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Taliban Decree On Women, Averted Shutdown, Metal Planet

Germany’s military honored outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel with a traditional farewell ceremony

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Sannu!*

Welcome to Friday, where the Taliban issue a decree on women’s rights, the U.S. avoids another government shutdown, and we discover the most metallic planet ever. Delhi-based news website The Wire also suggests Indians should pause before any nationalistic boasting about the choice of Parag Agarwal as new Twitter CEO.

[*Hausa - Nigeria & Niger]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: A new British study published on Thursday finds that COVID-19 vaccines made by Pzifer and Moderna using mRNA technology provide the biggest boost to antibody levels when given 10-12 weeks after the second dose. The World Health Organization (WHO) said vaccination was key to fight the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant, and said travel curbs could buy time but alone were not the answer. In the United States new, stricter COVID-19 testing requirements for all travelers will take effect Monday with international air travelers required to obtain a negative test within one day of arrival.

• Taliban release decree saying women should not be forced to marry: Afghanistan's Taliban government released a decree on women’s rights on Friday, stating that women should not be forced into marriage nor be considered as “property,” but failed to mention female access to education and work outside the home.

• U.S. averts government shutdown: The U.S. Senate passed a bill to extend funding through mid-February, ending a standoff that had threatened to trigger a shutdown, after a small number of Republican senators tried to delay the vote to protest against vaccine mandates.

• Journalist granted permission to travel to receive Nobel: Philippine journalist Maria Ressa has been authorized to travel overseas to accept her Nobel Peace prize in person after a court gave her permission to visit Norway despite the government’s attempt to block her from attending the ceremony. Ressa, who is subjected to travel restrictions because of legal cases she faces in her country, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov last October.

• Rights groups condemn Trump migrant policy return: U.S. human rights groups have criticized the reinstatement of a Trump-era policy requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico as they await immigration hearings. U.S. President Joe Biden scrapped the policy, calling it “inhumane” but was ordered by a court to put it back into effect. The American Immigration Council said it was a dark day for the US and the rule of law.

• Twitter removes nearly 3,465 “state-backed” propaganda accounts: Twitter announced it has removed 3,465 accounts operating as “state-backed information operations” associated with six countries: China, Tanzania, Uganda, Mexico, Russia, and Venezuela. The majority of the erased accounts were linked to the Chinese Communist Party’s narrative over its treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang province, the social media giant said on Thursday.

• Meet new planet GJ-367b: Astronomers have discovered the most metal-based planet yet — an iron-rich world known as GJ 367b, smaller and denser than the Earth, where a year only lasts eight hours. The newfound alien world could shed light on these mysterious, rapidly orbiting worlds.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Belgian daily Le Soir on the “third round” of COVID-19 talks, as the government meets for the third time in as many weeks to decide on new restrictions, including the closing of schools and cultural places, to stem the current fourth wave of coronavirus.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

73

The Memphis Grizzlies have set a new NBA record for the largest margin of victory by mauling Oklahoma City Thunder 152 to 79, breaking the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 68 points record when they beat the Miami Heat in 1991.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Parag Agarwal & Co: Why India should stop boasting about Twitter's new CEO

So a dozen of the top CEOs in the world (including heads of Google, Microsoft, IBM and now Twitter) come from a country with 18% of the world's population. But there are other numbers our overly proud fellow Indians should be running, writes Seshadri Kumar in Indian news website The Wire.

👏 Agarwal is an IITian (graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay), apparently. Of course. Consequently, there’s plenty of self-congratulation going around among Indians and foreign citizens of Indian origin. Look at us, they say. We are smart. Agarwal has demonstrated it again, just like Sundar Pichai (CEO of Alphabet), Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft), Krishna (CEO of IBM), Indra Nooyi (former chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo), Shantanu Narayen (CEO of Adobe) and other Indians who have made it to the top of world-famous American companies did.

🧠 But seriously, why are you surprised at this at all? You may ask me in turn, why aren’t you amazed and delighted? Well, I am not, because I believe that intelligence is not endemic to any race or country. I believe that it is spread uniformly among all the people in the world, regardless of race, community, caste, religion, language and ethnicity. In fact, on a proportional basis, I would expect that 90 of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 should be Indians, based on our share of world population. I am fairly sure that is nowhere near the case.

🇺🇸 The smartest people in India leave at the first chance to go to that “land of opportunity,” the U.S. For many of the best of the best in India, an intermediate stop on the journey to the U.S. is one of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the country's premier technological institutes, which has an admission percentage of 1-2% For the majority of IITians, the goal of attending an IIT is to leave India and go abroad. This “brain-drain” has been going on for the last 50 years, and has been the subject of much debate in the country.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

Escalation is a likely scenario.

— Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament Friday that Ukraine was ready to retaliate if Moscow was to launch an attack. Russia has gathered more than 94,000 troops near Ukraine's borders and may prepare to launch a major military operation at the end of January, igniting fears of the conflict becoming an open war. Reznikov added that Ukraine was continuing to build two naval bases as part of a defense deal with Britain on its south coast.

🇦🇷🐧 IN OTHER NEWS

Argentine landowner accused in bulldozing death of hundreds of penguins

A resident of the southern Argentine province of Chubut has been charged under animal cruelty laws for allegedly bulldozing over and electrocuting hundreds of penguins from the Punta Tombo natural reserve, home to the world's largest colony of Magellanic penguins.

As Argentina daily Clarín reports, a possible land dispute within the property neighboring Punta Tombo may be the cause behind the death of between 300 and 500 Magellanic penguins, and the destruction of dozens of nests and countless eggs.

Chubut's Ministry of Tourism has filed criminal charges after finding that a wide path had been opened in a zone where penguins are nesting, destroying at least 146 nests, "both by crushing and subsequent compaction of the ground, as well as by the deposit of material extracted with the shovel on nests bordering the road," said biologist Pablo García Borboroglu in a report on the damages.

García Borboroglu, who is also the founder and president of the Global Penguin Society, said that he estimated that at least 292 chicks or eggs had been crushed but was unable to estimate the number of adults that could have been killed by the machines while inside their nests.

The report also found that an electric fence was installed in the area without permission, with cattle grazing nearby, which may have led to the electrocution of more birds trying to escape.

According to the Minister of Tourism and Protected Areas of Chubut, Néstor Garcia, the field where the penguins were killed is part of a private property, a few kilometers off the Punta Tombo protected area. "It is outside our jurisdiction, and wildlife guards cannot intervene," he said.

In late November, the nephew of a local landowner allegedly sought to expand his uncle's property, at the expense of the Magellanic penguins. The protected park — a major nesting point for penguins between September and March, before they migrate en masse to Brazil — currently hosts some 600,000 penguins, and receives an estimated 50,000 tourists a year.

Authorities from Argentina's Ministry of Environment said they would investigate and file charges if necessary, reports Página 12 newspaper. With the localisation of penguin nests being marked and registered, it is unlikely this could have been a bulldozing accident.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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China

How China's Mass Protest Took The World By Surprise — And Where It Will End

China is facing its biggest political protests in decades as frustration grows with its harsh Zero-COVID strategy. However, the real reasons for the protests run much deeper. Could it be the starting point for a new civic movement?

Photo of police during protests in China against covid-19 restrictions

Security measures during a protest against COVID-19 restrictions

Changren Zheng

In just one weekend, protests spread across China. A fire in an apartment block in Urumqi in China’s western Xinjiang region killed 10, with many blaming lockdown rules for the deaths. Anti-lockdown demonstrations spread to Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu and other cities. University students from more than half of China's provinces organized various protests against COVID restrictions.

Why and how did the movement spread so rapidly?

At the core, protesters are unhappy with President Xi Jinping's three-year-long Zero-COVID strategy that has meant mass testing, harsh lockdowns, and digital tracking. Yet, the general belief about the Chinese people was that they lacked the awareness and experience for mass political action. Even though discontent had been growing about the Zero-COVID strategy, no one expected these protests.

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