The Latest: G7 & COVID, Colombian Protests, Nonuplets

Protests continue in Bogota and across Colombia despite the withdrawal of the tax reform which sparked the demonstrations at the end of last week.
Protests continue in Bogota and across Colombia despite the withdrawal of the tax reform which sparked the demonstrations at the end of last week.

Welcome to Wednesday, where India's COVID surge interrupts the G7 summit, George Floyd's killer asks for a new trial and a woman in Mali gives birth to five girls … and four boys. Argentine daily Clarín also has a look at what Joe Biden's arrival means for Cuba and Venezuela.

• Derek Chauvin asks for new trial: The lawyer of the ex-Minneapolis police officer convicted of George Floyd's murder has asked for a new trial, denouncing jury misconduct.

• Indian delegates test positive at G7: The entire Indian delegation to the Group of Seven summit in London has been asked to self-isolate after two of its members tested positive for COVID-19. This comes amid the worst outbreak of the virus in India, with a record 382,315 new cases on Wednesday.

• Machete attack at Brazil nursery kills five: A 18-year-old man killed five people at a nursery school in Santa Catarina state, in southern Brazil. The victims include three young children and two staff members. Three days of mourning have been declared in the state.

• French journalist kidnaped in Mali appears in video: A French journalist kidnapped by Islamist militants in the northern city of Gao, in Mali, last month, has appeared in a video urging French authorities to help free him.

• EU & UN condemn Colombian deaths: With the death toll now at 19, the European Union has called on Colombian's security forces to avoid violence in response to street protests over a controversial tax reform, while the United Nation's human rights office has also expressed "deep alarm" over Colombian police opening fire on demonstrators.

• Conservative opposition wins in Madrid regional elections: Spain's right-wing Popular Party (PP) has won the Madrid regional elections, securing 65 out of 136 seats in the regional assembly. Pablo Iglesias, the leader of anti-austerity leftist party Podemos, announced he was leaving politics for good following the vote.

• Malian mother of nonuplets: A Malian woman gave birth to nine babies on Tuesday, after doctors had detected (only) seven inside her womb. The five girls, four boys and their mother are all reportedly doing well.

Spanish daily El Periodico reports on the victory of the country's right-wing Popular Party (PP) at Madrid's regional elections, with incumbent regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso winning a second term. The conservative leader has gained popularity for her opposition to lockdown restrictions and her decision to keep bars and shops open in the Spanish capital city.

Dhabihu ya binadamu

Swahili for "human sacrifice", as Uganda's parliament has just passed a bill providing death penalty or life sentence for any person involved in human sacrifice.

Raul Castro's exit, Biden's arrival and the future of Venezuela

With Donald Trump now out of the picture, Cuba and Venezuela — both in economic shambles — are once more toying with piecemeal liberalization, Argentine daily Clarín"s international affairs chief Marcelo Cantelmi explains.

When Venezuela stopped sending it money, Cuba sought out historic negotiations with the administration of President Barack Obama, to break decades of isolation and attract vital investments. This détente, later dashed by Donald Trump's erratic geopolitics, is now back on the table. Castro's retirement and the handover of powers to his political godson Miguel Díaz-Canel point in that direction. Castro has also taken with him some old party hands opposed to any glasnost. One is Ramiro Valdés, who designed Venezuela's repressive apparatus of recent years.

Today, Cuba's "Fatherland or Death" motto may well morph into "Open Up or Die," as a columnist in the Spanish paper El País recently observed. Like Venezuela, the island nation is suffering an aggravation of inflationary trends that is fueling discontent, protests and repression. In 2020, the price of clothes and foodstuffs doubled or even tripled, while services like electricity quadrupled. The decision last January to have a single exchange rate contributed to this inflation.

Cuba's ally and pupil Venezuela is also shifting its positions, beginning with its economy. Last year, on the advice of the Russian Economy ministry, a state commission discussed opening the oil sector to private investments. The government of President Nicolás Maduro is preparing legislation to end the state's monopoly on oil through the firm PDVSA. And in January, the state began talking to concessionary firms on how to broaden participation in exploiting the country's pharaonic crude reserves.

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200 years

France commemorates the bicentenary today of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, the emblematic yet complicated historical figure. Recently, Napoleon's decision to re-establish slavery in 1802 has prompted growing questions about his legacy, especially in the French West Indies.

What is happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal's future if we cannot contain this latest COVID surge.

— Netra Prasad Timsina, chair of the Nepal Red Cross, told Reuters as India's outbreak spreads across South Asia, causing a surge in coronavirus cases in neighbouring Nepal.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet & Emma Flacard

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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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