Ukraine Helicopters Downed, Aleppo Struck, Fat Godzilla

Ukrainian helicopter before being shot down
Ukrainian helicopter before being shot down

The Ukrainian government launched what France24 describes as a “large-scale military operation that included an air assault” to retake the town of Sloviansk in the eastern part of the country. But Pro-Russian militants fought back and shot down at least two helicopters, killing two Ukrainian soldiers, with one dead and one injured among the rebels, The Kyiv Post reported. A sniper fired at a car transporting Russian journalists, news agency Itar-Tass reported.

According to Time correspondent Simon Shuster, separatist ham radio is asking the people of Sloviansk to gather on the city’s main square to record a video appeal for help to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin spokesman said that Moscow considered the attack as “literally destroying the last hope for the viability of the Geneva accords,” RT reports. Meanwhile, Russia’s representative at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe urged the body to act and stop the military assault.

In an interview with the Financial Times yesterday, Ukraine’s Interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk accused Moscow of planning clashes during the May Day holidays.

At least 19 people were killed after a car bomb exploded on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital of Abuja, just 200 meters from the location of a similar blast that killed 75 people two weeks ago, Vanguard reports. According to a local BBC correspondent, it is unclear why this specific area was targeted, as its population is of mixed religion. But the attackers were likely the Islamist group Boko Haram, who claimed responsibility for last month’s attack. The latest attack comes as Abuja is set to host the World Economic Forum on Africa next week, with world leaders expected to attend.

Traffic jams extended as long as 55 kilometers on highways in Beijing, Guangdong and Xian, as millions of Chinese tried to reach vacation destinations on Labor Day, the first day of the national “golden week” holiday.

The New York Times published a graphic report about another air strike on an outdoor market in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo that killed 33 people yesterday. Opposition figures describe it “as another deliberate attack on civilians by President Bashar al-Assad’s military aircraft.” This comes amid troubling reports from Saudi Arabian news network Al Arabiya of footage released by the opposition showing that Jihadist group ISIS, which fights alongside the rebels, have captured a number of aircraft belonging to the Syrian army. The planes were apparently unable to be flown and are being repaired. Meanwhile, another suicide car bomb this morning left 18 civilians dead, including 11 children, in Hama. Read more from AFP.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed this morning in South Sudan where he will meet with President Salva Kiir and is expected to hold a phone conversation with exiled rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar, AP reports. Kerry will seek to make both sides agree to a ceasefire, in an attempt to put an end to over four months of civil war that Kerry warned yesterday is showing signs of genocide.

As La Stampa"s Paolo Mastrolilli writes, it's been 40 years since Rubik's Cube inventor ErnÅ‘ Rubik released his brain-and-fingers toy to the world. “For some it has become a mania, to the point of international competitions to see who could solve it the fastest,” the journalist writes. “The current record stands at 5.5 seconds. It’s truly an icon of our time. When Edward Snowden went to meet journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in the Hong Kong restaurant to leak the NSA documents, he told them they’d recognize him because he’d be holding a Rubik’s Cube.” Read the full article, Rubik's Cube Turns 40: A Conversation With Its Inventor.

Thieves in Australia made off with a sweet haul: a dozen beehives and the 480 kilos of honey inside them, which were worth almost $2,000.

South Korean officials have warned that divers participating in the search of the sunken ferry are facing health risks because of prolonged swimming in cold and murky waters, with several of them subject to decompression sickness, Yonhap news agency reports. This comes after a diver was hospitalized yesterday after falling unconscious during a mission. More than two weeks after the ferry sank, 76 victims have yet to be found, with their bodies believed to be trapped in unexplored parts of the boat.

“It's true that you gain weight in America. It's a calorie monster.” AFP reports that some Japanese Godzilla fans think Hollywood has gone and “super-sized” their beloved monster in a new remake.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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