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Geopolitics

The Latest: Olympics Kick Off, Xi’s Tibet Trip, Spanish Beef

Welcome to Friday, where the 2020 Olympic Games finally kick off, Xi Jinping makes a historic trip to Tibet, and there's some beef (or rather, chuletón) between Spain and the EU. We also take an exclusive look at how the so-called "salvage grocery stores' popping up around the world are finding commercially viable ways to combat food waste.

• COVID-delayed Olympics start today: The Tokyo Summer Olympics begin today, kicking off with an opening ceremony — but no spectators in attendance.

• U.S. sanctions Cuba: In the wake of large-scale anti-government protests in Cuba, the Biden Administration has announced it would sanction individuals "responsible for the oppression of the Cuban people." The sanctions targeted key government official Alvaro Lopez Miera and the Cuban special forces unit, the Boinas Negras, over claims of human rights abuses.

• COVID update: Indonesia has surpassed India and Brazil as the country with the highest count of new daily infections, with 49,500 new cases reported on Thursday. Meanwhile, New Zealand has suspended travel from Australia as the country grapples with the Delta variant despite lockdowns.

• 22 dead, several injured in Ecuador prison riots: Ecuador is declaring a state of emergency in its penitentiary system in light of the deadly riots that have left 22 dead and 57 wounded in two prisons. The riots, reportedly sparked by clashes between rival gangs, were also fuelled by severe prison overcrowding.

• Xi Jinping visits Tibet: For the first time in his presidency, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Tibet Autonomous region, once home to the now-exiled Dalai Lama. Though Xi has been to the region twice before, it is his first time as Chinese leader. Some have called the trip an effort from Xi to reinforce Chinese sovereignty over the area, as well as the disputed border with India.

• Macron switches phones: Emmanuel Macron has reportedly changed his phone and number after investigations showed the French president was among the many heads of state targeted by the Pegasus spyware.

• Google Doodle Olympic game: Today's Google "Doodle" celebrates the start of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics with a full 8-bit game. Sayōnara, productivity.

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Geopolitics

The Latest: Peru’s New President, Broken Olympics Bubble, Steamrolled Bitcoin

Welcome to Tuesday, where Peru's contested election finally gets a winner, the Olympics bubble system is broken and another billionaire is blasting off for space. German daily Die Welt also explains why Asian countries, which were previously considered successful COVID tamers, are now struggling with new waves of infections.

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Geopolitics

The Latest: Olympics Spectators Banned, Haitian Probe, Lobster Pain

Welcome to Friday, where Tokyo bans Olympic spectators, at least 28 people are thought to be behind Haiti President assassination and a 14-year-old girl makes Spelling Bee history. Worldcrunch also takes you on a world tour of dying languages that are being rescued by the very tech that puts them at risk.

• Tokyo Olympics will have no spectators: With the Summer Games set to begin in two weeks, the Japanese government has reversed its decision to allow spectators, deciding that there will be no live audience in Tokyo-area stadiums and arenas during the Olympic games due to coronavirus concerns. The city of Tokyo has also been placed under ‘State of Emergency" which will last until August 22.

• Colombians, Americans detained for killing Haitian President: A total of 17 suspects are currently being held in connection with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, including two holding dual American-Haitian citizenship and the remainder are Colombian. Officials allege the attack was carried out by "a highly trained and heavily armed group" and that the team was made up of at least 28 people.

• COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer has sought authorization from the U.S. government to develop a booster shot as highly contagious variants continue to spread and undermine the efficacy of the vaccine toward mild, break-through infection. Meanwhile, Cuba reports a 91.2% effectiveness rate for its Soberana 2 vaccine in last-stage clinical trials.

• Biafra separatist leader allegedly kidnapped: The family of British-Nigerian citizen and separatist leader, Nnamdi Kanu, claims he was kidnapped by the Nigerian state while in Kenya. Kanu is the leader of the organization the Indigenous People of Biafra, and had been in hiding since 2017.

• Swedish Prime Minister reappointed after no-confidence vote: Sweden's parliament voted to reappoint Stefan Löfven as prime minister when the parties responsible for ousting him in a historic no-confidence vote failed to form a coalition. Löfven has the backing of the Social Democratic party and the Greens.

• Police officer suspected of killing Sarah Everard pleads guilty: Wayne Couzens, the police officer who was the main suspect in the killing of Sarah Everard, a 33-year old British woman whose disappearance and subsequent death sparked a nationwide debate about women's safety, has pleaded guilty murder.

• UK considers banning boiling lobsters alive: As part of a proposed animal welfare bill, the United Kingdom may officially recognize crustaceans and mollusks as sentient beings capable of feeling pain, making it illegal to boil lobsters alive. Chefs aren't opposed either, because whether the lobster is boiled alive or killed shortly beforehand, the taste remains just as good.

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Geopolitics

The Latest: A Man-Made Famine, Confucius Institute Probe, First National Fur Ban

Welcome to Friday, where an Amnesty International report accuses China of "crimes against humanity," Israel's government makes PETA animal activists happy and the Euro 2020 soccer competition kicks off after a one-year delay. Business daily Les Echos also reports on how hackers manage to use fake news to threaten big businesses and influence the stock markets.

• Report alleges Uyghurs victims of "Crimes Against Humanity": Amnesty International has released a new, detailed report with personal accounts of systematic internment, torture and persecution of Uyghurs and Kazakhs in China's northwestern Xinjiang province. Over 50 former detainees provided testimony — all referenced torture and mistreatment in the camps set up by Beijing for the Muslim minorities.

• Over 350,000 suffering from famine in Ethiopia: The United Nations reports that at least 350,000 people in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region are experiencing famine, describing it as the worst since the 2011 Somali famine. As violence between the government and Tigrayan rebels continues, this famine is primarily attributable to man-made conflict.

• Pope rejects Cardinal's resignation over church's role in child sex abuse: Pope Francis has denied the request to resign of German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, in an effort to take personal responsiblity for the Catholic Church's mismanagement and failure to stop generations of child sex abuse. Francis explained his opposition to the attempt to resign by Germany's leading cardinal, stating that every bishop should take responsibility for the abuse crisis.

• Biden and Johnson sign new Atlantic Charter: President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have signed a revised "Atlantic Charter." The original document, signed 80 years ago by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, affirmed Western commitment to democracy.

• France ends Sahel military operation: President Emmanuel Macron announced that Operation Barkhane, France's counterterrorism military mission in the northwestern African region of the Sahel will be replaced by joint military efforts with international partners. The decision comes in light of a second Malian coup, which led the French to temporarily suspend French-Malian military operations.

• Japan to investigate China-funded Confucius institutes: Amid security alerts from allies, Japan will begin investigating Chinese-led Confucius institutes in 14 private universities across the country. Tokyo fears the hardly-regulated cultural centers could be hotbeds for propaganda and espionage, following similar warnings earlier this year in the U.S. and Europe.

• Israel bans sale of fur: Israel has become the first country in the world to ban the selling of fur in fashion commerce, citing concerns over animal rights. The decision was widely supported by the Israeli public, as well as animal rights groups like PETA.

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Geopolitics

The Latest: India Gets Worse, Vaccinated Tourists, Oscar Winners

Welcome to Monday, where India reels from COVID surge, at least 82 die in Iraq hospital fire, and the Academy Awards go to … We also have Le Monde reporting from Azerbaijan about allegations that the government is using a new, more intrusive form of scare tactics.

• India's coronavirus situation worsens: Several nations have pledged to send urgent medical aid to India, where COVID-19 appears to be spiraling out of control. The country hit another record for the fifth day in a row, rising to 352,991. Political tensions are also growing as the Indian government has asked social media platform Twitter to remove tweets that denounced the government's handling of the crisis.

• Fire kills 82 in Iraqi COVID-19 hospital: At least 82 people were killed by a fire in the coronavirus intensive care unit of a hospital in the Iraqi capital of Bagdad. The health minister has been suspended by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi and three days of national mourning has been declared.

• Myanmar activists call for non-cooperation campaign: Pro-democracy activists have called on people to stop paying electricity bills and agricultural loans and to keep their children away from school, in another move to oppose Myanmar's military junta. On Saturday, leaders from nine Southeast Asian countries called for an immediate end to the violence in Myanmar.

• EU to allow U.S. vaccinated tourists this summer: U.S. tourists vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to visit European countries next summer, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview with The New York Times.

• Indonesian navy submarine found, no survivors: The KRI Nanggala navy submarine that disappeared last Wednesday has been found split into three pieces on the sea bed and none of the 53 passengers survived.

• Academy Awards 2021: The 93rd Academy Awards was held virtually and in-person due to the ongoing pandemic. Chloé Zhao made history as the first woman of color and second woman to win best director while her film Nomadland also won best picture. The movie's star Frances McDormand won best actress, while Anthony Hopkins claimed best actor for his role in The Father.

• A dog's day: The Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan has a new national holiday dedicated to a breed of dog, the Alabay. The native variety of shepherd dog was honored Sunday and will be so annually in the former Soviet Republic, as a source of national pride and the best friend of a certain breed of mammal always looking for a reason for a party and a day off from work.

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Geopolitics
Worldcrunch

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Quarantine Blues And The Power Of A Jigsaw Puzzle

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a 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: QUARANTINE BLUES AND THE POWER OF A JIGSAW PUZZLE

A sudden rush of stress, trouble sleeping or eating, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, general fatigue. Does it sound familiar? With approximately half the world still forced to live in lockdown, old and new psychological disorders are a widely diffused side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study led by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of Americans feel the current health crisis had impacted their mental health. In France, Le Figaro reported this week that 74% of adults in a recent survey developed sleeping disorders and 34% showed signs of psychological distress.

Humans are social animals — Aristotle taught us that 2,300 years before Mark Zuckerberg cashed in on the concept. And while we can acknowledge that our modern digital tools are providing instant links in the face of our respective quarantines, we are also seeing how crucial in-person interaction and stimuli are to the human experience. Those living alone or forced to put their professional activity on hold are particularly vulnerable to this enforced isolation.

Alongside the more severe threats to our emotional state is a seemingly less menacing effect: boredom. There is a fine line between enjoying some spare time to do nothing and repeatedly having nothing to do, especially when we yearn for distraction from the current uncertainty of the outside world. Board games that were piling up dust in the basement are seeing the light of day again and solo players indeed are able to play across the computer screen with friends and strangers.

Similarly, the lockdown has created one of the highest recorded demand for jigsaw puzzles, a pasttime whose time had seemed to have passed two or three generations ago. The American Puzzle Warehouse reported a jump of 2,000% in business compared to the same period last year. When the world seems to fall apart, putting back pieces together could be the ultimate satisfaction.

— Laure Gautherin


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: Japan urges citizens to stay home today as new predictions warn that death toll that could reach 400,000 without tighter restrictions. Meanwhile the number killed by COVID-19 in the United States edges close to 30,000, and tops 15,000 in France.

  • WHO funding cut: President Donald Trump cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), blaming the organisation for mismanaging the outbreak of the global pandemic. Experts warn of risks in undermining the sole global coordinator of health contagions.

  • Markets: Stocks dip amid new forecasts that global economic crisis could be worst since the 1930s.

  • Oil Forecast: Oil demand is expected to take a sharp dive in April to a record low not seen in the last 25 years, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

  • Beijing embassy backlash: The Chinese ambassador was summoned by France, following a stream of controversial comments made by Beijing's embassy in Paris on what they perceived as the government's slow response to the coronavirus.

  • Back to school? Children in Denmark up to the age of 11-years-old are being welcomed back to school today, as the Prime Minister of Australia also considers reopening schools.

  • The Quarantine King: Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who'd been quarantining in a German hotel as the coronavirus ravages his country, finally left his ‘harem" lockdown and traveled 20,000 miles home for a national holiday.

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Geopolitics
Worldcrunch

Coronavirus — Global Brief: What Happens In Wuhan Matters In Wichita

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: WHAT HAPPENS IN WUHAN MATTERS IN WICHITA

And 76 days later…

It was Jan. 23, 2020 when the central Chinese city of Wuhan was cut off from the rest of the world, as government authorities took action to severely restrict people's movements at the epicenter of what was then just the beginning of the burgeoning coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, the two-and-a-half-month ban on travel was lifted, ending the world's longest mass quarantine in memory.

That, of course, leaves much time for the rest of the world to count the days shut inside our own homes and cities. But even as each of us monitors our respective local situation, we will all be watching Wuhan closely to see what happens after its landmark "liberation" from coronavirus lockdown.

The international criticism for what were considered draconian measures in Wuhan are no doubt seen in a new light as other countries are now enforcing lockdowns of their own. And now, we will see another real-world experiment as restrictions are eased, providing precious data: to epidemiologists on the resurgence of cases, to economists on how quickly businesses can bounce back, and to all of us on how much it will take to get back to normal after weeks or months in isolation.

There is certainly a lot to learn from the Wuhan example, even if containment measures in different countries have varied widely. In China, the virus has been contained by forcing anyone with a fever and people who had been in close contact with someone believed to be infected into "centralized quarantine." This means that thousands of people were taken from their homes and placed in converted hotels, dorms and classrooms in order to stop transmission, even among family members at home. This has not been the case in most Western countries, where authorities have sought to keep people out of hospitals unless their cases are severe and advised people with symptoms to self-isolate at home.

All this to say that what happens in Wuhan won't necessarily determine what will happen in the rest of the world. If the resurgence of cases depends on how much immunity is already in the population, as some epidemiologists claim, China's efficient containment might eventually prove to be a weak spot. So, even as we count the days, there will be plenty of other data to calculate as well.

Michaela Kozminova

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Wuhan reopens: Coronavirus lockdown ends after 76 days in the central Chinese city where it was believed to have begun.

  • Toll: Deaths pass 10,000 in France, as the U.S. records highest death toll in a single day with more than 1,800 fatalities, 731 in New York state alone.

  • Europe blocked: Talks of European Union recovery fund to help southern countries, especially Italy and Spain, have stalled after 16 hours, leading the head of the European Research Council to resign, "extremely disappointed by the European response".

  • Polish vote: parliament approves legislation to allow presidential elections in May to be held as a postal ballot.

  • Pyongyang tests: In North Korea, 709 people have been tested and 509 are in quarantine, according to a WHO representative, but the country still reports no cases.

  • Where's El Señor Presidente? Even as Nicaragua continues to promote gatherings and mass events, while President Daniel Ortega has been absent for almost a month.

  • RIP Prine: U.S. raspy-voiced country icon John Prine dies from coronavirus complications in Nashville at age 73.

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Geopolitics

Worldcrunch Today, Dec. 22: Blocking Britain, Navalny's Trick, Elephant CPR

Welcome to Tuesday, where the UK's isolation deepens, Rio's mayor gets arrested and a baby elephant gets CPR. And if you're late on your Christmas shopping, Die Welt tells you not to worry: kids have too many toys anyway.

SPOTLIGHT: BORIS JOHNSON AND THE COLLAPSE OF CHAOS-AS-LEADERSHIP

As the sudden arrival of harsh new lockdown restrictions and the closing of borders in European countries coincides with down-to-the-wire Brexit talks, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing an all-time low in public confidence, argues Daniel Fortin in French daily Les Echos.

For nearly a year now, we have been cautious — even indulgent — when it comes to criticizing the way political leaders are handling this exceptional pandemic with the malicious whims that come with a novel virus. But whether we like it or not, the scale of this crisis also serves as an incomparable tool for measuring the leadership skills of any given head of state or government.

Most observers now agree that Donald Trump's casual handling of the pandemic probably cost him his reelection. And now, another prominent leader is coming under fire for adding chaos upon the chaos. We will remember for a long time the pictures of British or foreign travelers rushing this weekend to the stations to try to escape London where a new lockdown was introduced without warning on Saturday night. Only a few, including in his own party, still defend Prime Minister Boris Johnson who seems once again to be indecisive and inconsistent.

If it turns out that his country's health services have been truly aware of the new strain of the virus for a week, then it will be very difficult for Johnson to justify the measures to loosen restrictions that he initially wanted to authorize for the Christmas holidays.

The accusations mounting against the prime minister, including within his Conservative party, include the worst charges that can be brought against a politician: nonchalance. We saw evidence of it when he advised British citizens last March to "sing Happy Birthday twice while washing your hands' to protect from the virus before deciding, belatedly, to implement a lockdown like virtually every other Western country.

We saw the same kind of nonchalance last Wednesday when he told Parliament that it would be "inhuman" to cancel Christmas, even though he had no alternative solution. Finally, Johnson's casual leadership style is on display just as he is called on to lead his country out of the Europe Union at the very moment when — like those same European neighbors — a health crisis is deepening yet again.

The short-circuiting between two major events, Brexit and the pandemic, is probably what will come with the steepest political price. Driven by opportunism rather than conviction ever since he was put in charge of the country, Johnson has benefited from a good dose of indulgence from the general public that had perhaps fallen under the spell of his eccentric leadership style.

But times are changing. Today, amateurism and a blatant inability to face the job of making unpopular decisions are all that is left.

— Daniel Fortin / Les Echos

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