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Russia “Doesn’t Want War,” Honduras' First Presidenta, Pasta Alert

Poland starts the construction of a 186 km-long wall on its border with Belarus to prevent migrants from entering the country

Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Rojbaş!*

Welcome to Friday, where Russia says it doesn't want war, Honduras has its first woman president and Apple is back on top. We also look at how the Italian Mafia has expanded its business into renewables and cybercrime.

[*Northern Kurdish]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Russia’s Lavrov softens message: “We don’t want a war,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a videoconference with Russian radio broadcasters, signaling openness to engage with U.S. security proposals. In a phone call on Thursday with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden reaffirmed that the Pentagon was ready to respond to any Russian aggression. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron will seek clarification over Russia's intentions towards Ukraine in a phone call with President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

• COVID update: UK Health Security Agency said that COVID-19 boosters increase protection against death from the Omicron variant to 95% in people aged 50 and over. A Paris hospital chief sparked a debate by questioning whether people who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to have their treatment covered by France's universal healthcare system. Meanwhile in the U.S, a new analysis says that during the pandemic, 37 million people have missed vaccinations for both COVID-19 and other routine jabs.

• Xiomara Castro becomes Honduras' first female president: Xiomara Castro was sworn in as Honduras' first female president Thursday, amidst a political crisis that threatens her plans to turn around the deeply troubled country. The 62 year-old leftist leader promised to alleviate poverty, tackle powerful drug trafficking gangs, and liberalize strict abortion laws.

• Dozens dead from Tropical Storm Ana in southern Africa: The death toll from a storm that struck Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi rose to 77 on Thursday as authorities are scrambling to repair damaged infrastructures and help tens of thousands of victims.

• Burkina Faso coup leader Damiba gives first speech: The new military leader of Burkina Faso, Paul-Henri Damiba, who ousted the Government of President Roch Kaboré earlier this week, addressed the country for the first time on national television since taking power.

• More than $700 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef: The Australian government has pledged to spend a further one billion Australian dollars ($704 million) over nine years to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

• Suspicious package sent to leading Italian politician was pasta and vegetable: Authorities, including a bomb squad, were called to the home of Beppe Grillo, a leading Italian politician near Genoa to investigate a suspicious package, which turned out to be pasta and vegetables.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Honduras daily El Heraldo devotes its front page to Xiomara Castro, who was sworn in as the country’s first female president on Thursday. The 62-year-old leader of the left wing Libre Party faces an unfolding legislative crisis and other challenges, including high unemployment, persistent violence and corruption.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$123.9 billion

Apple has reported a record revenue of $123.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021, up 11% year over last year, and dethroning Samsung to again become the top-selling smartphone brand in China, along with the rest of the world.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

How the mafia is moving into renewables and other “clean” sectors

Mobster shootouts may be a thing of the past, but organized crime is still Italy’s biggest business. And the Mafia has changed its business model, expanding into cybercrime, cryptocurrency and even renewable energy.

♻️ In Italy, the term “ecomafia,” generally used to describe crimes against the environment carried out by organized crime, emerged around the turn of the millennium. But there seems to be a contradictory trend: organized crime networks have also entered another industry, this time a green one: wind power. A lack of industry regulation compounded by high product prices, complicated financing and government subsidies made wind energy attractive to criminals. In Italy, it sells for a higher price than anywhere in the world and some 6,000 wind farms are now scattered across the country.

💰 The mob’s influence spans the entire environmental field, from renewable energy to agriculture and food. According to Italy’s largest agricultural organization, Coldiretti, eco and agromafia combine a turnover of 24 billion euros. “They are educated, well-prepared, multilingual people, with important and reliable international relations at the service of the mafia business which, thanks to them, has acquired and consolidated a transnational and global character,” says the report.

💻 In another adaptation to 21st-century crime, the mafia is turning to cybercrime, cryptocurrencies and the dark web, according to the DIA report. Following a year-long investigation, Spanish law enforcement busted criminals with links to Italian Mafia groups for laundering 10 million euros through a flurry of hacking operations and violent coercion last year. According to Spanish daily El Pais, a number of the 106 arrested are linked to various clans throughout Italy, including the Casamonica from Rome.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

Essentially it's playing whack-a-mole.

— Keith Neal, professor at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, says about Hong Kong struggling to maintain its zero-COVID policy, warning that coronavirus “will simply keep coming back.” The city is swept by the Omicron variant, reporting about 600 locally-transmitted coronavirus infections so far in January compared with just two in December, and draconian restrictive measures are starting to take a toll on residents and the economy.

✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

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