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Sanctioning Putin Directly, Relaxing COVID rules, Mekong Species

A policeman stands in formation during India's 73rd Republic Day celebrations in Srinagar, Kashmir

Anne-Sophie Goninet and Laure Gautherin

👋 Grüezi!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where the U.S. threatens Vladimir Putin with personal sanctions, COVID restrictions are easing from Beijing to Copenhagen and we count the Mekong region’s newly discovered wildlife. Weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique also looks at Morocco’s unique counseling-centered response to Islamic extremism.

[*Swiss German]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. warns of sanctions against Russia: The U.S. warned Moscow of damaging sanctions, including measures targeting personally Russian president Vladimir Putin, if the country moves ahead with an invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin responded that sanctions wouldn’t hurt Putin personally but would be “politically destructive.” One day after the U.S. said it was putting 8,500 troops on alert for possible deployment in Eastern Europe, the Russian military started conducting new drills near Ukraine and within the Crimea region.

• COVID update: A new variant called BA.2 is spreading on at least four continents, but American experts say it’s expected to remain relatively mild. Meanwhile, China has eased a COVID-19 testing requirement for participants at the Beijing Winter Olympics despite a growing number of cases. The European Union is also set to relax travel rules for vaccinated citizens starting Feb. 1, by removing additional restrictions like testing or quarantine when traveling within the bloc.

• Boris Johnson braces for release of Sue Gray’s report: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s future hangs in the balance ahead of today’s expected results of senior civil servant Sue Gray's inquiry into Downing Street parties that have triggered a criminal investigation.

• Russia puts Navalny’s brother on wanted list: Russia has issued an arrest warrant for Oleg Navalny, brother of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, as he faces a suspended sentence that could be converted into a prison term. The activist, whose whereabouts are unknown, was handed a one-year suspended sentence for violating coronavirus safety rules after he took part in a rally against his brother’s arrest.

• Pro-coup supporters rally in Burkina Faso: Supporters of Burkina Faso’s military rallied in the capital Ouagadougou to show their support to the junta, one day after army officers dissolved the West African country’s government and detained president Roch Kabore. The UN has condemned the takeover and called for an immediate release of the president.

• Dozens missing after smuggling boat capsizes off Florida: U.S. Coast Guard officials are searching for 39 people who are feared dead, after their ship, suspected to be part of a “human smuggling venture,” carrying them from the Bahamas capsized off the Atlantic coast of Florida. One passenger has been rescued.

Tourist banned from Venice after posing topless on war memorial: A female tourist from the Czech Republic was thrown out of Venice for 48 hours and fined $513 after she was caught posing topless for photographs on a memorial dedicated to women who died in their fight for freedom under fascism.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Copenhagen daily Jyllands-Posten bids “farewell to restrictions despite high infection rates,” as Denmark’s health minister announced the government’s push to scrap all coronavirus-related restrictions by Feb. 1.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

224

The World Wildlife Fund’s new report on the Mekong region (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar) has listed 224 new species of flora and fauna recently identified. Among them, the Ghostly monkey, reptiles, frogs and newts, fish and 155 plant species, including the only known succulent bamboo species, found in Laos. The species listed were found in 2020 but last year’s report was delayed, The Guardian explains. The Mekong region is known to be a biodiversity hotspot, home to rare animals such as tigers, Asian elephants, giant stingrays and saola and thousands of other species.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Morocco wages “soft” war against Islamic extremism in prisons

Launched in 2017 to combat radicalization, the Moussalaha program is finding success by helping those incarcerated for terrorism by providing counseling, reducing their prison sentences and following up after release, report Fadwa Islah and Soufiane Khabbachi in weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique.

🇲🇦 In Europe, deradicalization policies are often highly contested and their effectiveness is regularly questioned. But Morocco, a majority Muslim country, has become a pioneer in these sorts of programs. To face the terrorist threat on its territory, the North African kingdom is not content with preventing attacks and neutralizing actors. The Moussalaha (reconciliation in Arabic) program, launched in 2017, constitutes the most original practice in Morocco in terms of counter-terrorism. Its principle: to care for and accompany detainees incarcerated for terrorism-related reasons.

⚖️ Of the first 25 people in the program, 15 have had their sentences reduced. To date, only one person who participated in the program has re-offended on a common law offense. The release is accompanied by individualized psychological counseling. According to Damir, a 48-year-old Moroccan father of three and a former beneficiary of the program, all the released inmates have "found a path to peace." This is an undeniable success, far from the controversies raised in Europe by deradicalization programs.

📚 Since its inception, 207 prisoners have participated in Moussalaha and 116 have been granted a royal pardon. Damir says he never lost his faith during his detention: "What changed was my way of reading and interpreting the sacred texts," he says. Today, he believes that reading allowed him to break free from his ideological straitjacket: "Without reading, you can't access anything.” After leaving prison at age 41, he was able to obtain a master's degree and is currently studying for a doctorate at Hassan-II University in Casablanca.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

It is difficult to overstate how devastating – and terrifying – the return of Taliban rule has been for LGBT Afghans.

— J. Lester Feder, senior fellow for emergency research at OutRight Action International, co-wrote a 43-page report released today about the situation of LGBTQ people in Afghanistan since the Taliban retook power last August. The report is based on 60 interviews with Afghans, many of whom reporting that Taliban members attacked or threatened them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Laure Gautherin

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In The News

War In Ukraine, Day 285: Three Dead In What May Be Ukraine's First-Ever Attack On Russian Air Bases

Reports of Ukraine's possible use of kamikaze drones deep inside Russian territory.

War In Ukraine, Day 285: Three Dead In What May Be Ukraine's First-Ever Attack On Russian Air Bases

Engels-2 airbase in Russia

Alex Hurst, Anna Akage, and Emma Albright

Separate explosions Monday morning at two different Russian air bases, which have killed at least three and injured eight, have raised the possibility that Ukraine has the capacity to use drones to attack targets inside Russia.

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

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Russian state media reports that a fuel tanker exploded early Monday in an airfield near the city of Ryanza, southeast of Moscow, killing three and injuring six people. Another two people are reported to have been injured in another morning explosion at the Engles-2 airbase in the Saratov region, farther to the southeast.

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