Welcome to Thursday, where overnight clashes are reported at Poland's border with Belarus, South Africa's last white president died and history links Yuri Gagarin and Elon Musk. We also look at how COVID may be the tipping point to push cities into a bicycle-centric future.
[*Salam - Arabic]
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• Overnight clashes on Belarus-Polish border: Migrants stranded inside Belarus reportedly threw rocks at Polish border guards and tried to break down a razor wire fence overnight in new attempts to force their way into the EU. Meanwhile neighboring countries added to the diplomatic pressure on Minks, accusing the authoritarian Belarus regime of using a would-be migrant crisis to retaliate for Europe's sanctions.
• Thousands of Afghans deported from Iran to Taliban rule: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that more than one million Afghan migrants have been sent back to the Taliban-ruled country this year, amid allegations of mistreatment by Iranian authorities.
• Covid update: As China's strict Zero-COVID policy is enforced in several cities, the country's annual Singles' Day shopping event is expected to take a hit. Italy expands third dose booster access to all those 40 and above. Meanwhile, a new French vaccine Valneva may offer a more robust protection against the virus.
• UN Security Council urges end to Myanmar violence: In a rare statement agreed to by all 15 members, the United Nations Security Council expressed deep concern over increased violence across Myanmar and called for an immediate end to the fighting and for the military to exercise "utmost restraint". This came amid reports of heavy weapons and troops in Western Chin State, implying an imminent army offensive to clear away militia groups formed after the military coup earlier this year.
• Ghana parliament to begin public hearings on anti-LGBT+ law: Ghana's parliament will hold its first public hearing Thursday on a new law that would make it illegal to be gay or to stand up for gay rights. Gay intercourse is already punishable by jail time in Ghana, however the new act would go much further, criminalizing the promotion and funding of LGBT+ activities along with public displays of affection and cross-dressing.
• South Africa's last white president de Klerk dies: FW de Klerk, who shared the Nobel peace prize with Nelson Mandela after the end of apartheid, died Thursday at the age of 85. De Klerk, who served as president from 1989 to 1994, is credited by some for peacefully winding down apartheid, but his role in the transition to democracy remains highly contested
• 600 space travelers in 60 years: Elon Musk's private company SpaceX has launched four astronauts for a six-month mission in orbit on the International Space Station, which is also a landmark in the history of space travel as 600 people have now been in space since Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's maiden voyage in 1961.
"Shock And Fear" - French sports daily L'Equipe has new revelations after the arrest Wednesday of PSG women's player Aminata Diallo on allegations of orchestrating a violent attack onteammate, Kheira Hamraoui. Police are probing whether the attack, which injured both of Hamraoui's legs, was an attempt to secure more playing time for Diallo.
A federal judge in the United States has approved a $626 million settlement for victims of the 2014-15 lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Most of the money will go to the city's children exposed to poisoned water, affected adults, business owners and anyone who paid water bills. The Flint water crisis was one of the country's worst public health crises in recent memory, with some 100,000 water customers impacted, and became emblematic of racial inequality as it afflicted a city where more than half of the residents are black.
This is a hybrid attack. Not a migration crisis.
— European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the influx of migrants on Belarus' border with EU member Poland as a "hybrid attack" by an authoritarian regime on its neighbors. After a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden that touched on COVID-19, climate and foreign affairs, the EU affirmed it will increase sanctions against Belarus next week.
COVID Is Pushing These 6 Cities To Bet On Bicycle-Friendly Futures
In the two centuries since they were invented, bicycles have tended to be much more about recreation than transportation. Sure, there's the occasional Dutch commuter biking through a small city or a poor person in the developing world who can't afford a car or an American kid delivering newspapers. But, otherwise, the bicycle has been meant for fun and exercise, and competitive sport, rather than as an integral part of the system of transport.
That may be about to change for good. After a gradual shift over the past decade to accommodate bicycle use, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Here are some examples:
🇨🇴 🚲 In Latin America's leading biking city, Bogotá, the daily number of cyclists increased from 635,000 in 2016 to 878,000 in 2020. Today, with the city authorities having added another 84 kilometers of bicycle lane during the pandemic, that number is set to increase even faster. In fact, the government has already announced the planned allocation of one billion pesos to extend the network by an additional 289 kilometers in the coming three years. In addition, the extension of bicycle lane infrastructure has led to a 33% reduction in cyclist fatalities in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to a government report. This is good news, El Tiempo reports, as safety has been given as a leading reason for why fewer women than men are riding bikes in the eight-million strong Colombian capital.
🇫🇷Two-wheeled transportation has increased in Paris for some time — with bicycling lanes increasing five-fold between 2015 and 2020 — and the city expects the trend to continue in full force in the years ahead. The first "de-confinement" led to the creation of coronapistes, or bike lanes — typically following metro routes — that the city's mayor recently promised to make permanent through an €80-million investment, French business monthly Capital reports. Already in the year following the city's first springtime lockdown in 2020, cycling increased 70%, as the combined length of bike lanes reached 1,000 kilometers. Other initiatives aimed at boosting bicycling culture include government-funded cycling lessons, a €50 subsidy towards the cost of bike repairs, as well as an ongoing project to make the notoriously busy Rue de Rivoli car-free.
🗼Tokyo has been no exception to the global bike boom. With the government launching its "new lifestyle" campaign in May 2020 to promote more pandemic-adapted ways of transport, shopping and socializing, cycling became a way to avoid Tokyo's infamously packed subway trains. A survey in June 2020 found that 23% of businesspeople had started cycling to work since the pandemic spread, according to the Japan Times. During the same month, national sales produced the largest year-on-year jump at 43.3% — that's despite nationwide bike prices having increased throughout the pandemic, Nikkei Asia reported last week. Still, biking advocates argue that the increased number of cyclists demands new dedicated lanes rather than "vehicular cycling" — where geared-up road bike riders share the road with cars — that is typical of Tokyo. Some of the proponents are pointing to Beijing, which opened its first cycling highway in 2019 in the form of a six-kilometer bike lane designed to connect multiple cities.
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