France Braces Itself For Violence After Muhammad Caricatures, While Protests Spread To Afghanistan



France is bracing itself for repercussions after satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad Wednesday.

Le Monde reports that a small Syrian organization called Syrian Freedom Association has filed a legal complaint against the French weekly.

It accuses Charlie Hebdo of "throwing oil on the fire by disseminating a cartoon against the Prophet Muhammad."

French officials have announced they will close French schools and embassies around the world, including Egypt and Tunisia, on Friday - the Islamic day of prayer - as a precaution against any expected violence.

The French foreign ministry advised French nationals living abroad to be cautious and avoid "any large gatherings."

Hundreds of people in Afghanistan demonstrated against the publication on Wednesday, reports AFP.

The protests remained peaceful in the capital Kabul, although anti-Western sentiment pervaded, with protesters chanting, "death to France, death to America."

On Wednesday, there were also calls for protests in France's major cities Paris, Lyon and Marseille. La Libération reports that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has denied a request for police authorization for a demonstration in Paris on Saturday. However, authorities remain on high alert, expecting demonstrations to continue at the weekend.

It has not been the first time the magazine has courted such strong criticism. It was firebombed last November after a special edition of the magazine was "guest-edited" by Prophet Muhammad, entitled "Sharia Hebdo."

Today's issue of Charlie Hebdo (with anti-Muhammad cartoons) has sold out—proof that the only god editors pray to is the God of Sales.

— Laila Lalami (@LailaLalami) September 19, 2012

Charb, Charlie Hebdo's editor told Le Monde: "We are currently getting the 1,058th edition ready. There have only ever been three covers that have caused a scandal, and they've always been about Islam. We could show the Pope having sex with an old bag and there'd be no reaction. At worst, maybe they'd sue us."

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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