Welcome to Thursday, where soldiers in Niger have declared a coup on national TV, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Pyongyang, and Ireland mourns the death of Sinéad O’Connor. Meanwhile, we look at another battleground of the Ukraine war: language.
Sicily, my Sicily — a lament from inside the inferno
Segesta, Sicily, is in flames, with fires spreading throughout the region. For Italian daily La Stampa, a local author describes scenes of apocalypse, which although not unusual on the wildfire-prone island, grow worse every year — and nothing is done about it.
It's very early in the morning, 7 a.m., when I receive a frantic phone call from my sister in San Vito Lo Capo, in the northwestern part of Sicily, near Trapani. She tells me that a part of her house and all the surrounding land are on fire. She’s been there since four in the morning, she said, and has been helping the firefighters keep the fire under control.
I'm in my car and on the way to help her before she can finish speaking. On the way, the lady that helps me keep my house in Palermo calls me. She tells me that nobody can hang laundry on the balconies because they are covered in ash. Everything is covered with a thick black veil that dirties everything — cars, houses, people. What she describes is something that I imagine people must have experienced during major volcanic eruptions.
The whole of Sicily is burning. Segesta and the archeological park area are on fire. The woods around the ancient abbey of San Martino Delle Scale, Monreale and the Ficuzza forest nature reserve — they’re all burning.
The situation has gotten worse since the arrival of the Scirocco (hot wind from the south-east) a few days ago, in an already scorching climate. Every Sicilian knows that when the Scirocco wind comes, fires are likely to follow. Unfortunately, these fires are often set deliberately, and sometimes in atrocious ways. Some reports describe the use of dogs and cats as living torches, as some would attach rags soaked in gasoline to their little bodies.
The flames are raging for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there has been questionable management of reforestation efforts after previous fires (it’s a well-known and long-standing issue; for years, Sicily, like the entire south of Italy, has been burning during summer, becoming a terrifying event — “the fire season”). Among those responsible for intentional fires are also those who have an interest in reducing the size of protected areas. It’s not coincidental that fires occur precisely in and around these reserves (one prominent example being the precious Zingaro Nature Reserve, located between Castellammare del Golfo and San Vito Lo Capo).
On my way to San Vito, towards my sister and her burning house, I come across the tired, distraught faces and glances of civil protection personnel, firefighters and urban guards. Alongside them, as always, and maybe even more than ever, I see many property owners who used their water reserves to protect their own and others’ belongings. Canadair planes are not enough, helicopters neither, and the security forces are stretched to the limit. Some points can only be reached and subdued from above, as is the case with the rocky ridge of Erice, where the fire has not yet been extinguished. [...]
— Read the full La Stampa article by Stefania Auci, translated into English by Worldcrunch.
• Niger soldiers declare coup on national TV: Soldiers in the West African country of Niger have announced a coup on national TV, stating that they had dissolved the constitution, suspended all institutions and closed the nation’s borders. Niger President Mohamed Bazoum has been held by troops from the presidential guard since early on Wednesday.
• Shoigu in North Korea, Africa-Russia Summit in St Petersburg: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has met with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in his first known meeting with a foreign minister since the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim and Shoigu discussed matters related to defense and regional security and viewed an exhibition of weapons including banned ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, leaders from across Africa are meeting Vladimir Putin and attending high-level talks in St Petersburg, with food security and the Ukraine war on their agenda.
• New evacuations in Greece as fires continue to spread: Evacuation orders have been issued for areas close to the two central Greek cities of Volos and Lamia threatened by new wildfires, as blazes continue to rage on the islands of Rhodes, Corfu and Evia. Meanwhile, Spanish authorities have announced that the wildfire that has ravaged parts of the Spanish island of Gran Canaria is now “stabilized.”
• Hunter Biden’s plea deal on hold: A plea deal between U.S. President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and the Justice Department over tax charges is on hold after a federal judge said in a court hearing Wednesday that she was not ready to accept a revised agreement between both parties. The plea deal, negotiated over several weeks, was likely to spare Hunter Biden prison time.
• Singapore to execute woman on drugs charge: For the first time in almost 20 years, Singapore is scheduled to execute a woman over trafficking heroin back in 2018. She will be the second drug convict to be executed in three days, in the country that has some of the world's toughest anti-drug laws.
• Typhoon Doksuri heads to Taiwan after pummeling Philippines: After bringing widespread flooding and landslides to the Philippines yesterday, killing at least six people, typhoon Doksuri, categorized at the second-strongest typhoon level by Taiwan’s weather bureau, is heading towards the southern Taiwan Strait with maximum winds of 118 mph (191 kph).
• It’s not just a Barbie world: Mattel is doubling down on its plan to expand “outside the toy aisle” after the hit Barbie movie. This comes as the California-based firm said its sales fell by 12% the past couple of months. Other Mattel brands, including Barney, Hot Wheels and Polly Pocket, are also set to feature in upcoming Hollywood films.
The daily newspaper Irish Independent lends its front page to the memory of Sinéad O’Connor, who passed away yesterday at her home in London, at the age of 56. The Irish Independent remembers her for her powerful and inimitable voice, which saw her become an emblem for the “hurt generation.” The singer also became known for her outspoken political activism when she ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II on U.S. television, to denounce sexual abuses in the Catholic Church. Read her New York Times obituary here.
“We have decided to put an end to the regime that you know.”
— Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane announced a coup d’etat in a video communique broadcast on Niger’s national television, flanked by men in military attire. Military forces have taken power in Niger, citing “poor economic and social governance” of the country. The nation's borders have been closed, while members of the presidential guard have seized President Mohamed Bazoum, who led the country’s first democratic transfer of power when he took office in 2021.
In the battle for identity, language may be Ukraine's strongest weapon
Volodymyr or Vladimir? As the Ukraine war rages on, Kyiv is also defending itself against Russian aggression on the linguistic battlefield, countering Russification attempts, past or present.
🇺🇦 The war has become a battle to preserve Ukraine’s national identity, and counter any attempt to distort its history. Language has emerged as a crucial shield in this struggle. A decade of conflict has prompted Ukraine to embrace its language more fervently, making the language front of the war a source of emotion, where even something as seemingly innocuous as the transliteration of a name has had profound implications for the assertion of national identity.
💬 Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and his Russian counterpart and current nemesis, Vladimir Putin share the same first name: Volodymyr in Ukrainian/Vladimir in Russian. It's a name with a long history in Slavic countries, and one which almost paradoxically means “ruler of peace." But while identical in etymology, the spelling and pronunciation of this name differ between Russian and Ukrainian. And when national identity is on the line, these distinctions are important.
🇷🇺 Could the use of the name Vladimir also be a subtle attempt to diminish the "Ukraineness" of the president's name, shrugging off any Ukrainian uniqueness, under the guise of aligning Ukraine with Russian norms? After centuries of Russification, this would not be the first time such tactics were used.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
➡️ Watch the video: THIS HAPPENED
There are now an estimated 668 million video game players in China — almost half the country's population, according to government gaming industry association CGIGC. After a brutal crackdown over gaming addiction issues, the Chinese video game market is returning to growth, reaching 144.263 billion yuan ($20.23 billion) in the first half of 2023, though not back to its pre-crackdown level.
Niger's Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane, surrounded by nine other uniformed soldiers, during his televised address on national channel Télé Sahel on July 26, 2023. — Photo: Screengrab/ORTN - Télé Sahel
• Environmental Damage Of Russia's War Is Massive — And Extends Far Beyond Ukraine — GAZETA WYBORCZA
✍️ Newsletter by Emma Albright, Valeria Berghinz, Yannick Champion-Osselin and Marine Béguin.
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