Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil hits a grim new COVID record, a rocket attack targets Iraqi base hosting U.S. troops, and a Japanese billionaire is looking for people to join him on a trip to space. Die Welt also asks why Morocco is beating Germany and the rest of Europe in the vaccination race.
• COVID-19 latest: Brazil breaks its single day record for Covid-19 deaths that had been reached in July, with the current toll blamed on bad government policy and the spread of a new local variant. U.S. President Joe Biden announces that all American adults will be able to be vaccinated by May. Meanwhile, Austria and Denmark are giving up on the EU vaccination pact and will turn to a partnership with Israel to score additional vaccines.
• Myanmar coup: At least six more people were shot and killed as security forces opened fire again on pro-democracy protesters. The junta also detained half a dozen journalists. Drama is brewing over who will represent Myanmar at the United Nations after Myanmar's U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun denounced the coup and asked for help in restoring democracy.
• Rockets hit Iraq base: Ten rockets have hit an Iraqi military base hosting U.S. troops. It is not yet known if there are any casualties, and nobody has claimed the attack.
• Dr. Seuss gets cancelled: In the face of concern about racial insensitivity, six books by legendary children author Dr. Seuss will no longer be published. The late author has been accused in the past of racism and anti-Semitism, and his publisher said the books that have been pulled portray "people in ways that are hurtful and wrong."
• Women journalists killed in Afghanistan: Three female radio and television journalists in Jalalabad were killed and a fourth woman wounded in a targeted attack. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack.
• France/Algeria diplomacy: French President Emmanuel Macron officially recognized, on behalf of France, the torture and assassination of Algerian lawyer and activist Ali Boumendjel during the Algerian War of Independence in 1957. The French army had long disguised it as suicide.
• Free trip to space: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is inviting 8 members of the public to join him for free for a trip around the moon on Elon Musk's SpaceX flight.
Mexican daily La Jornada features some of the 250 migrants from Mexico and Central America who organized a sit-in on the U.S. border in Tijuana to ask President Joe Biden to grant them asylum.
Why Morocco is so much faster than Europe in vaccination race
The North African country was quick to react when COVID-19 first showed up and is now outpacing most of Europe in the rush to immunize its citizens, writes Alfred Hackensberger in German daily Die Welt.
Getting vaccinated has been made very easy for Moroccans. There are no hotlines to call or letters delivered by post. People send a text with their national ID number and a few seconds later they receive a message with a venue and appointment time. It couldn't be simpler. So far, 2.5 million Moroccans have had their first vaccination, in one of 2,888 centers. The aim is to vaccinate 80% of the adult population, which is 25 million people. If everything goes to plan, that could be achieved by the end of May.
The successful vaccine campaign shows once again that Morocco's crisis management is robust. The country did experience a second wave in summer, but managed to control it through a clear strategy of time-limited measures, isolation and hygiene, all while placing a high level of trust in the population. Now the Moroccan Ministry of Health is registering fewer than 500 new infections per day, and around 10 deaths.
Morocco's success speaks for itself. But one tool above all others has been most important in the country's fight against the virus: contact tracing. It is at the heart of their anti-COVID measures. "Whether it's 10 people or 1,000, all an infected person's close contacts have to self-isolate," says Professor Hicham Sbai.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Iranian murderer avoids hanging thanks to family pardon 42 years later
Iran carries out more executions than nearly any other country in the world. China, which treats its capital punishment data as a state secret, is believed to be the only country that uses the death penalty more often than the Islamic Republic, having counted 255 executions in 2020 for everything from non-violent drug offenses to political sedition to murder and rape.
Iranian law, however, also allows for someone sentenced to death to be pardoned by their accuser or family of the victim, though such instances are rare. In one highly publicized case in 2014 a convicted murderer already had the noose around his neck when the victim's mother slapped her son's killer and then she forgave him, sparing his life at the last moment.
A case late last month was also notable for its timing, Sharq newspaper reports, when the victim's family forgave his killer a full 42 years after the murder.
The killer, who confessed to killing the man in his garden during a 1979 argument, spent 33 years as a fugitive before being captured in 2012. The subsequent death sentence would have been carried out, but a court in Sanandaj, the capital of the province of Kurdistan, ordered his release, after the victim's family spent "many sessions' with an arbitration committee that identifies certain killings that might warrant a pardon.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
Researchers in the UK have found that nearly four in 10 university students are addicted to their smartphones and that 68.7% of the 1,043 students who took part in the study and displayed symptoms of addiction had trouble sleeping.
We will respond based on the principle of reciprocity, but not necessarily symmetrically.
— Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, issued a blunt warning that Moscow would retaliate to new United States sanctions imposed in response to the poisoning and jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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