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Welcome to Wednesday, where Israel and Hamas agree to a four-day truce that will see the exchange of some hostages and prisoners, Sam Altman is back as OpenAI CEO just days after he was fired by the board, and King Charles compares Korea’s BTS to the Beatles. Meanwhile, Russian independent news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii analyzes Russia’s calls to label LGBTQ+ activists as “extremist.”
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• Israel, Hamas agree 4-day truce for hostage release and aid into Gaza: Israel and Hamas have agreed to a four-day truce mediated by Qatar that will see the release of 50 women and children held captive in Gaza in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. The deal was announced early Wednesday and the starting time is expected to be confirmed within the next 24 hours, according to a statement from Qatar. Follow our international coverage of the war between Hamas and Israel here.
• Human Rights Watch accuses China of closing down mosques: China is closing, destroying and repurposing mosques, according to a new report published Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The crackdown is part of a "systematic effort" to curb the practice of Islam in China, HRW added. There are about 20 million Muslims in China, which is officially atheist but claims to allow religious freedom. Observers say there has been an increased crackdown on organized religion in recent years, with Beijing seeking greater control.
• Sam Altman back as OpenAI boss after being sacked: OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman will return as boss just days after he was fired by the board, the firm has announced. The agreement "in principle" involves new board members being appointed, the tech company added. This comes after Altman was sacked on Friday triggering an open letter from staff who threatened to resign unless he was reinstated.
• South Korea suspends military deal after North Korea spy satellite launch: South Korea has suspended parts of its 2018 agreement with North Korea aimed at lowering military tensions. This comes after Pyongyang claimed to have successfully launched a spy satellite into space. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the launch threatened South Korea's security.
• Dutch set to vote for first new leader in 13 years: Four parties have emerged as front-runners as Dutch voters are deciding who will lead their country next. The polls suggest a neck-and-neck race, with voting to end at 9 p.m. local time. Center-right leader Dilan Yesilgöz is leading in the polls, and could become the first female Dutch prime minister. Her closest rivals are anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders and a left-alliance led by former top-ranking EU commissioner Frans Timmermans.
• Pakistan's top court accepts Imran Khan's plea for bail: Pakistan's Supreme Court accepted on Wednesday a bail application from detained former Prime Minister Imran Khan, a day after another court declared illegal his trial on charges of leaking state secrets. The former cricket star is fighting various legal battles in the hope of securing release from jail and leading his party in a campaign for a February 8 general election.
• Clashes between police and fans at Argentina-Brazil match: Argentina captain Lionel Messi accused the Brazilian police of brutality as the start of their World Cup qualifier against Brazil was delayed by half an hour after clashes between police and visiting fans at Maracana Stadium on Tuesday. Brazilian and Argentinian fans started fighting behind one of the goals during the national anthems, prompting police to charge at them with night sticks.
Israeli daily Haaretz devotes its front page to the deal struck by Israel and Hamas to release 50 hostages being held in Gaza during a four-day pause in fighting. The start of the truce will be announced in the next 24 hours and will mark the first break in the conflict since October 7. In exchange for the hostages, Hamas said 150 Palestinian women and teenagers will be released by Israel. Israel’s government insisted this wasn’t the end of the war and that it was still aiming to “complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that there will be no new threat to the State of Israel from Gaza.”
Dàrek pro Putina
Dàrek pro Putina, translated as “Gift for Putin,” is a Czech crowdfunding project raising money to provide weapons to Kyiv. Former TV editor Martin Ondracek started the project in an attempt to stem flagging support from Western European countries. Donors can choose which “gift” they would like to send to aid the Ukraine Army, these crowd sourced supplies have had a ripple effect on Western governments. Three months after the initiative financed an assault tank, the Netherlands and Denmark agreed to purchase ten tanks for Kyiv from Czech. The project currently has €25 million from more than 189,000 donors with 8% of donations coming from foreign donors.
How Russia's crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights has spiraled out of control
The Russian Ministry of Justice has called for the Supreme Court to categorize LGBTQ+ individuals as part of an “extremist international movement,” sparking significant confusion and concern as the acronym refers to individuals rather than an organized movement. Some social activists believe that this shift can potentially threaten not just human rights organizations but virtually any Russian citizen, writes Russian independent news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories.
⚖️ As there isn't a concrete organization to target with this court decision, its impact is rather vague. However, authorities might interpret this decision broadly, potentially implicating specific LGBTQ+ initiatives or activists as part of this “extremist movement.” “This scenario creates the risk of subjecting LGBTQ+ activists to criminal liability,” explains Maxim Olenichev, a lawyer for the Coming Out group. “Participation, organization, and funding of related activities will become illegal.”
🚫 Alexandra Miroshnikova, press secretary of the crisis group SK SOS, warned that any public endeavors aimed at safeguarding LGBTQ+ rights or even organizing educational programs on these issues might now be deemed extremist. "Effectively, discussing LGBTQ+ individuals could become entirely illegal," she said. Miroshnikova highlighted Russia's existing ban on displaying LGBTQ+ symbols, such as rainbow flags, under the "LGBT propaganda" law, which remains vague on what constitutes "propaganda".
🤐 The head of communications at the Sphere Foundation, Noel Shaida, fears that banning LGBTQ+ people as a “movement” in Russia will increase censorship. “I think any non-critical mention of LGBTQ+ people will now be equated to involvement in extremist activities,” says Shaida. “It is difficult to predict how stringent our government will be. And how many people will now not get the help they need.” She expects that human rights activists will have to “go underground” as it becomes impossible to openly call for the abolition of discrimination.
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“Korea has matched Danny Boyle with Bong Joon-ho, James Bond with Squid Game, and the Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ with BTS’s ‘Dynamite.’”
— King Charles III paid tribute to South Korean culture in a state banquet for President Yoon Suk Yeol at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday. The banquet was attended by over 170 people from the UK and South Korea, including iconic K-pop group Blackpink. During his speech, King Charles highlighted the two countries’ popular cultures, and referred to famous directors, musicians, and others in the entertainment industry from the UK and South Korea, even comparing BTS to the Beatles. The king also recited an English-translated passage from The Wind Blows by Korean poet Yun Dong-ju, who died in prison in Japan, an inspiration for the Korean independence movement during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.
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