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At the Lag B'Omer festival on Mount Meron, Israel, just before a stampede killed at least 44
At the Lag B'Omer festival on Mount Meron, Israel, just before a stampede killed at least 44

Welcome to Friday, where dozens die in a stampede at a religious festival in Israel, Brazil's COVID death toll surpasses 400,000 and an owl-like bird is crowned Instagram influencer. We also look at how a Taiwanese oenologist is working to turn his country into a tropical wine terroir.

• Dozens killed at Israeli religious festival stampede: At least 44 people were crushed to death and hundreds more injured in a stampede at an over-crowded religious festival in northeastern Israel.

• As Brazil death toll tops 400,000, warnings for Latin America: The number of COVID deaths has risen to 400,000, the second highest in the world after the United States. Experts warn that the death toll could continue to grow in the coming months in Brazil, and elsewhere in Latin America, due to the slow vaccination campaign and the early loosening of restrictions.

• Deadly clashes at Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border: At least 13 people were killed and dozens injured after disputes over water surveillance equipment erupted in gunfire on Thursday. Poor demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border has already led to several clashes over the three decades since the countries became independent.

• Myanmar civilians look to flee to Thailand: If conflicts intensify between the Myanmar army and ethnic minority Karen fighters, thousands of Karen villagers are likely to seek refuge in Thailand. Around 2,000 villagers have already fled to Thailand, according to Thai foreign ministry.

• Zulu queen dies: Zulu Queen Mantfombi Dlamini has died from an unspecified illness aged 65, only a month after becoming interim leader of South Africa's largest ethnic group after her husband, King Goodwill Zwelithini, died from diabetes-related complications.

• EU vs. Apple: The EU's antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager has accused Apple's App Store rules of breaking European antitrust law by undermining developers the U.S. giant competes with.

• The most "Instagrammable" bird: Researchers have singled out frogmouth, a bird species often mistaken for an owl, in a study about how social media users interacted with some of the most popular bird photography accounts on Instagram.


Brazilian daily Extra mourns its dead on its front page, filling a map of the country with examples of people lost to COVID: "My mother", "my doctor", "my son", "my friend." Now with more than 400,000 deaths, Brazil has the world's second highest toll after the U.S.

Tropical terroir: the man turning Taiwan into wine country

On this subtropical island, Chien-hao Chen fought typhoons and monsoons to develop his vineyards — and to produce wines admired by some of the most important oenologists, reports Alice Hérait in French daily Le Monde.

The island of Taiwan is much more famous for its tea and street food than for its vineyards. Producing wine is certainly possible, but producing very good wine is another story. Yet Vino Formosa, a sweet white wine, and Vino Formosa Rosso, its red equivalent — developed in this very tough environment by the eccentric Chien-hao Chen — are two notable exceptions. We meet the 53-year-old winemaker at the end of Oct. 2020, under a blazing sun. The winery, Shu-sheng, is located on the outskirts of Taichung, Taiwan's second largest city with 2.8 million inhabitants.

After studying and working in Switzerland and France, Chien-hao Chen returned to Taiwan, ready to develop a vineyard in a country where everything remained to be done. His chief ambition was to make a great win but this meant dealing with the climate, which tempered his expectations. This is the main challenge to the development of wine production in Taiwan. Chen first had to overcome the heat. He shows us a strain of Riesling grape variety, which grows very poorly. "The root suffers; It's too hot." He also had to adapt to the four meters of annual rainfall, which is significant.

But the hard work and persistence paid off. In 2014, the white Vino Formosa received a gold medal at the prestigious International Vinalies competition. In 2019, it was the red wine's turn to be awarded the prize. Chen is proud to see that he can play in the big league. We ask him to describe his sweet red: "There is a very good concentration in the nose. In the taste, we find all the exotic fruits, red fruits, a bit of candied fruit, chocolate, caramel... It is very complex, with a good freshness and acidity."

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Love at first swab, romance at a French COVID testing center

In the middle of a global pandemic and its neverending curfews, social interactions are rare and the dating game is on hold almost everywhere. But then there's France, where romance can strike where you least expect it.

Back in November 2020 in the eastern city of Belfort, Julie Bongiovanni, 21, became a COVID contact-case and had to get herself tested, reports local French newspaper L'Est Républicain.

Having been tested once before, she knew of the pain the nasal swab caused, so wasn't exactly looking forward to it. But as medical staff worker Mickaël Peter, 21, approached with the dreaded q-tip, she looked into his eyes and … l'amour.

Despite his facemask, protective glasses, hairnet and nurse's blouse, one gaze was all it took for the two of them to fall head over heels in love.

After a few nasal-passage-triggered tears, a long conversation ensued — so long, that one of Mickaël's colleagues came to check if everything was alright. Cupid's cotton swab had struck, they kept in touch via social media, agreeing to a date the week after her negative results — this time without masks. ("I hadn't even noticed he had a beard!")

Now, five months later, Julie has moved into Mickaël's place in the eastern city of Alsace. Leave it to the French, we might say, to discover the opposite of social distancing.

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

64 million

Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting women more than men: according to an Oxfam study, women around the world lost more than 64 million jobs in 2020, a 5% loss compared to 3.9% for men. This represents at least $800 billion in lost income for women, the equivalent to more than the combined GDP of 98 countries.

Rudy, I told you so.

— Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen tells CNN what went through his mind upon learning about the FBI raid on the home and office of Rudy Giuliani earlier this week.

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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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