Welcome to Monday, where U.S. airstrikes hit Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria, Sweden's prime minister resigns and a pet lion is rescued from TikTok fame. Die Welt also looks at the growing influence of a Russian mercenary group in several African countries.
• U.S. airstrikes in Iraq & Syria: The United States military says it carried out air strikes on "targeted operational and weapons storage facilities" linked to Iran-backed militia groups. The strikes late Sunday local time marks the second time the Biden administration has ordered strikes against armed groups. The UK-based NGO, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported at least five fighters killed and several others wounded.Syria's state-run news agency reports the death of a child.
• New COVID restrictions in Australia: With just over 3% of the population fully vaccinated, Australia has seen a rise in coronavirus infections connected to the highly infectious Delta variant. Prime Minister Scott Morrisson met with state and territory leaders to discuss renewed restrictions, such as locking down Sydney.
• Swedish Prime Minister resigns: After losing a historic no-confidence vote, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has opted to resign rather than calling a snap election. This decision leaves the parliament's speaker with the task of finding a new premier.
• CNN reports incriminating video of Ethiopian soldiers: CNN has uncovered new footage of Ethiopian soldiers passing around a phone "to document their executions of unarmed men." The video comes as a new update to the broadcaster's ongoing investigation into the January mass execution of at least 11 unarmed men in the Tigray region.
• Death toll rises to nine in Florida building collapse: Rescuers are continuing to search for survivors, as more than 150 people remain missing at the collapsed condo building near Miami. Over the weekend, the death toll rose to nine, but authorities fear that number will multiply.
• Police search for fan who caused Tour de France crash: A spectator holding up a large sign caused a crash at the Tour de France, involving German rider Tony Martin and several others, on Saturday. Now, police are searching for the fan and hope to charge her with "deliberately violating safety regulations." One rider was obligated to pull out of the Tour completely, while another eight are being treated for injuries.
• Cambodian officials confiscate TikTok-famous pet lion: Cambodian authorities confiscated a pet lion after discovering it was being used in a number of TikTok videos. The lion had reportedly been imported by a Chinese national and was being raised at a villa in the capital Phnom Penh.
Spanish language Florida-based daily El Nuevo Herald reports on the rising death toll from the partial collapse of a condo building near Miami as search and rescue efforts continue to find the 152 people still unaccounted for.
Putin's shadow army: Russian mercenaries enter African wars
The United Nations and several media have recently reported about a series of brutal attacks in the Central African Republic involving Russian mercenaries. The UN emphasized the role of the Wagner Group, Russia's best-known mercenary outfit, coordinated by a Kremlin-linked oligarch. The West is also watching the growing influence of the Russian organization in other parts of Africa, reports Christian Putsch in German daily Die Welt.
According to information from Die Welt sources, there are currently 7,191 mercenaries from the Wagner group deployed around the world, the majority in Syria, partly for onward travel to other countries. These include counter-terrorism units, telecommunications battalions, air defense and eight "political scientists' — most likely working on disinformation campaigns. The mercenaries had supported the advance of renegade General Khalifa Haftar towards the capital Tripoli, a mockery of international efforts for peace.
Formed around 2014, the group is said to have been involved in the wars in eastern Ukraine and Syria, always in line with Putin's interests. Wagner commander Dmitri Utkin, a former Russian intelligence officer with a fondness for the composer Richard Wagner, personally received a medal of valor from the Russian president. But the mastermind and main financier is probably Yevgeny Prigozhin. The oligarch is nicknamed "Putin's cook" because he once personally served the ruler in one of his restaurants.
For Wagner, autocratic countries are a prime target for new business. Putin is also focused on regaining Russia's lost influence in Africa. Since Russian trade volume on the continent is low, Putin relies on military cooperation. The Wagner Group is his handy instrument for delicate operations in which political responsibility and too much attention are to be avoided — but which, as in Libya, give him weight at international negotiating tables.
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Plane struck by lightning is exorcized by voodoo priests
What happens when lightning strikes a plane? First, thanks to modern safety features, it flies on and lands without incident. But in Togo, airport staff last week made sure one such plane was thoroughly checked, tested and … exorcized.
With bolts of lightning regularly striking airplanes, aeronautics has long since developed technologies to ensure the planes can withstand the impact, and pilots and passengers can safely continue their journey.
Yet last week in the West African country of Togo, an extra-layer of security was added after the plane landed safely: an exorcism ritual on the tarmac.
Like the millions who go to airport chapels before take off, religions around the world seem to have a special relationship with modern air travel. In Togo, where voodoo is widespread and highly respected, other measures are employed.
The Ethiopian Airlines plane that regularly serves the New York-Lomé route, was hit just before landing June 20 at the airport in Togo's capital. Slightly damaged and unable to take off again, a group of voodoo priests were called in to exorcize the plane the following day.
Algerian daily El Watan reports that the ceremony consisted of splashing the plane with water and pouring liquor as an offering to appease the anger of Hiébiésso, the "divinity of thunder" in Mina, a local language spoken in South Togo. (Here's a video of the rite)
"When lightning strikes, it is our duty, for the sake of people's security, to identify and purify the area struck by this natural phenomenon." said Togbé Assiobo Nyagblondjor, president of the country's traditional priests confederation.
Originally from Benin and Togo, the voodoo religion counts 50 million believers around the world, including many in the Caribbean, Brazil and the U.S. state of Louisiana.
While Togo is officially a secular state, voodoo is widely accepted. The president of the National Agency of civilian aviation, colonel Latta Gnama, was personally present at the ritual held on the tarmac. "Everything was done to help them in their task," he said.
Gnama also confirmed the necessary repairs to the damaged airplane were completed before the jet took to the air again. Either way you look at it, best to be double covered when flying.
Canada is being hit by a historic heat wave, with temperatures in Lytton, British Columbia reaching a record 46.1 °C (115 °F). Environment Canada has banned open fires, citing concerns of possible forest fires, and has also issued health and safety warnings to residents across Western Canada.
I can understand gays, lesbians and so on. But do you know who I do not understand at all? These transgender people.
— During a CNN Prima interview, Czech President Milos Zeman called transgender people "intrinsically disgusting to me," while defending Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's recent anti-LGBTQ+ comments. The two populist leaders are at odds with other heads of the European Union member countries, who have challenged whether countries that undermine basic civil rights should be part of the EU.