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The Latest: Haiti President Murder Aftermath, Tokyo COVID Emergency, Sandcastle Record

Waiting for free food in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as the new strict nationwide lockdown was extended following record highs in new COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Waiting for free food in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as the new strict nationwide lockdown was extended following record highs in new COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Welcome to Thursday, where four suspects are killed following the assassination of Haiti's president, Tokyo is placed under a state of emergency two weeks before the Olympics and a sandcastle breaks a record in Denmark. Persian-language magazine Kayhan-London takes a close look at how Iran has changed its mind on the Taliban, following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.


• Four people killed after Haiti president's assassination: Police have killed four people suspected of assassinating Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse. Two others have been detained, while other suspects still remain at large in the nation's capital. The 53-year-old Moïse was fatally shot on Wednesday when attackers stormed his home.

• Japanese Prime Minister declares state of emergency in Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga formally declared a state of emergency in Tokyo to respond to a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, putting restrictions in place until August 22. The measure increases the likelihood that the Olympic Games will be held without spectators.

• Zuma in custody: South Africa's former President Jacob Zuma has handed himself over to the authorities to begin serving a 15-month jail sentence. Zuma was sentenced on 29 June for contempt of court, which sparked an unprecedented legal drama in the country, and initially refused to hand himself in.

• Climate crisis may put 8 billion at risk of malaria and dengue: According to a new study, more than 8 billion people could risk getting a mosquito-borne disease, like malaria or dengue fever, by 2080 if greenhouse gasses continue to rise. Dengue, which has no specific treatment, already kills about 20,000 every year and malaria kills more than 400,000 people every year, most of whom are children.

• Global experts urge Johnson to delay opening: More than a 100 scientists and doctors have called on the UK government to delay the reopening of the country until more people are vaccinated. The reopening, scheduled for 19 July, was announced on Tuesday, while on Wednesday, the UK reported more than 30,000 new cases for the first time since January. Lifting the remaining restrictions is "dangerous and premature," according to the experts.

• Explosion in Dubai: An explosion inside a container on a ship docked at Dubai's Jebel Ali port caused a large fire and was felt across the city, as far as 15 kilometers away from the port. According to the authorities, the fire is under control and there were no reported deaths or injuries.

• New plant species found in Antarctica: Indian scientists have discovered a new plant species in the unlikeliest of places. They stumbled upon a piece of moss during an exhibition to the ice-covered continent in 2017. It took five years to determine the novelty of the moss since such identifications are laborious. The new species was named Bryum Bharatiensis, after the Hindu goddess of learning Bharati.


Weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté devotes its front page to the assassination of Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse, who was fatally shot by attackers in his home on Wednesday. A manhunt is still underway while the police announced four suspects were killed and two detained.

Why Iran is actively backing the Taliban for the first time

Iran's clerical Shiite regime has seemingly overturned its long-held hostility to the Taliban, and may be readying itself to welcome the "enemies of America" as Kabul's new masters, writes Hamed Mohammadi in Persian-language magazine Kayhan-London.

There can be no doubt the situation in Afghanistan is critical. As U.S. and allied troops depart, the Taliban are exploiting the Kabul government's weakness to capture districts and towns, especially in the north. In some areas, conditions seem normal by day but as darkness falls, armed motorcades attack villages, patrols or army posts, firing on any Afghan citizen trying to resist. A UN report from May listed 50 of Afghanistan's 400 regions as being in Taliban hands. And that progression appears relentless.

There are accusations from Afghan politicians that certain foreign powers, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, were helping the insurgents. Abdulsattar Husseini, a legislator, has accused the Iranian Revolutionary guards and Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency of helping the Taliban, saying arms have been smuggled in from Iran. In the past 20 to 30 years, Afghanistan has, like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, entered the Iranian regime's "resistance" map of regions where it sought to extend its ideological sway at the West's expense.

Some years ago, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, denounced the Taliban as sworn enemies of Shia Muslims, describing them as "hard-hearted," criminal and "creatures' of the United States. But after the United States toppled them in 2001, he not only sheltered them but is now veering Iranian foreign policy toward closer ties with them. And it is the task of various figures in Tehran to start rehabilitating the terrorists. The legislator Ahmad Naderi has called the Taliban "one of the region's essential movements," with whom "we have shared enemies."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


69.4 ft

The world's tallest sandcastle, standing at 21.16 meters (69.4 feet) in height, has been completed in Denmark. The Guinness World Records certified that the sandcastle is 3 metres taller than the previous record holder, built in Germany in 2019. The 4,860 tons of sand used to make the castle were sculpted by Dutch creator Wilfred Stijger, assisted by 30 of the world's best sand sculptors. On top of the sandcastle is a model of the coronavirus wearing a crown, representing the power the virus held over the world.

Singing cactus toy in Taiwan raps in Polish about cocaine and suicide

If not for a Polish shopper, it might have remained lost in translation for all the Taiwanese parents who've bought their kids the popular toy cactus that raps in some exotic language.

But a Polish mother living in the city of Taichung was doing some grocery shopping with her baby at the local Carrefour when she heard something that made her ears perk up: a foul-mouthed Polish rap song referencing cocaine and suicide. It turned out that the source of the obscene music was the singing cactus.

It was just "cocaine and suicide attempt, repeated over and over again. It is really shocking," the Polish woman recounted. She contacted another Polish friend of hers in Taiwan, Ela Sobczak who took the matter of the rude cactus very seriously and notified Taiwan News.

"The song itself is definitely inappropriate to play in front of children," said Sobczak.

The 32-centimeter-high cactus, which moves and grooves along to the tune, is programmed to sing a number by the Polish rapper, Cypis. Here is a video of the cactus doing its thing, along with a cat that apparently has heard it all before.

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


The possibility of someone still alive is near zero.


— Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said during a news conference, as the rescue mission to find survivors in the rubble of the collapsed apartment building in Florida switches to a recovery effort. Fifty-four victims have been found and 86 are still missing. "While there seems to be no chance of finding life in the rubble," the mayor added, "a miracle is still possible."

✍️ Newsletter by Genevieve Mansfield, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

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A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Kayhan-London

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.

• Aye aye, CAP'n: HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY, FOLKS!

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.

👮🎮  IN OTHER NEWS

Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

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

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