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Taliban Total Takeover, Guinea Coup, Napoleon’s Hat

Welcome to Monday, where the Taliban seize control of the last pocket of resistance in Afghanistan, a coup is underway in Guinea and Napoleon's hat is up for sale. We also look at the success and failure of New Zealand's unique COVID-19 strategy, as the country struggles to tame its Delta outbreak.

Taliban Total Takeover, Guinea Coup, Napoleon’s Hat

A worker disinfects a movie hall in Kathmandu, Nepal, after the government decided to reopen movie theaters.

• Taliban claim control of last outstanding Afghan territory: The Taliban claimed victory over opposition forces in the Panjshir valley northeast of Kabul. After fighting the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), the area was captured and the Islamist group's takeover of Afghanistan has now been declared complete.

• Guinea president toppled by army: An unverified video shows soldiers in Guinea claiming they dissolved the government and seized power from Guinea's President Alpha Condé. The announcement comes after hours of gunfire near the presidential palace in the capital.

• COVID-19 update:G20 health ministers gathered yesterday in Rome for two days of talks on the global health situation and how to prevent future pandemics. The Mu variant, which the WHO has flagged as "of interest," is now spreading in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, New Zealand is doing better: Cases are in decline for the third day in a row and some of the restrictions in areas surrounding Auckland have been lifted.

• Six Palestinian militants escape from Israeli prison: Six Palestinian militants, five of whom belong to the Islamic Jihad movement, escaped from a high-security prison in the North of Israel. According to the prison, they escaped via a hole in their cell toilet leading to a tunnel. A massive manhunt is underway.

• Mexico City to replace Columbus statue with one of indigenous woman: An iconic statue of Christopher Columbus standing on one of Mexico City's principal avenues is to be replaced by one of an indigenous woman.

• Germany's China ambassador dies two weeks into the job: Jan Hecker, Germany's newly appointed ambassador to China, has died. His sudden death, the cause unknown, came just two weeks after he took up the post.

• Napoleon hat with DNA up for auction: A hat described as the "first hat to bear the emperor's DNA," has gone on display at auction house Bonhams in Hong Kong. Its present owner did not know the distinctive bicorne hat, which is often seen in depictions of Napoleon on the battlefield, had such a famous owner.

Argentine daily Página 12 reports on the suspension of the Brazil-Argentina World Cup qualifier game, featuring the visibly distraught teams' star players Neymar and Lionel Messi. The match was interrupted after only seven minutes, after Brazilian health officials stormed the pitch to remove three players from Argentina's team who they said failed to comply with coronavirus restrictions.

New Zealand's COVID exceptionalism risks unraveling

As New Zealand grapples to bring a Delta outbreak under control and to accelerate the vaccination rollout, social cohesion is vital for a successful elimination strategy. But strains on public consensus are beginning to show, with a less-than-ideal parliament, some pushback against lockdowns and agitation to "open up," writes Alexander Gillespie in The Conversation.

😷 During last year's nation-wide lockdown, the prime minister created the epidemic response committee. It reflected a government confident enough to be questioned in public through a parliamentary body it did not control. This time, the epidemic response committee was not resuscitated. Following a wave of criticism, the government floated a virtual option. Opposition parties rejected this, forcing the government to recall a truncated parliament with enhanced social distancing rules. As a result, very few politicians are in parliament.

📢 Dealing with protests outside parliament during this pandemic is equally difficult. The important point here is that people have rights, but these rights may be subject to reasonable limits. All New Zealanders have a right to peaceful assembly in public to protest, but this can be curtailed by conditions of where, when and how. Fundamentally, nobody has a right to public protest in the middle of a national lockdown.

💉 While Australia and other countries are now discussing how to adapt to an ongoing presence of COVID-19, accepting deaths and hospitalisations, New Zealand so far maintains elimination as a strategy "to stamp out the virus and keep our options open". Whatever vaccination target will be necessary, getting there from the current level of 21% of the population fully vaccinated will be a challenge. The government will likely need to use incentives and some degree of compulsion.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


According to a new report from the EU Tax Observatory, leading European banks such as Barclays and HSBC are booking 14% of their annual profits (around €20 billion) in tax havens. The banks deny the findings but the claims will nevertheless fuel those arguing that leading countries must be more aggressive in cracking down on tax avoidance.

Everyone is on the list.

— A Nicaraguan businessman whose family home was raided by the police told The New York Times amid a nationwide crackdown on political opponents and dissent by Nicaragua's president Daniel Ortega who's seeking to secure a fourth term. Since last June, seven candidates for November's presidential election and dozens of political activists and critics of the leader have been arrested.

✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A Decisive Spring? How Ukraine Plans To Beat Back Putin's Coming Offensive

The next months will be decisive in the war between Moscow and Kyiv. From the forests of Polesia to Chernihiv and the Black Sea, Ukraine is looking to protect the areas that may soon be the theater of Moscow's announced offensive. Will this be the last Russian Spring?

Photo of three ​Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Anna Akage

Ukrainian forces are digging new fortifications and preparing battle plans along the entire frontline as spring, and a probable new Russian advance, nears.

But this may be the last spring for occupying Russian forces.

"Spring and early summer will be decisive in the war. If the great Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin," said Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence.

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Skinitysky added that Ukraine believes Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer. The Institute for the Study of War thinks that such an offensive is more likely to come from the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk than from Belarus, as some have feared.

Still, the possibility of an attack by Belarus should not be dismissed entirely — all the more so because, in recent weeks, a flurry of MiG fighter jet activity in Belarusian airspace has prompted a number of air raid alarms throughout Ukraine.

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