ABC
ABC is a Spanish daily founded in Madrid in 1903 by the Marquis Torcuato Luca de Tena y Álvarez-Ossorio. It is considered a conservative, catholic and monarchist newspaper that belongs today to the Vocento group.
The Latest: Kabul Airport Gunfight, NZ Extends Lockdown, Bye Bye Don
WORLDCRUNCH

The Latest: Kabul Airport Gunfight, NZ Extends Lockdown, Bye Bye Don

Welcome to Monday, where chaos continues at Kabul airport, flooding kills at least 22 in Tennessee, and Taiwan hisses at the culling of smuggled cats. Meanwhile, Les Echos invites you to mind the gap and hop on Europe's rekindled love for overnight rail travel.


• Kabul airport clash: A firefight erupted at the Kabul airport Monday between unidentified gunmen and U.S., German, and Afghan guards. One guard was killed during the clash and three others were wounded. Thousands of Afghans and foreigners have been at the airport for days, hoping to flee Kabul after the Taliban conquered virtually all of the country last week. So far, 20 people have been killed in the chaos, mostly during shootings and stampedes.

• Turkey reinforces Iran border to block Afghan refugees: New border measures in Turkey are being imposed as the Taliban regain power in Afghanistan. By the end of the year, Turkish authorities hope to add another 64 kilometers to the border wall for fear that Afghan refugees traveling through Iran will attempt to move westward through Turkey.

• COVID-19 update: The nationwide lockdown in New Zealand has been extended again as another 35 COVID cases were reported. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern believes the outbreak has not reached its peak yet. The health ministry of Iran reported more than 680 daily coronavirus-linked deaths, a new daily record, just as nationwide restrictions were lifted. Meanwhile, China has reported no new locally transmitted cases for the first time since July.

• Solar power in Australia (momentarily) overtakes coal: This weekend in Australia, low energy demand and sunny skies led to a drop in coal-generated energy and a slight increase in solar energy, meaning that for the first time, more than half of the nation's electricity came from solar power rather than coal. In those few minutes, low demand and a first for the country, although according to experts, Australia is still far away from peak renewable energy.

• Deadly Tennessee floods: At least 22 people are confirmed dead as rescue crews searched shattered homes after heavy rainfall caused flash floods in the rural town of Waverly, Tennessee.

• Taiwan outraged over cat euthanizations: Animal activists in pet-loving Taiwan are criticizing the decision by authorities to put down 154 cats for public health reasons after the felines were found in an attempted smuggling operation.

• Don Everly dies: The surviving member of influential rock 'n' roll duo the Everly Brothers, died on Sunday at 84. Don Everly and his brother Phil, famous for their close harmonies, were behind 1950s and 1960s hits like "Bye Bye Love", "Wake Up Little Susie" and "All I Have To Do Is Dream".


The city of Gijón in northern Spain has cancelled its traditional bullfighting festival, after the names of two recently salin bulls ("Feminist" and "Nigerian") sparked outrage. The cancellation was met with "indignant silence" by Gijon's bullfighting organizers, as shown on today's front page of Spanish daily ABC.

All aboard Europe's night-train revival

After years of letting overnight rail travel fade into oblivion, France and other European countries are rushing to reverse course. Doing so will be easier said than done, however, reports Les Echos.

The rebound follows a long period of neglect. In the early 1980s, France had up to 550 stations served by several dozen night routes. Across the continent, only a handful of central European countries kept a network worthy of the name. Austria in particular stands out in this regard, with a network of lines that connect to a multitude of destinations: Prague, Warsaw, Hamburg, Rome and even Kiev.

To get a sense of Austria's persistent love for a mode of transport that was said to have no future, last October I boarded a Nightjet train operated by the ÖBB, the Austrian national railway company.The cabin was new and comfortable and the bathroom well equipped with towels and shampoo, even if the hot water didn't seem to work. The welcome pack included a bottle of water, a mini-bottle of sparkling wine, cookies, slippers and earplugs. The dinner, served hot on a tray, at a reasonable price (less than 10 euros) was surprisingly good.

The Austrian company intends to take advantage of the public's renewed interest in night trains. "For the past three years, we have seen a strong demand for night travel," says spokesman Bernhard Rieder. In 2019, the ÖBB welcomed 1.5 million passengers on its Nightjets. "In good years, we don't necessarily lose money on night trains," he adds. "2019 was a very good year."

France is eager to get on board the trend as well. Still, there are obstacles to how far France can go with the revival. "Given the major work to be done on the network, it will be complicated to open many other lines until 2025," Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said in an interview with Le Parisien. Orders for new cars from Bombardier or Alstom could take years to complete — at a cost potentially exceeding 1 billion euros.

Read more on Worldcrunch.com



-73%

A recent New Street Consulting Group study shows that although the number of female board members in UK's biggest companies (FTSE 100) has increased sharply since 2015, they still hold non-executive jobs, and are paid 73% less than their male counterparts on average.

Gas cannot be used as a weapon.

— German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday, after a meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev. She was seeking to calm Ukrainian concerns over the nearly completed $11 billion Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, which will provide Europe with Russian gas. If Russia would use this project as a weapon, Merkel would be in favor of new sanctions, she promised.

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Laure Gautherin and Bertrand Hauger

Potty-Mouthed Grandma Strikes A Chord In Paraguay Protests
ABC
Benjamin Witte

Potty-Mouthed Grandma Strikes A Chord In Paraguay Protests

Amid a wave of protests against the Paraguayan government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, one unlikely voice — that of a sharp-tongued, silver-haired abuelita (grandmother) — has stood out above the chorus of discontent.

One of countless people taking to the streets in the capital Asunción in recent days, the elderly woman has yet to be publicly identified. But her opinion of the country's president, Mario Abdo Benítez of the conservative Colorado Party, is now widely known following an impromptu interview Sunday with a reporter from the Paraguayan news outlet ABC TV.

"We're here resisting until that cabrón hijo de puta (bastard son of a bitch) falls," the bespectacled woman, wearing a Paraguayan flag as a cape, said of the president.

Abdo Benítez, elected in 2018, faces widespread criticism over what many people see as an inadequate response to the coronavirus epidemic. Barely anyone in the country of roughly 7 million people has been vaccinated, according to news reports, and with deaths and infection numbers on the rise, Paraguay"s available hospital beds are quickly filling up.

Nevertheless, the government decided recently to reopen schools after eight months of lockdown. This move prompted demonstrations by teachers, who were soon joined by healthcare workers and everyday citizens. The Abdo Benítez administration responded by sacking several key cabinet officials, including the health and education ministers. But the protesters, including

"Don't think we're satisfied with three ministers being fired," the now famous grandmother said. "What we want is the president's head. Your head, little Mario. It's your head we want ... You're worthless, you son of a bitch."

Japan has asked its population to stay away from closed and crowded spaces
ABC
Bertrand Hauger

COVID-19: Ventilation May Be Hidden Key To Reducing Spread

Germany has made the airing out of closed spaces a centerpiece of its recommendations for limiting contagion. Others, including the CDC, are also touting the benefits.

After months of fighting the spread of COVID-19, a number of protective measures have made their way into our daily routine: We wash our hands, sneeze into our arm, wear a mask, social-distance and elbow-bump. But another potentially crucial weapon in combatting the virus has gone underreported in many parts of the world: ventilating closed spaces.

Ventilation's biggest fan: Though the science is still divided, ventilation has moved to the center of government recommendations in a country respected for its pragmatism and scientific rigor: Germany.

Doing the heavy Lüften Among the lesser-known stereotypes about Germans is their love of fresh air. True to linguistic form, they even have a name for it: Stosslüften, or the act of airing a room several times a day. Thus her fellow Germans weren't surprised when Chancellor Angela Merkel herself advertised ventilating as "one of the cheapest and most effective ways' of containing the spread of the virus.

Germany's handy acronym against coronavirus, AHA (Abstand, Hygiene und Alltagsmasken: Social distancing, Hygiene and Facemasks) has recently gained two letters: enters AHACL, with C and L standing respectively for Corona-Warn-App, the government's prevention app, and Lüften — airing.

  • The update is based on the belief that "regular ventilation in all private and public rooms can significantly reduce the risk of infection," as Münich-based Merkur daily reports.

  • With winter around the corner, opening windows to fend off the pandemic is becoming less of an option. Germany's federal government is about to invest a half-billion euros in the renovation of ventilation systems in schools and public buildings, as German daily Die Welt reports.

    → The goal: retrofitting old AC systems so that they can use as little circulating air as possible, and as much outside air as possible, therefore avoiding recycling potentially contaminated air while limiting heat loss during cold months.

Open window in a classroom in Stuttgart, Germany — Photo: Christoph Schmidt/DPA/ZUMA

An idea is spreading: For months, evidence has been mounting that the virus can spread by microparticles and aerosols. At the beginning of October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published guidelines on Oct. 5, declaring the novel coronavirus is indeed airborne. But Germany, it turns out, is not alone in pushing the merits of airing:

  • The Spanish government has issued an extensive series of specific guidelines "on the use of air conditioning and ventilation systems to prevent the spread of COVID-19" covering aspects such as airflow rates, humidity levels and the replacement of air filters. Another guide aimed specifically at the country's schools, recommends ventilating classrooms five to six times per hour — never mind lower outside temperatures, the guide going as far as to recommend students "wear warmer clothes', the Madrid daily ABC reports.

  • In the U.S., the craze surrounding high-end air filtration systems is "like toilet paper in April times two," CNBC quotes the CEO of a Texas AC company as saying, with HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems selling like hotcakes.

  • In France, "airing rooms for 10 minutes, three times a day" is now part of the country's mesures barrières to stop the spread, as shown on government website — a matter of particular importance for the French who have just entered their second nationwide lockdown.

  • Japan too, focused on ventilation, as sociologist Zeynep Tufekci writes in The Atlantic. The government has asked the population to stay away from places that may gather "the three Cs': Crowds, Closed spaces, close Contact.

The takeaway Airborne? Well, it's complicated. Although many questions about the pandemic remain open, according to Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University, the spread of coronavirus through aerosols is "rather uncommon." The virus, it seems, spreads mainly through direct contact and via droplets that are significantly bigger and therefore not subject to airborne transmission per se.

At the same time, as Tufekci writes, super-spreading events seem to overwhelmingly occur when three conditions are reunited: 1) many people 2) especially in a poorly ventilated indoor setting 3) and especially not wearing masks.

  • In other words, though COVID-19's airborne risks may be relative, ventilating efforts still make sense — that is, if done in conjunction with other prevention methods. Which means that for now, the best solution may rest not with the Germans, but with their neighbors: the Swiss cheese approach, where each holey slice of cheese serves as an additional barrier against the spread.
North Macedonia's candidate performs during the 1st semifinal of the Eurovision contest, which started in Rotterdam
ABC

The Latest: Bad COVID Record In India, Gaza Gets Worse, Italian Village Reappears

Welcome to Wednesday, where the fighting in Gaza intensifies despite international calls for ceasefire, COVID deaths hit a new record in India and a flooded Italian village resurfaces. Le Monde"s correspondent Louis Imbert reports from the West Bank where more and more young supporters of the ruling Fatah party are joining the clashes with Israeli forces.

• Israel-Gaza fighting intensifies despite ceasefire calls: Israeli forces carried out dozens of airstrikes on Gaza and Hamas militants continued to launch rockets on Wednesday, despite international calls for a ceasefire. On Tuesday, France called for a UN Security Council resolution on the violence, as the death toll in Gaza rises to 219 and to 12 in Israel.

• Daily COVID deaths hit record in India: India reported the highest daily COVID death toll of any country, with 4,529 deaths in the last 24 hours, driving the overall toll to more than 283,000. The country registers the world's third highest number of deaths from the pandemic after the U.S. and Brazil.

• Pelosi calls for China Olympics "diplomatic boycott": U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the US and other major countries to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, over China's reported treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

• Lebanon foreign minister quits after ISIS comments: Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe resigned after his comments on the rise of ISIS in Gulf States provoked a diplomatic backlash.

• Criminal fraud inquiry over Trump Organization: The New York attorney general's office says that its investigation over the Trump Organization was no longer "purely civil." New York attorneys have been scrutinizing former President Trump's financial business before he took office.

• Ex-FARC leader killed in Venezuela: Former prominent leader of the Colombian FARC rebel group Jesus Santrich has been killed in Venezuela, in a military operation led by Colombia.

• Italy's lost village resurfaces: Repair work at a reservoir in the Italian lake of Resia, in the north of the country, has revealed the ruins of Curon, a village that had been flooded to make way for a hydroelectric plant in the 1950s.

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An open barbershop seen following strict sanitary conditions in Spain.
ABC
Bertrand Hauger

The Meaning Of A Haircut

We have all, at some point, thought about the very first thing we'd do once lockdown restrictions start to lift. Going for a cup of coffee, dining out, meeting friends in the flesh (not on Zoom). But there's one item on our list of mundane things we took for granted that we're reminded of each time we look in the mirror: a good old haircut.

For billions of confined people around the world, our scruffy appearances have progressively become a very tangible reminder of the limitations imposed upon our quarantined lives for the past couple of months.

Turns out it is not (only) a question of vanity. As clinical psychologist Dr. Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco told ABC News, with this kind of routine activity "We know what to expect, and that helps us feel in control." We go to the hairdresser's. We chit-chat for a bit with our trusty barber. We get our hair cut. We pay for it. Nice, clean, predictable. At least some portion of chaos that can be easily tamed — not too short in the neck, thank you very much.

But even as barbershops start to reopen in some countries, as downward infection rates encourage governments to ease lockdown measures, getting a haircut will most likely be a very different experience. How, indeed, can we reconcile this close-quarters activity with the current sanitary distanciation guidelines?

Le Monde enumerates some of the hygiene practices put in place in France: "Compulsory masks, gloves and plastic visors, single-use gowns, disinfecting the tools in between haircuts, taking away magazines." While in Germany, patrons are required to fill out questionnaires before entering a shop ... Not exactly the kind of intimate atmosphere that induces small talk about the weather or Tiger King. In post-COVID salons, it may take us some time before we, well, let our hair down.

Still, angst notwithstanding, at the stroke of midnight on Monday — just as the country started loosening its lockdown restrictions — some French people rushed to cross that item from their resurrection list. From the north to the south, barbershops started buzzing with business, showing exactly how essential those "non-essential jobs' are when we're shut off from something we took for granted. Did two months of "hair anarchy" change us?, Le Monde wonders. Will a simple haircut help bring us back to our old selves again?

A haircut may be a symbol of something basic about our modern lives. An affordable luxury we set our calendars to. A bit of self-care and a boost to our feral morale. And now, perhaps, a sign that things are starting to get back to normal — one particularly scruffy writer certainly hopes so.

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Joggers in Barcelona on May 3
ABC

Pandemic Dilemma: Save Summer Tourist Season Or Take No Risks?

Last year 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded globally. In 2020, with borders closed and airplanes grounded, the tourism industry has been decimated and its recovery could take years.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development anticipates a 45% to 70% decline in the tourism economy — amounting to losses between $295-$430 billion for the global travel industry. For countries that rely heavily on summer tourism, there's a scramble to save the season.

  • Quick to impose a nationwide lockdown, Greece hasn't been hit as hard as other European countries, with 146 registered deaths so far. But with the tourism sector making up about 18% of its GDP, and most of the visitors arriving in the warm months, action is needed. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis estimates that the country could be ready to reopen to foreign tourists on July 1, depending on the implementation of health protocols.Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis presented a three-point planto the Parliament earlier this week to help reopen Greece to tourism, I Kathimeriní reports. The plan centers on special health safety standards for hotels, airplanes and tour buses, as well as diplomatic contacts with other governments to allow visitors to come, and finally, a new advertising campaign to promote Greece as a holiday destination in spite of coronavirus.

  • Last year, Spain was the world's second most visited country, with nearly 84 million tourists. Having suffered more than 24,500 deaths, Spain continues to be on strict lockdown. After the ABC daily reported that the government was considering closing its borders to foreign tourists for the whole summer, an outcry followed from the tourism industry. Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto since told El Pais that the reopening of borders would depend on "the evolution of the health crisis'. For now, only domestic travel and tourism will be encouraged as hotels, bars and restaurants will be gradually reopened beginning next week, with reduced capacity and under strict hygiene measures. Some coastal towns are also looking to recruit extra lifeguards to make sure beachgoers respect social distancing, while separate hours for children or elderly people are also being considered. On the destination islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, some hotels are starting to reopen, though it's unclear how people would reach them.

In Malaga, Spain, on May 2 — Photo: Jesus Merida/SOPA/ZUMA

  • Egypt has cut itself from the outside world and cancelled all international flights since March 19, leading to losses estimated at $1 billion per month for its tourist sector. The country, famed for its Pyramids and Nile river cruises earned $12.6 billion in tourism revenues in 2019, the highest in a decade, according to Asharq al-Awsat. Now Egypt has begun to allow hotels to reopen, but only for domestic tourists and at a 25% capacity until the end of May and 50% from the beginning of June. The Egyptian Tourism Federation has devised a plan with a package of health measures for tourism establishments to reopen while ensuring the safety of both tourists and workers, Egypt Independent reports. Hotels will have to clean rooms daily with a special steam machine to disinfect furniture and fabric and all touchable points will have to be cleaned and sterilized every hour in public places and restrooms. Each hotel will also have to provide an on-site clinic and doctor, and assign an area that can be used as a quarantine bay if any coronavirus case is discovered.

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In Gaza, an imam's virtually broadcast call to prayer
ABC

Coronavirus — Global Brief: A Modern Plague Tests Modern Religions

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.​

SPOTLIGHT: A MODERN PLAGUE TESTS MODERN RELIGIONS

"As we gather here today …"

Taken from the Christian liturgy, the line rings true for believers around the world of nearly every religion. Some form of gathering, communing, sharing are a central part of the worshippers' relation to the divine, a materialization and anchoring of their faith within a congregation, in good and bad times alike.

What to do then, when COVID-19 and its quarantine restrictions make finding solace together impossible? How will the faith of solitary congregants hold up in the face of an almost biblical plague?

We've seen how coronavirus-led bans on large gatherings have derailed religious rites across creeds: from an eerily deserted Kaaba in Mecca to the Pope conducting his Easter mass in a near empty St. Peter's Basilica, closed synagogues and Hindu temples refusing entry to devotees. And though some stubborn Catholic priests in France and American evangelical pastors defied restrictions this past weekend for Easter, for the time being religion is something that must take place at home, away from fellow devotees.

Some might see the current confinement measures as an opportunity to focus on their personal relationship to the divine. Some may even, as French Protestant weekly Réforme suggests, try their hand at their own, homemade version of rites. Others will simply lose faith.

But the twist to this current historical moment is that many men and women of faith will in fact let reason and scientific facts lead the way. It reverses a time-honored dichotomy between science and religion, where contrary to previous comparable catastrophes — like say, the Plague in 14th-century Europe —we don't see the outbreak as some sort of divine retribution for our sins. Thus obeying government restrictions, be they an obstacle to the due practice of our rites and rituals, is not blasphemy. Scientific proof is no longer irreconcilable with the tenets of one's faith and the population's health is a bonafide case of force majeure.

Better, still — there may be something in it for both science and religion, notes a recent Foreign Policy article entitled "Thou Shalt Practice Social Distancing." Religious leaders opting for an enlightened approach to the pandemic can extol the virtues of "following all the rational requirements of science, while offering faith as a source of hope and inspiration — not as a substitute, but a supplement to reason." And let us say: Amen — and go wash our hands.

— Bertrand Hauger


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW​

• Toll: Global cases of coronavirus nears the milestone of 2 million.​​​

• Lockdowns extended: French president Emmanuel Macron announces lockdown extension until 11 May. India extends its strict lockdown measures until May 3.​​​

• Race for vaccine: World Health Organisation says there are 70 vaccines in development, with three set to launch trials on humans.​​​

• Trump power play: U.S. president Donald Trump claimed "total" authority on reopening the economy. Governors from both parties were quick to note they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states.​​​

• Markets rise: Asian shares hit one-month high on better-than-expected Chinese trade numbers and the first signs of European countries opening up after lockdowns.​​​

• Time to vote: South Korea votes in first national election of coronavirus era, with President Moon Jae-in's party expected to get a boost for his handling of crisis.​​​

• Scare tactic: Indonesian village hires a team of spooky "shroud ghosts' to scare people into staying at home.

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On the beach of La Concha, in San Sebastian, Spain
ABC

Next On COVID-19 Calendar: Our Summer Vacations At Risk

Quarantines, closed borders, grounded airlines, crowded beaches ... It may be a summer to forget, that we'll always remember.

PARIS — After Spring break and Easter holidays were largely canceled amid lockdown measures and travel bans around the world, should we also start to worry about our summer vacations?

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen advised against making plans for the summer, telling Germany daily Bild "no one can make reliable forecasts for July and August at the moment". Across the Atlantic, top U.S. health official, Dr Anthony Fauci said on CBS summer travel "can be in the cards' but only if the country manages to prevent a second wave of infections.

For those looking to travel abroad (maybe you bought tickets months ago?), some countries might not allow tourists to enter at all. According to ABC, Spain, one of the worst-hit countries, is thinking about closing its borders this summer to prevent a second wave, despite the fact that the tourism sector makes up 12% of the country's GDP.

Several countries have already begun to explicitly encourage people to stay closer to home than usual. French cabinet minister Elisabeth Borne said last week: "Now is not the time to buy a ticket to go to the other side of the planet (...) But we can encourage French people to enjoy our beautiful country for the next holidays, which will also help the tourism industry." Australia and Italy are also putting in place incentives for residents to plan domestic holidays, with various bans on international travel potentially remaining in place until 2021.

A deserted beach in Barcelona, Spain — Paco Freire/SOPA Images via ZUMA

And even if borders are slowly reopened and travel restrictions lifted in the coming months, getting to your chosen holiday destination may not be easy. The crisis is taking a huge toll on the airline sector, with some industry analysts forecasting a round of major bankruptcies by May.​ Already, EasyJet's fleet has been grounded to a halt for two weeks in the UK while Air France expects more than 90% of its capacity to remain suspended at least until the end of May.

It's a question of survival for businesses, and responding to a pent-up demand from the public.

CEO of consulting firm Protourisme Didier Arino told Le Figaro that there will be few airplanes in the sky this summer, as "companies are planning to use only 50% of their capacity, for five months." In the U.S., the CDC has extended the No Sail Order for cruise ships carrying more than 250 passengers, for at least until mid-July.

For sun worshipers, after a long winter and months cooped up in quarantine, there is just one thing on their mind: the beach. Italy's Culture and Tourism Minister Dario Franceschini was asked last week if people will be able to go to the beach. "Sure! Of course it depends on how well we follow the (quarantine) measures now," he was quoted in Il Messaggero. "Then we'll let the scientists guide us on the right safety practices to deal with crowds."

Italian news site Linkiesta interviewed Marco Beoni who runs the "La Giunca" beach club in Sabaudia, south of Rome, who expects sunbathers will be itching to get to the seaside. But Beoni is already preparing a whole new approach to welcoming them, including fewer umbrellas to better regulate the space between people, special early hours restricted for senior citizens, repeated disinfecting of tables and beach chairs, as well as required testing of lifeguards and other beach personnel.

It's a question of both the survival of his own business, and responding to a pent-up demand from the public: "What's important is to be there this summer to save our business, " he said. "But we don't want to rush into a reopening, and make sure that all the safety measures are in place." So, you may have your summer after all, though it will be unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

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George Floyd’s brother Rodney in Minneapolis on April 7
ABC

The Latest: Myanmar Embassy Trouble, N. Ireland Violence, Superman Record

Welcome to Thursday, where Myanmar turmoil reaches London, violence flares in Northern Ireland, and Superman sets a super record. Meanwhile, Italian weekly magazine L'Espresso uncovers how criminals, mafias and hackers are finding new ways to profit from the pandemic.

Myanmar ambassador locked out: Ambassador Kyaw Zwar Minn was reportedly locked out of his London embassy by representatives of the Myanmar military junta yesterday. He is now urging the British government to send the soldiers back to their home country. In Myanmar at least 11 pro-democracy protesters were killed in renewed clashed, taking the toll of civilians killed to over 600 since the Feb. 1 coup.

Biden to issue new gun restrictions: U.S. President Joe Biden is planning to disclose new gun restrictions — including on untraceable weapons — under pressure from Democrats and gun-control groups after a series of mass shootings hit the country.

Violence in Northern Ireland: British and Irish leaders are calling for calm after a group of youth set a bus on fire and attacked police with stones in Belfast, the latest in a series of violent riots that started last week amid rising tensions between political factions in the country.

Turkish failed coup sentences: At least 32 former Turkish soldiers have been sentenced to life in prison for their participation in the 2016 failed coup.

DR Congo's alarming hunger: UN agencies warn that over 27 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in western Africa, are affected by "emergency levels' of food insecurity.

Women more impacted by COVID: Two new studies show that many national governments are failing to consider sex or gender in their responses to the current pandemic. Previous studies have shown that women are disproportionately impacted by the sanitary crisis.

"Covering the Hate" with tattoos: Two Kentucky tattoo artists are being contacted from all over the world to cover up hate or gang-related tattoos for free. Their "Cover the Hate" campaign was inspired by the racial justice protests following the killing of George Floyd last May.

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Conte addresses the Italian Parliament last month
ABC

Coronavirus — Global Brief: The Benefits Of Sharing The Bad News

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: THE BENEFITS OF SHARING THE BAD NEWS

If the fabric of our globalized society has been tested by the spread of COVID-19, that's also true for our national leaders. Our prime ministers and presidents are facing the kind of leadership challenge they could never have prepared for, with one thorny social-economic-cultural-constitutional dilemma after the other. High on that list is the question: How do you deliver unimaginably terrible news to your citizens?

It would seem so far, as the severity of the crisis becomes more apparent, that people prefer straightforward communication from their leaders. Germany's Angela Merkel warned at an early stage that up to 70% Germans could eventually get the virus and was the first leader to liken the crisis to war. The Chancellor's approval rates have steadily increased, with a recent poll showing that 89% of the German people believe the government is handling the situation well. This is also true for France's Emanuel Macron whose approval rating has jumped to a nearly two-year high of 43% after the country was put on lockdown March 17 with an even more aggressive declaration of "war" against the virus. Italy's Giuseppe Conte — seen by many as a short-term, accidental leader — has risen in stature by a similar approach of coming clean about the death that coronavirus was bound to bring.


Across the Atlantic, Donald Trump has reliably played his entirely own game. For a while that meant mostly downplaying the crisis while assuming the role as arch-expert and protector of the American economy. But despite harsh international critique, a recent Gallup Poll shows that for only the second time in Trump's presidency, more Americans approve (49%) than disapprove (45%) of his performance, while some 60% gave him positive reviews for his handling of the crisis. Some experts attribute this to the "rally-round-the-flag" effect of the crisis, as it increases patriotic sentiments while some punches from the opposition are pulled for purposes of national unity. However, it seems Trump realizes there is truly bad news to come. His press briefing on Tuesday, which included warnings from health officials that the death toll could rise to 240,000, took a completely different tone. It's safe to say that Trump is thinking about his polls number, but there's also that always pesky factor called reality.

— Carl-Johan Carlsson

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: A record one-day death total in Spain of 864 and France of 499, as European toll passes 30,000 mark. Single day record in U.S. as well, with more than 850 deaths. U.S. President Trump warns of "roughest two or three weeks we've ever had in our country" and health officials predict up to 240,000 deaths.

  • Record recession: According to UN Chief Antonio Guterres, the world is facing the most challenging crisis since WWII that will bring "a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past."

  • Markets & Factories: World markets keep falling, as monthly reports on factory activity plunge.

  • Indigenous exposed: Brazil reports first coronavirus case in an indigenous community: a 19-year old woman in the Amazonas state.

  • No Wimbledon: The world's premier tennis tournament, slated to begin June 29, has been canceled for the first time since World War II.

  • City block: U.S. authorities are removing basketball hoops from public courts all around the country in effort to prevent social gatherings.

  • Country block: Turkmenistan bans the word "coronavirus."
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The political crisis that had been brewing for years and culminated on Oct.1 is far from over
ABC
Benjamin Witte

Catalonia, Declaration Of Independence With A Caveat

Backers of Catalonia's quest to break away from Spain had just eight seconds Tuesday night to savor the moment they'd long been waiting for.

"I accept the mandate of the people that Catalonia become an independent state in the shape of a republic," Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont said in a highly anticipated address before the regional parliament.

With those words, Puigdemont fulfilled his promise to follow-up last week's controversial referendum, when voters were bloodied and beaten by Spanish police, with a formal declaration of independence. Or so it seemed.

Just moments later, Puigdemont asked that the parliament "suspend the effects of the declaration of independence" for several weeks to allow dialogue with the Spanish government in Madrid.

So did he or didn't he? Depends who you ask.

Among pro-independence supporters gathered outside the building in Barcelona, it was ecstasy to agony all in the blink of an eye. Faces literally dropped, as a pair of Reuters photos published in the Spanish daily ABC attest.

For others, the yes-but-not-just-now independence declaration simply caused confusion, especially given how unwilling the Spanish government, under conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has been to engage Puigdemont and his diverse alliance of separatists.

ABC

As the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia noted in today's editorial, the Catalan leader faced an extremely difficult scenario. Not wanting to let his base down, but wary of unduly antagonizing Madrid, he tried to find an "intermediary path." This third way, however, "managed only to generate disagreement and confusion." The daily warned that Puigdemont's biggest risk could be exacerbating divisions inside his own political coalition in the Catalonia parliament.

What is clear is that the political crisis that had been brewing for years and culminated, on Oct.1, in a brutal police crackdown on referendum voters, is far from over.

Nearly 2.3 million people managed to cast their ballots, despite the violence. And of those, approximately 90% opted for independence, the Catalan regional government reported. For Puigdemont and his allies, the mandate is clear. "We are not criminals, madmen or coup plotters, just ordinary people who want to vote," he said Tuesday evening, switching from Catalan to Spanish. "We have nothing against the Spaniards."

The Rajoy government says the vote was illegitimate from the outset, and notes that only about 43% of eligible voters participated. Either way, as the hundreds of thousands of people who turned out in Barcelona this past Sunday for a massive pro-union demonstration, support for breaking away from Spain isn't as cut and dry as the referendum result suggests.

After Puigdemont's quasi-independence declaration, the ball is squarely back in Rajoy's court. The question on everyone's lips now is whether he'll try to employ Article 155, a never-before-used constitutional mechanism that, due to the exceptional circumstances, would allow Madrid to impose direct rule in Catalonia.

Until recently, Article 155 was "almost taboo," the Madrid daily El País reports. "But it's now being thrown around by citizens and the parties with ease. Among constitutional law experts, the question is no longer if it should be used or not, but when, how and under what conditions."

ABC

Spain Accuses Massive Chinese Bank Of Money Laundering

Spanish newspapers are digging into a spiraling investigation of alleged money laundering in Spain by a state-run Chinese bank that is world's largest financial institutional. "The Chinese Bank Is A Tool For Extracting Millions From Spain," reads Thursday's front page of Spanish daily ABC.


More than 100 Spanish police officers raided the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) in Madrid on Wednesday, arresting five top bank officials, including the Chief Director of operations in Spain. The state-owned bank has been dogged by allegations of money laundering which led to a probe into the organization by the Spanish Police, the national tax agency and Europol.

The raid was part of a police investigation dubbed Operation Snake probing funds handled by a criminal organization that allegedly passed through the bank to then be transferred to China. According to Europol, the investigation of the suspected laundering of at least 44 million euros has identified other links leading to France, Germany and Lithuania, CNN reports.

The ICBC is the largest financial institution in the world with assets exceeding three trillion dollars and operations in 41 countries. ABC suggests that the bust could cause diplomatic tensions between Spain and China as ICBC is tightly controlled by the authoritarian regime in Beijing,

"The ICBC is the extension of the powerful Chinese government in the world of finance, which gives an idea of the magnitude of the operation conducted yesterday." The Chinese Embassy in Spain stated on Wednesday that they are "following the investigation of ICBC very closely" and that "The Chinese Government always requires Chinese branches to strictly comply with the law and the provisions of both China and the country in which they operate."

The operation has also fueled nationalist sentiments in China. Exclamations of solidarity have spread throughout social media with the label "Today we are all ICBC Madrid."