform. He stressed that the leadership positions are now occupied by commanders who have been through the war, and this is the moment when it is worth laying down a new military culture.
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"Sport is a world apart."
— French Education and Sports Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said France will not join the diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which was initiated by the U.S. and endorsed by Canada, the UK and Australia. Sport needs “to be protected from political interference” and the question of the diplomatic boycott will be dealt with “at the European level,” the minister added.
Erotic waffle shop in Spain under fire for genitalia nativity scene
La Vergueria is a small shop located in the heart of old Seville and its specialty is waffles — erotic waffles, to be more precise. Their desserts are shaped either into vaginas (vergofre) or penises (chochofre) and covered in the topping of your choice. Their unusual menu, which gained them some national notoriety and steady LGBTQ+ support, also includes other kind or sexually-referenced sweets, such as boob-shaped lollipops or fruit-flavored ice pop penises for summer.
On normal days, La Vergueria's window is decorated with an assortment of random stuffed genitalia, but as Christmas approached this year, the owner went for a very un-traditional nativity scene with his X-rated products. So now in the store window, passersby see a "Josephallus" and "Vagina Mary" looking over the little holy one.
Needless to say, the off-color biblical adaptation was not appreciated by all. A formal complaint against the shop was filed by the far-right Vox party and the Foundation of Christian Lawyers, reports Spanish daily La Rázon. The applicants consider this nativity scene an offense to religious sentiments, a form of blasphemy, and the lawyers’ association claims the intention was to ridicule traditional figures and consciously hurt believers, as well as exposing children to pornographic images. Read more here
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