Welcome to Tuesday, where deadly warfare erupts in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Indian COVID variant is "cause for concern," and NASA gets its hands on some seriously old space dust. Le Monde's Joan Tilouine also explains how the initial excitement surrounding Beijing's so-called "Stadium Diplomacy" in Africa has turned.
• Israel responds to Palestinian rockets with deadly Gaza airstrikes: Palestinian militants fired rockets towards Israel, and Israel retaliated with airstrikes in Gaza earlier today, following confrontations at al-Asqa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday. Palestinian authorities say at least 24 people were killed, including nine children in the most violent outbreak in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2019.
• Deadly Russian school shooting: At least 11 people were killed and dozens wounded after one or several men opened fire in a school in Kazan, eastern Russia.
• Indian variant of COVID of "global concern" amid new surge across Asia: The World Health Organization has warned that the coronavirus variant first found in India was of "global concern". The Indian variant has been found in at least 30 other countries so far. Malaysia imposed a new nationwide lockdown on Monday, and the fourth wave hitting Japan has sparked criticism and calls for tougher restrictions ahead of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
• Myanmar journalists, activists arrested in Thailand: Three reporters and two activists from Myanmar have been arrested in Thailand for illegally entering the country, and could possibly face deportation. Dozens of journalists have been arrested and many news agencies have been banned since the Feb. 1 military coup.
• U.S. fires warning shots at Iranian ships at Strait of Hormuz: The Pentagon confirmed that the U.S Coast Guard fired two warning shots at a fleet of 13 Iranian boats that came too close to American naval vessels in the Persian Gulf's Strait of Hormuz on Monday.
• Golden Globes boycott: Following criticisms about the lack of diversity in the Golden Globes, the NBC television network announced it will not air the event next year, while actor Tom Cruise handed back his three awards.
• NASA craft returning home with 5-billion-year-old asteroid dust: A NASA spacecraft containing a sample of rock and dirt as old as the Solar System will drop from outer space into the Utah desert in two years time, and is likely to provide clues on how the Solar System was formed.
"Final Sprint!," titles German daily Hamburger Morgenpost as the country's vaccination drive is picking up steam.
China's "stadium diplomacy," a winning formula in Africa
For decades now, Beijing has been generating good will — and gaining privileged economic access around the African continent — by donating and renovating sports facilities in select nations, reports Joan Tilouine in Paris-based daily Le Monde.
As part of its so-called Stadium Diplomacy, China has built and renovated nearly 100 stadiums all over the African continent in the last five decades, with the ultimate goal of strengthening its bilateral relations, securing major contracts, gaining privileged access to natural resources, and winning over the support of their African "brothers and sisters" in the United Nations. In doing so, China has successfully established itself as the continent's largest trading partner and credit lender.
Stadium Diplomacy often appears trivial in comparison to large-scale, strategic infrastructure projects, such as the construction of roads, railroads, dams, and ports. But from a strategic perspective, these structures are a win-win. Relatively speaking, they're inexpensive, easy to build from an architectural perspective, popular with the people, and highly symbolic for the country involved. What's more, African Presidents love them. They inaugurate the stadiums with great fanfare, integrate them into their national identity, and use them to hold political conferences and concerts.
It's also true, however, that after the initial excitement, the stadiums tend to be neglected. The 20,000-seat Engong Stadium in Oyem, a city in Gabon's economically depressed northern region, is a case in point. Also a gift from China, the complex features a tennis court, three basketball courts, and a full track-and-field built to international standards. In 2017, it hosted the ACN's Group C, with President Ali Bongo there to kick the event off. Now, just a few short years later, everything has been abandoned, a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by residents. "Your stadiums can't cure COVID-19," they say.
If we say that God is love, I cannot tell people who embrace loyalty, unity and responsibility to each other that theirs is not love.
— Christian Olding, a Catholic priest in the western German city of Geldern, explained why he and some 100 other clerics were defying the Vatican and blessing same-sex marriages around Germany.
Highway to hell: Portuguese priest steals from Church to buy 19 cars
If we know greed is one of the seven deadly sins, what about lust for German cars? A Lisbon priest has received a four-and-a-half-year suspended jail sentence for aggravated breach of trust and embezzlement, having taken his parishioners' money to buy no fewer than 19 automobiles.
Although Antònio Teixeira is known among his flock as a particularly kind and generous clergyman, always ready to help and support all in need, his spending habits tell a different story. Between 2011 to 2017, the priest spent an estimated 420,000 euros to buy 19 cars — including three Mercedes and 12 Volkswagens.
Portuguese daily Jornal de Notícias reports that Teixera repeatedly helped himself to the faithful's alms, stealing from the bank accounts of the two parishes he preached at, in Lisbon and Cascais. The priest also sold Church objects: candle sticks, ruby, sapphire and emerald ornamented chalices, and even religious paintings depicting, yes, baby Jesus.
In addition to the suspended jail sentence, the clergyman faces a 178,955-euro fine, with the court reportedly showing leniency in regards to the priest's social work.
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According to China's latest national population census, births have declined by 18%, from 14.7 million babies born in the country in 2019 to 12 million last year, a near six-decade low. While China's population has continued to grow in 2020, surpassing 1.4 billion, it is the slowest growth registered since the country's first census in 1953.
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