Welcome to Tuesday, where the Taliban have launched an attack on a strategic city in southern Afghanistan, Iran's new leader vows to fight U.S. sanctions and a world record is shattered in Tokyo. In Switzerland, there's also an odd story of a man fond of his fondue fork for criminal purposes.
• Taliban attack key Afghan city: Heavy fighting is underway in the strategic city of Lashkar Gah, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, as the Taliban move to take control of a number of key strongholds. This comes as the U.S. and Afghanistan have ramped up airstrikes in an effort to push back on the militant group's rapid advances. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the UK are accusing the Taliban of massacring at least 40 civilians in Spin Boldak, south Afghanistan.
• Missing Belarus activist found dead in Ukraine: The body of Vitaly Shishov, who led the Belarusian House in Ukraine to help Belarusians fleeing persecution, was found hanged in a park in Kyiv. A murder inquiry has been opened to determine whether the activist was killed and his death made to look like suicide.
• COVID-19 update: Authorities in Wuhan will test the central Chinese city's 11 million residents for coronavirus after the first local infections in more than a year were reported. Meanwhile, the U.S. reached the milestone of 70% of adults who received at least one shot of COVID vaccine, about a month behind President Joe Biden's Fourth of July goal.
• Iran's new president sworn in: Ebrahim Raisi, who won Iran's presidential election with 62% of the votes in June, officially took office, vowing to save the Islamic Republic from the severe economic crisis as well as take steps to lift the harsh sanctions imposed by the U.S.
• Capitol riots officers suicides: The District of Columbia's police department reports that two more police officers who were guarding the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riots have died by suicide in recent weeks. This brings to four the number of suicides by police officers who were on duty that day.
• Qantas to furlough 2,500 workers: Australia's Qantas and its budget carrier Jetstar will stand down around 2,500 workers for at least two months, in response to the extended COVID-19 lockdown in Sydney. The company has lost about 60% of its domestic business from May to July.
• Olympics: Simone Biles bounces back, world record for Norway: American gymnast Simone Biles won bronze during the balance beam final in the Tokyo Olympics, after withdrawing from several other events to focus on her mental health. Norwegian athlete Karsten Warholm smashed the 400 meter hurdles world record, becoming the first man to complete the race in less than 46 seconds.
"I walked through the ash," writes a journalist from Turkish daily Hürriyet, reporting on the destructive wildfires which have been raging in southern Turkey for six days, killing at least 8 people and burning thousands of hectares of land.
They're back: Why Taliban return is such bad news for Afghan women
The Taliban insurgents continue their deadly war to seize control of Afghanistan after the departure of United States and NATO forces. As they close in on major cities that were once government strongholds many Afghans — and the world — fear a total takeover. It is Afghan women who have the most to fear from these Islamic militants, explains Homa Hoodfar and Mona Tajal, who interviewed 15 Afghan women activists, community leaders and politicians over the past year. In The Conversation, they write:
"Reform of the Taliban is not really possible," one 40-year-old women's rights activist from Kabul told us. "Their core ideology is fundamentalist, particularly towards women." The Taliban ruled all of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Everyone faced restrictions under their conservative interpretation of Islam, but those imposed on women were the most stringent.
Women couldn't leave their homes without a male guardian, and were required to cover their bodies from head to toe in a long robe called a burqa. They could not visit health centers, attend school or work.
Officially, Taliban leaders emphasize that they wish to grant women's rights "according to Islam." But the women we interviewed say they believe the Taliban still reject the notion of gender equality. A schoolteacher whose district in northern Mazar-e-Sharif province recently fell to the Taliban told us that, "In the beginning, when we saw the Taliban interviews on TV, we hoped for peace, as if the Taliban had changed. But when I saw the Taliban up close, they have not changed at all."
In the 1960s women were among the drafters of Afghanistan's first comprehensive Constitution, ratified in 1964. It recognized the equal rights of men and women as citizens and established democratic elections. By the end of the socialist regime in 1992, women were full participants in public life in Afghanistan. In 1996 the rise of the Taliban interrupted this progress — temporarily. The post-Taliban era demonstrated Afghan women's resilience after a grueling setback.
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For the first article of a new 10-part series imagining what the world will be like 20 years from now, Les Echos focuses on demography. The projected inhabitants on our planet are forecast to grow to 9.2 billion, which is 1.3 billion more than today, or approximately the size of a continent. But the French economic daily posits that beyond the sheer growth of people, the real challenge will lie in the aging of the world population.
Swiss thief with a fondue fork tries to dip into funeral home till
Switzerland is famous for its fondue, a national specialty that is eaten by dipping bread into melted cheese, using uniquely shaped long-stemmed forks. Now a 60-year old Swiss man has found a rather unexpected use for his fondue fork, reaching with the length of the utensil and its sharp prongs to steal envelopes containing condolence cards from boxes in funeral parlors. He managed to fork 17 envelopes in three different funeral homes in the towns of Delémont, Bassecourt and Porrentruy, reports Swiss daily Le Matin. The thief, who later admitted that he was hoping to find money left in the cards by mourners to the deceased's family, was eventually caught by an undertaker last April.
It is unclear whether the man actually found money, as no banknote was recovered by the police in his house, but in July, a court ruled his "motives were financial" and condemned him to a fine of 600 Swiss francs ($663) plus 570 CHF to cover fees, for theft, property damage, disorder of funeral service by inappropriate behavior and for undermining the peace of the deceased.
The court also confiscated the crime weapon. "I couldn't see myself giving the fondue fork back to him, as it's with this object that the man stole condolence cards," said prosecutor Marc Bouvier, as reported by the Swiss daily.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
We will seek to lift the tyrannical sanctions imposed by America.
— In a televised speech, Iran's new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office today, has vowed to work on improving the living conditions of Iranians, which includes pushing the U.S. to lift sanctions reimposed on Iran after it abandoned the nuclear deal. Raisi has been himself the target of U.S. sanctions since 2019, due to alleged human rights abuses when he served as a judge.
Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.
BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.
TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.
For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.
No Western equivalent to WeChat
The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.
The flow of innovation is now changing direction.
The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."
Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."
This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.
10,000 new startups per day
There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."
In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.
The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.
Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."
China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.
China's super-app WeChat
The whole market runs on tech
Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."
As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.
Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.
Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.
The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.
Still lagging in some key sectors
There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.
China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.
Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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