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Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
Photo of a man standing in the rubble of a building damaged by a Saudi-led airstrike in the capital of Sanaa, Yemen
In The News
Jane Herbelin, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Tokyo State Of Emergency, Betancourt For President, World’s Oldest Man Dies

👋 નમસ્તે!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Tokyo gets a new COVID state of emergency, Ingrid Betancourt is running for Colombia’s presidency, and the oldest man in the world dies at age 112. Meanwhile Die Welt shows us how Germany's legendary clubbing scene looks in pandemic times.

[*Namaste - Gujarati, India]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: As the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the globe, the U.S. government said it will make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public from next week. Japan announced it would place Tokyo and 12 other areas under a COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency, with the capital reporting 7,377 new infections. Meanwhile Germany joined countries like France, the U.K and Italy in recording more than 100,000 new cases in a single day.

• Blinken arrives in Ukraine amid Russia invasion fears: The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv to reaffirm U.S. support for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, before heading to Berlin on Thursday and Geneva on Friday, in a whistle-stop diplomatic effort to defuse escalating tensions amid mounting fears that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent.

• Israeli forces evict Palestinians and tear down East Jerusalem home: Israeli forces evicted a Palestinian family of 18 from their home overnight in occupied East Jerusalem, before tearing down the property, prompting criticism from human rights activists and diplomats. The family is now rendered homeless. Israeli authorities justified the move to build a special education school for the residents of the neighborhood.

• Former FARC captive Ingrid Betancourt to run for Colombia presidency: Colombia’s Ingrid Betancourt has announced she will be running for her country's presidency again, 20 years after she was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during a previous campaign.

• Water crisis looms for tsunami-hit Tonga: The Red Cross warned that securing access to safe drinking water was “a critical immediate priority” amid the looming water crisis following the eruption of an undersea volcano in Tonga. Two New Zealand navy vessels carrying water supplies for the Pacific island nation will on Friday. The death toll of the volcanic eruption has risen to three people, two local residents and a British woman.

• Paris presents “manifesto of beauty” to recapture lost charm: Paris city hall unveiled a “beauty manifesto”, containing plans to spruce up the City of Lights after an online campaign spotlighting ugliness and filth put pressure on Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

• World's oldest man dies at 112: The world's oldest man, Saturnino de la Fuente García from León, Spain has died, three weeks before turning 113.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Slovak daily Dennik devotes its front page to the 73,201 deaths Slovakia registered in 2021, a post-War record death toll for the country of 5.4 million. An estimated 20,000 of the deaths are attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Germany's legendary clubbing culture crashes museum space

The exhibition “Electro” in Düsseldorf is an unlikely tribute to a joyful and uninhibited club culture, with curators forced to contend with limits of a museum setting ... and another COVID lockdown, reports Boris Pofalla in German daily Die Welt.

🕺❌ It is surely a coincidence that the first comprehensive exhibition charting the 100-year history of electronic music in Germany opened in the same week that night clubs across the country were forced to close. It wasn’t planned that way, but it’s like opening an exhibition about the cultural history of alcohol the day after the introduction of prohibition. Since the start of the pandemic, wild parties have been a rarity, drinking has been done behind closed doors and spontaneity has been consigned to the history books.

🎹 Are we witnessing the end of uninhibited nightlife? How long can clubs survive under such extreme pressure? Was everything better in the past? And what exactly do we mean by “everything?" The exhibition “Electro — from Kraftwerk to Techno” at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf traces the history of a cultural phenomenon that has had a significant impact on our society. It looks back to the 1920s, to the invention of the electronic Croix Sonore, the ethereophone and the theremin and through the 1930s and the invention of the Trautonium, an early version of a synthesizer.

🎶 The curators have installed scaffolding inside the museum’s blocky architecture. Within the square spaces created, 500 exhibits are presented against a black background with low lighting, synthesizers, photographs, record sleeves, illustrations, artworks, videos and interactive installations. And then there is the constant background noise. Star DJ Laurent Garnier has put together multiple playlists that allow visitors to travel through the major techno cities of the world.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$68.7 billion

Microsoft announced a landmark $68.7 billion deal to buy U.S. gaming giant Activision Blizzard, which will make the tech corporation the third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind Tencent and Sony. Activision Blizzard, the maker of Candy Crush and Call of Duty, has been hit by a state lawsuit alleging it enabled toxic workplace conditions and sexual harassment against women employees last year.

❗❓ WHAT THE WORLD

Italy's high court: Loud toilet flush is violation of human rights

An Italian couple has won a two-decade-long court battle that invoked an international treaty signed after World War II in order to prove the acceptable volume of a toilet flush.

The ordeal started as a typical neighborhood quarrel, yet spanned nearly two decades and eventually made its way up to Italy's Highest Court this week, Rome daily La Repubblica reports.

It all began in 2003, when four brothers built a new toilet in their apartment located in the La Spezia province of northwest Italy. The husband and wife living next door soon complained that the toilet was used frequently during the night, and the flush was so loud it woke them up each time.

The couple took their case to court, demanding a resolution of the noise problem and the payment of damages; but the trial judge rejected their case.

The couple decided to take their case to the appeals court of Genoa, triggering an inspection of the two flats that ultimately found in their favor. Investigators reported that they'd discovered "a significant excess of three decibels over the standards required by legislation." Translation: that flush was too damn loud.

The four brothers were required to change the WC flush location in the flat, and to pay 500 euros per year, beginning from the toilet's installation in 2003.

The four brothers ultimately decided to bring “the flush case” to the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal in Italy.

But finally the high court ruled in favor of the couple, considering the impact the flush had on their quality of life as an infringement of a right "to respect one's own private and family life," constitutionally guaranteed protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Wash your hands. Turn out the lights. After 19 years of battle, the fate of the four brothers was sealed and the war of the flush silenced forever.

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

📣 VERBATIM

“Nobody told me.”

— During a visit to a hospital in north London, embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied knowing that a “bring your own booze” party at 10 Downing Street, was in breach of COVID-19 rules. “Nobody said this was something that was against the rules, doing something that wasn't a work event, because frankly, I can't imagine why it would have gone ahead, or it would have been allowed to go ahead if it was against the rules." It’s not clear if such pleas of ignorance by the head of government will help Johnson hold onto his job amid growing calls for his resignation over his breaching UK’s lockdown rules.

✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Loud neighbors? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!

info@worldcrunch.com

Photo of a toilet bowl
Weird

Italy's High Court: Loud Toilet Flush Is Violation Of Human Rights

A not-so-neighborly Italian saga that extends from the porcelain depths of our most basic needs to the altar of European justice.

An Italian couple has won a two-decade-long court battle that invoked an international treaty signed after World War II in order to prove the acceptable volume of a toilet flush.

The ordeal started as a typical neighborhood quarrel, yet spanned nearly two decades and eventually made its way up to Italy's Highest Court this week, Rome daily La Repubblica reports.

Watch Video Show less
A military from the Swedish Armed Forces
Geopolitics
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Trying To Gauge Russian Ambitions? Look How Nervous Its Nordic Neighbors Are

The eyes of the world are on the Russian-Ukrainian border as Putin threatens an invasion. However, the more vital stage of the Kremlin’s military ambitions is the Baltic Sea, where the likes of bordering countries like Finland and Sweden are mobilizing troops as Moscow tries to undermine the allegiance of the EU and former Soviet states.

While tensions between the U.S and Russia mount with the Kremlin gathering troops at the border of Ukraine, countries farther north are preparing for the worst.

In Sweden, Dagens Nyheter reports that the country of 10 million people deployed armored vehicles and 100 soldiers to patrol streets on the island of Gotland on Friday in response to Russian landing ships sailing into the Baltic Sea. Even if the Swedish Armed Forces announced soon after that the ships were leaving, serious questions about Russia's military ambitions remain.

Russian presence in the regional waters is not uncommon, but it was the increase from one to six Russian landing ships over a three-week period that prompted Sweden’s move to beef up military presence in the eastern archipelago. According to Swedish Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist, the move was meant to “demonstrate that we are not naive and that Sweden will not be caught off guard should something happen.”

Keep an eye of the Baltic Sea

While the Russian muscle-flexing has made headlines in the Nordic press, it has garnered scarce attention internationally as all eyes have been turned to the 100,000 Russian soldiers amassing near the Ukrainian border.

And yet, the main stage of Russia’s military ambitions — to create a multipolar world in which NATO is unable to dictate terms — is not Ukraine, but the Baltic Sea.

The balance could be at risk

Throughout the Cold War, the Baltic Sea region was essentially a military no-man’s land on the periphery of the main axis of confrontation in central Europe. It was that geo-strategic inconsequence that allowed for a Nordic Balance to emerge, formed by neutral Finland and Sweden as well as special status NATO-members Norway and Denmark — neither country allowed nuclear weapons or foreign troops to be permanently stationed on their territory.

But following the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991, the sea that separates Russia from the West has rather become a microcosm of pan-European relations — bringing together some of the world’s most developed countries and those still struggling to recover from Communist rule.

Moscow's plans for Eurasia

It is that unity that Putin seeks to undermine. By becoming the dominant power in Eurasia, the Kremlin seeks to exert influence over its neighbors and to bargain with the world's top countries on equal footing. That’s especially true with regards to the three Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, whose independence and active role in NATO and the EU are seen as threats to Russia’s security and autonomy.

And so today, as an increasingly pressured Sweden and Finland sit between the Baltic states and the West, the question is what road the northern neighbors will take should Russia’s saber-rattling turn into open conflict. After all, as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are isolated from fully fledged NATO members, it would be problematic for the alliance to respond to an incident in the Baltic region without the acquiescence of Finland and Sweden.

\u200bBattalion from the Norrbotten Regiment, designation I 19.

Battalion from the Norrbotten Regiment, designation I 19.

Jesper Sundström/Försvarsmakten/Facebook

Pro-NATO voices rise in Scandinavia

So far, the two countries have managed to walk a line of deepening cooperation with NATO without formally joining the alliance — thus avoiding overly aggravating Moscow. However, as Putin has now demanded written commitments that NATO will never again enlarge, the balance could be at risk.

While Russia’s foreign ministry recently stated that Finland and Sweden joining Nato “would have serious military and political consequences," Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin has answered that the country reserves the option of seeking NATO membership at any time:

“Let it be stated once again: Finland’s room to maneuver and freedom of choice also includes the possibility of military alignment and of applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide,” Niinisto said.

Sweden will not be caught off-guard

Sweden too responded, with the country’s supreme military commander Micael Bydén saying that acceding to Russian demands would mean the end of the country’s security strategy, Dagens Nyheter reports.

Russia’s attempt to shut the door on the countries’ freedom of choice also went down badly with the domestic population: In Finland, a number of Green Party politicians have expressed support for alliance membership, joining the long-standing pro-NATO wing within the center-right party; while in Sweden, an opinion poll published by broadcaster TV4 on Monday shows that 35% of Swedes are now in favor of NATO membership, while 31% are undecided and 33% against. That represents a big leap from 2018, where the same poll showed that 48% were against joining the alliance.

Finland and Sweden prepare for the worst, hope for the best

Should the pro-NATO voices become a majority, it will put both governments in an awkward position between responding to the demands of the people while realizing that such a move could potentially trigger large-scale global conflict.

Meanwhile, it’s a fact that Finland and Sweden would lack commensurate answers to an eastern attack. Sweden has bolstered its defenses following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and even reintroduced mandatory military service in 2017. Still, the country’s 25,000 military personnel — roughly equal to that of Finland — is a far cry from its peak capabilities during the Cold War in the mid-1960s, when Swedish troops numbered some 800,000.

As such, while Finland and Sweden are wise to prepare for the worst, what they — and indeed the world — should hope for is that diplomacy can once again find a pathway to a peaceful de-escalation.

China Less-Than-Zero-COVID, Saudi Raids In Yemen, Space Diamond
In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

China Less-Than-Zero-COVID, Saudi Raids In Yemen, Space Diamond

👋 Привет!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where China further clamps down its COVID controls, Saudi Arabia launches air raids on the Yemeni capital and Indonesia gets a new capital. Meanwhile Les Echos’ Théophile Simon finally sees brighter days at hand in Iraq, during an extensive tour of the reconstruction efforts around the country.

[*Privet - Russian]

​✅  SIGN UP

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

• COVID update: China is further tightening its Zero-COVID measures. It has ordered postal service’s workers to disinfect international deliveries and urged people to wear masks and gloves when opening overseas mail, after authorities claimed a package from Canada could be the source of the first Omicron case. Hong Kong authorities have announced they would cull some 2,000 small animals, including hamsters, after several tested positive for the coronavirus in a pet store where an infected employee was working. Beijing also announced that no tickets will be sold for the upcoming Winter Olympics. Australia, meanwhile, recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic with 77 dead, as the Omicron outbreak continues to push up hospitalizations to record levels.

• Saudi-led coalition carries deadly raids in Yemen’s Sanaa: An airstrike killed at least 14 people in the Yemeni capital Sanaa during raids launched by the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi, a day after the rebel group launched a deadly attack in the United Arab Emirates. The strike targeted the home of a Houthi military official.

• At least 26 killed in Afghanistan twin quakes: Back-to-back earthquakes struck the west of Afghanistan on Monday, killing at least 26 people and damaging more than 700 houses. Rescue efforts are underway to find survivors.

• More Tonga deaths feared: Images taken by New Zealand Defence Force reconnaissance flights have revealed the significant damage inflicted by the tsunami and volcanic eruption on Tonga’s small outer islands, with an entire village destroyed and areas blanketed with ash. The confirmed death toll stands at two but as communications in the South Pacific island nation are cut, the true extent of casualties remains unclear. Heavy ashfall is hampering international relief efforts.

• Roberta Metsola elected new EU parliament president: The European parliament has chosen Maltese conservative lawmaker Roberta Metsola to succeed David Sassoli, who died last week, as its president. Metsola is the third woman to preside over the assembly after France’s Simone Veil and Nicole Fontaine.

• Oil prices hit highest level in 7 years: Benchmark oil prices have reached their highest level since 2014 while Brent crude futures rose 1.2% to $87.50 a barrel, over fears of possible supply disruption amid escalating hostility between the United Arab Emirates and Yemen’s Houthi group.

• An outer space black diamond unveiled in Dubai: Auction house Sotheby’s Dubai has unveiled “The Enigma,” a 555.55-carat black diamond believed to have come from outer space, which will be auctioned off in February in London for at least $6.8 million. Black diamonds, also known as cardonado, are extremely rare.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

New Zealand daily The Dominion Post reports on hampered relief efforts to Tonga, as the scale of the damage caused from a volcanic eruption and tsunami has been revealed by images taken by the New Zealand Defence Force. The country is sending a ship carrying freshwater and supplies to the South Pacific Island nation after ash delayed the delivery of aid by air.

💬  LEXICON

Nusantara

Indonesia’s parliament has approved a bill to move its capital to a site 2,000 kilometers away on Borneo island, which will be named “Nusantara” (an Old Javanese term which means "outer islands"). The current capital Jakarta, plagued by flooding and infrastructure problems, is slowly sinking, with experts predicting up to one-third of the city could be underwater by 2050.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

The new Iraq, signs of hope amid the rubble and reconstruction

How do you rebuild a country decimated by four decades of war and embargoes? Following the withdrawal of the U.S. military, Iraq faces many challenges, from oil revenues captured by the militias and endemic corruption to religious segregation. However, there are glimmers of hope for the country's future, writes Théophile Simon in an in-depth reportage for French daily Les Echos.

🇮🇶 In many ways the skies are clearing over Iraq. The recent victory against the Islamic State organization may have ended nearly four decades of wars and embargoes. The COVID-19 pandemic, after ravaging the economy and forcing the first devaluation since the American invasion of 2003, is loosening its grip and allowing world oil demand to resume its upward trend. Iraq, the world's fifth largest crude producer, is counting on the windfall to rebuild, announcing recently that it would increase production by 40% by 2027.

🛢️ But the oil industry, which represents nearly 60% of the national GDP, is under the control of more or less coordinated paramilitary organizations, often linked to Iran. They’re present at all stages of the value chain: trucks, terminals, cargo ships. Their reach even goes as far as the clandestine refueling of oil tankers anchored in the Persian Gulf. "We do not control our borders," says Finance Minister Ali Allawi, who says he has launched a customs reform in recent months. It’s a problem with seemingly no solution, given the size of the challenge.

💧 As the Middle East goes through a phase of relative respite, a chorus of politicians from all sides is calling for the post-war Europe model to be used to tie regional economies together through transportation, trade or the energy sector. For Iraq, the practical work could begin with the management of its major rivers, which have their sources in Turkey and Iran and whose flows are decreasing at the rate of the construction of dams upstream.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

There still is a high risk that he will commit new crimes if he is released.

— Berit Johnsen, research professor at University College of Norwegian Correctional Service, warns about the threat still posed today by Anders Behring Breivik, as the Norwegian mass murderer goes to court today, seeking parole from his 21-year sentence, which almost certainly won’t be granted. Breivik, who has been in jail for the past ten years, has so far shown no remorse for the killing of 77 people in a bomb and gun attack in Oslo and on the island of Utøya in 2011.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

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Photo of a car flipped over on the side of the road after a traffic accident in Hockenheim, Germany
Society
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Time To Tally COVID's Deadly "Side Effects"

The unexpected rise in highway deaths, even with far fewer drivers on the road, is a reminder of the many ways the virus is killing us even if it doesn’t enter your body.

-Analysis-

Last Tuesday afternoon, 20 ambulances were racing from all directions toward a highway tunnel in the province of Tolima, in central Colombia. A chain collision had left a mangled scene of death and wreckage after a truck had lost control, causing 15 vehicles including several freight trucks to crash. The pile-up left 8 dead and 33 people wounded, Colombian daily El Tiempo reports.

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A laptop screen displaying Russian president Vladimir Putin, and phone with his name on it.
Geopolitics
Cameron Manley

REvil Bust: Is Russian Cybercrime Crackdown Just A Decoy From Ukraine?

This weekend’s unprecedented operation to dismantle the cybercriminal REvil network in Russia was carried out on a request and information from Washington. Occurring just as the two countries face off over the Russian threat to invade Ukraine raises more questions than it answers.

The world’s attention was gripped last week by the rising risk of war at the Russia-Ukraine border, and what some have called the worst breakdown in relations between Moscow and Washington since the end of the Cold War. Yet by the end of the week, another major story was unfolding more quietly across Russia that may shed light on the high-stakes geopolitical maneuvering.

By Friday night, Russian security forces had raided 25 addresses in St. Petersburg, Moscow and several other regions south of the capital in an operation to dismantle the notorious REvil group, accused of some of the worst cyberattacks in recent years to hit targets in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West.

And by Saturday, Russian online media Interfax was reporting that the FSB Russian intelligence services revealed that it had in fact been the U.S. authorities who had informed Russia "about the leaders of the criminal community and their involvement in attacks on the information resources of foreign high-tech companies.”

Watch Video Show less
China On High COVID Alert, Tonga Eruption Aftermath, Anne Frank’s Traitor
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

China On High COVID Alert, Tonga Eruption Aftermath, Anne Frank’s Traitor

👋 Halo!*

Welcome to Monday, where China is on high COVID alert as Lunar New Year celebrations kick off, Tonga reels from a massive underwater eruption, and a veteran FBI agent may have found out who betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis. Meanwhile, Russian daily Kommersant recounts how Kazakhstan has passed from one strongman to another.

[*Sundanese - Indonesia]

​✅ SIGN UP

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.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

COVID update: China is on high alert as travel begins for Lunar New Year celebrations; travels now have to report their planned trips before arrival. France’s parliament has voted to turn its health pass into a vaccination pass, meaning vaccination (and not a negative COVID test) are required to go to restaurants, cultural and sports venues as well as for long-distance travel. And the chairman of Credit Suisse, Antonio Horta-Osorio, has been forced to resign after it was revealed he twice broke COVID quarantine protocol.

Suspected Houthi drone attack in Abu Dhabi: A drone strike by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is suspected to have killed three near the airport of the United Arab Emirates capital. The attack also included three tanker trucks carrying fuel.

Ukraine’s Poroshenko returns to face treason charges: Former president Petro Poroshenko was greeted by thousands of supporters after returning to Ukraine to face treason charges in a criminal case he blames on his successor, Volodymyr Zelensky. The clash comes as Ukraine faces the threat of a Russian invasion after a week of failed talks between Moscow and Washington.

Texas synagogue taker was British citizen, 2 arrested in UK: Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national, was identified as the hostage-taker in an 11-hour stand-off at a synagogue in Texas. Akram was killed, and the four hostages released unharmed.

Tonga damaged following underwater volcano eruption: The Pacific Island nation of Tonga was hit by massive eruptions that started last week from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano that triggered tsunami waves. The amount of damage is unclear, as Australia and New Zealand have sent planes to assess the situation.

Djokovic’s Australia visa ban: Unvaccinated Serbian tennis star Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday after a long battle over whether he could compete in the Australian Open. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that under the right circumstances, the three-year ban could be shortened. Meanwhile, he’ll have a hard time participating in the French Open this spring, as the country just announced that all athletes competing in the country have to be vaccinated.

UK island looks for a new “monarch”: It may be true that no man is an island, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in charge of one. Piel Island, off the coast of Cumbria, is looking for a new “monarch” to manage its 300-year-old pub and the 50 acres of land, including a camping area and 14th-century castle for a 10-year lease. Of course, the position comes with a unique coronation ceremony: Alcohol is poured over the new royal’s head.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Dutch daily De Volkskrant reports on the findings of a team of investigators, led by a veteran FBI agent, about the 1944 arrest of Anne Frank and her family who had been hiding in Amsterdam for two years during World War II. Using new technologies and artificial intelligence, the team determined there was a high probability that a Jewish notary named Arnold van den Bergh was the one who gave away the Frank family’s hiding place to the Nazis. The Diary of Anne Frank remains one of the world’s most widely-read books.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

10.62 million

China's birth rate dropped for a fifth consecutive year to hit a new record low in 2021 in spite of the government’s efforts to encourage couples to have more children in the face of a looming demographic crisis. The world’s most populous country reported 10.62 million births in 2021, in comparison to 12 million in 2020, with a birth rate of 7.52 births per 1,000 people according to the National Statistics Bureau — marking the lowest level since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Kazakhstan, when one strongman replaces another

Violent unrest in Kazakhstan has resulted in a new authoritarian leader finally assuming proper power in the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor, write Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov in Russian daily Kommersant.

🇰🇿 Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power in 2019. However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. What will happen is still uncertain, but this much is clear: strongman rulers are able to keep power in Kazakhstan, but they can't ensure its peaceful transfer.

💰 On Jan. 11, Tokayev declared an almost revolutionary slogan: to build a "new Kazakhstan." The wording alone indicates an intention to do away with the former Kazakhstan built by Nazarbayev. The protests that have rocked the country were ostensibly about an increase in gas prices, but they illustrate Kazakhs' frustration at a rising cost of living and massive inequality. Under Nazarbayev, a small elite accumulated huge wealth while the economy stagnated. Tokayev announced a policy of economic reforms.

❌ Tokayev's speech draws a firm line under the Nazarbayev era. He said directly that the old social contract, including the intra-elite contract, is over and that the groups that enriched themselves under the first president should accept the new rules of the game. To begin, they have to pay their dues to the people's fund. Apparently, this should be seen as an offer to the old elite — pay or we will deal with you.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

“Confrontation does not solve problems, it only invites catastrophic consequences.”

— Chinese leader Xi Jinping said in a speech at an all-virtual Davos Forum, warning world leaders against the "fanning of ideological antagonism and the politicizing of economic, scientific, and technological issues."

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

Who’s the king of your local pub? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!

info@worldcrunch.com

Le Weekend ➡️ Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: Rules & Power In Pandemic Times
In The News

Le Weekend ➡️ Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: Rules & Power In Pandemic Times

January 15-16

  • Kazakhstan’s vicious circle of strongmen
  • COVID school chaos around the world
  • The truth behind why we lie to ourselves
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. What extreme measure did the Canadian province of Quebec take to encourage people to get vaccinated?

2. What caused a massive power outage in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, leaving 700,000 in the dark for hours?

3. Norwegian soldiers were asked to return what piece of clothing at the end of their military service, so that future recruits can reuse them?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? ❤️ 🐖 🏥 👨 👍

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: rules & power in pandemic times

It was the phrase of the week down on Fleet Street, the historic HQ of the London press corps: “Bring your own booze” — BYOB — the instructions secretly sent around for the garden party held at 10 Downing Street in blatant violation of the first coronavirus lockdown, back in May 2020.The revelations of the event (the second such scandal to emerge in the past two months) has left British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely holding on to his job after his admission to Parliament this week that he was there … and he was, well, quite sorry.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the former British empire, Australians are following how their public representatives will resolve the latest twist in pandemic policy that has captured the sporting world’s attention. Back and forth, like a tennis match. By the end of the week, Australia had reversed a Monday court decision, and canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa that would have allowed him to defend his Australian Open title. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the visa was revoked on the grounds that the presence of the unvaccinated Serbian star risks fueling anti-vax sentiment on home soil.

This is high-stakes political gamesmanship indeed. The unprecedented health crisis, and associated restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, requires our elected leaders to react to ever-changing information and a chain of lose-lose public policy choices. COVID continues to make the hard job of being a public representative that much harder. The best, we can agree, are doing the best they can. The worst, well … are the worst.

The British public has rightly taken offense to the idea that the very people charged with making and enforcing COVID rules, were also busy breaking them. In the Djokovic saga, skeptics of vaccination mandates — in Australia, Serbia and beyond — will have new ammunition if the world’s top tennis player is kicked out of both tournament and country.

The good news is that in our eternally flawed democracies, the public eventually (though not always!) finds out what goes wrong, and ultimately has the final say of who’s in charge. The same can’t be said everywhere, including the country that has been cited for having the most successful methods for controlling the virus and limiting death tolls. That is, of course, China … where it all began.

Yet the authoritarian regime's “Zero COVID policy” comes with deeper questions that largely mirror the downside of authoritarianism in general: ruthless enforcement, quelled dissent and the sometimes blind following of the masses. It’s hard to imagine that Xi Jinping has had any “BYOB parties” in the past two years. But if he did, you can be sure we’d never know.

— Jeff Israely


🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Makar Sankranti 2022: The Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti is celebrated on January 14 and 15 in almost all parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. The festival marks the end of winter, the beginning of a new harvest season, and has ancient religious significance.

• Parthenon fragment returns to Greece: A marble fragment from the Parthenon temple has been returned to Athens from a museum in Sicily. Authorities hope the move will rekindle efforts to force the British Museum to send back ancient sculptures from Greece's most renowned ancient landmark.

• 400 years of Molière: France honors its seminal playwright on the 400th anniversary of his birth. His influence, comparable to that of Shakespeare in the anglophone world, is such that French is often referred to as the "language of Molière."

• Vinyl surpassed CDs sales for the first time in 30 years: For the first time since 1991, annual sales of vinyl records surpassed those of CDs in the U.S, according to MRC Data and Billboard, with an estimated 41.72 million vinyl records sold in 2021 (up 51.4% from 27.55 million in 2020). This means that vinyl is now the leading format for all album purchases in the U.S.

• Kendrick Lamar teams up with South Park creators: Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and his former longtime manager Dave Free are working with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to produce a live-action comedy for Paramount Pictures.

📚😷 COVID SCHOOL CHAOS AROUND THE WORLD


The decisions to close schools have been some of the toughest choices made during the pandemic, with students suffering both academically and socially from online learning or no education at all. It’s universally acknowledged that children most succeed with in-person classes, but the question still remains whether the health risk to students and those around them is worth it.

The Omicron wave has only caused this debate to heighten, with teacher strikes in France, rising drop-out rates in Argentina and shortages of staff in South Africa. But there are signs of hope: Uganda has finally reopened schools, ending the world’s longest shutdown, and some American parents have decided to offer more personalized education with homeschooling.

Read the full story: COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

🇰🇿  KAZAKHSTAN’S VICIOUS CIRCLE OF STRONGMEN


The real transition of power in Kazakhstan was supposed to have taken place in 2019. Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power.

However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor. For Russian daily Kommersant, Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov ponder why strongmen are able to keep power in Kazakhstan — but can't ensure its peaceful transfer.

Read the full story: Kazakhstan, When One Strongman Replaces Another

🐟 DENMARK, A SMALL FISH IN THE SALMON INDUSTRY’S BIG POND


Things are getting fishy over Nordic fishing regulations, as the Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. In Danish newspaper Politiken, marine biologist Johan Wedel Nielsen explained why Demark’s policy has given Norway a de facto monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry. This is particularly significant as changing diet habits are increasing demand for the nutritious pink fish, and Norway has taken advantage, accounting for about half of the world’s salmon production.

Nielsen argues that environmental concerns aren’t warranted, as fish have an inherently small impact on the environment. Denmark has the potential to establish 150 salmonid (a family of fish including salmon and trout) farms in the Baltic Sea, producing some 500,000 tons of trout per year with a value of 2.7 billion euros and employing tens of thousands. But the Danish government has so far given no indication of allowing any addition to Denmark’s 19 existing farms.

Read the full story: Norwegian Salmon v. Danish Trout: Lessons On Ecology And Economics

💡  BRIGHT IDEA

French start-up Airxôm has unveiled its unique respiratory device at Las Vegas’ CES tech event. Their plastic and silicon face mask is the first capable of destroying particles of all sizes and has inbuilt decontamination properties, hence protecting against pollution, bacteria and viruses including COVID-19. Oh and, as a bonus, it also prevents your glasses from fogging.

#️⃣ TRENDING


Boris Johnson memes flooded social networks this week, mocking the UK’s prime minister's excuse for attending what was quite obviously a party at the height of the pandemic: “I believed implicitly that this was a work event.” The quote was shared alongside a toe-curlingly bad 2013 video of BoJo dancing to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” which resurfaced on Instagram, while Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair puts its own spin on the lame explanation.

🤦‍♀️🛴🤦‍♂️ FACEPALM OF THE WEEK


A Belgian national was intercepted by the French police while riding his e-scooter on a highway in eastern France. The confused trottinette user said it was his first time riding in France, and that he’d failed to select the “no toll roads” option on his GPS.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Climate, COVID, Costa Concordia: why humans are wired for denial

This past week marked 10 years since the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Tuscany. Writing in Italian daily La Stampa, Guido Maria Brera sees connections between the way passengers and crew reacted in the minutes and hours after the ship ran aground to other calamities we face that may seem to be moving more slowly:

In 2012, the same year the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off of Giglio Island, David Quammen published his book Spillover, which predicted that somewhere in Asia a virus would be attacking the human respiratory tract on its way to becoming a global pandemic. And so it was. This terrible shipwreck, which the world watched in slow-motion exactly ten years ago on January 13, 2012, now appears to us — just like the COVID-19 pandemic, like the trailer of a horror film we are now all living for real.

Millions dead, ten of millions sick, and the psychological collapse of entire generations, the youngest and most defenseless. In the meantime, climate change is spiraling out of control: sea levels are rising, land is drying out, ice caps are melting, not to mention hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts, famines, wars, migration.

The correlation between climate change and the pandemic has been demonstrated countless times by scientists. Soaring temperatures, intensive livestock farming, deforestation and the devastation of the natural animal kingdoms have led to zoonosis: Species-hopping, in which a bacterium or virus escapes from its host and spreads to another, creating a chain reaction with devastating results.

Finding the correlation between the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the current situation is more a subtle exercise: by looking at the decisions we made to respond to the disaster — or rather, how we failed to take action.

"The Concordia has become a maze of choices in the dark, deciding whether to open a door or not, whether to move or stay put, can be the difference between life and death,” Pablo Trincia said recently in his podcast “Il Dito di Dio.” (The Finger of God). A cruise ship with more than 4,000 people, including passengers, crew and ship personnel, is a microcosm in itself: it contains everything. And indeed, in these very long and slow moments, when time seems suspended, a tragedy was in the making.

There were reported many notable demonstrations of solidarity, as strangers helped each other. There were also those who fled as quickly as possible, seeking their personal safety at the expense of others. There were those who, between the ship crashing into the rocks and the dropping of the first lifeboats, seemed not to care.

If it is true that there are lessons to learn even from the worst tragedies, then we must make sure that the terrible wreckage of this small world can help us understand and identify the rocks we are heading towards today: the climate crisis and the pandemic. Time is the discriminating factor, as always. Director Adam McKay explains it well in his movie Don't Look Up, showing us how people react as they face slow-motioned tragedies.

In this scenario, the slowness of the film is the central narrative choice: there is initially plenty of time before the comet would hit the earth, ineluctably ending human life, and there remains plenty of time to live and love and enjoy.

Hence, we also have time to expect that the asteroid is still far away, to imagine that it will deviate from its course. We even have time to forget that the impact is inevitable, and to continue to live as if nothing is happening.

This is the most common reaction to pandemics and environmental disasters. Turn your head away, pretend you don't see, don't look up.

Denial is the work of politicians incapable of questioning the only development model they know, of the billionaires who built bunkers to survive in New Zealand, (where it seems that the crisis will have less impact), of the Silicon Valley gurus have already bought coolers to preserve their bodies for eternity by cryogenics.

On the Costa Concordia, refusal to look the disaster in the eye wasn’t just the work of those who were supposed to give the alert and manage the evacuation: we are all in the same boat when it comes to denial. When a disaster happens in slow motion, it feels as though there is still too much time to bother rushing for solutions now.

We tend to think about the time we have left, about the costs and benefits to our tiny lives, without even realizing that never has the need for salvation been more collective.

Ten years ago, as today, we convinced ourselves that we are absolved of responsibility precisely because we know that everyone shares the same responsibility.

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set next week as the ultimatum for a confirmation that NATO will neither expand nor deploy forces to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations.

• Next Sunday will mark two years since the World Health Organization declared during an emergency meeting that COVID-19 was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

• On Tuesday, a 3,400-foot-wide asteroid will make a safe flyby of Earth, whooshing by our planet at the equivalent of five Earth-Moon distances (still pretty close from a cosmic point of view).

• Monday is Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day, so you still have a few more hours to decide whether that gym membership really was a good idea.

News quiz answers:

1. Quebec announced plans to charge a health tax to unvaccinated residents, who represent 12.8% of the Canadian province but make up nearly half of hospital cases.

2. A heat wave scorched Argentina's capital Buenos Aires on Tuesday, bringing temperatures to 41.5 °C (106.7 °F) and causing a lengthy power outage.

3. Norway has ordered members of its military to return underwear, bras and socks after the end of their military service amid a shortage of supplies that the army partly blamed on the pandemic.

4. ❤️ 🐖 🏥 👨 👍 A 57-year-old American man became the first person to get a heart transplant from a genetically-modified pig, a potentially major breakthrough that scientists hope could help alleviate shortages of donor organs.

✍️ Newsletter by Worldcrunch

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*Photo: Frank Molter/dpa/ZUMA

COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World
Coronavirus
Irene Caselli and Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

Teachers, students, parents and society as a whole have suffered through the various attempts at educating through the pandemic. Here’s how it looks now: from teacher strikes in France to rising drop-out rates in Argentina to Uganda finally ending the world’s longest shutdown.

School, they say, is where the future is built. The next generation’s classroom learning is crucial, but schools also represent an opportunity for children to socialize, get help for special needs … and in some villages and neighborhoods, get their one decent meal a day.

COVID-19 has of course put all of that at risk. At the peak of the pandemic, classrooms were closed for 1.6 billion schoolchildren worldwide, with the crisis forcing many to experiment on the fly for the first time in remote learning, and shutting down learning completely for many millions more — exacerbating worldwide inequality in education.

The decisions to close schools have been some of the toughest choices made during the pandemic. It’s universally acknowledged that children most succeed with in-person classes, but the question still remains whether the health risk to students and those around them is worth it.

The Omicron wave has only caused this debate to heighten, with teacher strikes in France, rising drop-out rates in Argentina and staff shortages in South Africa. But there are signs of hope: Uganda has finally reopened schools this week, ending the world’s longest shutdown nearly 20 months later. Elsewhere, countries struggle in myriad ways to face the challenge of educating and caring for our youth through COVID:

ARGENTINA — Drop-outs and long hair

Argentina had one of the longest disruptions to school activities, according to data by Unicef, with 79 weeks of closure. Officials blame the lockdown for many of the more than 600,000 students who dropped out permanently from classes — a number six times higher than the year before the pandemic, reports La Nación newspaper.

Even for those who did go back to class, the pandemic created huge disruption. In this photo essay, photographer Irina Werning documented the life of a girl in the province of Buenos Aires, and her decision to cut her hair only when she got back to school after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

UGANDA — The world’s longest shutdown

Uganda reopened its schools on Monday after the longest pandemic-prompted shutdown in the world started in March 2020. Child rights groups had criticized Uganda’s decision to keep schools fully or partially shuttered for 83 weeks, leaving 15 million students without education amid mostly failed attempts at switching to a remote learning model.

Barred from school, many boys entered work in mining, street vending and sugarcane planting. According to the National Planning Authority, up to one-third of students are not expected to return to the classroom due to teen pregnancy, early marriage and child labor.

SOUTH AFRICA — Teacher shortages

In South Africa, one of the African countries hardest hit by the pandemic, 70% of students starting third grade this year haven’t learned to read, having missed out on 50% schooling during the last two years. As such, the Department of Basic Education plans a return to a normal school timetable in 2022, despite the country battling a fourth wave of infections driven by the Omicron variant.

But as five inland provinces — the Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the North West — started their academic year on January 12, the country’s schools still struggle to work around the persistent shortage of teachers, the Mail & Guardian reports. In April 2021, there were 24,000 vacancies spread across schools in all provinces and according to TimesLIVE, some educators are already teaching classes of more than 50 children.

Taking a child's temperature before going to school in Madrid, Spain

Isabel Infantes/Contacto via ZUMA

PHILIPPINES — Learning online with bad Internet

The Philippines also recorded one of the world’s longest education lockdowns. Schools closed completely in March 2020, and only reopened face-to-face classes in December for an experimental two-month trial that involved 287 public and private schools, according to the newssite Rappler.

But as Omicron cases surged, on Jan. 2, the Department of Education put a halt to the expansion phase of face-to-face classes and announced the suspension of in-person classes in areas under a higher infection level, including the metropolitan area of Manila. Online classes have only been accessible to a small portion of the population, because Internet access is not widespread, especially in rural areas that account for more than half of the school population, creating a further gap in education.

UNITED STATES — Homeschooling boom

With waves of school closures around the United States during COVID-19 surges, many parents have taken their children's education into their own hands. The national homeschooling rate increased from 3.3% before the pandemic to 11.1%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some parents wanted to better cater to students with special needs or provide religious-based education, while others felt local schooling options were inadequate.

The boom has particularly striking in the state of Virginia, where home-schooled students are up by 40% compared to 2019, according to the Virginia Department of Education data, now making up to 5% of the total public school enrollment.

Home-schoolers are especially concentrated in conservative rural areas, where they represent up to 20% of students in some counties. Many families opted for homeschooling as a result of the COVID-19 school restrictions and classes going online, with parents fighting against mask mandates, but also to the decision by schools to teach critical race theory.

ITALY — Government flip-flops

Prime Minister Mario Draghi made it a priority to keep schools open despite an upsurge of COVID-19 cases in Italy, with updated restrictions to help contain the spread of the virus. But Vincenzo De Luca, the outspoken governor of the southern region of Campania, issued a decree to delay school opening after the Christmas break. The central government successfully challenged De Luca’s decision in court this week, creating last-minute chaos among school personnel and families. Still, in some towns around the region, mayors decided to keep the structures closed.

This precarious situation has led commentators, like sociologist Chiara Saraceno in this editorial for La Stampa daily to lament not only the missed lessons of the two years, but the last-minute nature of decisions that leave no time to families to get organized. The pandemic has taught us the benefits of flexibility rather than constant crisis mode. Saraceno writes: “We need to break the tabu of the untouchable school calendar.”

SWEDEN — Always open

As the pandemic struck and countries around the world went into lockdown, Sweden became one of the last outposts for refusing curfews and instead relying on health agency recommendations for how to curb the spread — and primary schools were no exception.

But while Swedish kids may have missed out on less hours in class, a 2021 study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology shows that Swedish high school students experienced more frustration and anger than their Norwegian counterparts. The researchers suggest that while social interactions have been more frequent for Swedish students, the higher levels of national contagion may have resulted in an overall greater strain on their mental health, Skolvärlden newspaper reports.

At the peak of the pandemic, classrooms were closed for 1.6 billion schoolchildren worldwide

Rober Solsona/Contacto via ZUMA

SPAIN — Where are the tests?

As Spanish students returned to classes after the Christmas break, a debate has flared up between the government and teachers, who have demanded routine testing, El Pais reports.

With the number of students expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, the Education Ministry has nonetheless decided that in classes with children under 12 years old, only more than four infections — or 20% — will demand a group quarantine. Teachers have lashed out against the decision on social media, pointing to Germany where frequent rapid tests are carried out on all students, as well as Italy, where the army has been deployed to carry out mass testing on students.

FRANCE — Mass teachers strike

Keeping French classrooms open has been a priority during the recent surge in COVID-19 cases for President Emmanuel Macron, who faces a reelection campaign this spring. But there was backlash from teachers who shut down many of the nation’s schools Thursday with a mass strike in protest against the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, reports Libération daily.

Teachers cited confusing and constantly changing COVID rules that have left them exhausted and frustrated. As coronavirus infections have surged since the beginning of January, the government this week eased rules on COVID checks for students to reduce the massive pressure on testing capacity. But the relaxation has caused safety concerns for teachers as France reported a record 332,476 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday — with teachers protesting that the government's lack of communication, frequent changes to testing, and insufficient protection against COVID has left them unable to do their job.

AUSTRALIA — Last to close

Thirty-five of Australia's top academics, doctors and community leaders have made a call for the country’s authorities to allow schools to fully open for face-to-face learning. The open letter, published in The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, urges governments to follow WHO and UN advice that "schools must be the last to close and the first to open."

The signatories make three main arguments for full school reopenings. First, that a delay to returning to in-person learning ignores the obligation to deliver the best education possible to children; second, that it puts children’s mental health at risk; and third, that there’s no medical case for face-to-face learning to be suspended awaiting the vaccination of 5 to 11-year-old children, as COVID-19 is a "mild disease" for children with an overwhelming majority recovering without any adverse effect.

Vaccine Mandate Denied, Djoko In Limbo, 97-Year-Old Piano Prodigy
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Vaccine Mandate Denied, Djoko In Limbo, 97-Year-Old Piano Prodigy

👋 Nyob zoo!*

Welcome to Friday, where the U.S. Supreme Court says no to Biden’s vaccine mandate, Australia cancels Djokovic’s visa (again) and a child piano prodigy releases an album … at 97. Persian-language media Kayhan-London also takes a look at Russia's growing influence at the highest levels of Iran's military.

[*Hmong Daw - Laos]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for employees of large companies, but allowed one for certain healthcare workers to go forward. Following threats from President Rodrigo Duterte to arrest the unvaccinated, the Philippine government is considering allowing officials to go house-to-house to record individuals’ vaccination status. And the World Health Organization has added two more drugs, baricitinib and sotrovimab, to its lists of medications recommended for treating COVID-19.

• Djokovic visa canceled: Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa, overruling a Jan. 10 decision, on the grounds that the presence of the unvaccinated men’s tennis world n.1 risks fueling anti-vax sentiment on home soil. Facing immediate deportation and a three-year visa ban, Djokovic plans to challenge the decision, which would deny his quest to defend his Australian Open title.

• Capitol attack panel subpoenas Google, Facebook and Twitter for digital records: The U.S. House panel investigating the 2021 attack on the U.S. capital is looking into the role social media companies played in aiding in the organization of the insurgency. The goal is to better understand the role they played in spreading misinformation and violent extremism in the wake of the 2020 election.

• Prince Andrew loses military title and patronages: Facing charges in a U.S. court of sexually abusing a 17-year-old, Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s third child will no longer be referred to as “his royal highness” nor be a patron of the some 200 charities and organizations his name was associated with. Virginia Giuffre says she was trafficked by deceased billionaire Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with Prince Andrew, a charge the royal denies.

• Ukrainian government faces cyber attack: Amid growing tension with neighboring Russia, Ukraine was hit with a large-scale cyber attack that took down government websites with the warning for Ukranians to “be afraid and expect the worst.” Kyiv has launched an investigation.

• Turkey and Armenia begin normalization talks: The neighboring countries and historic enemies are kicking off a dialogue that diplomats hope could lead to normalizing diplomatic relations and reopening borders. A main point of contention is the 1915 killing of more than 1.5 Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which Armenia considers a genocide.

• Child piano prodigy releases a new album at 97: American piano savant Ruth Slenczynska gave her first recital at age four, and wowed audiences around the world, drawing comparisons to Mozart. To celebrate her 97th birthday, Slenczynska is putting out My Life In Music, which includes compositions by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Frederic Chopin. Check out a video of 5-year-old Slenczynska playing Beethoven’s Minuet in G Major.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

“The year of change,” titles Brazilian weekly news magazine Istoé, with the country’s elections scheduled in October to elect the President, Vice President and the National Congress. These elections are “an opportunity for the country to get out of the trap of extremism,” writes the magazine, though acknowledges that “a difficult and troubled period” looms ahead.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

5.9 trillion

Indian billionaire and Asias’s richest man Mukesh Ambani announced Thursday that his conglomerate, Reliance Industries, would allot 5.9 trillion rupees (approximately $80 billion) to renewable power projects in the western Indian state of Gujarat, with the hope it will contribute to generating millions of new jobs, according to a company announcement to the National Stock Exchange of India.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Don't underestimate Russian influence over Iran's military

Russia's influence on Iran goes to the highest levels of its military and security structures. But will anyone in Iran dare question Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in spite of the grave risks to the country's national security? asks Shahram Sabzevari in Persian-language media Kayhan-London.

🇮🇷🇷🇺 Several sources recently reported on the sale of 24 Russian Su-35 fighter jets to the Islamic Republic of Iran. These were initially to be sold to Egypt, but that deal was thwarted by the threat of U.S. sanctions on Egypt. Since 15 of the planes were reportedly ready for delivery, they may be sent to the Iranian regime in early 2022. Reports of sales of Russian commercial or military planes to Iran are not new, though some now qualify them as a consolation for Tehran to make amends for Russia's suspected approval of the strikes that have targeted Iranian Revolutionary guards bases, allied militias and Iranian war material in Syria.

🤝 Supreme Leader Khamenei's overall governance strategies, which include a Look East approach in foreign and economic policies, envisage increasing military collaborations with the Russians. In March-April 2017 during a visit to Russia by former Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, Vladimir Putin said that the two sides had discussed increasing cooperation in the building and export of planes, such as Sukhoi fighters, to Iran.

⚠️ Is the regime effectively handing Iran's armies over to the Russians? Will anyone dare ask Khamenei why he is devoted to a Russian president who agreed to let the Israelis bomb Iranian and allied militia positions in Syria? Will any revolutionary general ask him who tells Israel which containers to strike in the port of Latakia? Russia's influence at the highest levels of Iran's military and security structures is a threat to Iranian national security. Its sway is enough to change Ayatollah Khamenei's mind on blocking UN inspectorate cameras in Iranian nuclear installations.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

Perhaps some individuals have watched too many 007 movies.

— China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a press conference, a day after British security services warned that a London-based Chinese agent was "knowingly engaged in political interference activities" inside parliament.

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

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What A Psychiatrist Leaves To Faith
Dottoré!
Mariateresa Fichele

What A Psychiatrist Leaves To Faith

Stefano keeps Jesus in his wallet. Before getting his monthly shot, he pulls him out and kisses him.

Maria keeps him near her bed. Before turning off the lights, she asks him to make sure that her sleeping pills will work.

Antonietta wears him around her neck. She says that when she has bad thoughts, she holds him tight, and slowly the fear goes away.

Salvatore holds him in his heart and tells the cardiologist that thanks to him, he doesn't get heart attacks anymore.

Pasquale sees him all the time, sometimes even when he's talking to me, having kept him company since entering the psychiatric hospital.

Watch Video Show less
BoJo Under Pressure, Landmark Syria Trial, Gruyère Row
In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

BoJo Under Pressure, Landmark Syria Trial, Gruyère Row

👋 Ahoj!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Boris Johnson faces rising calls to resign, an ex Syrian colonel is convicted in a landmark torture trial, and the U.S. finds loopholes in the Gruyère cheese label. We also mark 10 years since the Costa Concordia disaster off the coast of Tuscany.

[*Czech]

​✅ SIGN UP

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.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

COVID update: South Korea will begin treating coronavirus patients with Paxlovid, Pfizer’s antiviral pills, the first Asian country to do so, while the Africa Centres for Disease Control is seeking to work with Pfizer to import its treatment pill to the continent, where less of 15% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of French teachers are on strike to protest the government’s handling of COVID-19 school measures.

Boris Johnson faces call to resign: Following his apology for attending a “bring your own booze” party at Downing Street during the first coronavirus lockdown, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s future looks uncertain as several Tory politicians, and leaders of all the main opposition parties are calling for his resignation. A minimum of 54 Conservative MPs are needed to trigger a leadership challenge.

German court sentences ex Syrian colonel to life in prison: A German court has sentenced Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian colonel who was linked to the torture of more than 4,000 people during Syria’s civil war, to life in prison for crimes against humanity. The landmark trial in Koblenz is the world’s first criminal case brought over state-led torture in Syria.

Joe Biden imposes first sanctions on North Korea: The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has imposed its first new sanctions on North Korea’s weapons programs, following a series of missile tests despite the UN resolutions banning North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests.

Nigeria to lift Twitter ban after 7 months: Nigeria’s government will reverse its ban on Twitter from midnight, seven months after clamping down on the social media platform. Last June, the social media company, which had deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari about punishing regional secessionists, was accused of siding with the secessionists.

Australia matches hottest day on record: Australia has equaled its hottest day on record after the Western coastal town of Onslow reported temperatures of 50.7 °C (123.26 °F). The 50 °C-mark had only been crossed three times in early 1960.

Gruyère is still gruyère even if produced elsewhere: A U.S. federal judge sided with American cheese producers who say gruyère can be produced anywhere, not just in the region around Gruyères in Switzerland. A consortium of Swiss and French cheesemakers from this region had launched proceedings in Virginia after it was denied an application for trademark protections.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Scottish daily The Herald features reactions to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s apologies for attending a party at Downing Street during the first coronavirus lockdown in May 2020. The leader is now facing calls to resign, even from MPs from his own Conservative party.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why COVID-19 has made China stronger

The COVID-19 outbreak has reshaped the world's emerging superpower both at home and abroad, making China a more efficient power and helping Chinese overcome their inferiority complex vis-a-vis the West., writes Deng Yuwen in Hong Kong-based digital media The Initium.

🚨 The consequences of the epidemic in China are particularly complex and multi-faceted. However, we can still observe changes that have taken place so far. The first direct change brought about by the pandemic is the arrival in China of a semi-militarized system of lifestyle and social control. It can also be called a "wartime control." The Chinese government had never before found an opportunity to rehearse the control measures it would use were social unrest or a situation similar to that of war to occur. From this perspective, the COVID-19 is an unexpected "win" for the Chinese government.

🇨🇳🇺🇸 The second substantive change is the intensified confrontation between China and the United States. This has led to a deterioration in China’s relations with the West and its moral damage, which in turn makes China's geopolitical environment grimmer than ever. During Biden's first year in office, Sino-U.S. relations did not get better, instead, the two countries have moved closer to a new Cold War.

💪 Another change is in people's mentality. The pandemic has altered the Chinese public’s long-term inferiority complex vis-a-vis the West and has made them more confident, especially in relations with the United States. It has also resulted in the Chinese government’s estimation that "The East is rising while the West is descending," and to regard the U.S. on an equal footing with confidence. The pitifulness of the West’s handling of the pandemic has made the Chinese government and its people suddenly realize that the Western powers’ strength and governmental efficiency are nothing but a legend.


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💬  LEXICON

Calenning

Derived from the Latin “calends”, meaning “the first day of the month,” calenning is a New Year's Day tradition that is celebrated in Wales, on the 13th of January. They are not two weeks late, in fact, they are still running according to the old Julian Calendar. On this day, the children go from door to door singing and are given “Calenning” in return, sweets or money or both!

🇮🇹 🛳️ IN OTHER NEWS

Watch This Happened - January 13

The Costa Concordia Disaster, 10 years later

Thursday marks 10 years since the Costa Concordia luxury cruise ship deviated from its planned itinerary to get closer to the island Isola del Giglio, before hitting rocks on the seafloor in shallow water and starting to sink. Over the course of six excruciating hours, a rescue effort team worked to evacuate the 4,252 people on board. Sadly, in the end, 33 people died.

“It is a tragedy of unimaginable dimensions, grotesque and frightening,” writes Davide Bartoccini in il Giornale, in an article to mark the disaster’s 10-year anniversary.

The journalist recalls that the ship was so close to the coast that the passengers and crew could have easily swam to safety, but several conditions made it impossible: aboard the Costa Concordia, a giant 56-ton ship, with 13 decks, were many children and elderly passengers, and the accident happened during the night, and during a cold winter.

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📣 VERBATIM

“In 30 years in this business, I have never seen anything like it.”

Mondher Kebaier, coach of the Tunisian national soccer team, reacted after his team’s Africa Cup of Nations match against Mali ended in chaos, as the Zambian referee blew the final whistle prematurely twice, at 85 and 89 minutes — in addition to controversial penalties and red cards. Mali won the game 1-0.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

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