Welcome to Tuesday, where Belarus hands down harsh sentence, protests erupt in Spain over the murder of a gay man and a Japanese woman tries to extinguish the Olympic flame with a squirt gun. Writing from Sarajevo for French daily Le Monde, Rémy Ourdan introduces us to Benjamina Karic, the youngest mayor in the history of the iconic Balkan capital.
• Belarus: 14-year prison sentence for Lukashenko opponent: A court in Belarus has convicted Viktor Babariko, a former presidential candidate and opponent of strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, on corruption charges. Several Western leaders criticized the conviction and 14-year sentence, with the U.S. Embassy calling the trial a "sham."
• Debris from missing Russian plane found: Debris from the Antonov An-26 plane carrying 28 people that went missing in Russia's far east region has been found. The plane had been attempting to land in the village of Palana when it reportedly lost contact with air traffic control. Authorities say it is unlikely that anyone survived the crash.
• Controversial Israeli citizenship law defeated: Israel's Citizenship Law, which was first passed in 2003 during the Second Intifada and prevents Arab-Israelis from extending citizenship rights to Palestinian spouses living in the West Bank and Gaza, failed to be renewed by the Knesset this year. The law has been consistently renewed since its inception, but is set to expire this Wednesday at midnight after being narrowly defeated in a 59-59 vote.
• Protests in Spain after murder of gay man: LGBTQ rights groups across Spain have organized protests to demand justice for Samuel Luiz, a 24-year-old gay man who was beaten to death in the city of A Coruña during Pride weekend. As investigators search for the perpetrators, Luiz" friends allege he was murdered because of his sexual orientation.
• Vaccine update: In Thailand, a leaked health ministry document has called into question the efficacy of the China Sinovac Biotech's vaccine. The memo recommended that medical staff be given a booster shot of an mRNA vaccine in order to increase protection. Meanwhile, Israel has reported a decrease in Pfizer vaccine protection against infections, though the vaccine remains highly effective in preventing serious illness and death.
• Luxembourg leader hospitalized with COVID-19: Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who tested positive for COVID-19 about a week ago, was hospitalized for the virus on Sunday. The Luxembourg government reported Monday that the 48-year-old is in "serious, but stable" condition.
• The Great Escape: An Australian woman has been fined $2,500 after kicking down a door and scaling two hotel balconies in order to get out of quarantine. Claiming she simply wanted to go to her mother's house in Cairns, the 22-year-old pleaded guilty before a Queensland court for failing to comply with the public health mandate.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera pays tribute to show business icon Raffaella Carrà, "the symbol of TV (and of a nation)," who died aged 78.
Meet Benjamina Karic, Sarajevo's new millennial mayor
The very first memories of the 30-year-old mayor is when the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina was under siege. But now it's also time to move on, writes Rémy Ourdan in French daily Le Monde.
On April 8, her 30th birthday, Benjamina Karic became the youngest mayor in the history of the iconic capital of Sarajevo. "And only the second woman!" she adds. A third point of pride is that she was elected "unanimously" by all political parties of the 26-vote city council. The election of the young academic — a professor of law, with a dual degree in history — was largely the result of an unexpected turn of political events in the city's complicated politics.
The first decisions of the young mayor made her immediately popular with Sarajevans. On the first day, she sold all the company cars in the town hall, except for one, which was kept for protocol purposes. "When people are hungry and not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, why should City Hall have new cars?" she says. Then she ruthlessly dismissed all the consultants paid by the mayor's office and various institutes and surrounded herself with about 20 unpaid consultants.
However, national politics and the consequences of the war are never far away. "The political atmosphere is bad, and I don't believe that our anti-nationalist coalition can ever be in power in this country," says Karic. The daughter of a Bosnian Muslim father and a Serbian mother, she says she doesn't think in terms of ethnic origins. She visited both the memorials of Jasenovac, the Croatian Ustasha concentration camp of World War II; as well as Srebrenica. "It's politics that prevents people from reconciling…" she says. "Normal people do not need to be reconciled, they are ready to live together."
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Laurent Simons, an 11-year-old Dutch-Belgian boy, has graduated from the University of Antwerp with a Bachelor's degree in physics. It took him one year to finish the three-year program, graduating summa cum laude. Simons is now continuing with a Master's degree in physics at the same university and has "already completed a few courses," he says. The 11-year-old could have graduated much earlier and was on course to become the youngest academic in the world. But the university where he initially started studying, the Technical University of Eindhoven, thought it was unrealistic to have him graduate before his tenth birthday thus forcing Simons transfer to Antwerp.
Japanese woman protests by spraying the Olympic Flame with a squirt gun
Less than three weeks from the start of the Tokyo Summer Olympics, much of the Japanese public continues to demand the Games be cancelled because of the risks associated with COVID-19.
After weeks of street protests and petitions, Kayoko Takahashi found a creative way to demonstrate her disapproval: trying to extinguish the Olympic flame with a squirt gun.
Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported that the Olympic torch, which is being symbolically carried across the nation in the lead-up to the Games, passed through the Ibaraki prefecture near Takahashi's home on Sunday. A video shows the 53-year-old raising the plastic toy gun and taking aim at the flame, which was being carried by an elderly man. Police immediately arrested Takahashi, fearing she may have sprayed another liquid besides water onto the flame.
"I am against the Olympics. Stop the Olympics," Takahashi can be heard saying after spraying toward the torch. For the record: the runner kept going, and the flame kept burning. Opening Ceremonies are set for July 23.
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In one night, they lost all the goodwill of 20 years by leaving the way they did.
— Naematullah, an Afghan soldier quoted by AP as saying after U.S. troops withdrew suddenly from Afghanistan's Bagram airfield,in the dead of night, and without even notifying the base's commander. The soldiers slipped away from Bagram ahead of a final withdrawal that should be completed by the end of August.
✍️ Newsletter by Genevieve Mansfield, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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