The Latest: Suu Kyi Charged Again, Guinea Ebola Outbreak, Bitcoin's Record

Protesters continue to demonstrate in the streets of Yangon, Myanmar, despite the heightened military presence and the deployment of armored vehicles
Protesters continue to demonstrate in the streets of Yangon, Myanmar, despite the heightened military presence and the deployment of armored vehicles

Welcome to Tuesday, where Myanmar files new charges against Suu Kyi, Guinea reports an Ebola outbreak and bitcoin value is about to cross a major threshold. We also look at a new business booming in China during the pandemic: student ghostwriting.

• COVID-19 latest: The World Health Organization has authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use around the world. A snowstorm in Athens halts vaccine rollout while a syringe shortage is slowing South Korea's efforts. China has reported 16 new cases, so far largely avoiding outbreak fears related to Lunar New Year homecomings.

• Myanmar military targets Suu Kyi: Military police file a new charge against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for breaking coronavirus restrictions. The junta, which last week allowed for detention without court, may try to hold her indefinitely. Meanwhile labor strikes take aim at the regime, while Buddhist monks have begun demonstrating outside of UN offices.

• Congress to probe Capitol assault: Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced plans to launch an independent commission to investigate the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, including a review of security infrastructure.

• Ebola outbreak in Guinea: At least seven cases, including four deaths, have been reported in the West African country, as officials rush to trace contacts and has asked international health organizations to acquire vaccines.

• North Korean hackers: Despite the country's leader claiming it has no Covid cases, South Korean Intelligence Services report that North Korean hackers tried to break into Pfizer computer systems to steal information related to vaccine technology.

• Attack on U.S. base in Iraq: One person was killed and another eight wounded in a rocket attack near an airport in northern Iraq. The Shiite militant group called "Guardians of Blood Brigade" have claimed responsibility.

• Larry the cat, a decade of service: The "Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office" has celebrated 10 years of service at 10 Downing Street, London, never missing an opportunity to appear in a news segment or catch invading pigeons.

French daily Libération devotes its front page to the debate around so-called "vaccine passports," which are supported by professionals in the tourism industry but criticized by others as further infringement on citizens' freedom.

Cheaters gonna cheat! The student ghostwriting boom in China

What's an enterprising idea born out of lockdown? Get paid to take online courses for other people, as no teacher can actually see who is taking their course, report Xue Xiaodong and Liu Yuelin in Hong-kong based media The Initium.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of millions of students in the world have been forced into online courses, including international students. Meanwhile, according to iiMedia Consulting, China's overseas student population grew from 414,000 to over 700,000 between 2013 to 2019. "One nasty side-effect of this boom has been the surge in contract cheating services, as revealed in several reports over recent years', said MacroBusiness, an Australian web media.

As Turntin, a web-based plagiarism and originality checking toolkit explained, contract cheating involves a student hiring a third party to complete academic work for him or her. As long as the student pays a fee, a service agency will find a ghostwriter to take charge of all school assignments, and even pretend to be the student in email exchanges with their professors. With constant contacts between the agency, the ghostwriter and the student, as long as the student can appear on time when requested for a visual online class or for face to face online tests, it's incredibly easy to cheat for the rest of the course.

Thanks to flyers stuck in toilets, social media and even open online ads, businesses like this are booming at an unprecedented speed, and this has created a viable business model in China over recent years. And as Chinese lawyer Ruan Aiqian explained, at present China has no clear regulations prohibiting misconduct in online courses and the supervision of the matter is relatively weak.

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Italy's COVID Gaffeur-in-Chief: "No Rush" To Vaccinate Those Over 80

In the Italian region of Lombardy, hit particularly hard by the pandemic, Leitizia Moratti serves as chief of welfare policy. She's also fast becoming queen of the COVID gaffe.

Moratti, 71, who had a successful business career and married an oil baron before entering politics, made headlines last month when she said that Italy's criteria for vaccine distribution should include which regions have higher GDPs. In other words, rich regions (like Lombardy) should get vaccinated sooner because that would help the economy overall.

The statement made in a private meeting of her party allies was vilified in her own region and around Italy, with one prominent economist saying the idea was a form of eugenics. Moratti, a former mayor of Milan, says her comment was taken out of context — though there is a tape recording.

Now, according to La Repubblica, Moratti has suggested another unlikely approach to vaccine distribution. As the Lombardy region was launching its campaign to get all those over 80 years vaccinated, Moratti responded to concerns about the efficiency of the system. "People need to stay calm," she said. "All those over 80 will be vaccinated. There's no need to rush."

Twitter, well, didn't have to wait. One resident suggested that the head of welfare should say the exact opposite: "we need to rush." Another tweet read: "This morning I booked the vaccine for my 86 year-old mother-in-law, Now Moratti says there's no rush! What have I done wrong?"

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Bitcoin's spectacular two-month rally brought the cryptocurrency near the $50,000 threshold for the first time late Monday. As Reuters reports, bitcoin was virtually worthless a decade ago (software developer Laszlo Hanyecz famously paid 10,000 bitcoins for two pizzas), and surpassed $20,000 only in mid-December on its way to its current value.

An educated man won't rape.

— South African Education Minister Angie Motshekga came under fire for her comment while addressing students in Pretoria about why the government was prioritizing education. The country's largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said her comment was "utterly inappropriate and careless' as South Africa is struggling with a scourge of violence against women. Official statistics show that the police receive 110 accusations of rape every day.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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