Welcome to Wednesday, where Myanmar police side with protesters, the Senate votes to continue Trump's trial and Europe's oldest person survives COVID. We also look at the reasons why the "capital of Canadian humor" isn't laughing so much lately.
• COVID-19 latest: Ghana parliament shuts down over outbreak that leaves 17 MPs and 151 support staff ill. The U.K. releases new quarantine guidelines that includes possible £10,000 fine or 10 years in prison for unauthorized travelers. South Africa cuts distribution of AstraZeneca after research shows its lack of efficacy on the South African variant. Healthcare workers in Bolivia go on strike to demand stricter lockdown measures, facing an average of 1,000 daily COVID-19 deaths.
• Myanmar update: Police officers join protesters in the state of Loikaw calling for the reversal of the coup, while some 100,000 gathered in the commercial capital of Yangon. One woman is in critical condition after being shot in the head while attending protests.
• Trump trial: Democrats presented sharp words, video footage of the Capitol mob and Trump's own tweets, while Trump's legal team argued that it was unconstitutional for a former president to be impeached. Six Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting in favor of the constitutionality of the trial, but 11 more will be needed to convict Trump.
• "They were clearly warned, and yet they went ahead": Experts from the People's Science Institute told the Indian government back in 2014 that the construction work in the Himalayas could lead to avalanches and landslides. The death toll in the glacier collapse disaster currently stands at 31, with another 165 still missing and at least 30 still stuck in a tunnel.
• Eight extremists sentenced to death: Eight members of a local branch of jihad in Bangladesh have been sentenced to death over the murder of a publisher in 2015.
• Kobe Bryant crash probe: The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that the fatal helicopter crash carrying the basketball superstar was the result of the pilot's decision to fly in cloudy conditions considered "legally prohibited."
• Catty trial on Zoom: A Texas attorney was forced to say (for the record) "I am not a cat," after he was unable to remove a cat face filter on the Zoom court proceedings.
"Media with no choice," titles Warsaw-based daily Gazeta Wyborcza as the country's media suspend reporting and news coverage to protest a new advertising tax which Polish broadcasters and publishers say will undermine the freedom of the press.
Montreal's #MeToo comedy crisis is no laughing matter
Long considered the "capital of Canadian humor," the Quebec city is currently facing simultaneous storms: the pandemic, #MeToo accusations and a deeper debate on the limits of comedy, reports Hélène Jouan in Paris-based Le Monde.
COVID-19 is not the only hurdle the Montreal scene has had to face recently. The fall of Gilbert Rozon, 66 years old, a key figure in this comedy world and founder of the Just for Laughs festival, has contributed to its fragility. This "Rockefeller of Humor" was at the height of its power when, in October 2017, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, he was accused of being "Quebec's Weinstein." One, two and then dozens of women publicly accused him of harassment and sexual assault in cases that occurred over nearly four decades.
There are also other, deeper threats looming for Quebec humor. On Feb. 15, the Supreme Court of Canada will rule on whether or not comedian Mike Ward's mocking of a young disabled singer is permissible in the name of humor. Corrosive, subversive, even outrageous humor is not very popular in Quebec these days. "Today, most acts revolve around the private life, with comedians telling stories about their everyday life, their car, their wife or their boyfriend husband or partner, but few dare to take on social or political satire, much less transgression," says Marc Laurendeau, an ex-comedian turned journalist.
Louise Richer, the founder of the Ecole nationale de l'Humour in Montreal, recognizes movements such as #MeToo, Black Live Matters and the emergence of diversity and gender issues for making people think about a crucial question: "How can we talk about all this while remaining funny?" But she also describes a world of humor in full transition: "Like tectonic plates, two movements clash: On the one hand, political correctness tends to make a joke fall flat, but on the other, I see our students' desire to renew their spirit of provocation."
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Koala crosses highway, causes six-car pile up
A koala was blamed for a six-car crash in southern Australia, as reported by 9News Adelaide. Just after 7 a.m. Monday, a driver stopped to help a koala cross the South Eastern Freeway, around the city of Adelaide. The driver's vehicle was rear-ended, resulting in a chain of collisions. Though no serious injuries were reported, there were major traffic delays through the morning.
But did the koala get to the other side of the road? Luckily, the wandering marsupial (which national environmental laws include in a list of vulnerable species) was unharmed and taken back to safety in the wild — but not before taking the time to be filmed behind the wheel of its rescuer's car.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
116 years old
French nun Sister Andre, Europe's oldest person, has beaten COVID-19 on the eve of her 117th birthday. She had tested positive in her retirement home in southern France but had displayed no symptoms. Born Feb. 11, 1904, Sister Andre is also the second-oldest living person in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group's World Supercentenarian Rankings List.
Presidents can't inflame insurrection in their final weeks and then walk away like nothing happened.
— U.S. Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado told Senators during the opening of the Senate impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump. In a vote 56 to 44, the Senate rejected Trump's defense team's claim that it would be unconstitutional to prosecute a president after he left the office.
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?
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
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
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.