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In The News

Russian Gains In Bakhmut, Philippines Ferry Fire, AI Open Letter

Russian Gains In Bakhmut, Philippines Ferry Fire, AI Open Letter

The MV Lady Mary Joy 3 ferry, carrying more than 200 people, caught fire in the southern Philippines late Wednesday night. At least 31 died in the blaze, the causes of which are being investigated.

Emma Albright & Ginevra Falciani

👋 Kia ora!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Ukraine acknowledges Russian advances in Bakhmut, disgraced former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro returns from self-imposed exile, and high-profile tech people call for AI development to be put on pause. Meanwhile, Igar Ilyash for Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg zooms in on how Belarus President Lukashenko is playing his own nuclear card.

[*Māori]

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This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Ukraine acknowledges Russian gains in Bakhmut, Moscow arrests U.S. reporter: Ukraine acknowledged some Russian gains inside the eastern battlefield city of Bakhmut, while insisting Thursday that it was inflicting greater losses on the Russian attackers than its own forces were taking. In an escalation of Russia's diplomatic feud with the United States, Moscow's FSB security service said it had arrested an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, on suspicion of spying.

• Taiwan president in New York: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in New York on a sensitive U.S. stopover on Wednesday, vowing en route not to let external pressure prevent the island from engaging with the world after China threatened retaliation if she met U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. China has repeatedly warned U.S. officials not to meet Tsai, who is on her first U.S. stopover since 2019.

• Bolsonaro returns to Brazil: Brazil's far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro, who never conceded defeat in last year's election, returned from self-imposed exile in Florida on Thursday to lead the opposition to leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Authorities have beefed up security in Brasilia to prevent the risk of a repeat of violent protests.

• Philippines ferry fire kills 31 people: A fire broke out on a ferry in the southern Philippines and raged overnight for eight hours, killing at least 31 of the approximately 250 passengers and crew. Many of those who survived the blaze jumped off the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 and were rescued from the dark sea. At least seven people are missing and the causes of the fire are still being investigated.

• Suspects in deadly Mexico migrant fire identified: Mexican prosecutors say they have identified eight suspects thought responsible for 38 deaths in the fire at a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juarez. Five of the suspects are reported to be security guards at the facility, which were shown on video footage appearing to walk away as the blaze erupted in a corner, leaving a group of men behind in what appeared to be a locked cell.

• U.S. army helicopters crash: Two United States Army helicopters collided during a training mission near a sprawling Army base along the Kentucky-Tennessee border on Wednesday night, causing “several” casualties, the Army said.

• India welcomes its first newborn cheetahs in more than 7 decades: More than 70 years after cheetahs were declared officially extinct in India, the country is now home to four newborn cubs. The cubs were born to Siyaya and Freddie, two of the eight rehabilitated cheetahs brought from Namibia to India’s Kuno National Park in the central state of Madhya Pradesh last September as part of a government plan to re-home 50 of the big cats in India over the next five years.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Italian daily Corriere Della Sera dedicates its front page to the recent hospitalization of Pope Francis after a respiratory infection. He is expected to remain under care for a few days but the nurses were optimistic he would be out in time for Palm Sunday this weekend.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

1,377

An open letter signed by prominent Artificial Intelligence actors and Social Media CEOs calls for an immediate pause regarding the training of A.I systems more powerful than ChatGPT-4, for at least six months. Among the 1,377 signatories are SpaceX & Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Emad Mostaque, CEO of Stability AI and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. The letter is backed by an Elon Musk funded platform, and requires the pause to be public and verifiable and include all key actors. It also asks for governments to step in and institute a moratorium in case the pause fails to be enacted quickly.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Nuclear card and firing squads: Lukashenko's long game to retain power

A few weeks after an explosion at a military field in Belarus, Vladimir Putin announced plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. There is a connection, even if Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is walking a tightrope of domestic control and keeping Putin satisfied, writes Igar Ilyash for Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg.

💥 On the afternoon of February 26, the media reported explosions at the military airfield in Machulishchy, near Minsk. The Belarusian authorities publicly acknowledged the sabotage only on March 7. That same day, Lukashenko accused the Ukrainian special services of organizing the terrorist attack in Machulishchy. However, he immediately clarified that he did not intend to use the incident to draw Belarus into war.

🇧🇾🇷🇺 No sabotage or terrorist attacks occurred after that. However, Lukashenko's emotional reaction to the sabotage in Machulishchy is easy to understand. He has repeatedly stated that Belarus' role in the current conflict is to prevent "our Russian brothers from stabbing us in the back." In other words, Lukashenko has taken on the responsibility of securing the rear and communications of Putin's army. Now the Kremlin has reason to accuse him of failing to do so.

☢️ Putin's decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus does not change anything. The parties have been preparing for this step for a long time. For Lukashenko, deploying the nuclear fuel cycle in Belarus is only to his advantage: it is a chance to demonstrate his loyalty to the Kremlin, to give confidence to the security forces and oligarchs, and, ultimately, to maintain the status quo.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

“Two generations have lived without the threat of nuclear war. But this period is over.”

— The Russian authorities shut down newspaper Novaya Gazeta but the editor in chief, Dmitry Muratov does not shy away from commenting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia's Nobel Peace Prize laureate is worried about how far the Kremlin will go in its confrontation with the West. "Two generations have lived without the threat of nuclear war," Muratov told the BBC. "But this period is over. Will Putin press the nuclear button, or won't he? Who knows? No one knows this. There isn't a single person who can say for sure."

✍️ Newsletter by Emma Albright, Ginevra Falciani, Inès Mermat and Anne-Sophie Goninet


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Society

Italy's Right-Wing Government Turns Up The Heat On 'Gastronationalism'

Rome has been strongly opposed to synthetic foods, insect-based flours and health warnings on alcohol, and aggressive lobbying by Giorgia Meloni's right-wing government against nutritional labeling has prompted accusations in Brussels of "gastronationalism."

Dough is run through a press to make pasta

Creation of home made pasta

Karl De Meyer et Olivier Tosseri

ROME — On March 23, the Italian Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, Francesco Lollobrigida, announced that Rome would ask UNESCO to recognize Italian cuisine as a piece of intangible cultural heritage.

On March 28, Lollobrigida, who is also Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's brother-in-law, promised that Italy would ban the production, import and marketing of food made in labs, especially artificial meat — despite the fact that there is still no official request to market it in Europe.

Days later, Italian Eurodeputy Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of fascist leader Benito Mussolini and member of the Forza Italia party, which is part of the governing coalition in Rome, caused a sensation in the European Parliament. On the sidelines of the plenary session, Sophia Loren's niece organized a wine tasting, under the slogan "In Vino Veritas," to show her strong opposition (and that of her government) to an Irish proposal to put health warnings on alcohol bottles. At the end of the press conference, around 11am, she showed her determination by drinking from the neck of a bottle of wine, to great applause.

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