Welcome to Friday, where the global COVID-19 death toll exceeds 4 million, ousted Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo is back in town and Joe Biden makes Juneteenth official. We also go to Hong Kong where so-called "vaccine hesitancy" is particularly high as a direct result of rising mistrust of the government.
• Global COVID-19 death toll exceeds 4 million: It took more than a year for the death toll to hit 2 million while the next 2 million were recorded in just 166 days. The number of coronavirus cases are decreasing in countries like the United States and Britain but in many other places cases are soaring due to new variants and vaccine shortages.
• New Israel-Hamas exchange of fire: For the second time since last month's ceasefire, Israel conducted dozens of air strikes on the Gaza after Palestinian militants launched incendiary balloons. There are no immediate reports of casualties.
• 80 students abducted in Nigeria school attack: Gunmen killed a police officer and kidnapped at least 80 students (mostly girls) and five teachers from a school in the Nigerian state of Kebbi. The attack is the third mass kidnapping in three weeks, which has been attributed to bandits seeking ransom payments.
• Ousted leader Gbagbo returns to Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo, former President of the Ivory Coast who was ousted during a 2011 civil war, returned home after a decade of exile. Gbagbo was recently acquitted of war crimes in the Hague, and was greeted by a crowd of supporters upon landing late Thursday.
• North Korea is preparing for "dialogue and confrontation" with the U.S.: North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un outlined his strategy for relations with Washington and warned the U.S. to get ready for a "fast-changing" security situation. The country has previously accused Joe Biden, who refuses to meet Kim unless there is a concrete plan for negotiating Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal, of pursuing a "hostile policy."
• Iranians vote in Presidential elections marred by disqualifications: Opinion polls suggest that Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative Shia cleric who is head of the judiciary, is the clear favorite. But dissidents and reformists have called for a boycott, arguing that the barring of several contenders left Raisi with no serious competition. Turnout could be a historic low which would pose a problem for the country's leaders, who see voting as a sign of legitimacy.
• World's third largest diamond found in Botswana: A 1,098 carat diamond, believed to be the third-largest of its kind, has been discovered in Debswana, Botswana. It's behind the 3,106-carat Cullinan stone recovered in South Africa in 1905 and the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona unearthed in Botswana in 2015. The finding comes at a perfect time for Botswana, which receives 80% of the income from Debswana's sales.
German news magazine Der Spiegel focuses on how the revolutionary mRNA tech behind the vaccine successes of BioNtech and Moderna could lead to the creation of a "Superdrug" that would prove crucial in the fight against cancer, allergies, heart attacks and dementia.
Juneteenth (a portmanteau of the words "June" and "nineteenth ""), also called Juneteenth National Independence Day, marks the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865. On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill that officially makes it a national holiday. Calls to make Juneteenth a federal holiday increased last year during the Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd by the police. Biden said signing the law was one of the greatest honors he will have as president.