Protests across Peru are keeping tourists away from the country’s top travel destinations

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Protests across Peru are keeping tourists away from the country’s top travel destinations

The Peruvian city of Cuzco is usually teeming with visitors, but because of ongoing protests, only 4% of its hotel rooms were occupied last month. Many of residents say the situation has become critical.

The WorldFebruary 3, 2023 · 1:45 PM EST

The Inca temple of Sacsayhuamán gets only a handful of visitors per day now, as tourists cancel their trips to Cusco amid protests taking place in Peru.

Manuel Rueda/The World

With unique architecture dating back to the Inca empire, the city of Cuzco is one of Peru’s most popular tourist destinations.

But now, its cobblestone streets are mostly empty, as protests in the South American country have forced thousands of travelers to cancel their reservations.

The city of 500,000 is usually teeming with backpackers who admire the high ceilings of its baroque churches, and use Cuzco as a departure point for epic treks into the Andes mountains.

But last month, only 4% of its hotel rooms were occupied, according to the local chamber of commerce. And travel agencies are struggling to provide refunds to tourists. Many inhabitants of the city, known as Cuzqueños, say the situation has become critical.

Cuzco is Peru's top tourism destination.


Manuel Rueda/The World

"We are very worried with what’s happening and sometimes we feel overwhelmed," said Maira Cano, the manager of a store that sells alpaca-wool sweaters and souvenirs near one of Cuzco’s archaeological sites. She said sales are just 20% of what they were before the demonstrations began.

“We need this situation to be solved quickly,” she added.

The protests were sparked by former President Pedro Castillo’s ill-fated attempt to dissolve Congress in December and rule by decree.

Protesters in Peru blame President Dina Boluarte for the deaths of more than 50 demonstrators, amid clashes with police and want her to resign.


Manuel Rueda/The World

He was promptly impeached and arrested on rebellion charges, and replaced by his vice president, Dina Boluarte. But while his removal complied with Peruvian law, it angered many people in the nation’s Andean highlands, who were hoping that Castillo — a former rural school teacher — would reverse the years of neglect they’ve faced from the central government.

The situation quickly turned violent in some southern cities, where largely Indigenous groups of protesters tried to take over airports, and were met by police gunfire.

The protests then moved to the capital Lima, where thousands of people have been marching to demand the resignation of Boluarte — blaming her for the deaths of dozens of protesters in cities like Juliaca and Ayacucho.

“Many lives have been lost and to honor them we need to change things.”

Hansel Ordoñez, protester

“We can’t tolerate so much abuse,” said Hansel Ordoñez, who showed up at a protest in Lima with a Peruvian flag draped over his shoulders. “Many lives have been lost and to honor them we need to change things.”

In many parts of southern Peru, including the area around Cuzco, protesters have also blocked rural roads with rocks and logs, in an effort to disrupt the economy.

Protesters have blocked rural roads around Cuzco with rocks and logs, in an effort to stifle the economy.


Manuel Rueda/The World

And that also makes it impossible for tourists to get to popular destinations near Cuzco, like the Sacred Valley or the Rainbow Mountain.

In early January, protesters blocked a train track leading from Cuzco to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, and local villagers went on strike, prompting the government to shut down the world-famous site.

For the tourism industry, that was the nail in the coffin, according to John Gonzales, president of Cuzco’s chamber of commerce.  

Everyone who comes here wants to see Machu Picchu,” he explained. “So, to avoid disappointment, people are canceling their trips and choosing to go to other countries.”

Some people in Cuzco support the protests, even if they are depriving the ancient city of one of its main sources of income. 

Dionisa Condori makes tips by taking photos with tourists. Every day, she dresses up in colorful traditional clothes and takes a bus to central Cuzco with her white baby alpaca in her arms.

Dionisia Condori takes photos with tourists for tips. She said she supports the protests in Peru, but also wants a quick solution to the conflict.


Manuel Rueda/The World

“We want all of Congress to resign,” she said. “They have ignored Indigenous people like us for too long and left us in the margins.” She explained that her village, located outside Cuzco, still has no gas pipes.

President Boluarte has proposed moving elections up to October to reduce the opposition to her beleaguered administration. But Congress would have to approve the proposal, and it’s currently debating the conditions in which new elections could be held.

The streets in Cuzco are lined with walls that date back to the Inca empire.


Manuel Rueda/The World

While Condori supports the protests, she also wants a quick solution to the conflict. Basic necessities have become harder to come by. She said that the price of beef and chicken has gone up, with roadblocks making it harder to bring goods into the city. “It’s hard to make a living now,” she said.

And in Cuzco, most people are hoping for a solution to end the roadblocks, in the hopes that visitors will return to the city.

“We have no quarrels with tourists,” Condori said. “We hope that they can come back soon, so that everyone can benefit.”

Related: Peru protests reveal ethnic and regional divides

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New York City struggles to accommodate new migrants

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>New York City struggles to accommodate new migrants

A controversial housing dispute this week reveals a deep strain on the intake system for migrants. 

The WorldFebruary 3, 2023 · 1:45 PM EST

The new reception center at a cruise terminal on the Brooklyn waterfront will house 1,000 migrant men until May 1, when cruise ships will be back.

Gisele Regatão/The World

Controversy erupted this week over New York City’s decision to move a group of single, migrant men from a Manhattan hotel, where they had been housed for months, to a new reception center created inside a cruise ship terminal on Brooklyn’s waterfront.

Many of the men refused to go and ended up holding protests and camping for several nights on the sidewalk. The city justified the move, saying it needed the hotel space to house migrant families instead.

New York City has absorbed a large influx of migrants and asylum-seekers since last spring, when states such as Texas and Arizona began bussing them north from the border. The city said almost 44,000 migrants have come through its intake system since last spring.

Mayor Eric Adams has said New York, as a sanctuary city, is committed to welcoming immigrants but its services are under incredible strain.

“Once the asylum-seekers from today’s buses are provided shelter, we will surpass the highest number of people in recorded history in our city’s shelter system,” the mayor said in October, when declaring a state of emergency. 

“And every day going forward that we add more to this count, we break another record.” 

Residents of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood have placed welcoming signs in front of the cruise terminal reception center for migrants.


Gisele Regatão/The World

This new reception center is housed inside of a massive cruise terminal in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood that faces the Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor. Immigrants sleep on camping cots, with no privacy and limited bathrooms.

The location is also an issue. Red Hook is not close to a subway station, which makes it difficult for residents to get to work. The site is set up to house 1,000 men until this spring, when cruise ships will be back.

The local volunteer organization Red Hook Mutual Aid Society has set up a welcome center near the cruise terminal where migrants can pick up food and clothes, as many of them do not have proper clothing for New York’s winter temperatures. They will also offer English classes.

The volunteer organization Red Hook Mutual Aid is providing clothes to the migrants who have been moved to the neighborhood, many of whom don’t have winter clothes.


Gisele Regatão/The World

Many of the new arrivals are coming from Venezuela, where people are fleeing political and economic upheaval. There are more than 7 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants all over the world, making its displaced citizens the third-largest group internationally after Syria and Ukraine.

On a blustery cold afternoon this week, Venezuelan José Perez, 26, stood with a group of friends outside the cruise terminal and agreed to talk about his journey to New York. Perez, originally from Puerto La Cruz, on the eastern coast of Venezuela, arrived in New York three months ago.

He used to work at a bank in Venezuela and was studying business administration in college. He said he decided to leave his country because he couldn’t survive on his salary. 

“Minimum wage in Venezuela is between $7 and $10 a month and with that, I had to pay university, gas, car insurance,” Perez said, who, after leaving Venezuela four years ago, lived in Brazil for two years, Chile for one year, then Peru and Ecuador. 

José Perez, 26, arrived in New York City last fall, but he left Venezuela four years ago. He first moved to Brazil, then Chile, Peru and Ecuador. He came to the US looking for better opportunities.


Gisele Regatão/The World

To arrive at the US border in El Paso, Texas, Perez crossed through the Darién Gap, which is a dangerous forested area between Colombia and Panama. His journey with several friends took three months. 

“At night, as people were setting camp, it looked like the apocalypse, there was nothing to eat, it was horrible,” he said.

His hope is that New York will be a place where he can build a new life and bring his family. His wife is in Chile, and his parents are in Venezuela. He has one sister in Colombia and another in Costa Rica. 

Perez said it was his decision to come to New York City.

“They told us that here was a sanctuary place, that we could be more at ease, not like in other states, that here they would support us more,” he said.

Last year, he had found temporary work cleaning and repairing chimneys but he is now unemployed.

Perez hasn’t yet applied for asylum, but he does have an appointment with a lawyer at the end of February.

Louise Bauso (right) is an ESL teacher who runs Red Hook Mutual Aid, an organization of local volunteers who is providing assistance to the migrants who have been moved to the neighborhood.


​​​​Gisele Regatão/The World

Lengthy asylum process

Niurka Meléndez, a Venezuelan migrant herself and the co-founder and co-director of the nonprofit Venezuelans and Immigrants Aid (VIA), knows that the asylum process can be long and complicated.

“I applied in March of 2015 and this coming March is going to be seven years waiting for my first interview,” Meléndez said, adding that she has a work permit because her asylum request is pending.

Her organization provides legal orientation, humanitarian help, English classes and emotional support to Venezuelan migrants in New York. She believes the city government should do more for immigrants than the basic services it offers, such as accommodation, medical care and food.

“If you ask me, OK, it’s like a good Band-Aid, but they need more than that, they need legal orientation, and they can do that,” she said.

Last month, the Biden administration changed its policy toward migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua, ruling that they can no longer apply for asylum if they cross illegally into the United States.

The administration said that up to 30,000 people from those four countries would be allowed to enter legally each month, but only if they can buy a plane ticket, get a sponsor, pass a background check and meet other requirements.

As a result, the number of people crossing the US-Mexico border from these four countries is decreasing. The US Department of Homeland Security said this week that border apprehensions of people from these countries fell to about 100 a day from more than 3,000 a day in December.

In New York, about 150 to 200 migrants continue to arrive in the city each day, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs said in a tweet on Feb. 2.

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A spike in ringworm cases in Spain leads to a surprising culprit: the barbershop

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>A spike in ringworm cases in Spain leads to a surprising culprit: the barbershop

​​​​​​​A ringworm outbreak among Spanish teens has been traced back to barbershops and a fashionable haircut: the fade. Spanish dermatologists blame dirty electric razors.

The WorldFebruary 3, 2023 · 12:45 PM EST

Customers wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus get a haircut at a barbershop in the southern neighborhood of Vallecas, Madrid, Spain, Sept. 25, 2020. More recently, a different infection — ringworm — has been cause for concern at the barbershop, with dirty razors blamed for an unusual outbreak among Spanish teenagers over the past year.

Bernat Armangue/AP

In Spain, more than a hundred teenage boys picked up ringworm over the past year.

The outbreak, unusual for the age group, is among the largest in Europe. More commonly, ringworm spreads from household pets, or even farm animals, to young children, according to dermatologists.

But in 2021, dermatologist Leonardo Bascon started seeing something new.

“Some patients were coming here with this new pattern,” he said, from his office in a hospital near Barcelona. “And they were a bit older. The mean age of our cases is actually 19.”

Bascon and his colleagues decided to investigate. They jumped on a nationwide, online chat group for Spanish dermatologists. In a week, they’d compiled 107 similar cases from across the country — and they realized it was ringworm.

From there, the doctors were able to trace the infection to the barbershop and a haircut that’s all the rage, the degradado, or, the fade — via dirty electric razors.

Spanish dermatologists blame dirty electric razors at the barbershop for a recent outbreak of ringworm among teenage boys in the country.


Gerry Hadden/The World

Every single one of the 107 patients had been to the barber to get a fade within two weeks of showing infection.

In Spain, it seems virtually every teen boy sports the fade — it starts out short on the side and gets longer and longer toward the top of the head.

“The key is shaving all the way down the skin around the ears and the nape of your neck,” said Nacho Lizan, a high school soccer player who has the fade.

Many teenage boys, like the ones shown here, in Spain, are opting for the fade, a haircut that’s long up top and shaved down along the scalp.  


Gerry Hadden/The World

Shaving down to the scalp is where the infection can set in.

Barcelona haircutter Sukhreet Singh said he’s been doing a lot of fades lately, shaving one side of the kids’ heads down to the scalp.

“Sometimes, they also ask for patterns shaved into their hair, down to the scalp.”

Singh said he hadn’t had cases of ringworm in his shop. But razors like his can pick up the fungus from the skin of one client and quickly spread.

“I get 20 to 30 clients a day,” Singh said. “One could easily pass ringworm on to another.

This is a barbershop after all, he said. “We need to be vigilant.”

Singh, like most barbers, disinfects his razors and scissors with alcohol after each client. But apparently, some don’t.

Bascon said ringworm is easily treatable but prevention is best. The fungus, he said, can cause inflammation, fever and even bald spots. Imagine, he said, going to school with a bald spot.

“They are very concerned about the problem. It could lead to alopecia [abnormal loss of hair] if it's not properly treated.”

Spanish dermatologist Leonardo Bascon holds up a photo of one of his young male patients whom he believes contracted the visible ringworm infection from a barber’s electric razor. 


Gerry Hadden/The World

The news has spread fast among teens, with some posting warnings on TikTok. But despite the concern, some are still sticking with the fade.

“I’ve been avoiding the barber since I heard about ringworm,” said Gael Doncell, a high school soccer player. “But next week, I’ll be back in the barber’s chair.”

Although some teenage boys in Spain say they worry about the spread of ringworm via dirty electric razors at the barbershop, they're not shying away from getting their hair cut.


Gerry Hadden/The World

He and his teammates, who also have the fade, agreed that from now on, they’d just ask the barber to disinfect the razor before they take a seat. And if they forget to ask, they said, they’ll just hope the fungus hasn’t found them.

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America’s top priority is to help Ukraine ‘defend itself’ as a sovereign nation, Blinken adviser says

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>America’s top priority is to help Ukraine ‘defend itself’ as a sovereign nation, Blinken adviser says

What are Washington's current strategic goals and limitations in Ukraine? And how do they align with Kyiv? Derek Chollet, a counselor at the US State Department who advises Secretary of State Antony Blinken, joined The World's host Marco Werman to shed some light.

The WorldFebruary 2, 2023 · 4:15 PM EST

US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet smiles ahead of a meeting in Serbia, Jan. 12, 2023. 

Darko Vojinovic/AP

As Russia continued firing missiles on residential areas in the east of the country on Thursday, senior officials from the European Union paid a visit to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen stood beside Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and promised more aid. She also announced the establishment in The Hague of an international center for the prosecution of war crimes in Ukraine. 

"Russia must be held accountable in courts for its odious crimes," she said. 

Leading generals from the US and Ukraine also spoke on the phone on Thursday. They discussed developments on the battlefield and how Washington can boost the war effort. But what are Washington's current strategic goals and limitations in Ukraine? And how do they align with Kyiv?

Derek Chollet, a counselor at the US State Department who advises Secretary of State Antony Blinken, joined The World's host Marco Werman to shed some light.

Marco Werman: I'm hoping you can pull back the lens a bit and help us get a sharper view of how Washington sees its role in the war in Ukraine. Is what's happening there an existential threat to Western values or something more limited, do you think?Derek Chollet: It's the former, in the sense that what we're seeing happen in Ukraine is, in fact, an assault on the most fundamental principle of international politics, which is that countries should not use force to invade another country and try to gobble up their land. That's what we and all of our partners are pushing back hard against. It's very important. The EU visit that you mentioned today at the top of the piece is yet just another sign of the unity of the coalition that we have so painstakingly worked to put together and maintain its strength over the last year.I mean, in terms of the military support, it seems like every time the US puts limits on what it'll do, whether it comes to sending Stinger missiles, the Patriot system, armored fighting vehicles, and more recently, Abrams tanks, Every time Washington draws a line, policy eventually blows past it. I mean, isn't that fair?It's not so much of drawing lines or taking them away. We are in a constant conversation with our Ukrainian partners about their needs as this conflict has evolved, and as you rightly noted, in the early days of the conflict, it was all about Stinger, shoulder fire, anti-aircraft missiles. Then it became about Javelin anti-tank missiles, then it was about air defense. And it's been about armor. And undoubtedly, Ukraine's needs are going to evolve as this conflict evolves. Our goal is very simple. We want to give Ukraine as best we can, and take into account all of our interests around the world, the means to be able to defend itself and take back the territory that Russia is trying to take away from Ukraine.Isn't that what you just kind of outlined there? Isn't that exactly the definition of mission creep?Well, the mission is quite clear. Again, to give Ukraine the means to defend itself and to be democratic, independent and sovereign. That's our mission. And importantly, that's not just the US mission. There are more than 50 countries around the world that are giving Ukraine some kind of assistance to defend itself. I didn't mean mission creep in terms of the overall mission and the goals, but the mission creep in terms of what the US will supply. For example, President Biden this week flatly ruled out providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but the same thing happened with tanks, and tanks are now on their way. I mean, you used to work at the Pentagon — why give the Ukrainians tanks but not aircraft, if we're all in? Why is one OK, but not the other?Again, it's an evolving conversation that we're having with Ukrainian friends and it's a constant one. Every time Secretary Blinken talks to the Ukrainian foreign minister or President Zelenskiy, as he does very often, almost on a weekly basis, we're hearing more about their needs as their needs evolve. And look, I fully understand the Ukrainians' perspective on this. They are fighting an existential fight. This is a fight for the survival of their country. Russia is trying to take out the government of Ukraine and occupy the territory of Ukraine. So there's no such thing as too much from their perspective. But of course, we have to weigh all sorts of competing interests and needs. We are taking supplies out of our own stocks to give them to Ukraine. These are not munitions or systems that were just sitting on the shelf waiting for someone else to use. These are all being taken away from other Pentagon priorities that we've deemed Ukraine more important. But we always have to take that into account whenever we're making these sorts of decisions.Would you be surprised if F-16 fighter jets did get a green light in the months ahead?Yeah, I don't want to speculate on any particular system that Ukraine may or may not get right now. All I can say is it is a constant conversation we're having with them on their needs and what we can do to try to help them.Can you think of a historical parallel where Washington has given so much military aid in such a short time in a conflict where the US is not a combatant?Well, it's hard to find a parallel. I mean, I think the closest that comes to mind to my mind is the early days of World War II in the 1940s, through the Lend-Lease Act, where the United States came to assist the UK, in terms of defense of this country.And if we follow the World War II model, at some point the US does get directly involved and it's a broader war. How much does that stay in your kind of collection of scenarios?You can overdo the historical parallels on this, of course. But look, we pay very close attention and don't for a second feel the need to apologize for thoughts about controlling escalation here. We've got many interests around the world. Foremost among them right now is the defense of Ukraine. So as we think about ending the war and maintaining any sort of peace, the illegally annexed territory of Crimea is, of course, crucial. Can Ukraine get Crimea back and keep it? Would Russia ever agree to giving up the naval base in Sevastopol? I don't want to speculate on what Russia may or may not be willing to give up. All I can say is the United States has never recognized the annexation of Crimea as Russia conducted in 2014, and we believe that Ukraine needs to be able to regain all the territory that Russia has tried to take from it. Full stop.There's been some reporting mostly recently in The New York Times suggesting US officials are strongly considering giving Ukraine the go ahead to attack Crimea. Is there new thinking on Crimea in official US government circles?All I can say, and I'm not going to comment specifically on these reports, is that we are in constant dialogue alongside our partners with the Ukrainians on the fight that they're in and trying to give them our best advice about what steps they should take. Also trying to best assess their needs and the ways that we can collectively support them as they try to regain their sovereignty and their independence and get Russia out of their territory.What does a post-war Ukraine look like? Some have suggested it might look like Israel, you know, deal-making whereby no one is really happy and tensions live long. What we're seeking is for Ukraine to be independent, to be sovereign, to be able defend its territory, to be democratic, to be clean, to be free of corruption, which is something that's plagued that country for far too long. … Zelenskiy [is] taking some pretty serious steps just in recent days to try to get at that. And we've been quite impressed, by the way, by Ukrainian stewardship of all of the assistance they have been receiving from us and others. That's our overall goal. And we're going to do whatever we can in the best way we can to try to support Ukraine. Finally, and something of a wild card: China. What about China? Is Beijing going to continue to sit on the fence in this conflict?Well, we've been very clear with the leadership in Beijing that they need to do whatever they can to try to convince Vladimir Putin to stop what he's doing in Ukraine and to have his forces leave Ukraine. We've also been very clear with the leadership in Beijing that they do nothing to help Russia in this conflict, whether that's providing them with military supplies, whether that is helping them circumvent sanctions. And they are well aware of our concerns about this and also the potential consequences if they were to make such decisions.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 

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Belgium faces pressure to support sanctions on Russian diamonds

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Belgium faces pressure to support sanctions on Russian diamonds

Belgium has to decide how to proceed amid calls for sanctions against Russia's diamond industry. The Belgian city of Antwerp plays a big role in the global diamond trade, and would have much to lose. Hans Merket, of the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), joined the World's host Marco Werman from Antwerp to discuss the situation.

The WorldFebruary 2, 2023 · 4:00 PM EST

A member of auction house staff poses for a picture with a 19-carat pink diamond at Christie's auction house, in London, Oct. 18, 2017.

Tim Ireland/AP/File photo

The European Union is debating a fresh round of sanctions against Russia amid the war in Ukraine. And one thing it wants on the list is Russian diamonds.

But Belgium is wavering. That's because the city of Antwerp plays such a huge role in the global diamond trade.

Meanwhile, Belgium's prime minister is doing somersaults to please all parties — and stay tough on Russia.

Hans Merket is with the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), an independent research institute in Belgium, and his focus is on the link between natural resources and conflict development and human rights. He joined The World's host Marco Werman from Antwerp to discuss the situation.

Marco Werman: First, set the stage for us. What is Belgium's role exactly in the global diamond market?Hans Merket: Belgium is the global supermarket for diamonds, let's say. So, it's all about wholesale trade of both rough and polished diamonds. The estimate is that about 80% of all diamonds traded in the world, at one point, pass through Antwerp, Belgium's, diamond trading center.What about on the Russian side? How dependent is it on Belgium for its diamond exports?Where Russian diamonds go, there are three main destinations where they make their first stop. It's either Belgium, Ramat Gan in Israel or Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. And Antwerp is the biggest. And also the other way around, for Antwerp, it's even more important, I would say for Antwerp, it is the most important trading partner when it comes to diamonds.I don't hear a lot about diamond production in Russia. How big is their output?Yes, that's something that many people don't expect or don't know. But actually, Russia is the world's biggest diamond producer. About one-third of all diamonds put on the market annually are mined in Russia. So, it is very important.Wow. So, the EU idea is to sanction Russian diamonds. What is the evidence, though, that money from Russia's diamond exports are helping to finance its war in Ukraine?Well, there's both direct and indirect links. Let's say indirectly, it's over 90% of all diamonds mined in Russia are mined by Alrosa, which is a partly state-owned company in which Russian governmental entities together own 66% of the shares, and benefits from the profits — that is money that can be used to support Russia's war effort. Also, more directly, it has been shown that the Russian government has quite a high degree of control over this company. The CEO of Alrosa is the son of one of [President Vladimir] Putin's closest allies, Sergei Ivanov. And then, there has also been evidence that Alrosa, as a company, has been providing financial and technical support to the Russian navy, and particularly, the one submarine with which they have a kind of supportive agreements already for the past 25 years.How much pressure is Belgium under from other EU member states to include Russian diamonds in its next round of sanctions?Yes, that pressure is mounting. There's particularly a group of Eastern European countries that are pushing for the EU to finally include Russian diamonds in the sanctions package. There's, of course, also pressure from the broader public in Europe. Many people in Europe are going through a hard time because of all these sanctions and prices are rising. So, for them, it's also often difficult to understand why this luxury market has been, time and again, spared from sanctions. So, that pressure is definitely growing.What is the position of Belgium's prime minister, Alexander De Croo?The Belgian position has been that they wouldn't block any sanctions if the EU would propose it, but they are not, well, supportive or wouldn't themselves put that on the table. That's the official position. Then, there have been also reports that there has been at least some kind of lobby from Belgium to spare diamonds from the sanctions package. It has also been reported that actually, diamonds have been taken out of the previous round of sanctions at the very last minute, and it was actually the plan to include them.So, the US, the world's largest diamond consumer market, has already sanctioned diamonds. Are there other countries that have included Russian diamonds in their sanctions?Yes, I think the US is the only country that has specifically sanctioned Russian diamonds. But there are various countries that have put Alrosa, Russia's biggest diamond mining company, on sanction lists, for instance, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, as well. So, there's a series of them, yes.Where do Belgians, generally speaking, stand on this?Well, Belgians don't know this diamond sector very well, because it's something that is not very visible. We don't have a big diamond consumption market. So, it's mainly this wholesale trade that's hidden in offices on three streets, actually, in Antwerp, that if they don't come there, you never see the street. So, there is much less of a public debate about it than, for instance, in the United States, because there you have the consumers. And consumers are much more closely attached to this product. Here in Belgium, we have companies, we don't really know their names. These are very invisible companies that are in the midstream of the trade. So, the public debate is much less active. It's just not in the public debate.I find that really fascinating, considering how much attention is paid to Antwerp and Belgium. And yet the Belgians don't really see much of it or know much about it.Yes, that's indeed really strange. And I think mainly it is because we don't have this consumption market. All ethical steps forward that have been taken in the diamond trade, the pressure has always come from consumers. They put pressure on their governments, as well, to push for change. In Belgium, actually, many people think that diamonds are already being sanctioned. You read here and there in the press, it's assumed that they are under sanctions, and people have forgotten that actually they have managed to escape sanctions every time.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Related: Russia’s ‘conflict diamonds’ under scrutiny

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Libyan pop star Bahjat beat the odds. Now he wants to popularize ‘A-pop.’

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Libyan pop star Bahjat beat the odds. Now he wants to popularize ‘A-pop.’

After civil war broke out in his country, singer-songwriter Bahjat and his family had to flee Libya. But that didn't stop him from pursuing his dreams. Bahjat now sings a blend of Arabic and English songs in a genre he calls "A-pop," or Arabic pop.

The WorldFebruary 1, 2023 · 3:15 PM EST

Screenshot from Bahjat official lyric YouTube video "Hometown Smile."


With big curly hair and a silver Africa-shaped pendant around his neck, 27-year-old singer Bahjat Etorjman already looks the part of a confident pop star on the rise.

But the Libyan singer-songwriter — known professionally by his first name — admits that he was actually a shy kid when he was growing up in the capital Tripoli.

“I was a bit of an introverted child,” Bahjat said. “I started writing songs when I was like, 12 years old, as a way to cope with life.” He later began posting videos on YouTube, and soon made up his mind to become a professional singer.

But things didn’t quite go according to plan, and Bahjat had to hold tight to his dreams. In 2011, conflict broke out in his home country, forcing his family to uproot their lives and essentially start over.

“The revolution happened and it turned into a very unfortunate situation where, you know, there was a civil war,” he explained. “That didn't make it an environment where you can flourish,” he added.

Bahjat and his family packed up their lives and became refugees in Malta, where the singer still lives today. Amid the upheaval and change in his life, he did have one constant to lean back on.

“Music was the only thing that did not disappear,” he said about his experience.

“So, I started releasing music and just putting my all into it and did it day and night. I breathed it. I love it. I still love it. And yeah, I guess somehow people liked it,” he laughed.

In fact, they more than liked it. The independent musician has a growing social media following, and his song “Hometown Smile,” has millions of views and listens online. His fans even call themselves “Bahjat troops.”

“‘Hometown Smile’ is a song I wrote about how, even during the toughest of times, in the experience we went through, my mom always kept a smile on her face,” Bahjat explained.

“And it kind of taught me that, you know what, you can be going through the worst situations, but looking at the face of someone that you love and seeing that smile, you're like, ‘Yeah, I feel home now,” he said.

Bahjat mostly sings in a blend of Arabic and English in a genre he calls "A-pop," or Arabic pop. 

But, he said his fan base goes far beyond the Arabic-speaking world, and stretches from India to the United States.

“I think that's the beauty of pop music,” he said. “It truly shows you how many people feel the same emotion in different ways.”

Bahjat also chooses to be straightforward with his lyrics rather than poetic — preferring to sing frankly and openly about emotions — something that’s portrayed in his song “Halba,” meaning “very much” in the Libyan dialect.

“Thewhole premise of the song is like, I think I'm in love, but I don't want to admit it, but I think about you quite often. Like, you know, I tell my friends about you quite often,” he explained.

“I'm very proud of ‘Halba’ because it's one of those songs where I think I was able to use a purely Libyan word and use it in a way that's easily sung by anyone.”

Bahjat says that the Libyan dialect is well-suited for pop music because of the small linguistic ways it differs from more popular forms of Arabic.

“We also have a lot of ‘e’s’ in our dialect,” making the sound “eh” as opposed to “ah” at the end of a word, he explained. “The ‘eh’ is very musical, because anything that ends and lands on a very open vowel, I would say, makes pop music very catchy.”

Along with experimenting withlanguage, Bahjat is interested in playing around with references to pop culture.

One example is his song, “Aladdin,” based on the ambitious burglar popularized in the Disney film of the same name.

“I want to show you that, sometimes being an Aladdin means that you have no choice but to be overly ambitious and overly, you know, really eager to achieve what you want to achieve,” he said about how he reimagines the character.

“You don't have a decision on where you're born and the opportunities that brings you,” he said. And added that he aims to be the Aladdin of the music industry and hopes to popularize A-pop.

Despite his growing popularity, however, Bahjat said not everyone has been supportive of his music.

“I face a lot of backlash, and sadly, a lot of it comes from my home country because of the way I sing,” he said.

“Combined with the way I look, my fashion choices and [other] things, it just kind of makes me an easy target.”

But, Bahjat said, he is willing to take the hit so that the next generation of Libyan artists can be freer to express themselves.

Related: Elections in Libya should be part of a larger process toward peace, analyst says

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Trust the process: Part I

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Trust the process: Part I

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into the politics of patronage in Brazil.

Inkstick MediaFebruary 1, 2023 · 12:45 PM EST

Teachers representing the observatory of knowledge, protest against budget cuts for public universities outside the Ministry of Education, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, July 2, 2019. 

Eraldo Peres/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

“Patronage networks” are a popular villain of political imagination, conjuring to mind cynical images of a corrupt party boss and elected lackeys indulging in extracted wealth from the public coffers. More realistically, this kind of “rent extraction” is real, where appointed government officials use the privileges and access of the job for personal profit, but it’s hardly the only story. That patronage can facilitate corruption is well known, but it remains an insufficient explanation for why patronage structures persist across political systems. 

There are benefits from political appointments, not just to the appointees, but to the provision of public goods, argues Guillermo Toral in “How Patronage Delivers: Political Appointments, Bureaucratic Accountability, and Service Delivery in Brazil.”

The paper is written as a broader contribution to the study of patronage, adding discussion of its effectiveness to a literature already rich in outlining how such systems are used for plunder. To test the assumption of benefits, Toral looked at data from local Brazilian governments, surveyed bureaucrats and politicians, and conducted over 120 in-depth interviews across seven Brazilian states.

“I argue that political appointments and connections upwardly embed bureaucrats, which provides a set of governance resources. … Depending on how these resources are used, patronage can enhance either rent-seeking or public service delivery.”

Guillermo Toral

“I argue that political appointments and connections upwardly embed bureaucrats, which provides a set of governance resources,” Toral writes. “Depending on how these resources are used, patronage can enhance either rent-seeking or public service delivery.”

Toral goes on to explain the five mechanisms of patronage that he uncovered in his research, which he calls “upward embeddedness.” The first is the bureaucrats’ increased access to material and nonmaterial resources. The second is how patronage allows for politicians to monitor bureaucrats, while the third is how it facilitates the application of sanctions and rewards. The fourth mechanism is related to how patronage aligns bureaucratic priorities and incentives, and the fifth is how patronage works to increase mutual trust. Toral explains, “The advantages of upward embeddedness are not based on distributive favoritism because most of these governance resources are not zero-sum.”

Another way to think of this is that because appointees come in by recommendation and selection from an elected executive, those appointees are bound to that leader and have access to — at a minimum — some of the executives' attention. This makes it especially worth looking at in rural municipal contexts with finite budgets and labor pools.

“In these challenging environments, the counterfactual to a political appointee is not necessarily the highly capable, autonomous, and driven bureaucrat that Weberian theories presume,” Toral writes. “Without adequate human capital and incentives, civil servants may simply lack the capacity and motivation to deliver services. In those contexts, patronage can alleviate some constraints on bureaucratic governance.”

Appointees are also at-will employees, which means that they can be dismissed or threatened with dismissal for a failure to deliver and can also be promoted for success. In Brazil, while a developed city may have an established bureaucracy capable of handling tasks, the trust between appointees and executives in a developing city can facilitate coordination. 

This effectiveness can be seen in tracked changes of school quality in Brazil, as illustrated by scores in the Basic Education Development Index following political turnovers. Quality changes with political transition indicated that previously well-connected appointees were using those connections for meaningful service provision before the election.

“For the benefits of patronage to outweigh the costs, politicians must value public service delivery, be it due to intrinsic beliefs and norms, political competition, electoral accountability, or anti-corruption institutions,” Toral concludes.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

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The return of Chinese tourists restores hope in the Philippines’ tourism industry

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>The return of Chinese tourists restores hope in the Philippines' tourism industry

When the Chinese government made the decision to relax its pandemic restrictions and allow for travel abroad again, tourism professionals in the Philippines welcomed the news, but concerns linger about the expected increase in mass tourism.

The WorldFebruary 1, 2023 · 11:45 AM EST

White Sand beach on Boracay Island, in the Philippines. 

Ashley Westerman Loboda/The World

When the Chinese government earlier this month made the decision to relax its pandemic restrictions and allow for travel abroad again, countries that are heavily dependent on Chinese tourism dollars were immediately buoyed.

In the Philippines, where 12% of the economy is tourism-dependent and Chinese tourists were the second-largest market pre-pandemic, the news came as a relief. 

The arrival of Chinese tourists “will greatly help us in our effort to transform and recover the tourism industry,” Philippine Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco told reporters last week when the first plane of Chinese visitors arrived at the Manila airport.

“Our intention is not only to regain our pre-pandemic numbers, but to exceed it,” she said.

‘We are hoping the Chinese will come’

Tourism workers on Boracay Island, the Philippines’ most popular vacation destination, are working hard to prepare for the influx of travelers this year. 

Known for its glistening white sand beach, gorgeous sunsets and incredible diving, Boracay saw more than 2 million visitors in 2019, according to the government. 

But once the pandemic hit, virtually no one made any money for about two years.

“Maybe we lost, like 80% [of revenue],” Ga Arboleda, manager of DiveGuru’s boutique hotel, restaurant and dive shop said.

She added that once the pandemic took hold, many of her approximately 30 employees wanted to go back to the mainland. So for nearly two years, only she, her husband, their daughter and a couple of other employees ran the business, which barely survived, thanks to the few tourists stranded on Boracay, a special permit they received from the government to stay open and some one-off contracts to teach diving lessons.

“In 2020, we are already happy to get like 500 tourists in Boracay every month,” she said. “It just started to pick up again in the last part of 2021.”

Ga Arboleda, manager of DiveGuru’s boutique hotel, restaurant and dive shop.


Ashley Westerman Loboda/The World

That’s when Filipinos started traveling domestically again. The Philippine tourism industry is primarily fueled by domestic travelers, so once the country started loosening its harsh pandemic restrictions, experts say people launched into revenge travel mode after being cooped up for nearly two years.

In 2022, the Philippine government allowed foreign visitors back into the country and things improved further for the badly battered sector. The provincial government reports that tourism in the Philippines in Aklan Province jumped over 400% between 2021 and 2022.

Arboleda has high hopes for this year. “[From] the tourism point of view, we are hoping the Chinese will come.”

Chinese mass tourism 

Phoebe Areno, a tourism official with Aklan Province, said tourism in the region is projected to grow more than 100% in 2023. Between Jan. 1 to Jan. 22 of this year alone, she said, over 125,000 tourists have arrived with a little more than 28% from abroad.

“We are assuming that in the first quarter we are going to receive flights coming in from mainland China,” she said.

Max Cawed gives a diving lesson.


Ashley Westerman Loboda/The World 

The Philippines is banking on Chinese visitors so much that a tourism deal to boost relations with China was signed when the Philippines President Bongbong Marcos visited Beijing earlier this month.

The pandemic paralyzed the Philippines' burgeoning tourism industry, John Paolo Rivera, the associate director of the Andrew Tan Center for Tourism at the Asian Institute of Management, said. “Because of it, revenues were almost zero.”

So, the potential of Chinese tourists to the Philippines cannot be undermined, he said — and this has specifically to do with the way Chinese tourists travel.

“They go by mass tourism. A huge, huge amount of tourists, and they come by buses, in ships, in planes,” Rivera said.

“But then they're also characterized as tourists who absolutely spend [a lot] whenever they go to a country, because they spend so much on entertainment and luxury items.”

Pre-pandemic, Chinese tourists racked up some $255 billion in spending and accounted for almost 20% of tourists globally, according to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization. For Southeast Asia, especially, data for 2019 shows that before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were the leading source of foreign travelers for the region — making up about a quarter of all tourists.

“So, the arrival of the Chinese, yes, it gives hope,” he said.

COVID concerns

Still, Rivera and other experts say the Philippines should be cautious of the impact an increase in foreign tourists will inevitably have — particularly when it comes to the environment and the ongoing pandemic. 

Dive shop manager Ga Arboleda laughed nervously when asked if she had any concerns about the expected increase in travelers.

“Well, because we don’t know [if] that virus, again, will arrive if we open the border already to all the people,” she said.

“I’m also thinking about what will happen if we get a new variant and then the vaccine we have will not shield us from that kind of variant.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the Philippines has logged more than 4 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 66,000 people have died. In preparation for more travelers from China this year, the Department of Health has called for “heightened surveillance” of visitors from there.

Still, only proof of vaccination is required upon arrival in the Philippines for foreign travelers, or a negative COVID-19 test if the traveler is unvaccinated. And even though almost 94% of Filipinos are vaccinated, health experts say, with new variants of the coronavirus on the horizon, more booster shots are still needed.

Trying to make a living and keep her beloved employees safe and healthy is a difficult balance act, said Arboleda, who arranged last week for all of her employees to get their second booster shots. 

“Most of our employees are two years or up to 21 years with us, so we really treat each other as a family,” she said.

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India’s Rahul Gandhi supporters finish 5-month rally and march against increasingly nationalist state

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>India’s Rahul Gandhi supporters finish 5-month rally and march against increasingly nationalist state

Rahul Gandhi, head of India's opposition Congress party, started a unity march last September from the southern tip of the country, which ended on Monday. Gandhi is trying to drum up support for his party, opposition to the ruling BJP and, many observers say, trying to uphold democracy in the face of what's becoming an increasingly religious state.

The WorldJanuary 31, 2023 · 2:45 PM EST

India's opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, speaks at a public rally as it snows in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Jan. 30, 2023. India's main opposition Congress party ended a five-month cross-country unity march in disputed Kashmir on Monday with hundreds of members of various opposition groups joining in a public rally in freezing temperatures.

Mukhtar Khan/AP

Over the last five months, thousands of Indians have joined Bharat Jodo Yatra, or Unite India March, in a movement against the “politics of hate and division,” which some say are gaining force in India.

The 2,200-mile-long rally, crisscrossing the country from south to north, has been one of the most-ambitious political rallies since the country’s independence.

Rahul Gandhi, 52, the face of the Indian National Congress party, led the march that began in September of 2022 and ended on Monday in northern Kashmir. Gandhi — no relation to Mahatma Gandhi — is the biggest rival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“The BJP thinks they can divide this country along religious lines, along its languages. This country cannot be divided,” Gandhi said shortly before he embarked on the long march from Kanyakumari on India’s southern tip.

Satish Kolkunda and his family joined the march on Oct. 30, bringing colorful posters and sandwiches as they met up with other marchers outside of their city of Hyderabad, in southern India.

“Why I started liking [Gandhi’s] leadership is, he’s truthful and honest,” Kolkunda said, adding that he was particularly impressed when, during a virtual meeting with party volunteers, Gandhi told them to question him if they thought he was wrong.

Satish Kolkunda and his family joined the march on Oct. 30, bringing colorful posters and sandwiches as they met up with other marchers outside of their city of Hyderabad, in southern India.


Courtesy of Satish Kolkunda

Gandhi is trying to drum up support for his party and, according to observers, uphold democracy in India in the face of an increasingly religious state.

“In this market of hate, I am setting up a shop of love,” Gandhi said during a speech in December in Alwar, Rajasthan.

A ‘shop of love’ in a market of hate

Kolkunda said he has witnessed firsthand the divisions that Gandhi wants to overcome.

In a WhatsApp group of his school buddies, Kolkunda said, “We have a mix of Hindus, Muslims, Christians. And that divide, I see it.”

Hindu conservatives in the group removed its Muslim members, he explained, and verbally abused them.

“And these things are happening very frequently since 2014 [when Modi first became prime minister],” he said.

Modi’s government has long been criticized for policies that put minorities, especially the country’s 200 million Muslims, at a disadvantage.

“Authorities in India have adopted laws and policies that systematically discriminate against Muslims and stigmatize critics of the government. Prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have infiltrated independent institutions, such as the police and the courts, empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass and attack religious minorities with impunity,” Human Rights Watch has said.

Ahead of general elections in 2024, the Congress party is positioning itself as an antidote to the BJP’s Hindu nationalist push.

Political scientist Zoya Hasan, professor emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said the march “has challenged frontally this idea that India is a Hindu nation. It has given people hope that there is still a place for an inclusive idea of India.”

However, some political scientists argue that the Congress party has not shied away from using religion to win votes and has itself, at times, espoused a soft brand of Hindu nationalism.

“Congress’s sustained move toward Hindu majoritarianism over several decades created fertile ground for the more extreme ideology of the BJP,” Kanchan Chandra wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2019.

Reviving the Congress party 

The response to the Unite India march, Hasan said, has exceeded expectations.

“There is an indication that Congress is serious, which was not the feeling that people would have had over the last nine years,” she said. The past few years have been among the most turbulent in its history as the oldest political party instrumental in India’s independence struggle.

Some of India’s most-famous prime ministers, including Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather, belonged to the Congress party.

But Modi’s victory in 2014 shattered the party — it won only 19% of the vote, its worst performance in history. It didn’t do much better in the next election in 2019. Today, it only holds power in three Indian states, and Gandhi himself has never been very popular.

“The Congress faces a rather existential crisis,” political commentator Rasheed Kidwai said.

And so, the Unite India march is also being seen as a Congress party revival.

While it's too early to say whether the march will change people's perceptions of the Congress, it has succeeded in changing people’s perceptions about Gandhi, Hasan said.

“People like the idea of a leader going to the people, rather than people going to the leader and asking something from him or her.”

Gandhi’s physical image has also transformed — he’s sporting a disheveled, salt-and-pepper beard these days, a departure from his earlier clean-shaven look.

Kidwai, who noted that Gandhi’s popularity ratings in the past have usually been in the single digits, said that he has “shown a kind of deep mental strength and a kind of sense of spiritualism” during the march.

The Gandhi family has been criticized for controlling the Congress party for many years. In October, the party selected Mallikarjun Kharge as its president, the first non-Gandhi chief in 24 years. Hasan said that that appointment and the march indicate that “Congress is turning a page.”

Bolstering democracy

A fresh start for the Congress is not only crucial for the party but also for India’s democracy. Congress is the biggest opposition party in India. The BJP’s other opponents are smaller, regional parties. In recent years, a weak Congress party resulted in the opposition becoming fragmented, which has resulted in the weakening of India’s democracy.

“Democracy without competition and a democracy without opposition is no democracy,” Hasan said. “The ruling dispensation has shown little tolerance for dissent or for opposition and would ideally want, you know, a stage where there is just minimum opposition or you just have the formality of opposition.”

Kidwai said that the march “looks high on optics but low in substance” and whether it will translate into more votes remains to be seen. “People of India are very emotional [in] their voting behavior. So, if Gandhi can find some kind of traction on that count, then that will act as a game-changer.”

While the rally was important, Hasan said, what comes after it will be even more important.

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Wagner mercenary group recruits Africans held in Russian prisons

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Wagner mercenary group recruits Africans held in Russian prisons

In recent months, reports have emerged that at least two men, one from Zambia and another from Tanzania, were killed while fighting for the Wagner group in Ukraine. Wagner reportedly recruited the men from Russian prisons, promising them amnesty. 

The WorldJanuary 30, 2023 · 4:15 PM EST

People sit in an office in the PMC Wagner Center, which is associated with businessman and founder of the Wagner private military group Yevgeny Prigozhin, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nov. 4, 2022. The company has played an increasingly visible role in the fighting in Ukraine. 

Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

Nemes Tarimo died last October while fighting for Russia in Ukraine. His body arrived in his home city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, last Friday.

Tarimo was in his early 30s. He’d traveled to Moscow from  Tanzania to study at the Russian Technological University.

The last time his cousin Rehema spoke to him was in March 2020.

“We talked more about his studies. Nemes went there [to] Russia just for studies,” she said from her home in Tanzania.

In recent months, reports have emerged that Tarimo, and another man from Zambia, were killed while fighting for the Wagner Group in Ukraine. Wagner reportedly recruited the men from Russian prisons, promising them amnesty.

Rehema, who didn’t share her last name, said that Tarimo had big ambitions — at one point, he ran for political office in his hometown. But in 2021, things took a different turn. Tarimo was arrested in Moscow on drug-related charges.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me anything about the situation,” Rehema said.

Rehema said she doesn’t know what happened to Tarimo after that. But court documents and media reports show that he was sent to prison. While there, he was recruited by the Wagner Group to fight in Ukraine, likely in return for amnesty.

The Tanzanian government confirmed last week that Tarimo died while fighting in Ukraine.

“We lost somebody … a very very important person in our family, because Nemes was very very kind and a loving person,” Rehema said.

Tarimo is not the only person from an African country that Wagner has recruited to fight in Ukraine.

Last week, the death of another man from Zambia made headlines. Twenty-three-year-old Lemekani Nyirenda was studying nuclear engineering in Moscow when, he too, was arrested for drug possession.

While serving his 9 1/2-year sentence, Wagner recruited Nyirenda to fight in Ukraine. His funeral was held in Zambia last week.

Tarimo and Nyirenda were both recruited from inside Russian prisons. But there are reports that Wagner is also recruiting fighters from countries in Africa.

“Not only is Wagner recruiting individuals who want to sign up to earn money by working for Wagner in African states, but actually, they’re also bringing in prisoners, including rebels from the same groups that they’re actually helping to fight countries like the Central African Republic to counter the rebels,” explained Catrina Doxsee, associate director and associate fellow for the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Wagner has operated in Africa for years — in Sudan, Libya, Mozambique, and most recently in the Sahel region.

According to Paul Stronski, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Russia is seen as a friendly foreign power by some Africans.

“There’s a lot of anti-Western, anti-colonial legacies still there. Russia presents itself on the African continent as a noncolonial power,” Stronski said.

“We’ve seen conflicts for years in Africa, and the United States and Europe have not responded with the same urgency as they seem to be responding in Ukraine. Europe welcomed all these Ukrainians in 2022, but if you just look back — I think it [was] six years ago, 2016, 2015 — they weren’t so welcoming when people weren’t from Europe,” Stronski added.

In the past, Wagner recruits received some training before they were sent to the battlefields in Ukraine, but today, it is not clear if they get any training, given Russia’s demand for fighters, Doxsee said.

“The conditions in Ukraine for these recruits are horrible. We’ve long known that one of the appeals for Moscow in using private military companies rather than Russian soldiers is to have a force multiplier that can in some cases be used more as cannon fodder.”

Sometimes, they’re forced to stay on the front lines longer than the initial agreement.

Doxsee said there should be a public information campaign aimed at Africans and their governments detailing the realities of signing up with the Wagner Group.

That way people would understand better the risks involved.

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‘Ransomware Diaries:’ Going undercover with the leader of LockBit

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>'Ransomware Diaries:' Going undercover with the leader of LockBit

Jon DiMaggio, chief security analyst at Analyst1, spent more than a year inside LockBit private channels interacting with LockBitSupp and other members. He recently released a report called "Ransomware Diaries: Volume 1," that revealed how he infiltrated the group and what he learned while he was on the inside.

The WorldJanuary 30, 2023 · 12:15 PM EST

In this June 19, 2017, file photo, a person types on a laptop keyboard in North Andover, Massachusetts. 

Elise Amendola/File/AP

An unusual announcement appeared in Russian Dark Web forums in June 2020. Amid the hundreds of ads offering stolen credit card numbers and batches of personally identifiable information, there was a call for papers.

“We’re kicking off the summer Paper Contest,” it read. “Accepted article topics include any methods for procuring shells, malware and malware coding, viruses, trojans, bot development … monetization.”

Jon DiMaggio, chief security analyst at Analyst1, remembers seeing the ad when it first appeared and thinking to himself how odd it was to have some sort of academic call for papers pop up where cybercriminals tend to gather.

“They’re calling for papers, like, in the name of education of the criminal community," DiMaggio told the "Click Here" podcast. “As if they were helping out the young guys and gals coming up,” in the cybercrime world.

DiMaggio said that the summer paper contest was a strangely highbrow way to appeal to the vanity of a group that typically doesn’t get to claim much public credit for what they do: cybercriminals. 

That may partially explain why the contest ended up generating a huge amount of interest. The $5,000 cash prize for the best paper probably had something to do with it, too. But it wasn’t just the novelty of introducing a contest that made DiMaggio take notice — it was who was sponsoring the competition: a Russian ransomware gang called LockBit.

That contest was the first in a long list of initiatives, unrelated to the bread-and-butter running of a ransomware gang, that a hacker named LockBitSupp did over the past two years to professionalize the group, according to DiMaggio, who spent more than a year inside LockBit private channels interacting with LockBitSupp and other members.

“LockBitSupp considers himself to be like a CEO of a company,” said DiMaggio, who believes LockBitSupp is more than just a support person or administrator for the group as his moniker implies. 

This is just one of the insights from a new report called "Ransomware Diaries: Volume 1," released on Jan. 16, in which DiMaggio revealed how he infiltrated the group and what he learned while on the inside. "Click Here" was given an early look at it.

DiMaggio watched as LockBitSupp began upgrading the group’s infrastructure. He saw him recruit developers who were creating LockBit’s easy-to-use ransomware dashboards. He was privy to the group’s efforts to upend the traditional ransomware payment model by putting affiliates in charge.

LockBit's response on a Russian dark web forum after a DDoS attack on digital security giant Entrust.


Courtesy of Jon DiMaggio/Analyst 1

LockBitSupp’s focus on professionalizing the group is part of the reason why LockBit has found such success in the cybercriminal world — the group accounted for 44% of the total ransomware attacks launched last year.

“He’s running it as a business and it’s why I believe that he spends so much time on criminal forums interacting and talking and being accessible,” DiMaggio said.

“He wants LockBit to be popular and easy to approach.”

Last year, the cybercriminal world was rocked by a researcher who released years of internal chat logs from the Russian ransomware group Conti. The chat logs came to be known as the "Panama Papers" of the ransomware world, because they gave observers an unfiltered look at how ransomware operations work.

DiMaggio’s report was a version of that. By sharing some of the chats he started and was privy to, he laid out how LockBit came to eclipse other ransomware operations — and what it plans to do in the future.

Do you speak German?

DiMaggio’s relationship with LockBit and its leader started with a failed job interview. It was 2020, and LockBit was looking for coders. They put up a job posting for affiliates and DiMaggio applied. He didn’t expect to get very far in the process. "I’m not a hacker," he said.

Even so, he did get a virtual interview and got as far as the LockBit assessment test. It was meant to measure whether an applicant really had the coding chops they claimed to have or were just "script kiddies" exaggerating abilities.

“The assessment test they gave me showed I wasn’t qualified enough,” DiMaggio said. “I didn’t expect to get through, but they did let me remain in their TOX channel,” which, it turns out, was a goldmine.

TOX is a peer-to-peer instant messaging service, a kind of encrypted Skype that many cybercriminals prefer. Much of the world’s ransomware negotiations happen on TOX. So, being in the TOX channel for LockBit allowed DiMaggio to be a kind of fly on the wall, watching cybercriminals at work and in the wild.

But DiMaggio wanted to be more than a fly on the wall — he wanted to engage. So, he baited LockBitSupp. “I asked him if he thought an account being used by another ransomware group had been compromised by the FBI,” DiMaggio said.

“I didn’t care what he said, but I saw it as an opportunity, because he seemed so paranoid about that taking place.”

DiMaggio was pretending to be one of LockBit’s affiliates, or subcontractors, and he told LockBitSupp that the affiliates could be in jeopardy, too.

“And he was like, you know, I prefer to have these conversations not on these forums, but on our own infrastructure,” and he asked DiMaggio (or at least who he was pretending to be) to move the conversation there. The only problem was, LockBit was a Russian ransomware gang, and DiMaggio didn’t speak Russian.

"So, I started off the conversation with German, and of course then he says, 'I don’t speak German,'" DiMaggio said. "But here’s the thing. All of them speak a little bit of English, because English speakers are their primary victims."

So, DiMaggio would often start conversations with ransomware actors with a ploy.

"I’m like, 'do you speak English,' type of thing. And they say, 'yes.' And I’ll say, 'OK, well why don’t we try to communicate in English then?'" he said. "And then, I just have to remember to make sure my English isn’t too good as I communicate, but it works. And, and that’s exactly what I did with LockBit."

Before he knew it, he and LockBitSupp were in the group’s private channel talking and, in some ways, LockBitSupp was exactly what DiMaggio was expecting. He was a guy who exaggerated his accomplishments and trash-talked other groups. Where he was different was in his sense that, in order for the ransomware industry to get “next level” it needed to be run more like a traditional business, and LockBitSupp had a plan to do just that.

“He constantly did things to get their name out there and then capitalize on the opportunity,” DiMaggio said.

Tattoo for $500

LockBit started with a logo. A few ransomware groups — like Vice Society — were experimenting with that. LockBit’s logo — a red, white and black retro-looking rendition of their name — started appearing on everything they touched: on their leaks website, letterhead, ransom notes, anything they sponsored.

Then they tried their hand at a little IRL branding. They began offering people $500 to $1,000 to tattoo the LockBit logo on their bodies.

“I heard that, I’m like, there is no way anyone is going to tattoo the name of a ransomware brand and their logo on their bodies,” DiMaggio said.

“And then people did. That’s just crazy to me.”

LockBit began offering people $500 to $1,000 to tattoo the LockBit logo on their bodies. The group's leader wrote in in a post: "All affiliates come and go, LockBit is eternal."


Courtesy of Jon DiMaggio/Analyst1

Then LockBitSupp began working more strategically. He began studying the inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the ransomware business model, DiMaggio said. He began puzzling through what stopped the average hacker from launching successful attacks — and why they weren’t using LockBit.

LockBitSupp’s solution was something he called LockBit Red, publicly branded as LockBit 2.0. Think of it as ransomware made easy. If you weren’t a great coder and wanted to make some cash launching ransomware attacks, not a problem. LockBit 2.0 was essentially point-and-click.

They created a dashboard to help hackers keep track of all the ransomware they had released into the world, and then improved the encrypter so attackers could steal data faster. They even created push notifications that would alert attackers when a victim responded to a ransom demand.

He took what used to require weeks of being on a network and manually entering commands and writing scripts, and automated it with a graphical interface for everybody. LockBitSupp certainly wasn’t the first person to try this, but he was the first to do it this well. LockBit’s central management console incorporated all the disparate elements of a ransomware attack, and put it in one place.

“They made a process that was convoluted, slow and was putting data outside of their own control, and made it fast, efficient and going into their own infrastructure to use,” DiMaggio said.

Flip the script

LockBitSupp's game-changer was upending the ransomware payment system — one of the biggest problems in the cybercriminal world. The difficulty isn’t so much getting a victim to pay a ransom; that was comparatively easy. The issue was paying all the people who worked on the attack.

Traditionally, ransomware gangs use subcontractors or affiliates. Think of them as specialists — people who might be particularly good at searching for vulnerabilities or cracking into particular kinds of networks.

Each hacker would do the specific thing they’re good at then and collect that percentage of the ransom at the end, almost like an invoicing system. Given the business they’re in, it isn’t too surprising that a lot of the time they didn’t get the money that was owed.

“Not getting paid was a concern that was talked about a lot, and still is talked about a lot, on these criminal forums,” DiMaggio said.

So, Lockbit flipped the script, and put the affiliates in charge.

“You, as the affiliate, you do the negotiation and collect that money yourself and then you pay us our percentage,” DiMaggio said, which is how it worked. “Inherently, it gives them trust and removes that fear of getting ripped off.”

Once LockBit did that and upgraded their ransomware product, affiliates were banging down the doors to work with them. LockBit suddenly had more ransomware work than it knew what to do with, which goes a long way toward explaining why LockBit has been so formidable in the ransomware world today, and responsible for nearly half of all the ransomware attacks last year.

Hacking St. Mary’s

Last summer, Jon DiMaggio was in one of the LockBit chatrooms when members started crowing about its latest victim: a small Canadian town called St. Mary’s.

“The conversation was almost like high-fives and laughing at the victims themselves — poking fun at how easy it was to compromise,” DiMaggio said.

The hacker version of locker-room talk.

Attackers often go into these hacker forums and begin talking about what they just stole.

“They like to go through the data to find the, sort of, most embarrassing aspects of it … and share stuff,” said DiMaggio. “And it’s usually, it’s very much like an online bully — picking on the victim, talking trash as though it’s some big joke.”

But it doesn’t feel like some big joke on the other end.

“You feel like the world’s gonna end,” the mayor of St. Mary’s, Al Strathdee, told "Click Here."

“It’s like being robbed. … I felt like we were invaded and robbed and it was a smash and grab.”

Strathdee was thrice elected mayor of St. Mary’s, a town of about 7,700 in southwestern Ontario. It sits a couple hours south of Toronto and about three hours north of Detroit. Its claim to fame? Thomas Edison worked here as a boy on the rail line and its outdoor quarry is Canada’s largest outdoor swimming pool.

It was the last place one would expect Lockbit to set its sights on, though Strathdee said, these days everyone’s a target.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s more common than you think,” he said. “But at the time you think, you know, first of all, your first reaction is why us? And what happened?”

St. Mary's, a town of about 7,700 in Ontario, was a LockBit victim last year. Researcher Jon DiMaggio was in the group's channel when LockBit affiliates boasted about the attack.


Ken Lund/Flickr

Back in July 2022, the city of St. Mary’s IT department was doing some routine maintenance and discovered some irregularities.

“They immediately isolated the system and unplugged the servers,” Strathdee said, adding that “our initial thought is that they didn’t even know they hit us.”

Those push notifications that LockBit launched so ransomware attackers could track their victims may have played a role in the St. Mary’s attack.

“We’re wondering whether they have systems that went back and told them that we had discovered them in our systems, or maybe an alarm went off,” he said, adding that the final report on the breach may tell them that for sure.

There was a ransom demand and city leaders thought about paying it, though he wouldn’t say how much it was. 

What Strathdee found stunning, after he did some reading about Lockbit, was that the group thought to strike his town. He was told that people could actually rent software from LockBit and take a cut, which means it could have been anyone,” he said. 

In other words, it may not have been LockBit itself that hacked them, but one of those affiliate groups. Strathdee said it is pretty clear to him that just about everyone is vulnerable and everyone has to prepare for ransomware attacks now.

“You know, you talk a lot about roads and sewers, and different things like sidewalks and things, as being infrastructure,” he said.

Cybersecurity is “becoming infrastructure as well, and we have to start thinking of it more. And we need to spend more money, a lot more money than we ever expected."

In a forum, LockBitSupp talks about his plans to outfox authorities and prevent them from identifying him as a leader of the gang.


Courtesy of Jon DiMaggio/Analyst 1

LockBit 3.0

Jon DiMaggio's main question: Who does this kind of thing? Who thinks a hospital or a small city or school is a legitimate target?

DiMaggio used to do this kind of profiling and analysis for government intelligence agencies. After spending more than a year lurking in chat rooms, lobbing in questions and watching the interactions between LockBitSupp and others in the ransomware world, what he’s pieced together is that LockbitSupp is a white male in his mid- to late-30s living in Russia or Eastern Europe. He grew up poor, and that’s central to understanding him.

“He says that he was picked on for not having money and not having a lot of friends,” DiMaggio said. “So, because of that, this builds in these insecurities, and when you get a lot of success, that breeds a very strong ego.

DiMaggio said LockBitSupp sees himself as a prince of darkness, like a Batman villain bent on sowing destruction. It is why he is always escalating. For example, he wants to add Denial of Service attacks to the group’s ransomware menu. Because, LockBitSupp said in one chat, “DDoS attacks invigorate” him and “make life more interesting.”

But the thing about so-called supervillains is that, down deep, they have issues. For all their bravado, they’re a little insecure. And in Lockbit’s case — maybe less surprisingly — he’s super paranoid. That paranoia let DiMaggio get closer than he probably should have, and prevented LockBitSupp, DiMaggio said, from enjoying all the money he’s making.

“He can’t travel to places. He can’t go on vacation or leave certain areas of the world,” DiMaggio said. And because of all of this, he doesn’t seem happy.

A Telegram post and tweet from someone claiming to have hacked LockBit.


Courtesy of Jon DiMaggio/Analyst 1

DiMaggio assumes once the report goes public, any personas he used to get close to LockBitSupp and his operation will be burned. But he maintains that the whole exercise was an important one, because security officials are so focused on the technical parts of ransomware, they forget that the people behind these attacks are only human.

Remembering that, he said, provides a roadmap on how to bring these groups down. DiMaggio said it would be easy to play on LockBitSupp’s paranoia and use information campaigns against him.

Which could explain why DiMaggio said his parting words to LockBitSupp would be this: “Watch your back. There’s researchers, there’s analysts, there’s law enforcement agencies and entire governments that are coming for you. Look over your shoulder. And when it’s hard to sleep at night,” DiMaggio paused, “That makes me smile.”

An earlier version of this story appeared on The Record. With reporting by Sean Powers and Will Jarvis.

Related: What comes after Hydra, the darknet marketplace that changed everything?

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Email AddressEmail AddressSubscribeI have read and agree to your Privacy Policy.Related ContentSon of Conti: Ransomware tries its hand at politicsUkraine says it’s ramping up its cyberdefense in light of Russian attacks  Cybersecurity expert: Israeli spyware company NSO Group poses ‘a serious threat to phone users’NSA discloses hacking methods it says are used by Russia

Suicide bomber kills 34, wounds 150 at mosque in NW Pakistan

class=”MuiTypography-root-239 jss217 MuiTypography-h1-244″>Suicide bomber kills 34, wounds 150 at mosque in NW PakistanAssociated PressJanuary 30, 2023 · 9:00 AM EST

Security officials and rescue workers gather at the site of suicide bombing, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Jan. 30, 2023.

Zubair Khan/AP

A suicide bomber detonated explosives during crowded prayers at a mosque inside a police compound in Pakistan on Monday, causing the roof to cave in. At least 34 people were killed and 150 wounded, officials said.

Most of the casualties were police officers. It was not clear how the bomber was able to slip into the walled compound, which houses the northwestern city of Peshawar's police headquarters and is itself located in a high-security zone with other government buildings.

Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The main spokesman for the militant group was not immediately available for comment.

Pakistan has seen a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended their cease-fire with government forces. This was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.

More than 300 worshippers were praying inside the mosque, with more approaching, when the bomber set off his explosives vest. Many were injured when the roof came down, according to Zafar Khan, a local police officer.

Rescuers scrambled to remove mounds of debris from the mosque grounds to reach worshippers still trapped under the rubble, police said.

Meena Gul, who was inside the mosque when the bomb went off, said he doesn’t know how he survived unhurt. The 38-year-old police officer said he could hear cries and screams after the bomb exploded.

Siddique Khan, a police official, said the death toll rose to 34, and the dead included Noor-ul-Amin, the prayer leader. He said the attacker blew himself up while among the worshippers.

Peshawar police chief Ijaz Khan said at least 150 were wounded. A nearby hospital listed many of the wounded in critical condition, raising concerns the death toll could still rise.

Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence, and the city has been the scene of frequent militant attacks.

The militant group, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 15 years. It seeks the stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of their members who are in government custody and a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that it has longed used as its base.

The group is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops pulled out of the country after 20 years of war.

The government's truce with the TTP ended as Pakistan was still contending with unprecedented flooding that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes, and at one point submerged as much as one third of the country.

Mohmand, of the militant organization, said a fighter carried out the attack to avenge the killing of Abdul Wali, who was widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, and was killed in neighboring Afghanistan’s Paktika province in August 2022.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the bombing, and ordered authorities to ensure the best possible medical treatment for the victims. He also vowed “stern action" against those who were behind the attack.

Sharif traveled to Peshawar and visited the wounded at the hospital. His office said he would receive a briefing about the security situation in the northwest.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan called the bombing a “terrorist suicide attack" in a Twitter post. “My prayers & condolences go to victims families," said the ex-premier. “It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”

Cash-strapped Pakistan is currently facing a severe economic crisis and is seeking a crucial installment of $1.1 billion from the International Monetary Fund — part of its $6 billion bailout package — to avoid default. Talks with the IMF on reviving the bailout have stalled in the past months.

Sharif’s government came to power last April after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Khan has since campaigned for early elections, claiming his ouster was illegal and part of a plot backed by the United States. Washington and Sharif have dismissed Khan's claims.

By Associated Press writer Riaz Khan. Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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A Chinese company strikes a deal with the Taliban to extract oil from Afghanistan

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>A Chinese company strikes a deal with the Taliban to extract oil from Afghanistan

Beijing signs onto a deal with the Taliban to extract oil from the north of Afghanistan. ​Graeme Smith, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, discusses the implications of the agreement with The World's host Carol Hills.

The WorldJanuary 27, 2023 · 4:00 PM EST

A general view of Mes Aynak valley is seen some 25 miles southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, March 2, 2022. Buildings on top are offices of Chinese mining company MCC that won the contract to exploit the world's second-largest copper mine.

Shafiullah Zwak/AP/File photo

The Taliban has struck its first major deal with an international partner.

A Chinese company is investing more than half a billion dollars to begin extracting oil from the Amu Darya basin in the north of Afghanistan.

Graeme Smith, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, discussed the implications of the deal from Dubai with The World's host Carol Hills.

Carol Hills: Graeme, why is Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Company investing so heavily in Afghanistan?Graeme Smith: Well, the Amu Darya Basin in the northwest of the country has real potential. There is apparently oil and gas there. Some of it's stretching apparently under the border into Uzbekistan. And so, it's one of the many things the Chinese hope someday to get out of the ground in Afghanistan, not just oil and gas, but also gold and copper and maybe iron ore. But the reality is that doing this is very, very difficult and expensive. And so, they say that they will start work, but very little has started so far.But I'm curious why China has decided Afghanistan. I mean, there's any number of places around the world where they could invest in oil and extracting oil. Why Afghanistan?You know, you're right. It doesn't make a ton of sense on the face of it, because just building infrastructure, for example, building the railways, the road links and everything that you would need to link Afghanistan to China would be tremendously expensive to build. China does have this vision for what they call the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that will, they hope, eventually stretch all the way across the Asian continent and make things like this somewhat more feasible. But right now, the maps of the BRI, those maps simply leave Afghanistan out. It's sort of a blank spot. And so, you can see that they are testing ideas for starting to fill that in and maybe to include Afghanistan.So, what benefit is there for the Taliban to do business with China? Is it just money or something else?Well, the Taliban are economically isolated by the Western world. This is really hard. If you are Kabul and you depend on imports to feed most of your country, most of the food consumed in the country is imported, and most of those deals are done in US dollars. And so recently, the Chinese foreign minister was visiting Afghanistan. People who were in that meeting told me that the Chinese said, "Hey, look, we understand you're having problems with the Americans. Why don't you try using our currency instead?" And the Taliban were interested in this idea. It's a little bit tricky, though, because there's not a whole lot you can do with Chinese currency except to buy Chinese imports. And Afghanistan does import a lot of goods from China, but it's a nascent relationship. I think there's a fair bit of mistrust on both sides. But they're testing it out.Now, not everyone in Afghanistan is happy about China's presence there. In September, ISIS-K, the Afghan ISIS affiliate, warned China against its "daydream of imperialism." What's ISIS-K's problem with China?This affiliate in Afghanistan that calls itself Islamic State-Khorasan Province. Over the years, it's had to absorb a number of different foreign militants, Uzbeks, a small number of Uyghurs. And so, they probably have some sympathies with the Uyghur militants who are still in very small numbers operating on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions against China. And so, that makes China very, very concerned about the emergence of ISIS-K.Does ISIS-K pose a security threat to Chinese nationals in Afghanistan?Yes. ISIS-K has launched a number of attacks recently that appear to be targeting Chinese diplomats and business interests.Of course, as you know, Afghanistan has been called the "graveyard of empires." Whether Chinese interests are imperialist, as ISIS-K is claiming or not, is there any risk of China having to devote its own security resources in Afghanistan, like the US before it?You know, it's a fascinating question. China, of course, has been very reluctant to deploy its own forces outside of its own borders. And I think, when you talk to Central Asia hands, that's always one of their, kind of, questions about whether or not someday China would get drawn into some kind of a mission in Central Asia to protect its own assets. I mean, it's a bit of a science fiction scenario at this moment, because they've been so cautious about making investments in Afghanistan. But I have to say, under the previous government, there were photographs circulating of Chinese military vehicles accompanying what was then Afghan security forces up in Badakhshan Province, the province that borders China, clearly inside Afghan territory. So, they have been taking these little baby steps across the border from time to time. And it would be interesting to see someday if that could be extended.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Related: ‘I am living through my worst nightmare’: Women aid workers in Afghanistan react to ban on employment

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Pork paradigm shift: This high-end São Paulo restaurant features pig ears and tails

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Pork paradigm shift: This high-end São Paulo restaurant features pig ears and tails

In Brazil, eating pork used to have negative connotations. But A Casa do Porco, or The Pork’s House, in downtown São Paulo, has transformed pork into a gourmet food, kicking off a culinary trend throughout the country.

The WorldJanuary 27, 2023 · 1:00 PM EST

One of the main dishes at The Pork House includes a crunchy roasted pork with beans and fresh vegetables and is paired with the Brazilian national drink: caipirinha. 

Gisele Regatão/The World

On an unassuming corner in downtown São Paulo, Brazil, next to dilapidated houses and walls covered in graffiti, sits the 7th best restaurant in the world.

A Casa do Porco, or The Pork’s House, opened in 2015, and has since become a destination for people visiting the city.

In Brazil, pork used to get a bad rap. But the restaurant has transformed pork into a gourmet food, kicking off a culinary trend throughout the country.

Rueda (right) commands the staff of about 100 people at A Casa do Porco.


Gisele Regatão/The World

One afternoon, three doctors from the state of Mato Grosso came on a gastronomic tour.

“Beyond the presentation, which is really cool, I liked the contrast of the ingredients,” Hyssam Hamida, one of the doctors, said.

Hamida and his two friends said they all agreed on one surprising dish: the ceviche of pig’s ear. It’s made with raw shrimp, sweet potato and seasoned with lime juice.

The ceviche of pork’s ear is served with raw shrimp, sweet potato and seasoned with lime juice. The pairing cocktail is pisco sour.


Gisele Regatão/The World

It’s not an accident that A Casa do Porco is located in downtown São Paulo. Janaina Rueda, co-chef and co-owner of the restaurant, was born in a tenement a few blocks away. She started working when she was 11 and dropped out of school in seventh grade.

Rueda opened the restaurant with her then-husband, chef Jefferson Rueda, who used to be a butcher. They serve a high-end pre-fixe menu with the price tag: $46.

“If you are going to compare it with the other restaurants that made it to the list of the top 50 in the world, it’s the most affordable, by far,” she said.

One of the reasons is its location. Rents are cheaper in downtown São Paulo. It’s an area that fell into decline in the 1970s as industries and residents moved to other neighborhoods

But Rueda doesn’t like the claim that her restaurant is helping revitalize the area.

“I don’t like the word revitalization, because here there was always life, this area never stopped. What happened is that people started valuing it,” she said.

Rueda knows the area very well. As a teenager, she made chicken salad sandwiches to sell on the streets there. She then ran a food stand. She opened her first restaurant in 2008, Bar da Dona Onça, or Ms. Jaguar’s bar, which is her nickname — a nod to her feistiness.

Although, at 47, she’s a bit tamer, she said. “I’m now a jaguar that observes more, that’s more mature. I will only attack as a last resort,” she said.

Rueda has long dark hair, large blue eyes and a tattoo that imitates the skin of a jaguar covering her entire left arm.

Janaina Rueda, co-chef and co-owner of A Casa do Porco, was born in a slum tenement a few blocks away from the restaurant in downtown São Paulo.


Gisele Regatão/The World

As a celebrity chef in Brazil, she also gives talks all over the world. A few years ago, she led trainings with hundreds of student chefs to teach them to use natural ingredients. “It was then that I understood my role as a cook,” she said.

A Casa do Porco seats 30 people outside and 60 inside. It’s always packed and people can wait for hours for a table. In a month, they serve about 15,000 people. 

“I use the pork from head to tail, that’s why the restaurant is so profitable,” Rueda said.

‘Our Latin Blood’

Janaina Rueda got divorced in 2021, but she and her ex-husband remain business partners. They create most menus together, and since the pandemic, she’s been the one leading A Casa do Porco.

The menu changes every few months. The current one is inspired by Latin American cuisine and is called “Our Latin Blood.” It has nine appetizers, four main dishes, one dessert, plus coffee. 

The first appetizer represents El Salvador, consisting of a flatbread made of rice, with ham and mozzarella. It’s then followed by a Colombian arepa, or corn cake, with pork tartare.

The current menu is inspired by Latin American cuisine and it’s called “Our Latin Blood.”


Gisele Regatão/The World

The main dishes include pork chops with a salsa made of blood sausage and a crunchy roasted pork with beans and fresh vegetables. Some of the pairing cocktails are the Cuban mojito, Peruvian pisco sour and the Brazilian national drink: caipirinha.

They also have a vegetarian menu. And everything comes from two organic farms they run in the countryside of São Paulo state: one that raises organic pork and another with organic fruits and vegetables.

At The Pork House, the philosophy is to use all parts of the pork and to mix unconventional ingredients.


Gisele Regatão/The World

Luciana Barbo, a food critic based in the capital Brasília, said she will never forget the first time she ate at A Casa do Porco, a year after it opened. 

“My first experience was a paradigm shift, I went crazy,” she said. That’s because, she says, growing up, pork meat had a problematic image in Brazil. 

“In my childhood, in my science classes, we learned that pork meat was dangerous because it carried worms,” she said.

Barbo believes Casa do Porco changed that image and made pork a gourmet food all over the country.

“Here in Brasilia, we already had a bar also dedicated only to pork meat,” she said. She added that people now can find one of Rueda’s creations, pancetta with sweet guava, in bars in several cities across Brazil.

“They started a trend,” she said.

The restaurant seats about 60 people inside.


Gisele Regatão/The World

Today, Janaina and Jefferson Rueda run four establishments downtown, including a hotdog kiosk and an ice cream shop. They are about to open a fifth, which will offer one different homemade dish a day for less than $8, called a merenda da cidade,” or “the city’s school lunch.”

Rueda said she hopes A Casa do Porco will stay open for many years to come.

“I want it to last for 200 years, I want my sons to be the chefs here, together with the team,” she said.

Her oldest, who is 17, is already working at A Casa do Porco as a cook.

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Email AddressEmail AddressSubscribeI have read and agree to your Privacy Policy.Related ContentIn Kazakhstan, timeless Korean recipes are loved and maintainedA vegan bacon revolution takes hold in France A community kitchen in Colombo feeds Sri Lankans in needWelcome to Longyearbyen: The height of Arctic haute cuisine

LGBTQ Russians are fleeing to Central Asia

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>LGBTQ Russians are fleeing to Central Asia

When Russia started drafting men to fight in Ukraine last fall, thousands fled to neighboring countries in Central Asia. The draft has been paused and some are returning home. But less so for members of the LGBTQ community, who say the government's increasing hostility has made Russia unsafe.

The WorldJanuary 27, 2023 · 12:15 PM EST

A woman walks past a billboard with a portrait of a Russian soldier awarded for action in Ukraine and the words "Glory to the heroes of Russia" in St. Petersburg, Russia, Jan. 3, 2023.

Dmitri Lovetsky/AP 

On a recent Saturday night, crowds of young people pack into an old theater in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where there’s a pop-up party for the LGBTQ community.

Below a DJ on the stage, friends and couples dance in the dim light under high ceilings painted with agricultural scenes from the Soviet era.

Events like these aren’t typical in Central Asia. It’s a region where talking about LGBTQ issues is often taboo. Recently, Kyrgyzstan’s government took away transgender people’s right to change their pronouns on official documents. In nearby countries, like Uzbekistan, being gay is a crime.

But that hasn’t stopped many LGBTQ Russians from migrating to Central Asia, where they don’t need visas to live long term. When Russia started drafting men to fight in Ukraine last fall, thousands fled to neighboring countries in Central Asia. Now that the draft is paused, some Russian men are going home.

But many people from Russia’s LGBTQ community aren’t returning. Their decision to stay put is partially the result of a wider crackdown on LGBTQ rights in Russia. Some people in this story didn’t want to use their names because they’re worried about being identified by Russian authorities.

One man in Bishkek, from Siberia, said that he, like many Russian LGBTQ people, always planned to leave the country someday. He dreamed of getting married in Portugal to his boyfriend, but now, he said, those plans are on hold.

“It’s much harder [for Russians] to get a Schengen visa [that covers 27 European countries] now, and we have no idea how that might change going forward,” he said.

For the moment, getting married abroad in one of the few countries that allows same-sex marriage for nonresidents, like Portugal, seems impossible.

He came to Bishkek because he participated in a military training program in school, similar to ROTC in the US. So, there was a good chance he would have been one of the first people called up to serve in Ukraine. He also encountered homophobia serving in Russia’s military.

“Soldiers can physically abuse gay people in the army, and it’s understood that there are no laws to protect your rights,” he said.

Many LGBTQ Russians say they feel safer in Kyrgyzstan because the country has far less restrictive laws against LGBTQ people, and there are more resources for the community. But they don’t plan to stay forever.

Inside a library in downtown Bishkek, students sit at tables studying French.

One of the students who takes classes there also left Russia to avoid the draft. He hopes to move to France someday, because he loves the language and culture. He would also like to settle in a country that is more tolerant to LGBTQ people, like France, and where same-sex marriage is legal.

“I’m tired of always holding back the way I want to express myself, because you have to think all the time about whether it’s safe or not,” he said.

Russia passed a law recently that makes any reference to LGBT issues in media, such as movies or books, a criminal offense.

Some Russian politicians and religious leaders say the new law is part of a larger battle with the West that’s playing out in Ukraine. They claim to be protecting Russians from Western values that promote LGBTQ rights and threaten traditional families.

The new legislation against so-called “LGBT propaganda,” along with another recent law that requires many Russian organizations who receive foreign funding to be labeled as “foreign agents,” have both made it much more complicated for prominent groups that defend LGBTQ rights in Russia to keep working.

The man in the library finds this aspect of the laws — linking someone’s sexual identity to the influence of foreign powers in Russia — particularly offensive.

“You can’t be gay just because that’s who you are [according to the law],” he said. “No, it’s because those bad Americans or Europeans somehow seduced you and affected your thinking.”

How exactly the new law will be implemented is unclear. But Polina, a woman who works with the Russian LGBT Network, a human rights organization, said it could have a disproportionate effect on women.

”If a woman in Russia with children starts a relationship with another woman, then she could potentially have her kids taken away,” Polina said.

In theory, the authorities, or an ex-husband, could use the law in court to accuse a  bisexual woman with children of subjecting her kids to illegal, LGBTQ propaganda.

But Polina also said that the law is inspiring change. Lots of Russians who never took part in activism before are getting involved. And although some activists are leaving Russia, she said that the majority stayed to continue their work.

For LGBTQ Russians who do want to leave, the closeness of Central Asia and the visa-free regimes in the former Soviet countries there makes the region one of their best options.

But the fact that countries like Kyrgyzstan have close relations with Russia also worries some people.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, because it’s possible that Russia might ask Kyrgyzstan to deport all Russian men back home,” said the man who previously served in Russia’s military.

Back in Russia, they could potentially be jailed for avoiding the draft. Many LGBTQ Russians are instead biding their time — waiting until they can emigrate somewhere safer.

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Warsaw Ghetto’s defiant Jewish doctors secretly documented the medical effects of Nazi starvation policies

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Warsaw Ghetto’s defiant Jewish doctors secretly documented the medical effects of Nazi starvation policies

A researcher at Tufts University near Boston discovered an old book full of research on starvation written by Jewish doctors imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The ConversationJanuary 27, 2023 · 12:00 PM EST

The book includes haunting photos from inside the ghetto, along with its record of the medical effects of starvation. 

'Maladie de Famine," American Joint Distribution Committee

Eighty years ago, a group of starving Jewish scientists and doctors in the Warsaw Ghetto were collecting data on their starving patients.

They hoped their research would benefit future generations through better ways to treat malnutrition, and they wanted the world to know of Nazi atrocities to prevent something similar from ever happening again. They recorded the grim effects of an almost complete lack of food on the human body in a rare book titled “Maladie de Famine” (in English, “The Disease of Starvation: Clinical Research on Starvation in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942”) that we recently rediscovered in the Tufts University library.

As scientists who study starvation, its biological effects and its use as a weapon of mass destruction, we believe the story of how and why Jewish scientists conducted this research in such extreme conditions is as important and compelling as its results.

The clandestine project’s lead doctor, Israel Milejkowski, wrote the books’s foreword. In it, he explains:

“The work was originated and pursued under unbelievable conditions. I hold my pen in my hand and death stares into my room. It looks through the black windows of sad empty houses on deserted streets littered with vandalized and burglarized possessions. … In this prevailing silence lies the power and the depth of our pain and the moans that one day will shake the world’s conscience.”

Reading these words, we were both transfixed, transported by his voice to a time and place where starvation was being used as a weapon of oppression and annihilation as the Nazis were systematically exterminating all Jews in their occupied territories. As scholars of starvation, we were also well aware that this book catalogs many of the justifications for the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which made starvation of civilians a war crime.

This French translation was donated to the Tufts University library in 1948.


 'Maladie de Famine,' American Joint Distribution Committee

A defiant medical record

Within months of their 1939 invasion of Poland, Nazi forces created the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. At its peak, more than 450,000 Jews were required to live in this small, walled-off area of about 1.5 square miles (3.9 square kilometers) within the city, unable to leave even to look for food.

Although Germans in Warsaw were allotted a daily ration of about 2,600 calories, physicians in the ghetto estimated that Jews were able to consume only about 800 calories a day on average through a combination of rations and smuggling. That’s about half the calories volunteers consumed in a study on starvation conducted near the end of World War II by researchers at the University of Minnesota, and less than a third of the average energy needs of an adult male.

When the Nazis designated the district of the Warsaw Ghetto, it enclosed two hospitals, one serving Jewish adults and another for Jewish children. The hospitals were allowed to continue to treat patients with whatever resources they could obtain, but Jews in general were forbidden from conducting research. Nevertheless, starting in February 1942, a group of Jewish doctors in the ghetto defied their captors by meticulously and secretly gathering data and observations on multiple biological aspects of starvation.

Then on July 22, 1942, Nazi forces entered the ghetto and destroyed the hospitals and other critical services. Patients and some of the doctors were killed outright or deported to be gassed, their laboratories, samples and some of their research destroyed.

With their own demise approaching, the remaining doctors spent the last nights of their lives meeting secretly in the cemetery buildings, transforming their data into a series of research articles. By October, as they put the finishing touches on the book, about 300,000 Jews from the ghetto had already been gassed. The physicians’ own data showed that another 100,000 had been killed through forced starvation and disease.

With final deportations of the few surviving Jews underway and his own death imminent, Milejkowski wrote of the dark, yawning emptiness of the ghetto at that moment, and the horrifying conditions the doctors had labored under to conduct and record the research.

Milejkowski had words for not only the reader, but also his dear colleagues, many of whom had already been executed.

“What can I tell you, my beloved colleagues and companions in misery. You are a part of all of us. Slavery, hunger, deportation, those death figures in our ghetto were also your legacy. And you, by your work, could give the henchman the answer ‘Non omnis moriar,’ [I shall not wholly die].”

The team’s act of resistance through science was its way to wring something good out of an evil situation, to show the world the quality of the Jewish doctor, but mostly to defy the Nazis’ intent to erase their existence.

With death knocking on the door, the doctors smuggled their precious research out of the ghetto to a sympathizer who buried it in the cemetery of the Warsaw hospital. Less than a year later, all but a few of the 23 authors were dead.

Immediately after the war, the manuscript was dug up and taken to one of the few surviving authors, Dr. Emil Apfelbaum, and the American Joint Distribution Committee in Warsaw, a charity whose main purpose at the time was to help Jewish survivors. Together, they made the final edits and printed the six surviving articles, binding them into a book along with photos taken in the ghetto. Apfelbaum died just a couple of months before the final printing, broken by his years in the ghetto.

In 1948 and 1949, the American Joint Distribution Committee disseminated 1,000 copies of the French translation to hospitals, medical schools, libraries and universities across the US. It was one humble, crumbling copy of this book that waited to be “rediscovered” about 75 years later in the basement of a Tufts University library.

The book’s grim descriptions

Based on observations of thousands of deaths from starvation, this research from the Warsaw Ghetto provides insight into the biological progression of starvation that scientists now are just beginning to understand.

For example, many Warsaw Ghetto residents who died of starvation were otherwise free of disease. The ghetto researchers found that while an otherwise healthy body diminished through starvation apparently had a decreased need for vitamins, the need for certain minerals remained. They saw few cases of scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), night blindness (vitamin A deficiency) or rickets (vitamin D deficiency). But they did see significant osteomalacia, a softening of the bones, as the body mined them for their stores of minerals.

When the doctors provided sugar to the severely malnourished, their energy-starved cells quickly absorbed it. This demonstrated that the ability to quickly absorb and use energy remained to the end, suggesting that energy was the single-most important factor in starvation, not other micro- or macro-nutrients.

Each of these observations invites us as scientists to explore further. And with these lessons we can hope to prevent deaths or long-term harm from starvation through better treatment for the severely malnourished.

As scientists studying starvation today, it would be unthinkable and unethical to starve people to learn how the human body adjusts and changes during the end stages of extreme starvation. Even if researchers go into a famine-stricken population to learn about starvation, they immediately treat the victims, erasing the very object of their research.

Partly as a result of the experience of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Geneva Conventions made intentional mass starvation a crime, further strengthened by a UN Security Council Resolution as recently as 2018. Nevertheless, this inhumane aspect of war remains to this day, as evidenced by current events in Ukraine and Tigray, Ethiopia.

Though “Maladie de Famine” has never been totally lost or forgotten, the lessons from the doctors’ research have faded to semi-obscurity. Eight decades after the destruction that ended their studies, we hope to shine a renewed light on this work and its enduring impact on physicians’ understanding of starvation and how to treat it. The unique data and observations regarding severe starvation that the Warsaw Ghetto doctors, despite their own suffering, presented in this precious book can even now help safeguard others from that same fate.

Merry Fitzpatrick is a research assistant and professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. Irwin Rosenberg is a professor emeritus of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University. This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of experts for the public good. 

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Blocking BBC documentary on Gujarat riots goes against India’s democratic values, journalist says

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Blocking BBC documentary on Gujarat riots goes against India's democratic values, journalist says

A new BBC documentary looking at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's role in the 2002 Gujarat riots has sparked controversy in India. The government is trying to ban it while students and activists are finding ways to watch it in defiance. Rana Ayyub, author of the book "Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up," discussed the situation with The World's host Marco Werman.

The WorldJanuary 26, 2023 · 3:00 PM EST

A security personnel speaks to people from inside the main gate of Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi, India, Jan. 25, 2023.

Manish Swarup/AP

A new BBC documentary has sparked controversy across India.

The Indian government has tried to block the film “India: The Modi Question,” which looks at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat, where he was the chief minister at the time.

Several students at Jamia Millia Islamia University were arrested ahead of the planned screening. And Jawaharlal Nehru University locked its gates and cut electricity at its New Delhi campus as students gathered for another screening there. When they tried to watch it on laptops and cell phones in defiance, they were attacked by a group of masked men throwing stones at them.

Rana Ayyub, author of the book "Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up," and an opinion columnist with The Washington Post, discussed the documentary and the situation with The World's host Marco Werman.

Marco Werman: Rana, what has the Modi government said about this new BBC documentary and its reason for censoring it?Rana Ayyub: Well, the Foreign Office, when questioned about the revelations made by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, on the Gujarat riots and his observations, has called the BBC documentary a propaganda by colonial minds, who are trying to discredit India and with the documentary. This is why the government of India has asked Twitter to remove Twitter accounts that have shared the link to the documentary. I have only seen the first part of the documentary. I have not been able to see the second part, because a couple of them have put out the links of the documentary, but each time they put out something, it is removed. The government has gone all out not just to censor the documentary, but stop, not just social media platforms, but any organization, any platform, any institution from publicly playing this documentary, and that goes against the very ethics of a democracy.For those of us who don't know much about what happened in Gujarat, take us back briefly to what did go on there in 2002, and what we know for sure about Modi's role during those riots.In 2002, Marco, about 60 Hindus were burned alive in a train, following which there was a decision made by the Modi government to take out the bodies in public. And over a week from that day, more than 1,000 Muslims were massacred. Mr. Modi was held responsible for, not just the lack of law and order, but the fact that the police did not act on time, that nothing was done to stop the attack on the Muslim community. Hate speeches were given in public by Hindu nationalists, and none of those hate speeches were stopped. The highest court in India, the Supreme Court, made an observation that Mr. Modi was like a modern day Nero, who looked the other way as innocent Muslims were massacred over a period of a week in Gujarat.Right. And at the time, Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, which is essentially the governor, right? So, the current battle over this documentary with the national government of Prime Minister Modi banning the film, they used a 2021 emergency law. Do you think the government's security concerns for not showing this film are legitimate?Why would a documentary done by BBC, or for that matter any publication, have to be censored? I think it is a right of every Indian to watch what it wants to. They are guaranteed that right by the constitution of this country, the right of every Indian to watch the documentary and decide for themselves what is right or what is wrong. The Indian government has used emergency powers to stop the screening of a documentary citing national security threats. So, I think this is a very exaggerated claim, especially vis-a-vis a documentary. And ironically, this is what normally happens when you censor something. It is broadly watched and discussed. This documentary is now being watched by almost every Indian who, initially, was indifferent or was not watching it.I would put to you, though, Rana Ayyub, and I know you haven't seen the second episode of this documentary, but it does have some shocking footage, people beaten and killed on camera. We have to ask, what is the purpose of that, if not to anger people. And if it has a potential to stoke tensions, doesn't the prime minister have a prerogative to try and maintain peace in his country?Very, very recently the Indian government actually sanctioned the release of a film called "The Kashmir Files," which has been called by many filmmakers as brazen propaganda of the Hindu right. Now, what happened in Kashmir, the attack on Hindus, was something that happened legitimately. But the movie, the way "The Kashmir Files" was made, was a very Islamophobic way that paints all Muslims as some kind of bloodthirsty villains. The prime minister of India, and this happened years ago, decades ago, but the prime minister of India and the home minister of India, not just endorsed the release of the film, but the prime minister went on record saying that no activist or no journalist should censor this film because it shows the reality of India. So, if it was really a law-and-order concern, then this is a pick-and-choose by the government of India, that it wants to show a certain documentary, but it does not want to show a certain [other] documentary.We need to point out as well that the battle over this documentary is just the latest incident of censorship in India. So, what does free speech and free press look like in your country right now?Well, in a country which calls itself the world's largest democracy, the prime minister of India has not taken a single press conference. One of the reasons why he did not give interviews was that he referred to journalists as "news traders." In a country where 220 million Muslims in the country are routinely under attack by Hindu nationalists; where Hindu nationalists are seen in the national capital taking violent calls for converting India into a Hindu nation; when the prime minister of the country, who is absolutely media savvy, who likes to tweet about everything, does not tweet to ask for an inclusive India, does not tweet for an end to violence, does not take a single press briefing, does not give interviews to mainstream media; when journalists in India are being silenced, I think press freedom, there is no such thing as press freedom in India.Rana, you are a fierce critic of Narendra Modi and how he sees democracy in India, but he's still extremely popular there. Swapan Dasgupta, an Indian politician who was in Modi's party and a former journalist, says in the documentary, "Our democracy may not be perfect, but it keeps on improving. And I think there's enough elbow room for everybody to have opinions, whether they are rational or otherwise." What is your reaction to that idea that India's democracy is improving and there's still room for lots of differing opinions?I really hope Mr. Dasgupta tries to see what's happening on the ground, because this is an idea of democracy that he believes is only on camera, but not otherwise. So, I need to understand what kind of a democracy it is when every day you see violence against the Muslim community in acts that are public? Hindu nationalists are on camera in the presence of police forces, giving hate speeches, asking for a genocide of Muslims. I am trying to understand what is the construct of this democracy when some of India's best-known student activists are behind bars for protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act, which is being brought by the Indian government, a discriminatory [law that] discriminates against Muslims in India. So, honestly, Marco, more than anybody else, I am looking for a semblance of democracy in this country, because I love this country more than I can ever speak about, because I have seen democratic values. And the reason why I, and many journalists like me and activists, are speaking about this, is because we are seeing an erosion of democratic values in a country, which is now heading toward what looks like a fascist state.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.

Related: 'India is a tinderbox': Religious tensions come to a boiling point after brutal murder of Hindu tailor

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Big tobacco is forced to pay for cigarette butt pollution in Spain, but smokers may soon be on the hook

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Big tobacco is forced to pay for cigarette butt pollution in Spain, but smokers may soon be on the hook

They’re tiny, they’re toxic, they’re everywhere. Cigarette butts are a huge source of pollution in Spain and lawmakers have said, enough. They're ordering cigarette makers to pay for the cleanup, but smokers worry they’ll end up footing the bill.

The WorldJanuary 26, 2023 · 11:30 AM EST

Antonio Trujillo holds a cigarette while resting on a bench, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Sept. 25, 2020.

Alvaro Barrientos/AP/File photo

More than a third of Spaniards light up on a daily basis. And when they’re done, many of their cigarette butts land in the street.

“Seven out of 10 cigarette butts in Spain get flicked to the ground,” said Rosa Garcia, the director of a nongovernmental organization called Rezero in Barcelona.

A lot of cigarette butts reach the coast when beachgoers drop them into the sand, she said, adding that more than 25% of the waste collected on Spanish beaches consists of plastic cigarette butts. 

The cost each year to remove the tiny toxic nubs around Spain totals hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Garcia. A Rezero study suggests that it breaks down to anywhere between $15 to $25 per person every year.

“And even if you don’t smoke, you’re still paying for that cleanup — through your taxes,” Garcia said.

A recent decision, however, changed all of that. Spanish lawmakers have said that enough is enough — they passed legislation this month that would require cigarette makers to pay for the cleanup, but smokers worry that they’ll end up footing the bill. 

Cigarette makers declined to speak to The World about their plans. But the most likely scenario is that they will reimburse individual town halls for the costs they already incur in street-cleaning. And smokers are worried that the companies might turn around and hike prices to compensate for the losses. 

Barcelona has issued fines, at least on beaches, charging about $33 for dropping a cigarette butt in the surf. And last year, the city even banned smoking there altogether.

The fine was minimal, but another city initiative could hit smokers harder.

Barcelona’s City Hall is proposing a 20-cent tax per cigarette butt — which would be another $4 per pack, essentially doubling the price — but consumers would get that money back if they turn in the butts. It’s a similar scheme to getting some money back for returning soda cans for recycling.

The logistics for carrying out such a plan are still unclear.

Questions remain as to where people would return the cigarette butts. One logical choice would be at one of Spain’s 16,000 state-licensed tobacco shops, called estancos. But one estanco operator, Dani Perez, said he wouldn’t even touch them.

“In terms of hygiene it’s disgusting,” he said. “I am not going to start counting cigarette butts that have been lying on the ground, or sucked on by others.”

Nor would he have the time to do it, he said.

Cigarette butts are also filled with toxic residue from the tobacco, making them virtually impossible to recycle.

“A single cigarette butt can contaminate up to 1,000 liters [264 gallons] of water,” Garcia of Rezero said. “They are chemical bombs.”

Some startups are experimenting with biodegradable cigarette butts. But as they decompose, they’d still be releasing the dozens of toxic chemicals injected into them.

As far as cleanup goes, tobacco companies have a couple of months to roll out their plans. 

Barcelona resident Andrés Conde, a 56-year-old who smokes, wonders just how companies like Winston, Camel and others will actually tackle the problem.

“What are they going to do, send brigades of tobacco employees moving down the streets of every single Spanish town?” he raised.

If they do end up passing the cost along to consumers, Conde said he knows what he’ll do.

“I won’t pay double for cigarettes,” he said. “That’s nuts. I’m going to emigrate to Latvia.” Conde normally spends his summers there — where, he said, no one would dare to even toss a cigarette butt to the curb.

And anti-smoking activists say there’s really only one longterm, viable plan: it’s not finding a way to deal with dropped cigarette butts, but getting people to quit smoking altogether.

Related: French nonprofit warns 'COVID waste' could harm the environment

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Peru protests reveal ethnic and regional divides 

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Peru protests reveal ethnic and regional divides 

More than 50 people have been killed in southern Peru in protests that broke out in December, and have resulted in street battles between police forces and largely Indigenous groups of protesters who have fought back with rocks, slingshots and homemade rockets.

The WorldJanuary 25, 2023 · 5:45 PM EST

Antigovernment protesters clash with police in Lima, Peru, Jan. 24, 2023. Protesters are seeking the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, the release from prison of ousted President Pedro Castillo, immediate elections and justice for demonstrators killed in clashes with police. 

Martin Mejia/AP

After 17 protesters were killed in a single day in her region of Puno, Peru, Margarita Condori packed a suitcase, and traveled with dozens of her neighbors to the capital city of Lima.

On Tuesday, they joined thousands of Indigenous people from Peru’s southern highlands who marched through the city center to demand that the nation’s president resign.

“We feel like we’re living through a dictatorship,” Condori said. “We’re here to demand that they hold new elections, and change the constitution.”

More than 50 people have been killed in southern Peru in protests that broke out in December, and have resulted in street battles between police forces and largely Indigenous groups of protesters who have fought back with rocks, slingshots and homemade rockets.

President Dina Boluarte this week called for a truce. But few have listened to her pleas and continue to stage daily demonstrations in Lima, as well as roadblocks in rural areas that are also hurting the economy.

The protests have turned into a major challenge for Boluarte, who is Peru’s sixth president in as many years. And they highlight how the South American nation’s democracy has been afflicted by corruption scandals and congressional squabbles that have undermined trust in its institutions.

“Boluarte was imposed on us by Congress,” said Margarita Guzman, a resident of Lima who took part in Tuesday’ protest. “It’s like no one cares about our vote.”

The current wave of protests was unleashed by the removal in December of President Pedro Castillo, a leftist teacher and former union leader, who was popular among Indigenous people in Peru’s highlands.

Castillo was facing an impeachment vote in Congress, as well as several corruption investigations. So, in an effort to outmaneuver his political foes, he attempted to dissolve the Legislature and set up an emergency government that would rule by decree until new elections were held.

The military refused to support the move, and Peru’s top court said it was illegal. Within hours of announcing his plans to dissolve Congress, Castillo — an outsider with little experience in national politics — was arrested on rebellion charges and impeached and replaced by his vice president, Boluarte.

Castilllo’s removal was celebrated by his opponents in Congress, and it was largely accepted in Peru’s capital where many had been reluctant to vote for him in the 2021 election.

But it sparked large protests in cities located in Peru’s highlands, such as Cusco, Ayacucho and Puno where the bulk of his voters live.

The former schoolteacher hails from a small village in the Andes mountains and had promised to boost government spending in rural areas. Many members of Peru’s Indigenous minority see him as someone who was finally trying to stand up for them.

“Despite his corruption and his inefficiencies … he was still an Indigenous man from the northern Andes,” said Alonso Gurmendi, a Peruvian politics professor at Oxford University. “And that is important from the point of view of identifying with him in the most-excluded sectors of society.”

“Castillo in a sector of the country was still seen as the least bad of all alternatives,” said Will Freeman, a Princeton University scholar who is writing a book on anti-corruption strategies in Latin America.

“There’s an area of the country which typically leans left, which saw Castillo as a figure who might be involved in corruption, who might be an inefficient manager, but at least he wasn’t a businessman from Lima’s elite.”

After protests turned violent in Peru’s southern highlands, thousands of people from that region decided to travel to the nation’s capital to have their voices heard.

Milagros Rivera took a 16-hour bus ride from the province of Abancay where she’s a subsistence farmer. She said she felt cheated by Castillo’s removal.

“The state has always ignored us,” Rivera said. “We have bad hospitals, we have no schools, we don’t have proper roads to take our products to the market.”

The protesters from Peru’s Andes mountains have also been joined by some Lima residents who are appalled by the recent cases of police violence.

“I’m not from the left or from the right, and I’m not a Castillo supporter,” said construction worker Javier Puman, who carried a banner with a black ribbon on it. “I’m just here because the government is abusing our people, and we feel very hurt by what is happening.”

Boluarte has tried to make peace. In a press conference on Tuesday, she accused criminal groups of using the protests for their own benefit, as rioters in some parts of the country try to burn down government buildings where criminal records are held.

Boluarte also urged people in rural areas to stop staging roadblocks that are hurting sectors such as agriculture and tourism.

“Paralyzing transport, and creating chaos is not going to generate anything positive,” she said. “It’s not going to help us to recover from the economic losses we endured during the pandemic.”

Boluarte is trying to meet with local governors and mayors to discuss regional priorities and set out new development plans. But some say she needs to go further.

Gurmendi, the Oxford professor, said it's time for the government to set up town hall meetings with communities that have long been marginalized. These venues are known as cabildos in Peru, and they’re places where everyone can express their grievances.

“These protests can be demobilized by an act of contrition from the country’s elite,” Gurmendi argued. “To [admit] things haven’t worked. And we need to have a change in tune.”

While Peru has reduced its poverty rate by more than 25% since the 1990s and overcome problems such as hyperinflation and terrorist attacks, many Indigenous people are still finding it hard to access high-quality jobs and social services.

In the streets of Lima, some protesters said that they had lost faith in the current government’s ability to do anything meaningful for this minority, which makes up around a quarter of the nation’s population.

“We are going to be staging protests, until the president resigns,” said economics student Jose Raul Capablanca. “And until the people can choose their own destiny.”

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Court orders Canada to take back its citizens from camps in Syria

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Court orders Canada to take back its citizens from camps in Syria

A court in Canada has ordered the government to repatriate 23 of its citizens who have been detained in camps for suspected ISIS members and their families in northeastern Syria. If not challenged, this would be the largest repatriation of Canadians from Syria so far.

The WorldJanuary 25, 2023 · 4:15 PM EST

Kimberly Gwen Polman, a Canadian national, reads a letter at camp Roj in Syria, April 3, 2019. Polman came to the ISIS caliphate to join her new husband, a man she knew only from online. She was returned to Canada in 2019. Human rights advocates are working to help repatriate 23 Canadians being detained in camps in Syria.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP

When Alexandra Bain heard the news that the 23 Canadians detained in camps in northeastern Syria could be coming home soon, she was shocked and delighted.

“I am really, really happy for all Canadians,” she said. “Because the focus of the judge’s decision has implications for all Canadians. You have the right to return home.”

Bain heads a group called Families Against Violent Extremism, which has been working with families of a group of Canadians held in Syria for the past four years.

The 19 women and children as well as four men have been held in camps and prisons on suspicion of involvement with ISIS but none have been charged with a crime.

Their families filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government in 2021, arguing that it is violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by not repatriating their loved ones.

Since 2019, Canada has argued that it can’t take its citizens back from Syria because the detention camps there are too dangerous, and its diplomats are unable to travel there.

But last Thursday, the lawsuit was settled out of court, the families’ lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, told the CBC.

Greenspon did not respond to The World’s request for comment.

Bain said the judge’s ruling takes into consideration what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said — that a Canadian is a Canadian.

“He takes it back to the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Canadian constitution of 1867 and our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under section 6, which gives all Canadians the right to return to Canada,” Bain said.

Countries have been more accepting of bringing back women and children but not men. In this case, the federal court instructed the government to take the men back.

"The conditions of the […] men are even more dire than those of the women and children who Canada has just agreed to repatriate," the decision reads.

"There is no evidence any of them have been tried or convicted, let alone tried in a manner recognized or sanctioned by international law."

The government can appeal the decision. But if it stands, the Canadians are coming home.

The court order marks a significant victory for the families, said Letta Tayler of Human Rights Watch, and it could be a pivotal moment for similar cases elsewhere.

“This ruling could open the door for repatriations of all the men from Canada who are held in northeastern Syria, but also could set a precedent for other courts in other parts of the world to also tell governments they must bring home all their nationals,” she said.

Tayler said that there are still nearly 42,000 people from 60 different countries living in these camps, which are run by Kurdish authorities.

“So, this major step forward by Canada does not mean that this global detention crisis has been solved,” she added.

Tayler has documented conditions in the detention camps for her organization and she describes them as dire. In a report from last December, she said that hundreds of detainees have died from malnutrition, disease and violence. Children have died in tent fires, and they face threats of sexual harassment.

Last year, ISIS supporters stormed one of the prisons in northeastern Syria, prompting Kurdish authorities to respond.

It took 10 days of battle and the help of the US and British forces to take back control of the prison. More than 500 people were killed, including prisoners and several children.

Bain of Families Against Violent Extremism said it has taken Canada far too long to take action to bring back its citizens.

“I think it’s entirely political,” she said.

The repatriation of suspected ISIS families is controversial. Some argue that they must never be allowed back home. The UK, for example, has stripped the citizenship of one woman, Shamima Begum, who traveled to Syria in 2015, when she was 15.

But human rights groups say governments should take responsibility for their citizens.

They say they should repatriate them, and prosecute those suspected of committing crimes.

"It's clear that the Canadian government has the ability to bring our Canadians home, and where there is evidence to believe they've committed an offense, charge them and prosecute them," lawyer Greenspon told CBC's Canada Tonight host Dwight Drummond.

According to Bain, this group returning to Canada will receive support from experts in child psychiatry. The children will be sent home with relatives: “the grandmothers and aunties and uncles or whoever is meeting them.”

“And then, the detainees will be dealt with by our security services and in the court,” Bain explained, adding that while the adults go through legal proceedings, they will likely be wearing ankle bracelets to monitor their whereabouts. Some might have to serve sentences, she said.

So far, no date has been set for their return.

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Random rules: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Random rules: Part II

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive this week into Ahrar al-Sham, one faction in the Syrian war, and the strategies it used to manage alliances among other rebel factions.

The WorldJanuary 25, 2023 · 3:00 PM EST

In this Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter from Shams al-Shamal heads to the front line in Kobani, Syria. 

Jake Simkin/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

A rebel alliance can be self-explanatory, the purity of rebellion enough to cohere together a popular insurgent front. But, in the messiness of real life, the messiness of rebellion is a hobbling force, with ideological divisions keeping apart factions that should, by all appearances, be natural allies.

In “Same Same but Different? Ideological Differentiation and Intra-jihadist Competition in the Syrian Civil War,” Regine Schwab examines Ahrar al-Sham, one faction in the Syrian war, and what strategies it used to manage alliances among other rebel factions.

While violence is certainly one strategy rebel groups can employ against rival groups, it carries a high cost. For example, ammunition used against another rebel group can't be used to fight the government both groups seek to topple. After all, ammunition is a scarce resource. Moreover, killing fighters of another rebel faction also depletes strength.

“Differentiation also has consequences for other audiences such as local civilians, prospective recruits, and external supporters,” Schwab writes.

“Local civilians suffer from rebel infighting as they might get into the crossline or be consciously targeted. Hence, they should prefer nonviolent ways of managing conflict. When groups take a large ideological distance from each other, it is easier for prospective local and foreign recruits to choose their preferred group. While nonstate external sponsors might prefer to support the most radical rebel outlet, state sponsors often choose a more moderate option.”

In Syria, ideological differentiation proved a valuable strategy for Ahrar al-Sham, especially as ISIS occupied a radical extreme of the spectrum. For people looking to combat the Assad government but not driven to the same hardline rules and beliefs as ISIS, Ahrar al-Sham was a path into the fight.

In parsing out how groups occupy ideological space, Schwab sets out two axes: a territorial perspective and a social-political outlook. Territory ranged from national or those seeking to limit the war to smaller geographic confines, and transnational, like ISIS’s vision of Syria and Iraq as both under one rule. 

On the pragmatic end of the social scale, Schwab writes, “groups prefer integration with society and see fitna (civil strife) as detrimental to their cause. Hence, they are willing to work with actors that do not share their creed.” This is in contrast to purist groups, which took an expansive definition of takfir or declaring other Muslims "infidels."

Ahrar al-Sham was able, especially in 2013-2014, to differentiate itself from ISIS by emphasizing its nationalist credentials and broader ideological umbrella. However, this was not a particularly moderate vision, as al-Sham regularly proclaimed Afghanistan’s Taliban as the model for its desired program. Yet, those same moves left it vulnerable against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which after the fall of ISIS, was able to supplant Ahrar al-Sham as the main rebel force in the country.

“By analyzing the puzzling case of Ahrar al-Sham that emerged both as a winner and a loser of intra-jihadist competition in Syria, the paper finds that ideological differentiation is used when military constraints or ideological similarity preclude the initiation of violence against rivals,” Schwab concludes.

Related: Random rules: Part I

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy analysis from the staff at Inkstick Media. Subscribe here

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In Turkey, refugee children face hurdles to school enrollment

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>In Turkey, refugee children face hurdles to school enrollment

Many Syrian families in Turkey face school enrollment challenges due to a Turkish law that says no more than 30% of schoolchildren in a single class can be foreigners. Families in border cities like Gaziantep say their children are being turned away with few alternatives.

The WorldJanuary 25, 2023 · 1:15 PM EST

Syrian children who are refugees in Turkey face many barriers to learning. 

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

Warda Haydar was trying to enroll her daughter, Baylasan, for the fifth grade in a Turkish school, when the principal told her it would be impossible. 

He told the mother of two from Damascus, Syria, that the school already had “too many” foreign students.

“We begged him,” Haydar said. “My husband went to the school manager every day.”

The Haydar family’s school enrollment challenge stems from a Turkish law that says no more than 30% of schoolchildren in a single class can be foreigners.

Baylasan’s school is in Gaziantep, a Turkish city near the Syrian border, with a particularly high number of Syrian residents. According to the headmaster, this particular school already had too many non-Turkish students. 

Even though Baylasan had studied here for three years, she would now have to be bussed to a different school, in a neighborhood on the other side of town.

“She is the only Syrian student in her class,” Haydar said. “They placed one Syrian student in every class, and the rest are Turkish. The school is good, but the distance is long, which is the main problem.”

Haydar said that the long commute means her daughter returns well past 7 p.m. The bus drops her off in a neighborhood that her mother fears is unsafe for a 10 year old, alone, after dark. The school was supposed to provide free transportation, she said, but the bus driver soon started charging hundreds of liras per child — about a quarter of an average rent payment. He relented after parents protested, but the situation remains uncertain. 

Kids Rainbow is located in one of Gaziantep’s poorest neighborhoods, where many kids get pulled out of school to help their families. 


Durrie Bouscaren/The World

As the Syrian civil war enters its 13th year, more than half of the country’s population remains displaced. About 3.5 million Syrians have sought shelter in neighboring Turkey, which continues to struggle to accommodate them. About a third of Syrian children living in Turkey are not currently attending school, according to UNICEF. 

After an initial warm welcome to Syrian refugees, Turks slowly realized that the West would not accept large numbers of refugees from Syria, and ublic opinion soured toward new arrivals. 

Current government policies discourage Syrians from prolonged stays in Turkey. And bureaucratic hurdles make it difficult for Syrian families to attend schools, visit hospitals, or even travel without permission beyond the borders of provinces in which they are registered.

In this Thursday, June 2, 2016, photo, a Syrian refugee child works at a copper workshop in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey. 


Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Not every school enforces the 30% rule, but Türk Eğitim-Sen, a Turkish teacher’s union, has advocated for more schools to do so.

“If there are more than 30% of foreign students, it causes issues with a language barrier for both the teachers and the class,” said Bekir Avan, the head of Türk Eğitim-Sen’s Gaziantep branch.

In a survey last year, his organization found that out of 1,352 schools in the Gaziantep area, fewer than 40 schools enrolled a student body consisting of more than 30% of foreign students. But within those schools, as many as 80% of students in some classes are refugees.

“We have to consider the right to education for all students. The Turkish students and foreign students,” Avan said. “We’re very sensitive to this.”

At a community center called Kids Rainbow in Gaziantep, Syrian kids take a variety of classes held in a mix of Arabic, English and Turkish. Their learning programs are designed to help them better integrate into Turkish schools while still maintaining their mother tongue. 

Syrian filmmaker Mustafa Kara Ali and Hibah Jahjah, his wife, took over Kids Rainbow from a friend in 2020


Durrie Bouscaren/The World

Syrian filmmaker Mustafa Kara Ali and Hibah Jahjah, his wife, took over Kids Rainbow from a friend in 2020. They reestablished the project in one of Gaziantep’s poorest neighborhoods and run it entirely on international donations.

“We saw so many children out of school. Selling flowers, cleaning cars on the street,” Kara Ali said. “We’re not a school, just a safe place for children to play, do some activities.”

Hibah Jahjah interacts with children at Kids Rainbow, an alternative learning space. 


Durrie Bouscaren/The World

The program quickly grew beyond capacity, requiring a new building. Of the 120 students who regularly attend Kids Rainbow, a third are not attending school. Another 100 students, Kara Ali said, are on a waiting list.

After speaking to parents, Jahjah realized that many Syrian children were dropping out of school because their families’ residence permits are tied to another province, effectively barring them from local schools in Gaziantep. Others were bullied in class, making going to school unbearable. Still others had their own behavioral issues — many had lost family members or had traumatic experiences during the war.

“They feel excluded, like they don’t fit in,” Jahjah said. “Often they lash out. And once your kid hits a Turkish kid – or even the opposite – Turkish teachers say they’re no longer welcome in class.”

Hibah Jahjah says Syrian children who are refugees often feel excluded from society. 


Durrie Bouscaren/The World

A few months ago, after nearby schools began to implement the 30% rule, Kids Rainbow received a rush of new students.  

Jahjah said a lot of parents simply took their kids out entirely rather than have them bussed to other schools. Dozens of new students came to Kids Rainbow as an alternative, straining its capacity as a small nonprofit. 

Projects like Kids Rainbow are a band-aid, not a solution, Jahjah said. 

“We can’t give them any kind of certificate that they graduated,” she said. “All we can do is support them, and teach them, and try to make it a little easier.”

Mustafa Kara Ali plays a game with students at Kids Rainbow. 


Durrie Bouscaren/The World

Despite the hurdles, many of the students have enthusiastic ideas about their futures — to become a math teacher, a professional soccer player or a newscaster. 

Before afternoon classes, Jahjah leads the kids in a group game of “keep away,” with a rubber ball. Some stand off to the side, a bit wary. But eventually, everyone gets involved.

Her goal for Kids Rainbow is to be a place where kids feel safe, and wanted. And in that, she’s surely succeeded.

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Taiwan and China celebrate Lunar New Year amid vastly different COVID levels

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Taiwan and China celebrate Lunar New Year amid vastly different COVID levels

Taiwan has reopened to international travel, and has lifted some other restrictions, as people celebrate Lunar New Year with family and friends.

The WorldJanuary 24, 2023 · 3:00 PM EST

Many Taipei residents visit the city's historic Dihua Street to buy goods for the Lunar New Year.

Ashish Valentine/The World

At the Jiang household in Taiwan’s western city of Taichung, the Lunar New Year means hearty meals, gifts of hong bao — red envelopes with money inside — and long games of mahjong.

Jiang Du-Hsin, 86, said that being able to be together with family again this year for the holiday that started on Jan. 22, and will last until Feb. 1, has been an edifying experience.

“It’s good for us. It’s a tradition,” Jiang said. “All of us are very happy to be together.”

Jiang Du-Hsin, grandfather of the Jiang family (right), along with his wife, Bai Yue-Qin.


Courtesy of Jiang Du-Hsin

Lunar New Year celebrations have kicked off in China, Taiwan and across the Asia-Pacific region.

In China, the holiday marks one of the world’s largest mass migrations, with many of the country’s 1.4 billion-strong population heading from cities back to their family homes. And it has public health experts fearing that China’s ongoing wave of COVID-19 could get much worse.

In Taiwan, however, cases of the coronavirus have been relatively low for a while, with many people feeling much safer celebrating the holiday there.

Jiang, who had COVID-19 about a month ago, said he's pleased with how Taiwan handled the pandemic. He’s 86, and has had four COVID-19 shots.

“More than 90% of our population has [COVID-19] injections,” Jiang said. “I don’t think that COVID-19 is a big problem for the Taiwanese people.”

Almost 9 out of every 10 Taiwanese people have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine — and about three-quarters have had at least one booster. Taiwan hasn’t faced the same concerns as in neighboring China, where the Lunar New Year travel comes amid lagging vaccination rates among the elderly.

Jason Wang, a health policy expert at Stanford University, said it’s unlikely that the health system in Taiwan will be overwhelmed.

“If somebody were to get COVID[-19] … you could just use telehealth and go to a designated pharmacy to get antivirals,” Wang said.

He said that the situation in Taiwan is also different from in China because of how it eased restrictions and reopened to international travel.

Lin Yu-San sells traditional snacks on Dihua Street. She says more people are visiting the street this year thanks to fewer concerns about COVID-19.


Ashish Valentine/The World

“Taiwan has had a checklist to manage the potential chaos of reopening,” Wang explained. “It was staged, phase-by-phase, to gradually relax restrictions.”

The process included waiting until vaccination rates were high enough, stocks of booster shots and antivirals were on hand, and the country had good levels of hospital and telehealth capacity.

Restricted travel

Even prior to the pandemic in 2019, travel between China and Taiwan was already restricted. As a result, even now, Taiwan isn’t seeing the same numbers of visitors from China as neighboring countries.

Given the rise in infections in China, Wang said that Taiwanese public health authorities are concerned about emerging new variants.

Many Taipei residents visit the city's historic Dihua Street to buy goods for the Lunar New Year.


Ashish Valentine/The World

“One of the things that Taiwan’s government has already done is to monitor travelers from China, and to study the variants of travelers from China, compared to travelers from elsewhere,” Wang said. 

But he added that Taiwanese officials haven't yet detected any variants of significant concern.

In a speech a few weeks ago, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen offered support to China in dealing with its new COVID-19 wave. 

A woman shops ahead of Lunar New Year on Dihua Street in Taipei, Taiwan.


Ashish Valentine/The World

“We are aware that the pandemic situation has recently become more serious in China,” Tsai said. “If need be, we are willing, out of humanitarian concern, to provide necessary assistance to help more people get through the pandemic and enjoy good health and peace of mind in the new year.”

Claire Hollants contributed reporting from Taichung.

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Chinese musician works to revive the gehu instrument

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Chinese musician works to revive the gehu instrument

Yuxin Wu, a second-generation gehu player at the Berklee College of Music, is on a mission to revive the Chinese string instrument with its unique vibrational sound.

The WorldJanuary 24, 2023 · 1:30 PM EST

Yuxin Wu plays the Chinese gehu string instrument. 

Courtesy of Yuxin Wu

The Chinese gehu instrument is slowly making a comeback after years spent in obscurity. 

The gehu was introduced in the early 20th century, when, after years of influence from Western orchestras, China outlawed Western music in favor of Chinese instruments. But by the late 20th century, the string instrument had nearly disappeared from Chinese ethnic orchestras, getting replaced, again, by the cello. 

An up-close image of the gehu string instrument. 


Courtesy of Yuxin Wu

Now, the gehu is mostly used by musicians in the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and Yuxin Wu, a second-generation gehu player at Boston's Berklee College of Music, who is on a mission to revive it. 

"It doesn't have a very great or healthy industry environment," Wu said.

In China, there are not enough teachers for students to learn the instrument, so those looking to learn how to play the gehu are usually self-taught.

"I'm just trying to discover different styles and techniques on different kinds of stages and orchestras," Wu said.

The gehu has four strings, a fingerboard and a horizontal cylinder, and it’s played with a bow. Its sound is deep, bright, round and rich, with a wide range of notes.

As a relative of the stringed erhu instrument, it fills the need for a lower-pitched instrument in the orchestra.

"The principle of the vibration is quite different from the cello," Wu said. 

That’s because the instrument is wrapped in snakeskin, creating a vibrational sound that differs from the wood of a cello. The string vibrates through a barrel on the outer bridge that connects to the python skin on the inner bridge, amplifying the vibration. 

Wu said the gehu’s tone integrates with the Chinese orchestra better than the Western cello and double bass.

So far, Wu has incorporated the sounds of the gehu into both Western and Chinese symphonies, pop, jazz, and heavy metal bands. He hopes to create better education on the instrument, including how to play it, build it and maintain it.

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New Cate Blanchett film ‘Tár’ divides opinion among female conductors 

class=”MuiTypography-root-239 jss217 MuiTypography-h1-244″>New Cate Blanchett film 'Tár' divides opinion among female conductors The WorldJanuary 23, 2023 · 3:30 PM EST

Alice Farnham, one of Britain’s leading conductors, has seen the new Cate Blanchett movie, “Tár,” twice, the first time after the film’s lead actor asked her to watch it.

Blanchett plays the role of Lydia Tár, a world-class conductor appointed to lead a major ensemble in Berlin.

Farnham said that she thought that the film was fascinating, but the character of Tár is clearly fictional: “Lydia Tár [Blanchett’s character] is pretty monstrous but I don't know any female conductors like that, thankfully.”

Alice Farnham is one of Britain’s leading conductors.


Maryam Barari

Blanchett is tipped to win her third Oscar for her performance in "Tár," but the film has divided opinion in the world of classical music and shone a spotlight on the continuing dearth of women leading major orchestras worldwide.

Marin Alsop, the world-renowned US conductor, has described the film as “offensive” and “anti-woman.” To finally have a female conductor played onscreen by an actor like Blanchett, and then, to see her depicted as an abuser, Alsop said, was heartbreaking to watch.

Blanchett herself has defended the storyline in press interviews following Alsop’s criticism. The actor said she expected the film to elicit a lot of strong responses from people but the movie "is a meditation on power, and power is genderless."

A dearth of women conductors

Farnham said that for herself, the movie is less about conducting and more a reflection on power and the abuse of it.

She said it’s hard to imagine “Tár” being made even 10 years ago because back then, no one would have believed a woman could be musical director of one of the world’s top orchestras. Farnham said that she is acutely aware of how things have changed for conductors over the last decade. And, she has just published a new book, “In Good Hands: The Making of a Modern Conductor,” on the subject.

Farnham started out in the early 1990s when there were only a handful of professional female conductors in Britain, including the likes of Sian Edwards and Jane Glover.

Twenty years later, Farnham realized, almost nothing had changed. A report in 2015 found that 1.4% of conductors leading professional orchestras in the UK were women. In the US, it’s no better.

For years, Alsop was the only female musical director among the 25 largest ensembles in the United States. When her tenure at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra ended in 2021, that figure dropped to zero.

Later that year, Nathalie Stutzmann was appointed as the new music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, making her the second-ever female conductor of a major US ensemble.

The hurdles women conductors face

In 2013, Farnham decided to make an effort to address the problem, establishing workshops to encourage women to try conducting. She began mentoring young female conductors, including Galway-based musician Sinead Hayes. Today, Hayes leads the Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble, a contemporary music group in Belfast, and she conducts classical music orchestras across Ireland.

Sinead Hayes leads the Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble, a contemporary music group in Belfast, and she conducts classical music orchestras across Ireland.


Neil Harrison

Farnham said that for some women, confidence can be part of the problem. Becoming a professional conductor is an arduous journey and mistakes are often highly visible because a musical director can only truly hone their skills in front of an orchestra and an audience.

Sometimes, Farnham said, this public humiliation can turn women off the idea of putting themselves out there.

Hayes, of the Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble, said that she blames the gatekeepers — those who decide who gets selected for a music course, or later, who gets to lead an orchestra that will often make or break a conductor’s career.

Hayes said some gatekeepers see women conductors as a risky bet and resort to the stereotype of the male maestro. She has seen friends take time off to have children, and some managers see that as a potential loss of money for the ensemble.

But slowly, attitudes are changing, she said. Hayes has now developed her own teaching workshops known as the Sandbox Conducting Sessions to train the next generation of conductors in Ireland, regardless of gender, age or socio-economic background.

Philadelphia-based conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson is familiar with how gatekeepers can change the trajectory of a conductor’s career. In 2007, Johnson, who's African American, applied for the role of music director to a number of orchestras in the US.

Philadelphia-based conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson is shown from her time with the Sao Paulo Municipal Orchestra.


Rafael Salvador

She wasn’t successful but after the audition, the chair of the search committee offered her some feedback.

“He said,‘You just don't look like what our orchestra expects the maestro to look like,’” she said. 

Johnson said that she was outraged but she now appreciates his honesty because it gave her the impetus to start her own orchestra. Today, Johnson leads the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra in Philadelphia, with musicians from around the world.

She said that she believes that the diversity of her performers attracts a more diverse audience.

“Having Black conductors on the podium, having Latin women on the podium, having African American women on the podium, that sends the message that this music is for you,” she said.

Not the 'white guy in the tuxedo'

Johnson also conducts orchestras across the United States and Europe, but she said audiences can still appear taken aback when she walks up on stage. Particularly at opera performances where the orchestra and musical director are usually out of sight.

Johnson said when she goes up on stage for her final bow, the audience sometimes stops clapping because they aren’t sure who she is.

“I'm not, you know, the white guy in the tuxedo,” she said.

“They don't know who I am until they see the stick. And then they're like, ‘Oh, she was the conductor,’” Johnson said.

Farnham said that in spite of her efforts to encourage younger women to take up the baton, she is conscious of not being pigeonholed.

“Society often assigns you the role of nurturer when you are a female conductor,” she said, adding, “It's something I'm very mindful of but I still want to be taken seriously as a professional conductor as well, because after all that’s what I am.”

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This beloved Bollywood film gets a new life on Broadway

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>This beloved Bollywood film gets a new life on Broadway

The 1995 Bollywood film “Dilwale Duhania Le Jayenge,” or "DDLJ," is the longest-running film in India’s history, screening daily for 27 years. Now, the irresistible love story is heading to Broadway.

The WorldJanuary 23, 2023 · 2:00 PM EST

An audience watches actors Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol on the big screen.

Justin Nisly/The World

Every day, hundreds of people line up at an iconic single-screen movie theater in central Mumbai, not to see the latest blockbuster, but a beloved Bollywood classic released in 1995.

For 27 years, the Maratha Mandir theater has played “Dilwale Duhania Le Jayenge,” or “The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride,” daily at 11:30 a.m. for legions of adoring fans. Many Indians affectionately refer to the film as “DDLJ,” for short.

Fans line up to see "DDLJ" at this Mumbai theater. 


Justin Nisly/The World

DDLJ is the longest-running film in India’s history. Celebrated for its likable main characters, picturesque international locations and depictions of a rapidly-modernizing India, the film quickly became a hit. Nearly three decades later, it’s these same qualities that draw people to the theater each day.

“Literally at home, I have already watched this movie almost 270 times,” moviegoer Sanket Salve said. He traveled seven hours by train to watch the film on the big screen, and was excited to laugh, clap and cheer along with hundreds of other fans.

Aside from a brief pause due to COVID-19, audiences have been coming each day to the theater to experience the joy and catharsis of this film. In mid-December last year, a sign in front of the theater said it had been running for 1,354 weeks and counting.

Two attendees show off their tickets. 


Justin Nisly/The World

DDLJ tells the story of traditional, good-girl Simran, and Casanova-type, party boy, Raj. They fall in love while vacationing with friends in Europe, and must find a way to stay together, despite strong objections from Simran’s father. The movie turned actors Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan into superstars.

College student Akshata Pawar said that she loves “the romance, the songs that this movie has given to all of us. They are just, wow,” noting the chemistry between the two stars.

Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol have gone on to work in several other classic films together, but DDLJ is arguably the most beloved.

A changing India 

In addition to its charismatic young stars, the film is known for capturing the Indian zeitgeist in the mid-1990s – from fashion trends to its inclusion of the Indian diaspora.

Rajinder Dudrah, a cultural studies professor at Birmingham City University in England, said that DDLJ “encapsulates India on the verge of change — technologically, economically, culturally, but also India on the verge in relation to its NRI [Non-Resident Indian] population.”

Moviegoers take a selfie with the iconic DDLJ poster. 


Justin Nisly/The World

By this time, many people with NRI status were living across Europe and North America. They could identify with the tension of remaining true to traditional Indian roots, while also exploring the world.

And for those in India, the scenes set in Europe fed into growing middle-class aspirations.  

“You didn’t have to be uber-rich, you didn’t have to be highly rich, but you could be rich in a middle-class or upwardly mobile way to have these fantasies of wanting to go abroad,” Dudrah said. “And DDLJ certainly helped with those aspirations and those fantasies.”

From hit to classic

In today’s context, some of DDLJ’s scenes read as outdated and even patriarchal, like when Raj tricks Simran into believing they slept together. When she dissolves into tears, he assures her that her respect and honor remain intact — because nothing happened between them.

Many other scenes capture a blossoming romance filled with light-hearted bickering and pranks. 

Moviegover Jeevan Kattamuri said that his favorite song is also the most well-known: “Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana Sanam,” which describes the “crazy” feeling of falling in love.  

Perhaps the most memorable sequence comes at the end of the film. After it appears that Simran’s father will never approve of them as a couple, Raj boards a train to leave. Simran begs her father to let go of her wrist so that she can join him.

And just as it seems that all hope is lost, Simran’s father relents, saying: “Ja Simran, Ja. Jee Le Apni Zindagi,” or “Go, Simran, go. Live your life.”

Simran races after the moving train. The music pulses until their hands clasp together and Raj pulls her to him.

According to the theater’s executive director Manoj Desai, a key part of the film’s longevity is the ticket prices. Only 30 to 40 rupees, or .37 to .50 cents. For three hours of epic romance, it’s a steal. And Desai has no plans to end the run.

“[As long as] the public comes like this, I’ll keep running this,” Desai said. “We don’t bother for, you know, profit.”

The Maratha Mandir theater can seat hundreds. 


Justin Nisly/The World

 A new life on stage

DDLJ might have even more international fans. The film’s director, Aditya Chopra, has adapted the story for the American stage, calling it “Come Fall in Love: The DDLJ Musical.” After an extended run at the Old Globe theater in San Diego, California, the team aims to move to Broadway soon.

Back in Mumbai, the matinee screening of the film will keep running at the Maratha Mandir. So, there are plenty more opportunities for moments like this one between Pawar and her college friend.

“She was laughing, she was screaming with me,” Pawar said. “We were dancing! We danced, we danced. We loved it.”

They said they would try to come again the very next day.

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Lights out in Pakistan as energy-saving move backfires

class=”MuiTypography-root-239 jss217 MuiTypography-h1-244″>Lights out in Pakistan as energy-saving move backfiresAssociated PressJanuary 23, 2023 · 10:00 AM EST

Shopkeepers and workers wait for electric power at a market following a power breakdown across the country, in Lahore, Pakistan, Jan. 23, 2023.

K.M. Chaudary/AP

Much of Pakistan was left without power Monday as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired. The outage spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government’s handling of the country's economic crisis.

It all started when electricity was turned off during low usage hours overnight to conserve fuel across the country, officials said, leaving technicians unable to boot up the system all at once after daybreak. The outage was reminiscent of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical fault in Pakistan's power generation and distribution system.

Many major cities, including the capital of Islamabad, and remote towns and villages across Pakistan were in darkness as authorities struggled to make even partial restorations of the power supply.

As the outage continued into Monday night, authorities deployed additional police at markets around the country to provide security.

The nationwide electricity breakdown left many people without drinking water as pumps powered by electricity failed to work. Schools, hospitals, factories and shops were without power amid the harsh winter weather.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told local media Monday that engineers were working to restore power across the country and tried to reassure the nation that power would be fully restored within the next 12 hours.

According to the minister, electricity usage typically goes down overnight during winter — unlike summer months when Pakistanis turn to air conditioning, seeking a respite from the heat.

“As an economic measure, we temporarily shut down our power generation systems" Sunday night, Dastgir said. When engineers tried to turn the systems back on, a “fluctuation in voltage" was observed, which “forced engineers to shut down the power grid" stations one by one.

Dastgir insisted the outage did not constitute a major crisis and that electricity was being restored in phases. In many places and key businesses and institutions, including hospitals, military and government facilities, backup generators kicked in.

By late afternoon Monday, Dastgir told reporters at another press conference that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif ordered a probe into the outage.

“We are hoping that the supply of electricity will be fully restored tonight,” he said, adding that everything was being done to achieve this.

Karachi, the country's largest city and economic hub, was without power Monday, as were other key cities, such as Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore.

In Lahore, a closing notice was posted on the Orange Line metro stations, with rail workers guarding the sites and trains parked on the rails. It was unknown when the metro system would be restored.

Imran Rana, a spokesperson for Karachi's power supply company, said the government's priority was to restore power to strategic facilities, including hospitals and airports.

Internet-access advocacy group said network data showed a significant decline in internet access in Pakistan that was attributed to the power outage. It said metrics indicate that connectivity was at 60% of ordinary levels as many users struggled to get online Monday.

Pakistan gets at least 60% of its electricity from fossil fuels, while nearly 27% of the electricity is generated by hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar power to the nation's grid is about 10%.

Pakistan is grappling with one of the country's worst economic crisis in recent years amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves. That has compelled the government to order shopping malls and markets closed by 8:30 p.m. to conserve energy.

Talks are underway with the International Monetary Fund to soften some conditions on Pakistan’s $6 billion bailout, which the government thinks will trigger further inflation hikes. The IMF released the last crucial tranche of $1.1 billion to Islamabad in August.

Since then, talks between the two parties have oscillated due to Pakistan's reluctance to impose new tax measures.

By Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed. Jon Gambrell in Dubai, UAE, contributed to this report.

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Shakira’s latest hit slamming her ex breaks records for Latin artists on YouTube

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Shakira's latest hit slamming her ex breaks records for Latin artists on YouTube

Shakira's release this week shot up to the top of the charts. It's a scathing breakup song with her ex: Spanish soccer star Gerard Piqué.

The WorldJanuary 20, 2023 · 3:15 PM EST

Shakira poses for portrait photographs for "Elvis" at the 75th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, May 25, 2022.

Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP/File photo

Shakira is turning her recent breakup into a plentiful source of inspiration and commercial success.

The Colombian singer has teamed up with Argentine producer Bizarrap for her latest hit — a visceral, scathing diss track about the infidelity of her ex-partner, former soccer player Gerard Piqué.

The song, simply titled “SHAKIRA BZRP Music Sessions #53,” debuted at the top of the charts upon its release on Jan. 12.

With more than 50 million views on YouTube within the first 24 hours, it became the biggest-ever debut for a song by a Latin artist in the platform’s history.

Shakira wrote on Instagram that she didn’t expect the record to go straight to No. 1 — especially at her age of 45 and while singing in Spanish.

“I want to embrace millions of women who revolt against those who made us feel insignificant.”

Singer Shakira in Instagram post

“I want to embrace millions of women who revolt against those who made us feel insignificant,” she posted.

The lyrics, coming out as a spontaneous rant, are notably unambiguous about the reasons behind Shakira’s recent break with Piqué, the father of her two sons, after a 12-year relationship.

“I was out of your league, that’s why you’re with someone just like you,” Shakira sings in the chorus.

“I’m worth two 22-year-olds,” she croons, slamming the former FC Barcelona player for cheating on her with a younger woman. And she adds: “You traded in a Ferrari for a [Renault] Twingo. You traded in a Rolex for a Casio.”

Mockingly, the singer makes plays on words with the names of her ex and his new lover. Shakira even refers to the tax fraud case for which she will stand trial in Spain this year, and which could carry a prison sentence for failing to pay 14.5 million euros in income taxes ($15.74 million): “You left me with your mom as a neighbor, the press at my door and a debt with tax authorities.”

Such directness comes in contrast to Shakira’s previous lyrics, which used to be private and more generic, journalist Nuria Net said.

“Now, it feels more personal,” said Net, who is co-founder of the podcast studio La Coctelera music.

“What people are kind of shocked [about] is that she would name names, that she would be so specific with the jabs,” she said.

Producer Bizarrap deserves much credit, too, journalist and culture critic Yeray Sánchez Iborra said, for imbuing the song with his trademark blend of hip-hop beats, electronic sounds and an easy-to-sing-along chorus.

“Bizarrap is on a roll: Whatever he touches, he turns into gold,” Sánchez Iborra said. “He probably is the most influential producer in the world at the moment.”

Along with commercial success, the song has also attracted great controversy.

Venezuelan artist Briella has accused Shakira and Bizarrap of plagiarizing the chorus of her song “Solo Tú,” released last June.

Shakira was also criticized for being too harsh on Piqué and his girlfriend, and for using a platform as powerful as her music to diminish a younger woman.

While Piqué hasn’t explicitly commented on the song, he appeared to be doubling down on the spat by driving to work in a Renault Twingo, and by announcing a partnership between Casio and the Kings League, his latest sports venture.

To journalist Net, this hints that the public row between the two celebrities may be premeditated.

“What people are not realizing is that they're both benefiting from this.”

For a star of such caliber as Shakira, everything is strategized and calculated, Net said.

Shakira, who was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, began recording her own songs as a teenager in the early 1990s.

Net, who grew up in Puerto Rico, remembers hearing Shakira’s early records at the time, like her album "Pies Descalzos," which stood out in a pop landscape dominated by “manufactured stars.”

“She was someone our age, a young woman speaking about heartbreak, and love, and about her aspirations and dreams, so that was super refreshing,” Net explained. “She was a revelation across Latin America.”

The singer-songwriter eventually turned into a pop star reaching for a larger audience, and began recording versions of her hit songs both in Spanish and in English.

“Nowadays, you don’t need to sing in English anymore. “But in the late ‘90s, in order to cross over to new markets, you needed to sing in English.”

Nuria Net, journalist

“Nowadays, you don’t need to sing in English anymore,” Net said. “But in the late '90s, in order to cross over to new markets, you needed to sing in English.”

In 2005, the album “Fijación Oral/Oral Fixation” featured the songs “Hips Don’t Lie,” one of her biggest hits to date, as well as “La Tortura,” a collaboration with Spanish singer Alejandro Sanz, with reggaeton-inspired rhythms.

“She was one of the first pop artists to jump on the reggaeton bandwagon when it wasn’t fashionable,” Net said. “So, she’s been at the forefront of that.”

Eclecticism became a staple of Shakira’s brand as an artist. Shakira, whose dance moves were inspired by her Arab roots, became a defining figure of a globalized music market.

Net sees Shakira as the biggest female Latin star in music over the past 30 years.

“There hasn't been another figure like her since,” she said.

In 2010, Shakira released her soccer anthem “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” and performed at the opening ceremony of the South Africa World Cup.

She also met Piqué, who at 23 took the trophy home with Spain and became one of the most-famous soccer players on the planet.

Shakira eventually moved to Barcelona, where Piqué spent most of his professional career at a club level before retiring last fall.

The singer said in a recent interview with Elle magazine that one of the two had to make a sacrifice, and that she put her career on the back burner for their family. 

Still, over the past decade, Shakira continued to rack up commercial success, with star collaborations with Carlos Vives, Maluma or the Black Eyed Peas, and performing at the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show. However, Net described her artistic output as “creatively dry.”

Shakira’s latest work, though, may signal a shift.

The Bizarrap session is the latest in a trilogy of breakup songs made in collaboration with younger Latin artists, including “Te Felicito” with Rauw Alejandro, and “Monotonía” with Ozuna.

Nuria Net said Shakira hasn’t been this openly vulnerable for a long time.

“It does [take] me back to her beginnings when she was a singer-songwriter, a teenager, writing songs with her guitar,” Net said.

Shakira, herself, acknowledged feeling more creative in the Elle interview, and described making new music and working on her upcoming album amid heartbreak as therapeutic.

“Writing music is like going to the shrink, only cheaper,” she said.

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Caregivers in Ghana work to demystify autism and push for inclusion

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Caregivers in Ghana work to demystify autism and push for inclusion

Developmental brain disorders are rarely discussed in Ghana. A lack of adequate awareness and facilities for early diagnosis makes it tough to manage. And children with special needs often face discrimination in terms of inadequate health care, education and social engagement.

The WorldJanuary 20, 2023 · 2:00 PM EST

Instructor Akua Amoako Yeboah with a child at the early intervention center. 

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

Maame Appiah started to notice something unusual about her 3-year-old toddler when he was just a baby. 

Breastfeeding was a challenge: “He couldn’t even suckle. He had breathing issues,” she said. 

Doctors later diagnosed her son with cerebral palsy — a condition that affects a child’s brain and impacts the ability to control muscles in the body. He was also diagnosed with autism, a complex neurobehavioral disorder. 

Developmental brain disorders are rarely discussed in Ghana. A lack of adequate awareness and facilities for early diagnosis makes it tough to manage. And children with special needs often face discrimination in terms of inadequate health care, education and social engagement.

Appiah sought help for her child — including prayer camps — to no avail. Over time, she was able to move past her grief and find the support he needs. Today, her son receives various therapies once a week to help him develop the skills he needs to thrive.

There are thousands more stories like Appiah’s across Ghana.

Ama Boatemaa lives with her 19-year-old child with autism in Obom-Kojontor, an Accra suburb. She said she had to defy her husband just to keep her daughter alive. 

“My husband kept insisting that he’s been to so many spiritual homes where he’s been told that our daughter is a marine spirit. He once suggested we poison or kill the child. When I refused, he got very angry and abandoned us,” she said.

Boatemaa has single-handedly fended for her daughter. She said that transportation to and from the hospital or school has been the most challenging. Some drivers refused to pick her up because her daughter drools profusely. Eventually, her daughter dropped out of school. 

"Sometimes, it feels like the whole world is against you," Boatemaa said.

Shifting the narrative on autism

Mary Amoah Kufour, whose 20-year-old daughter has autism, is determined to change the narrative for children with special needs and their caregivers. 

Like many parents of autistic children, Kufour said she was in denial for years when she learned her daughter had autism. She already had two boys without any disabilities. 

In 2016, Kufour founded Klicks Africa Foundation, a center for early intervention and support for children under the age of 5 as well as young adults on the autism spectrum. 

"Sometimes, I see myself as somebody who gave birth in the past 20 years and the child never grows," she said.

Her daughter needs 24/7 support, from bathing and eating to directing her on daily tasks.

Mary Kufuor, founder of Klicks Africa Foundation, stands by a portrait of her autistic daughter, Nana Yaa. 


Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

The abilities of people on the autism spectrum can vary and evolve over time. Some can live independently while others have severe disabilities that require lifelong care and support.

Kufour encourages parents and caregivers to focus on creating opportunities for children with autism to thrive. 

"It is OK to cry, but you don't need to wallow in your own pity for long."

According to UNICEF, nearly 240 million children with disabilities face barriers to basic needs including nutrition, health and education. 

The country’s 2016 inclusive education policy aims to increase access for children with disabilities in public schools. But the government has yet to fully implement it. 

Instead, parents must enroll their children with special needs in learning centers that can cost more than $3,000 per year — a cost-prohibitive fee for most families. 

Kufour is able to accommodate families with highly subsidized rates through donations and personal funds. 

She said she’s on a mission to demystify autism and advocate for all children with disabilities. The majority at her center have autism while others have Down syndrome or undiagnosed, developmental delays. 

Learning and thriving

At the center, instructors use everyday routines to teach communication and social skills. Students attend daily therapy sessions and visit with a neurodevelopmental pediatrician.

Instructor Akua Amoako Yeboah said that early intervention is critical for achieving certain milestones. Some children who began with various challenges are now seeing improvements.

Therapy sessions ongoing at the early intervention center at Klicks Africa Foundation. 


Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

Elyse Aba Acquah, 16, is on the autism spectrum. Her instructors said she has shown significant improvement with her communication and comprehension skills. 

"They teach me how to write. I can write my name, alphabets and subtraction, numbers and we do addition and subtraction, too," she said.

Elyse Aba Acquah, 16, is on the autism spectrum.


Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

Children with special needs are routinely left out of mainstream education. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the education gap. 

A 2021 UNICEF report reveals that children with disabilities have 42% fewer chances of achieving foundational literacy skills. The probability of never attending school is 49% higher for them. 

Kufour spreads awareness about these challenges by livestreaming with her 400,000 Facebook followers. She said she is already seeing a shift among parents and caretakers. 

"We've made a lot of impact out there," she said. "But, we have a long way to go."

Visibility and representation

Kufour is not alone in her advocacy efforts for children with autism. 

Model and actor Afi Antonio created Mr. & Miss Autism Ghana, a pageant initiative that promotes social inclusion for youth with autism. 

The project is a confidence-booster for parents and their children alike. Antonio said that she hopes that the pageant will open more opportunities for the youth.

“It’s been my prayer that corporate institutions or someone will use them as brand ambassadors so that people can see them on billboards and [on TV],” she said. 

Afi Antonio (left) stands next to the winners of the 2022 Mr. and Miss Autism Ghana Pageant. 


Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

Kufuor said that with increased awareness and support, all children with special needs can lead full lives. Her daughter has already started showing interest in fashion and hopes to pursue a career in modeling. 

“Inclusive education cannot be preserved for those who can afford it,” she said, adding that all children deserve to reach their full potential.

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Tanks for Ukraine are ‘ready to go’ when Germany and US strike a deal, retired Navy Adm. says

class=”MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Tanks for Ukraine are 'ready to go' when Germany and US strike a deal, retired Navy Adm. says

As Germany faces mounting pressure to supply tanks to Kyiv for the ongoing war in Ukraine, retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis talks with The World's host Marco Werman about what the delivery of heavy weapons could mean for the war.

The WorldJanuary 19, 2023 · 3:30 PM EST

Denmark's military officers stand next to a Leopard 2A7 tank at the Tapa Military Camp, in Estonia, Jan. 19, 2023.

Pavel Golovkin/AP

Germany has faced mounting pressure to supply Leopard 2 battle tanks to Kyiv as the war in Ukraine rages on — or to clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to deliver German-made Leopards from their own stocks.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin plans to host a regular coordination meeting of Ukraine's Western allies at the United States' Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday.

Western leaders have been cautious in their approach to Ukraine’s repeated requests over the past few months for heavier vehicles, including Leopard, as well as American Abrams tanks.

Meanwhile, Berlin has said that it will send its vehicles only after the US sends its tanks.

The World's host Marco Werman speaks with retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, who is the former NATO supreme allied commander, about how a delivery of tanks would make a difference.

Marco Werman: Admiral James Stavridis, what kind of impact will this decision make?Adm. James Stavridis: A huge impact for several reasons. First of all, the Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers, many, many thousands probably, were destroyed. So, Russia is tank- and armored-personnel-carrier poor at the moment. Number two, if Russia mounts a spring offensive using these newly mobilized foot soldiers, infantry, those are very juicy targets for tanks and armored personnel carriers.So, Germany is facing a lot of pressure this week to send tanks to Ukraine. Why is the German-made Leopard tank especially wanted in Ukraine?First, because it's a pretty heavy tank. It's not quite as big as the Abrams tank. The Leopard is a big, strong, tough tank, but it's relatively simple to operate, compared to, for example, an Abrams. And, most importantly, it's widely distributed across the native nations. Germany has exported many of these to the Baltic states, to many former Warsaw Pact countries. So, there's a lot of expertise, training, a lot of inventory, and therefore, they are highly desired by the Ukrainians. They're in theater, they're ready to go, not a lot of training required.Well, yesterday, German officials said they won't send Leopard tanks unless the US sends Abrams. What do you make of that?I think it's part of an ongoing conversation. And at the end of the day, I would guess that our German colleagues will say, "You know, we would like to put the Leopards out there." And part of this, by the way, is for the Germans to give permission to the other European nations who hold these Leopard tanks to give them, as well as some German Leopards, I think that the Germans ultimately will acquiesce in a deal where we, the US and the Canadians, put a large number of armored personnel carriers. They provide the tanks. That's a pretty good deal.Well, the US is providing Ukraine with other heavy-duty weapons of war. Why is the US hesitant to provide tanks?What has held us back, not only not an obvious military need, which is emerging now, but secondly, we have always in this conflict, tried to use the minimal amount of weapons systems so that we could avoid escalating the war and leading to a direct conflict between NATO and Russia. But I think we hit the point now where the tanks are a necessity, given where we are in the battle.Yes so, why would a tank specifically imply a greater involvement in the war than, say, the Patriot missile system?Marco, I don't think it does. And this has been, I think, kind of a false assumption out of the West. It was taken out of an abundance of caution. I understand that. I think it made a higher degree of sense, say, 10, 11 months ago, when you could have envisioned an outcome where [Russian President Vladimir] Putin got knocked back, then we had a negotiation, we could avoid an escalation. I think we're past that point now, unfortunately. And therefore, yeah Patriots, yeah tanks, I would say, yeah fighter aircraft. That's the next conversation that's going to happen.Can you talk more about that? I mean, that seems a really deep commitment in this war.We are at the point where the Western side needs to say to itself, "Are we going to give the Ukrainians control over their skies?" And to do that, we've already provided surface-to-air missiles. We provided the Patriot batteries, we provided drones. The one big thing we haven't given them is combat aircraft. And by providing them, say MiG-29s, which the Poles own and operate and are willing to give to the Ukrainians, who've been trained in flying those specific airframes, we should do that, in my view, because that will further shut down Vladimir Putin's options. Right now, he's using air control in order to strike Ukrainian targets, and all over Ukraine. And there are war crimes against the electric grid, the water supplies, against civilians in apartment buildings, aircraft could help stop that. We ought to provide them those aircraft.But, I mean, any of these options, starting with a tank deal, would you see that as another step closer to direct war between Russia and NATO?No, I don't think it significantly elevates the chances, because you still don't have NATO soldiers, sailors, airmen actually conducting the combat. These are still Ukrainians conducting the combat. And, as you postulated a moment ago, in the end, giving a Ukrainian a rifle is merely a matter of degree in how you're attacking Russian forces, than giving them a Patriot missile or a tank. So, I think the earlier ideas of doing this in a very measured, incremental way, I think that's fading as we look at Russian intransigence, Russian war crimes, very clear intent of Vladimir Putin to continue to prosecute this unjust war. And don't forget that Putin could stop this tomorrow. It's this idea that somehow we're provoking Russia, which is kind of magical thinking. It's Putin that's invaded here. We need to give the Ukrainians what they need to stop it.So, Admiral, as he said, that the German Leopard tank doesn't require a lot of training. It's already in-theater. If a deal is struck, some kind of agreement between Germany, the US and Ukraine, how soon could you see delivery of these tanks' deployment into the battlefield?Days, and certainly within weeks. This is primed, ready to go. And by the way, my contacts in European militaries, there is a great deal of enthusiasm for getting these weapons in the hands of the Ukrainians. It's a political decision that needs to be made.I mean, in a modern war where we've seen drones play such a key role, remotely operated, does it surprise you, that this historical piece of equipment, like a tank, is so important right now?It doesn't surprise me. And the logical question would be, well, what happened to all of those Russian tanks a year ago? Because a lot of them were destroyed by drones. That's why this marriage of an old weapon, the tank, with these new weapons, the drones, I think is going to be very powerful against the Russians.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.

Related: How well is the grain deal working for Ukraine?

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