The Latest: Vaccine Record, Catalans Pardoned, NFL Coming Out

Ebrahim Raisi arrives at his first press conference as Iran’s newly elected president, in Tehran.
Ebrahim Raisi arrives at his first press conference as Iran’s newly elected president, in Tehran.

Welcome to Tuesday, where India sets a daily vaccination record, Spain's prime minister seeks reconciliation with Catalonia and Australia's Great Barrier Reef could join the list of endangered World Heritage sites. Les Echos also takes us to Japan, where the business model of its notorious yakuza crime syndicate is crumbling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Global vaccination, good news & bad: Cuba reports its Abdala shot is 92.28% effective, China has administered its one billionth dose of its own vaccine, and India is also setting records, after campaigning to make vaccinations free for all adults, more 8.3 million doses were administered on Monday. However, shortages remain, namely in Venezuela where people are seeing second-dose appointments cancelled.

• Spain to pardon jailed Catalonian leaders: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will pardon nine jailed Catalonian separatist leaders who were involved in the region's attempted secession in 2017. Sánchez hopes the move will inspire reconciliation with the Catalan region.

• Renewed tension in Jerusalem neighborhood: Tensions have reignited in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood after a night where Palestinians and Jewish settlers threw stones, chairs and fireworks at each other. Forced evictions of Palestinians in the contested East Jerusalem neighborhood ignited the protests and 11-day war last month, which killed hundreds and left more than 100,000 civilians displaced. The Red Crescent reports that it is treating 20 Palestinians for injuries in the latest clashes.

• Myanmar military and resistance group clash: The Myanmar military and an anti-junta resistance force clashed in the country's second largest city, Mandalay. This is the first time direct fighting between the junta and breakaway security forces has occurred outside of small towns and villages.

• Rights group calls on UN to increase pressure for Ortega regime: After a series of politically motivated arrests in Nicaragua, including that of a fifth presidential candidate and the former first lady, Human Rights Watch will release a report calling on the United Nations to condemn the regime of President Daniel Ortega.

• UNESCO: Great Barrier Reef "in danger": The UN cultural and preservationist body has recommended that the Great Barrier Reef be added to the list of world heritage sites that are "in danger," as the reef has seen mass bleaching due to climate change. The Australian government is "strongly opposed" the recommendation.

• First NFL player comes out as gay: Carl Nassib, a defensive lineman for the Las Vegas Raiders, shared a video on social media publically declaring that he is gay, making him the first active player to do so in the league's 101-year history.

"Into Unknown Territory," titles Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet after a no-confidence vote ousted the country's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, a first in Sweden.


Despite strong opposition, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced in a speech Monday that the government would approve pardons (indultos) for nine Catalan separatists.

Yakuza blues: Japan's notorious gangsters hit hard by COVID

The infamous (yet legal) Japanese criminal syndicate was already suffering under new laws when the pandemic hit. Now its business model is crumbling, reports Yann Rousseau in French daily Les Echos.

Unable to legally impose a "lockdown," Japanese authorities are betting on economic actors and the population's civic-mindedness to diminish daily contamination levels and relieve hospital congestion. Selling alcohol is forbidden — in theory. Nightlife businesses are expected to suspend their operations for a few weeks. Most of the countries' bars, karaokes and nightclubs respect these rules, but Kabukicho, Tokyo's "hot" district, puts up resistance. Many of the owners here have links to the yakuza underworld, which has had a particularly hard time in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

With the spread of the pandemic — which killed 12,200 people since January 2020 in a population of 126 million inhabitants — nighttime clients have dwindled and many businesses saw their finances plummet. Dozens closed their doors, leaving yakuzas without "mikajimeryo," the protection money business owners give to local gangs. Ranging from 20,000 to 100,000 yens per month (150 to 750 euros), these tips helped businesses avoid problems such as dealing with troublesome clients.

Mafias in Italy, Russia, the Balkans and Hong Kong reacted quickly to the new restrictions. "With economic activity increasingly carried out online, these organisations also engage in phishing and credit card scams and set up fake donation sites," noted the UN Office on Drugs and Crime experts in a report. The conversion is different in Japan. Online delinquency didn't blow up in 2020. Old and poorly educated yakuzas who don't speak any foreign languages struggle to launch these complicated business endeavors. "The coronavirus has, in fact, exposed all their vulnerabilities," observes researcher Martina Baradel.

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Of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world for expats to live, seven are from Asia, according to the latest survey by Mercer, the global human resources firm. The most expensive city this year is Ashgabat in Turkmenistan, pushed up largely because of inflation and goods shortages. Most of the other most expensive cities are traditional global financial hubs, like Hong Kong (2nd), Geneva (5th), Shanghai (6th) and Singapore (7th).

She deserves to be there.

— New Zealand's Sport Minister Grant Robertson voiced his support for transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. The Auckland-born 43-year-old was also backed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

✍️ Newsletter by Genevieve Mansfield, Meike Eijsberg, Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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