Welcome to Thursday, where President Biden has begun his first foreign trip, Aung San Suu Kyi faces new corruption charges and a South African woman gives birth to what may be a record number of babies. We also scrutinize how facial recognition is being used around the world, not just as a surveillance tool.
• Biden arrives in Europe: U.S. President Joe Biden has begun his first foreign trip as President, after his late-night arrival in the UK. Biden will attend the G7 summit in Cornwall, visit NATO in Brussels and have a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
• New charges against Aung San Suu Kyi: The deposed leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other former officials from her government, are accused of a range of corruption charges, adding to previous accusations by the military regime that overthrew the democratically elected government in a February 1 coup that has plunged the country into chaos.
• Biden revokes TikTok and WeChat bans: After the Trump administration had attempted to block new users from downloading the Chinese-owned apps, TikTok and WeChat, President Joe Biden has withdrawn these executive orders but has ordered a review of the security concerns.
• Russian court outlaws groups linked to opposition leader Navalny: The Moscow ruling has labeled Alexei Navalny's organizations as extremist, preventing people associated with them from seeking public office and carrying lengthy prison sentences for anyone who donates to them.
• El Salvador became the first country to make Bitcoin legal currency: Congress approved President Nayib Bukele's proposal, with 62 out of 84 possible votes. According to the President, the cryptocurrency will make it easier for Salvadorians living abroad to send money home.
• EU COVID passport gets final green light: The European Parliament has approved COVID vaccine certificates intended to recover restriction-free travel within the bloc. The agreement also obliges the Member States from refraining to impose additional entry restrictions, like quarantine or more testing.
• South African woman gives birth to 10 babies: Gosiame Thamara Sithole became a mother of seven boys and three girls. Mother and children are in good health, while the Guinness World Records investigates the case.
British daily The Independent reports on the arrival of U.S. President Joe Biden in the UK for the G7 Summit, and his demand that the country settles its Brexit row with Northern Ireland. The White House warned that the Good Friday Agreement should not be undermined or put at risk.
Facial recognition expands around the globe, for good and evil
Much has been said about China's use of biometric technology for mass civilian surveillance. But facial recognition is being used elsewhere too — and not always as a tool for crime prevention.
Biometric technology raises obvious concerns about mass surveillance and the extensive gathering of private information. In China, where facial recognition technology has been used for many years now, and especially in provinces that are said to house separatists, the BBC has just revealed that artificial intelligence and facial recognition intended to reveal states of emotion has been tested on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
The technology is being put to use in Europe too. In southeastern France, the seaside city of Nice has also become a testing ground for high-tech surveillance tools. Starting a dozen years ago, the then mayor, right-winger Christian Estrosi, implemented a vast surveillance system that has gotten increasingly high-tech as time goes on. More recently, starting in 2018, Nice began experimenting with facial recognition and has even tested biometric technology in high schools.
Elsewhere, though, the technology is being used not to fight crime, but to keep people healthy. In East Africa's Tanzania, developers are employing it to fight against rabies, with an application that can determine immediately — with just a cellphone camera image — whether a dog has been vaccinated against the illness. Facial recognition technology also has the advantage of being hands-free, and can thus be a tool in the fight against COVID-19.
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मुझ से दूर रहो
In Niwari, India, a rural district in the Madhya Pradesh state, unvaccinated people have been given signs to wear that feature a skull and crossbones with the phrase मुझ से दूर रहो (Mujhse dur rahein, meaning "Stay away from me"). Meanwhile, vaccinated people are being given badges with a patriotic message and the national colors of India. The measures are intended to combat vaccine hesitancy, but they have sparked controversy as vaccine supplies remain low.
In skinny Japan, new company offers to rent a plus-sized person
It's an economic dictum that virtually anything that is rare is bound to create a valuable market: diamonds, limited edition clothing and, in Japan, obese people.
In a country where the obesity rate is among the world's lowest — only 3.6% of the population is fat, compared to 27% in Australia — a Japanese company now offers the opportunity to rent one of these scarce specimens.
In need of plus-sized people for an advertisement, an overweight model for the promotion of a diet or —according to the company's own words — of someone chubbier than you to make you feel better? If you live in Tokyo, Osaka or Aichi, this is now possible: For 2,000 yen ($18), the Debucari company lets you rent a person certified to weigh over 100 kilograms, as reported by Ouest France.
Behind the new one-of-a-kind service, Mr Bliss, an entrepreneur who came up with the idea after struggling himself to find plus-size models for his own fashion brand, Qzilla. And as specified on its website, Debucari's offer is all about "body positivity".
Unlike other countries who see obesity as a result of bad eating habits, Japan links plus-size people to the sacred discipline of 相撲 "Sumō," the famous centuries-old wrestling sport. Sumos wrestlers, who weigh as much as 150 kilograms, are revered by the Japanese public, almost to the point of being considered half-gods.
However odd — or even offensive — it might sound to "rent" any kind of person, this type of service is rather common in Japan, with many companies already offering a wide range of offers. From hiring a friend, a girlfriend or even a middle-aged man to keep you company for a day, there are plenty of people to choose from ... in all shapes and sizes.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
Child labor has increased for the first time in two decades, standing at 160 million at the beginning of 2020 — an 8.4 million increase in four years, according to UNICEF. While the upward trend had already started before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the crisis risks worsening the situation with many families plunging into poverty, the agency warns.
Mexicans came from the Indians, Brazilians from the jungle, but we Argentines came from boats.
— Argentine president Alberto Fernandez had to apologize after his comment made during a visit to Spain sparked controversy in Brazil. The leader was seeking to play up Argentina's ties with Europe.
✍️ Newsletter by Genevieve Mansfield, Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger & Anne-Sophie Goninet
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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