Beijing aims at peace talks while reportedly providing arms to Russia, France erupts over forced pen͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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sunny Moscow
sunny Lima
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March 17, 2023


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Tom Chivers
Tom Chivers

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The World Today

  1. China talks peace, supports war
  2. France pensions row worsens
  3. Bank rescues calm investors
  4. Wuhan market COVID find
  5. How Russian censorship works
  6. Peru economy shrinks
  7. Starving Ethiopia sells wheat
  8. Affordable EVs, but not in US
  9. Phones linked to car death rise
  10. Insulin manufacturers cap price
  11. Volcano spotted on Venus

PLUS: Europe’s years-long drought, and preserving the history of Bengali desserts.


Xi headed to Moscow

Sputnik/Aleksey Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week. News of the meeting comes amid reports that Chinese companies delivered rifles to Russia, as well as equipment that could be used for military purposes, according to Politico, and of a Chinese-made drone being downed in eastern Ukraine, CNN said. Western nations have pledged greater support for Ukraine in recent days: Poland and Slovakia broke with allies to become the first countries to offer fighter jets. Israel separately approved the export of anti-drone defense systems for Ukraine, Axios reported, the first time it has given military assistance to Kyiv since the war began.

China’s foreign minister, meanwhile, called for peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv, though Western nations have questioned Beijing’s claim of neutrality over the war. China has proposed a peace plan, but it has far closer ties with Russia than Ukraine and Xi’s upcoming virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — were it to go ahead — would be the pair’s first since last year’s full-scale invasion.


Macron forces pension reforms

REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Protesters clashed with police in Paris after the government forced through unpopular pension reforms. French President Emmanuel Macron wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 as the population ages. But unions and opposition parties opposed it and France has seen months of strikes. The vote was looking close, so Macron’s party invoked constitutional powers allowing it to avoid a vote in the lower house. The far-right opposition said they will invoke a vote of no confidence, which would bring the government down in the unlikely event it is successful. France looks “unreformable,” says the BBC. The proposed change is “far from dramatic” but opponents describe it as “brutal,” “inhuman,” and “degrading.”


Bank rescues calm markets

Rescues of troubled banks on both sides of the Atlantic appeared to calm investor jitters. The biggest U.S. lenders jointly deposited $30 billion into First Republic Bank, while the European Central Bank’s as-expected 0.5-percentage-point interest-rate hike signaled a vote of confidence in Swiss support plans for Credit Suisse. Both banks’ futures nevertheless remain in doubt: One economist argued that the most likely scenario for Credit Suisse was a takeover by rival UBS, and the First Republic plan still leaves it open to being sold. Other smaller U.S. banks also remain vulnerable. “The biggest lenders might be able to do this for one bank now,” The Wall Street Journal noted. “But they can hardly play that role systemically.”


Wuhan find points to natural origin

REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

Traces of the COVID-19 virus were found in samples taken from a raccoon-dog cage in a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Raccoon dogs are fox-like animals illegally sold at the market and known to carry coronaviruses. Swabs taken in January 2020 found genetic material matching the raccoon dogs mingled with that of SARS-CoV-2. It’s not conclusive but may be “the clearest and most compelling evidence yet” in favor of a natural, rather than lab-leak, origin, according to The Atlantic. The genetic data was unexpectedly uploaded to a Chinese database last week: After an international team found and analyzed them, and offered to collaborate with Chinese scientists, the data was removed. China has previously suggested that the pandemic did not start within its borders.


How Russia censors the web

Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via REUTERS

A hack of Russia’s internet censorship agency spotlights an organization playing a major role in Moscow’s efforts to curtail free speech online. The General Radio Frequency Centre monitors online content for criticism of or speculation about Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as opposition to his invasion of Ukraine and discussion of protests, among other things, according to recent investigations published by Russian-language outlets. Its staff are recruited from Moscow’s top universities, iStories reported, with benefits crucially including protection from being drafted. Russia’s online censorship regime is far less capable and sprawling than China’s, but the GRFC has reportedly commissioned a surveillance system Moscow hopes will rival the Great Firewall in sophistication.


Peru’s economy hit by protests

Peru’s GDP fell in January for the first time in nearly two years. The country is reeling from the disruption caused by ongoing protests since former President Pedro Castillo was arrested in December after attempting to dissolve Congress and install an emergency government. The 1.1% fall in January, the first after 22 consecutive months of growth, was driven by a nearly 5% drop in mining output, Peru’s biggest industry. A 6% fall in investment in January suggests the country’s economic malaise may be long-lasting. Meanwhile, consecutive days of heavy rain in Lima have caused landslides and flooding throughout the capital, El Comercio reported.


Ethiopia faces a tough choice

REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopia, which is on the brink of famine, is exporting wheat to boost dwindling foreign currency reserves, Semafor Africa’s Samuel Getachew writes. The effort spotlights Addis Ababa’s two enormous problems: a faltering economy and widespread hunger driven in part by five consecutive failed rainy seasons. Debt-servicing costs are also mounting, and the two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region — which ended in November — has slowed the country’s economic ambitions. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced more than $330 million in humanitarian aid while on a visit to the country this week.

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Europe to get affordable EVs

REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

Volkswagen unveiled a small, affordable electric vehicle — which won’t be available in the United States. The ID.2all, a hatchback, was announced at an event in Germany: It is expected to cost $26,000, will have an estimated 280-mile range, and should start production in 2025. Most new EVs cost around $65,000 and are large SUVs. VW’s announcement came two weeks after Tesla was expected to — but didn’t — unveil its own affordable EV. VW plans to follow up with an even cheaper, sub-$20,000 model. But there are no plans to produce the ID.2all in the U.S. — partly, says Heatmap, because of Americans’ taste for gargantuan cars, but also partly because tax breaks for U.S.-made cars mean it would be uneconomic to import.


Road death rise linked to phones

More than 46,000 people died in road accidents in the United States last year, up 22% since 2019. Experts say smartphones are part of the reason, the Los Angeles Times reported. According to the authorities, about 10% of crash deaths are attributed to “distracted driving.” The figures, though, are “widely regarded as gross underestimates.” Data collection has not kept up with technology, and distracted driving is not always obvious, meaning the problem is underreported. The rise of heavier, more powerful cars is another factor. Road deaths also went up during the pandemic despite reduced traffic, possibly because drivers could drive faster.


A cap on insulin prices

REUTERS/Mike Blake

Sanofi will cap the monthly cost of insulin at $35 from next year. Its announcement follows similar promises from Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, the other two major insulin manufacturers, which between them make about 90% of the insulin used in the United States. Diabetes patients need regular doses of insulin to regulate their blood sugar. New legislation puts a $35 monthly cap on insulin for over-65s on Medicare, but for others it could cost $1,000 a month or more. Insulin is easy to make, but regulatory hurdles make it hard for small manufacturers to enter the market, meaning that the big pharma companies often have little competition and find it easy to keep prices high.


Eruption on Venus

Banco de Imagenes Geologicas/Flickr

An active volcano was spotted on Venus. Scientists have long known about old lava flows on the planet from eruptions millions of years ago, and radar can see volcanic mountains, but the latest sighting was the first of ongoing volcanic activity. The eruption took place 30 years ago: Researchers looked at two images taken in 1991 by the Magellan spacecraft eight months apart, and noticed that a volcanic vent had doubled in size. Venus is relatively young, so some geophysicists expected volcanoes, but the find will tell them more about the interior of the planet and perhaps more about how the runaway greenhouse effect that made it the hottest planet in the solar system began.

  • Hearing in Prince Harry’s libel case against a U.K. newspaper publisher.
  • U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the White House for a bilateral meeting and​​ a St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
  • Extrapolations, a new series about climate change, starring actors including Kit Harrington, Sienna Miller, and Gemma Chan is released on Apple TV+.


The Po, Italy’s longest river, is 60% below normal levels, part of a years-long drought that has parched most of central and western Europe. According to the European Drought Observatory, vast regions are drier than they should be, imperiling navigation on rivers along which much of the continent’s commerce moves. France is experiencing its lowest amount of snowfall in 60 years, reported WIRED, prompting nine councils to ban new-home building for four years. This winter’s unusually low snowfall in the Alps — “the water towers of Europe,” according to an Italian climate expert — point to a repeat of last year’s historically dry summer.

CMYK MAKER/Adobe Stock

A 152-year-old market in Kolkata preserves the history of India’s famed Bengali sweets. Natun Bazar, home to some of the city’s oldest confectioners, is best known for a milk-based sweet called sandesh, sold in a variety of colors, flavors, and shapes. Monda, balls of sweetened cottage cheese, are also a staple offering in shops set up by sweetmakers that migrated to the market in the late 1800s and are still running today. “Ingredients change, appearances change, fads fade,” Priyadarshini Chatterjee wrote in “But the tastes that satisfied the sweet tooth of 19th-century Calcutta remain resolutely the same.”

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