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Macron-Putin Revelation, Another Mexican Journalist Killed, Orca Narcos

U.S. skater Nathan Chen won the gold medal in men’s figure skating at the Beijing Winter Games

Hannah-Steinkopf-Frank, Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Γειά σου!*

Welcome to Friday, where that super long table of the Putin-Macron table is explained, the fifth journalist is killed in Mexico in five weeks and Spanish police bust orca-inspired drug smugglers. Les Echos’ U.S. correspondent Benoît Georges goes for a tour of Fender’s factory as electric guitars are back in fashion thanks to the pandemic.

[*Yassou - Greek]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID suspicions may explain Putin-Macron distance: A new report reveals that in his meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron refused to take a Russian COVID-19 test for fears of them using his DNA for malicious purposes. Sources say the lack of a test explains why the two leaders were kept so far apart during the summit.

• 5th journalist murdered in Mexico: Heber Lopez, director of Mexican online news site Noticias Web, was fatally shot at his office in Salina Cruz, in the state of Oaxaca — the fifth journalist to be murdered in the country this year. Two people have been arrested in connection with the crime, but the investigation remains ongoing in a country that has become one of the most dangerous for members of the press.

• Head of London Met Police resigns: Dame Cressida Dick was forced out of her position following comments by London Mayor Sadiq Khan that she failed to rid Britain's largest police force of its culture of misogyny and racism. Dick was the first female leader in Scotland Yard’s 193-year history, and faced a recent scandal in which police were found to be sharing racist, sexist and Islamophobic messages.

• Drug lord accused in failed Guinea-Bissau coup: Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Embalo said former navy chief Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, who was arrested in 2013 for attempting to traffic cocaine, was behind the attempt to overthrow him earlier this month. On Feb. 1, heavily armed men attacked government buildings in the capital of Bissau, leading to a five-hour gun battle that resulted in 11 deaths.

• IOC v. Russia on banned substance: The International Olympic Committee plans to fight Russia’s decision to let 15-year-old figure skater Valieva Kamila compete despite testing positive for a banned heart medication.

• Australia lists koalas as endangered species: Given the impacts of brush fires, habitat loss and disease, koalas have gone from being listed as threatened to endangered in their homeland. A recovery plan is being put in place to protect the marsupial, which could go extinct by 2050 without swift government action.

• Narco orcas busted: Spanish police caught a fishy operation in which drug traffickers were faking boat damage, including attacks supposedly perpetuated by orca whales, to get towed into a port and then smuggle hashish into Spain. Some 172 kilograms of drugs and €63,000 have been seized.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

“Historical breakthrough opens for American soldiers on Danish soil,” titles Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, reporting on negotiations between Denmark and the U.S. on a new defense cooperation agreement that would allow American troops and military equipment to station on Danish soil to facilitate their movement in Europe. This would reverse a decades-old policy that bans the permanent presence of foreign troops in the Nordic countries. Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the possible deal has been in the making for the past year, and was not triggered by the Ukraine crisis.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why classic Fender guitars are striking a chord with gen Z

With guitar playing in full revival thanks to the pandemic, the mythical Fender brand is reviving the glory days of rock and roll stars. Taking advantage of free time during lockdown, many Americans discovered their passion for the classic six-string, writes Benoît Georges, who visits the iconic Fender factory in California for Paris-based daily Les Echos.

🎸 Founded in 1946 — also the year David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Robert Fripp (King Crimson) and Robby Krieger (The Doors) were born — Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has just celebrated its 75th anniversary in an impressive shape. Its sales increased by 30% last year, and the turnover of the first American manufacturer of musical instruments should exceed $800 million for the first time in its history. Fender, like its historical rival Gibson, is facing a phenomenon that has taken observers by surprise: guitars, and in particular electric guitars, are back in fashion.

📈 Just five years ago, in a long and depressing article illustrated by the image of a Stratocaster consumed by flames, the Washington Post announced the "slow, secret death of the six-string electric." The author pointed out the steady decline in sales and the younger generation’s lack of interest. Instead, the last two years have seen a spectacular resurrection. The main reason for the turnaround? The pandemic. In the spring of 2020, lockdown pushed thousands of Americans — and especially American women — to learn an instrument. Guitar sales soared and remained at a very high level in 2021.

🧘 In the spring of 2020, when America was largely confined, the company made Fender Play available for free for three months. It was a hit: nearly one million people signed up, and 250,000 followed up with a paid subscription. In an interview with Business Insider, its CEO Andy Mooney said, “What we really learned from the pandemic is that now that people have more time to invest in themselves, learning music, guitar in particular, it's just a fundamentally good investment of their time and self-development, or relaxation, mental health.”

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$46 million

Latvia will award 40 million euros ($46 million) to the country’s Jewish community after the country’s parliament passed a long-awaited Holocaust restitution bill, to compensate lost Jewish property during World War II.

⁉️  WHAT THE WORLD

Green gold: Avocado delivery gets Mexican police escort

Avocados have become one of the world's most prized cash crops. The market is booming in particular for producers and distributors across certain regions of Mexico, its country of origin that still accounts for more than 30% of global production. But the agricultural source of pride and wealth for Mexicans has also begun to entice its ever hungry criminals looking to dip into the action.

Police this week in the western state of Michoacán were forced to provide armed escort for a caravan of 14 lorries taking avocados from Santa Ana Zirosto to La Quinta in the district of Uruapan, a drive of a little under an hour. This was to "assure their arrival without any hitches," the Heraldo de México daily reported, citing the Michoacán police authority.

It was not the first time producers had warranted police protection, the newspaper reported, as rising incidents of robbery and violence targeting supply of the fruit qualified in the region as "green gold."

Earlier this month, the country's ruling party MORENA declared in the Senate that price hikes in limes and avocados were in part for the extortions to which producers were subject, particularly in Guerrero and Michoacán, two adjacent states particularly prone to criminal activity. Senator Ricardo Velásquez told the legislative chamber that in cases criminals imposed produce prices and that typically, growers were forced to pay sums of between 500 and 2,000 pesos ($24 to $98) at all stages of production.

The country's statistics office, Inegi, found avocado prices to have risen 230% between December and January. Last June, some 3,000 avocado farmers armed themselves in Michoacán in response to rising incidents of extortion and criminal intimidation.

➡️ Keep up with all the planet’s police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

That’s a world war. When Americans and Russians start shooting one another, we’re in a very different world.

— In a pre-taped interview with NBC News, U.S. President Joe Biden urged American citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately. Amid fears of an impending Russian invasion, Biden warned that the U.S. would not be able to evacuate U.S. citizens in event of Russian military action, stressing that things “could go crazy” very quickly.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah-Steinkopf-Frank, Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Coronavirus

Will China's Zero COVID Ever End?

Too much has been put in to the state-sponsored truth that minimal spread of the virus is the at-all-cost objective. But if the Chinese economy continues to suffer, Xi Jinping may have no choice but to second guess himself.

COVID testing in Guiyang, China

Cfoto/DDP via ZUMA
Deng Yuwen

The tragic bus accident in Guiyang last month — in which 27 people being sent to quarantine were killed — was one of the worst examples of collateral damage since the COVID-19 pandemic began in China nearly three years ago. While the crash can ultimately be traced back to bad government policy, the local authorities did not register it as a Zero COVID related casualty. It was, for them, a simple traffic accident.

The officials in the southern Chinese province of Guizhou, of course, had no alternative. Drawing a link between the deadly crash and the strict policy of Zero COVID, touted by President Xi Jinping, would have revealed the absurdity of the government's choices.

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