Welcome to Wednesday, where NGO workers are killed in Afghanistan, two are arrested after the French president is slapped in the face, and a 61-foot-long scroll makes a splash in China. Le Monde also takes us to Mali, where a second military coup in nine months leaves Malians and international allies alike worried about what happens next.
• Ten NGO workers killed in attack in Afghanistan: The Kabul government has blamed the Taliban for an attack that killed ten NGO workers and wounded 16 others, though the militant group denies responsibility. The workers were part of a British-American mine clearance organization, the HALO trust.
• Authorities in Nicaragua arrest two more presidential challengers: Opposition figures Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastián Chamorro have been arrested and were held under a controversial new security law passed by president Daniel Ortega's government. The 75-year-old Ortega is seeking a fourth consecutive term in November's election.
• Chinese students hold principal hostage: Rare school protests arose after a plan to merge a Nanjing college in Jiangsu province with a less prestigious vocational school. The principal was held hostage for more than 30 hours over students' fears that their degrees would be devalued as a result of the merge.
• U.S. billionaires avoid paying income tax: ProPublica, the investigative news website, obtains access to the tax returns of some of the world's richest people, who often manage to avoid paying income taxes thanks to loopholes in the law. According to ProPublica, Jeff Bezos paid no tax in 2007 and 2011, while Elon Musk paid nothing in 2018.
• Two arrested after slap of French President Macron: A man grabbed President Emmanuel Macron by the forearm and slapped him across the face yesterday during a meet-and-greet with a crowd in southern France. Reports say the first arrest is the bearded man who levied the slap, the second is the person who filmed it.
• "Butcher of Bosnia" loses genocide appeal: Bosnian warlord Ratko Mladic lost his final legal battle after being found guilty for orchestrating genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Balkan nation's 1992-1995 war.
• Woman saves her twin sister by punching a crocodile: UK-born twin sisters Melissa and Georgia were swimming in a lagoon in Mexico when Melissa was attacked by a crocodile. Georgia kept punching the crocodile on the head, and dragged Melissa out to the boat. Melissa is now in an induced coma and Georgia is covered in bite marks.
French local daily La Provence reports on "the slap" French President Emmanuel Macron received while shaking hands with the crowd during an official visit in the southeast of the country. Two men were arrested following the incident.
Mali: second military coup raises questions at home and abroad
Nine months after the military installed a new interim leader, a young Colonel has again taken over the country in what appears to be a pure power play. But it may not be so simple, and Malians and international allies alike are worried about what happens next, write Cyril Bensimon, Morgane Le Cam and Elise Vincent in French daily Le Monde.
While the years-long war against jihadists in northern and central Mali is still far from being won, the military has once again used its resources to intervene in the civilian-political game in Bamako. On August 18, 2020, a group of five colonels, led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, forced Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, known as "IBK," to resign. Nine months later, it was the same story all over again, this time with the transitional president.
What went on behind the scenes that allowed the overthrow of the Malian power structure for a second time in just nine months? As much as IBK's fall had been the culmination of weeks of popular protest, this second coup was a pure power play. Angered by the growing influence of the military, which has controlled four key ministries since the beginning of the transition period, President Bah N'Daw announced the dissolution of the government on May 14 and reappointed his Prime Minister Moctar Ouane. Colonel Goïta, the Vice-President and head of defense and security, was not informed. Tensions rose.
In Bamako, Malians appear tired of seeing their political life marked by ineffective policies sanctioned by successive coups d"état, the fifth since the country's independence in 1960. As expected, the virtues of democracy are no longer strong considerations for the group that formed on May 24 to support the takeover. "Our politicians, from IBK to Bah N'Daw, have all failed. When they betray the motherland, our army is there to teach them a lesson," warned one Malian named Alexandre.
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A rare 61-foot-long Chinese scroll, dating back from the 18th century, has been sold for 414 million yuan (about $65 million) — becoming the third most expensive classical Chinese artwork ever sold at auction.
Chinese cameraman films (and wins) 100-meter race
A key to filming sports is being in position to capture the action. One cameraman in northern China showed how to get, and stay, ahead of the race — literally outrunning the sprinters he was filming.
For a 100-meter race at the University of Datong in Shanxi, another student, Hao Xiaoyang, was chosen to film the runners. When the start whistle blew, Hao took off running as well (with just a bit of a head start), hoping to get as close as possible to the athletes … before crossing the finish line in front of all the other runners.
The video of Hao's speedy filming went viral on Chinese social networks, with many users congratulating him as the winner.
Interviewed by Reuters, the student cameraman said he simply "wanted to capture the most beautiful images possible." And yes, Hao will be graduating with a degree in physical education.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
Literally, I don't know anyone who hasn't been.
— British actress Keira Knightley, upon reflecting on women's safety for Harper's Bazaar, said she didn't know any woman who hasn't been sexually harassed at some point in her life. Knightley also stated in the interview that she would no longer act in intimate scenes directed by men.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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