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The Latest: Junta Promises, Trump Trial, Supreme RIP

Palestinians waiting at the Rafah border, which reopens today
Palestinians waiting at the Rafah border, which reopens today

Welcome to Tuesday, where Myanmar's junta hints at new elections, Trump's impeachment trial (part II) gets started, and Motown loses a star. Meanwhile Bogota-based daily El Espectador explains how Pablo Escobar's hippos have sparked an ecological debate in Colombia.

• COVID-19 latest: Iran begins using Russia's Sputnik V vaccine as part of the vaccination campaign, and the WHO-China team gives a joint press conference on their study of coronavirus in Wuhan. Meanwhile, South Korea begins testing on domestic animals in the capital city of Seoul. The White House has expressed concerns over the potential spread of the UK variant after photos of Super Bowl celebrations with maskless party-goers went viral.

• Myanmar military promises elections: Despite a new ban on gatherings of more than five people, demonstrators once again take to the streets, and riot police increased their use of force. The military government has called for elections, promising to render power to a "suitable" minister.

• Trump impeachment: As former U.S. President Donald Trump"s second impeachment trial opens today, his lawyers say they will argue that he was not responsible for inciting the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, and that the trial itself is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office.

• Bitcoin heading to $50,000: After Elon Musk's investment in the cryptocurrency, more and more investors appear to believe Bitcoin is here to stay as its market value approaches $50k.

• Glacier disaster toll: Rescue efforts intensify in the Himalayas, as the confirmed death toll rises to 26, with 171 still missing after a glacier burst in northern India.

• North Korea hackers avert sanctions: A UN report shows that North Korean hackers siphoned $300 million (€250 million) stolen from cyber attacks in 2020 to fund nuclear programs, a clear violation of international law.

• Supremes singer dies: Mary Wilson, co-founder of Motown super group the Supremes, has died at the age of 76.


Portada de Der Tagesspiegel (Alemania)

Berlin-based daily der Tagesspiegel features Germany's "capital under the snow" on its front page, as heavy snowfall slows down most of northern and central Germany.

How Pablo Escobar's hippos sparked an ecological debate

Once part of the cocaine kingpin's private zoo, the animals are now an invasive species impacting the local environment. But few in Colombia have the heart to kill them off, write Natalia Pedraza and María Mónica Monsalve S. in Colombian daily El Espectador.

The story's been told before, and dates back decades. And yet, its relevance continues to grow — in a very literal sense — and presents Colombia with a real conundrum. We're talking about the handful of hippopotamuses that the notorious cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar imported in the 1980s, for his private zoo. The drug lord was killed in 1993. But the huge herbivores lived on and made their way off the Escobar estate and into the nearby Magdalena river, where they have joyfully multiplied ever since.

The problem is what to do about the huge animals. They're an invasive species, yes. But they're also living, sentient creatures. Not surprisingly, the issue has fueled debate on networking sites, especially in response to the Biological Conservation study, which suggests hunting — in addition to castration and transfers — to curb their numbers.

Discussions on the ethics and politics of killing these animals reveal our differing perspectives on nature, and have effectively become a debate between defenders of animals and defenders of the environment, with nuances. One vision of nature is defending the "ecosystemic ethics," which place biodiversity and ecosystems above particular creatures. The other holds that "ethics are manifest in human considerations intended to avoid the suffering of sentient animals." In other words, why kill the hippos and make them victims of a human decision?

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


Starsky and Hutch busted in France for driving under influence

Starsky and Hutch on the wrong side of the law? It happened in France this weekend, and worse still: they were busted driving a Renault minivan …

The scene Saturday night at a police checkpoint in the small French town of Beautiran was vaguely reminiscent of the high-octane car chases of the iconic 1970s American TV detective series. Just swap the busy streets of Bay City, California, for the quiet, vineyard-flanked roads of southwestern France — and the trademark bright red, white-striped Ford Gran Torino for a family-friendly Renault Scénic. And yet as French as it all may seem, the names matched up …

Shortly after 10 p.m., upon seeing a police roadblock, a car with two men onboard refused to pull over and instead started accelerating, reported the regional Sud Ouest daily newspaper. After managing to shake the fuzz, the car showed up an hour later … on the same road, same checkpoint — only to be stopped this time by the gendarmes who managed to deploy their tire-deflating stop-stick bar.

In the car, two 30-something local brothers with the first names, Starsky and Hutch, on their respective identity documents. An odd choice of names for the parents in the land of Pierre and Jacques, which Sud Ouest traces back to when the U.S. series gained cult status in France in dubbed reruns through the 1980s and 1990s as Starsky et Hutch.

Police brought the brothers into the station on suspicion of driving under the influence and refusing to comply with police. Though there were no details on the color of either brother's hair, authorities confirmed that, yes, Starsky was behind the wheel.

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



1.7 million

Colombian President Iván Duque announced Monday that the country would grant temporary legal status to the 1.7 million Venezuelans who fled their country's collapsing economy. The migrants will be able to stay in Colombia for 10 years, provided they register with the authorities.

We will hand the power to the one who wins in that election, according to the rules of democracy.

— In his first national address since an army-led coup toppled the government in Myanmar last week, military leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said new elections would be held and promised peaceful transfer of power to the winning party.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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