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Volodymyr Zelensky talking to Charles Michel in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets with EU President Charles Michel during a surprise visit to Kyiv on Wednesday intended to show EU solidarity with Ukraine over Russia's invasion

Lila Paulou, Lisa Berdet, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Emma Albright and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Kuzungpo la!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Putin changes his mind on Mariupol strategy, Rust producers are slapped with a maximum fine over Alec Baldwin shooting accident and the Queen gets her own Barbie doll. Meanwhile, we focus on how French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s pro-Russian stance may play out in Sunday’s decisive round of voting.

To keep up with latest developments of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, we’d also like to introduce our new daily War In Ukraine update, including local coverage and international analysis of the conflict.

[*Dzongha - Bhutan]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Putin’s Azovstal surprise: While most had been awaiting an imminent Russia assault on the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol, Russia President Vladimir Putin made the surprise announcement Thursday that his military would hold off on attacking the facility. Speaking on TV with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Russian president said the army would instead seal off the industrial port area “so that not even a fly can escape.”

• Russia flexes nuclear-capable missile, Washington downplays test: The Russian military has celebrated the successful test of its Sarmat inter-continental ballistic missile. Russian President Putin stated that this nuclear-capable missile will make countries think twice before threatening Russia, while Washington downplayed the launch as a “routine test.”

— Read all the latest at War in Ukraine, Day 57

• Australia will not oppose Assange’s extradition: After a UK court allowed the extradition of Australian activist Julian Assange to the United States on Wednesday, the Australian Government said it trusts the British justice system. The decision is now in the hands of UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, although Assange can choose to appeal.

• Macron-Le Pen debate gets heated: As the French presidential race comes to a close, President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen faced each other in a debate on national television. They traded barbs on the economy, immigration, Le Pen’s links with Russia, and Macron’s first term. French voters will cast their ballots this Sunday for the second round of the election.

• Fatal plane crash in Haiti: A small commercial plane crashed on a busy street in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday afternoon, killing at least six people and injuring many. Officials said the plane suffered engine failure on its way to Jacmel, shortly after its departure from the capital city’s airport.

• Delta & Omicron infections within 20 days: A 31-year-old Spanish healthcare worker was infected twice with COVID-19 within a record 20 days. She first caught the Delta variant in late December, and then the more contagious Omicron in early January, the shortest span between infections.

• Queen gets a Barbie doll for her birthday: As Queen Elizabeth II turns 96 today, Mattel releases a Barbie doll representing the Queen to mark her 70 years on the throne (Platinum Jubilee), the longest reign in British history.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

“Still not up to the challenge” titles Libération on its front page, underlining far-right candidate Marine Le Pen’s apparent lack of command on the topics du jour as she faced off last night with incumbent President Emmanuel Macron (whom the French daily described as “often arrogant”) in a televised debate..

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$136,793

The state of New Mexico’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has the production company behind the movie Rust with a maximum fine of $136,793 for “willful and serious” violations of workplace safety procedures. In October, U.S. actor Alec Baldwin accidentally shot dead cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza with an on-set gun.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Marine Le Pen’s Russian ties: What to know before France's presidential election

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who is within striking distance from incumbent Emmanuel Macron ahead of Sunday’s election, has been forced to answer questions about her pro-Russia stance that dates back at least a decade.

🤝 Le Pen has repeatedly expressed warm support for Russian President Putin in the past. Back in 2011, Marine Le Pen expressed her admiration for Putin in Russian daily Kommersant, praising “his vision of the world.” She officially met him for the first time on April 24, 2017, where they were photographed shaking hands and smiling, just ahead of the French presidential elections. Their meeting raised suspicions about Russian support for European and U.S. far-right parties, despite Putin’s insistence he did not interfere with foreign elections.

💰 In 2014, as the Front National (the former name of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party) needed funds to finance her presidential campaign, it secured a loan worth $9 million from the First Czech-Russian Bank (FCBR), a bank linked to the Kremlin. At the time, Le Pen defended the loan, saying that French banks had refused to lend money to her party because of its fascist past.

❓ At the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, Le Pen was forced to answer questions about her past support of Putin. She quickly condemned the invasion, saying “Vladimir Putin was wrong, he crossed the line.” She tried to distance herself from her past ties with the Russian president, claiming he “has changed,” though she “does not regret” her previous positions.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

There comes a time when silence is betrayal.

— Ukrainian tennis player Elina Monfils (née Svitolina) released a statement in the wake of Wimbledon organizers’ decision to ban Russian players from competing in the Grand Slam event. "We don't want them banned completely," she told BBC Radio 5, but added that "If players don't speak out against the Russian government then it is the right thing to ban them.”

✍️ Newsletter by Lila Paulou, Lisa Berdet, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Emma Albright and Bertrand Hauger


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food / travel

Denied The Nile: Aboard Cairo's Historic Houseboats Facing Destruction

Despite opposition, authorities are proceeding with the eviction of residents of traditional houseboats docked along the Nile in Egypt's capital, as the government aims to "renovate" the area – and increase its economic value.

Houseboats on the Nile in Zamalek, Cairo

Ahmed Medhat and Rana Mamdouh

With an eye on increasing the profitability of the Nile's traffic and utilities, the Egyptian government has begun to forcibly evict residents and owners of houseboats docking along the banks of the river, in the Kit Kat area of Giza, part of the Greater Cairo metropolis.

The evictions come following an Irrigation Ministry decision, earlier this month, to remove the homes that have long docked along the river.

Keep reading...Show less

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

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