The Latest: Atlanta Shooting, Japan LGBTQ Breakthrough, Sad St. Patrick's Day

A deserted vaccination centre in Erfurt, Germany, after authorities suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab over blood clot fears.
A deserted vaccination centre in Erfurt, Germany, after authorities suspended the use of the AstraZeneca jab over blood clot fears.

Welcome to Wednesday, where a shooting in Atlanta leaves eight dead, a Japanese court ruling could be a breakthrough for LGBTQ rights and Saint Patrick's Day celebrations are cancelled again. We also travel to Argentine's sea waters where an onslaught of foreign fishing fleets threatens marine life.

Let them have AstraZeneca! The negligence of Europe's leaders

As elsewhere in Europe, the German government's decision to suspend the use of the vaccine makes no logical sense when you weigh up the risks in concrete figures, writes Justus Haucap, Professor of Economics at the University of Düsseldorf, in German daily Die Welt:

Suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is a major blow for Germany's vaccination program. Over the past few weeks, AstraZeneca made up around 40% of vaccines administered in the country.

The vaccination program was already rolling out very slowly, and now the brakes are being slammed on. The promise of every adult being offered at least a first dose of the vaccine before the end of summer is beginning to look quite doubtful indeed.

Even if Germany starts offering the AstraZeneca vaccine again soon, the population may still be reluctant to receive it. But vaccines are our only way out of the pandemic. The collateral damage of suspending use of this specific vaccine could be huge.

The decision to halt all use of the AstraZeneca vaccine will prove to be a grave mistake, with serious consequences. So far in Germany, there have been seven reported cases of blood clots in the brain identified in patients who had received the vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has reported 41 cases of blood clots among the more than five million people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. Even if this number is higher than it should be, the risk is still only 0.0008%.

Many other medicines come with significantly higher risks. If every German citizen received the AstraZeneca vaccine — which won't be the case — we would expect to see at most 650 people experiencing complications. If 30 to 40% of the population received it, it would be between 200 and 260 cases.

The risk of unvaccinated people contracting coronavirus and becoming seriously ill is far higher. In the past seven days alone, there have been 110,000 new infections reported in Germany.

If only 1% of infections are fatal, that would still be more than 1,000 people — and that's only one week's worth of infections. With the threat of a third wave fast approaching, it's unthinkable to allow these very low risks to slow down the vaccination programme.

To salvage what we can, the German government should now make it possible for anyone who wishes to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine to do so. I personally would be first in line.

Anyone who would prefer to wait for a different vaccine and run the risk of being infected with coronavirus can do so. But there's no reason to make everyone wait. In fact, it's negligent, given the risk of a third wave.

Without the AstraZeneca vaccine, we may see fewer blood clots, but we will certainly see many more deaths from coronavirus, to say nothing of the continuing restrictions imposed on our basic freedoms and everyday life.

Justus Haucap / Die Welt

• Same-sex marriage ruling in Japan: A court in Japan has ruled that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a potential major breakthrough for LGBTQ rights in the Asian nation.

• Uber drivers in UK recognized as employees: After a landmark court ruling, the ride-hailing app is recognizing more than 70,000 drivers as employees, granting them paid holidays, pension, and minimum wage.

• 2020 U.S. election foreign interference: In a detailed report by U.S. intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been accused of meddling in the 2020 U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump, while Iran used a "multi-pronged covert influence campaign" in an attempt to tilt the election toward Joe Biden.

• Massage parlor shootings: Eight people were killed in three different massage parlors across Atlanta, Georgia within the span of an hour. At least six victims were Asian women. A 21-year-old suspect has been arrested.

• Baby born with COVID-19 antibodies: In a world's first known case, a baby in south Florida was born with antibodies after the mom received a COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant.

• Navalny news: Putin critic Alexei Navalny has shared on Instagram that he has been moved to a "concentration camp" known for strict control, and had his head shaved.

• Saint Patrick's Day: For the second year in a row, the Irish festivities have been cancelled. Pub owners see no end in sight. New York City has also cancelled its annual Saint Patrick's Day parade.

"Out of control," titles Brazilian daily Extra as the country registers another record number of COVID-19 deaths with nearly 3,000 fatalities in the past 24 hours. The country's new health minister, Marcelo Queiroga, has pledged to continue the controversially lax policies of president Jair Bolsonaro.

Chinese fishing fleets are sweeping South American oceans dry

A new Greenpeace report warns that foreign fishing fleets, mostly from China, are gobbling up every bit of marine life they can into "stadium-sized" nets in Argentina's sea waters, writes Natasha Niebieskikwiat in Buenos Aires-based daily Clarin.

The environmental group Greenpeace recently counted at least 470 boats in a biodiversity hotspot known as "Agujero Azul" or the "Blue Hole," off the Patagonian coast between Chubut and Santa Cruz. Luisina Vueso, who worked on the report, told Clarín that usually, Argentine coastal waters have 270 boats concentrated in an area of roughly 1 million square kilometers. Right now there are 470 boats extracting stock like squid and other species in barely 5,000 square kilometers.

Greenpeace warns that there are no checks on this type of fishing, which sweeps up marine life with underwater nets almost the size of football pitches. These reach the seabed and pick up all there is, regardless of numbers, endangered status or usefulness. Greenpeace concluded in 2019 that years of exploitation had devastated the seabed off the Argentine coast.

The country's Security and Defense ministries have responded by announcing more checks. The latter has formed a Naval Command to fight illegal activities, though this is already running into problems because of the lack of naval and air instruments needed to pursue violators. Also, it can only act in territorial waters.

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Iranian woman seeks divorce because husband is too generous

During a recent family court appearance in Tehran, an unhappy Iranian woman told a judge that she wants out of her three-year marriage on grounds that her husband is … too nice.

"He has passed the limits of kindness," the newspaper Jam-e Jam quoted the woman, Razieh, as saying.

The problem, more specifically, has to do with the husband's habit of giving out money. "We've often had financial problems, and yet he's been lending money to friends and acquaintances," Razieh reportedly said of her husband, Jahan.

"He just wants to make me suffer," she added. "He hasn't learned about responsibility in a marriage."

Jahan, in his defense, told the judge he had lent money "to just a few people." He said that Razieh had blown the issue out of proportion. "I feel she's jealous."

The husband claimed his wife flew into a rage upon finding out he had lent money to one of her friends, though it was not immediately clear if this was a man or woman.

Either way, Jahan said he would not oppose a divorce, as "she just wants me as her servant."

The judge asked the couple to reconsider but they refused. He then instructed the bickering partners to attend a couple counseling session. Divorce is permitted under Iran's Islamic laws, but frowned upon socially. Picking up the check? That's another story.

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on


Samsung Electronics and China's Semiconductor Industry Association sound the alarm about the unprecedented chip shortage the world is facing, after semiconductor sales jumped 18% last year. Some fear the shortage, which first hit automakers at the beginning of 2021, will now disrupt the electronics industry.

Words are not enough. We are waiting for action.

— Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said during a televised interview about the new U.S. administration's plans to revive nuclear agreement talks and lift sanctions.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

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"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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

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