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A burst of diplomacy ahead of a UN vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, Senegal goes to the polls in its del͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
cloudy Taipei
sunny Dakar
cloudy Quito
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March 22, 2024


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The World Today

  1. UN vote on Gaza truce
  2. Senegal’s delayed election
  3. Taiwan faces China threat
  4. EU to probe Apple, Google
  5. AI antitrust concerns
  6. Rohingya migrants rescued
  7. Obesity drug on Medicare
  8. Quito’s water model
  9. Rapid Starship turnaround
  10. Japan quits Western music

A book recommendation from Cape Town, and Michael Ondaatje returns with a new book of poetry.


US calls for Gaza ceasefire at UN

People take part in a mass prayer for the release and wellbeing of hostages kidnapped in Oct. 7 attacks. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

A flurry of diplomacy foreshadowed a tense U.N. Security Council vote on a U.S.-drafted resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. The European Union, Britain, and Australia all called for an immediate truce, while Israeli media reported that Washington was pressuring mediators Egypt and Qatar to accelerate hostage release and ceasefire negotiations. The U.S. secretary of state was also due to hold talks with Israel’s prime minister, whose relations with the White House are increasingly fraught. The U.S. resolution at the U.N. was not uniformly welcomed, though: Al Jazeera characterized the document as “ambiguous” in its wording, and noted that other resolutions with “stronger language” had the support of several Security Council members.


Senegal belatedly goes to the polls


Senegal’s delayed and reinstated election is going ahead this weekend. The country is seen as a rare democratic success in sub-Saharan Africa, so President Macky Sall’s — ultimately unsuccessful — effort to postpone the vote to December led to furious protests and suggestions he was trying to hold on to power. Two key opposition figures, Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Faye, were released from prison last week in an amnesty law as part of Sall’s efforts to defuse tensions. Faye, a critic of corruption in Senegalese politics who wants to distance relations with Senegal’s former colonial ruler France, will run against Sall’s preferred replacement, former Prime Minister Amadou Ba.

For more on Senegal’s election — and other votes around the world — check out Semafor’s Global Elections Hub. →


Taiwan calls out Chinese intimidation

Taiwanese conscripts. REUTERS/Ann Wang

Taiwanese officials said the island was facing increasing intimidation by China. Some 32 Chinese military aircraft were spotted near Taiwan in a 24-hour window, the second-highest figure this year, Taipei’s defense ministry said, while its foreign minister told reporters Beijing had built “enormous” military bases near territory claimed by the island. The warnings came as the top U.S. commander in the Asia-Pacific said Beijing was on track to being capable of invading Taiwan — which it regards as a renegade province — by 2027. Beijing may ultimately be constrained, though, by growing domestic economic concerns trumping nationalist calls to attack Taiwan, one expert noted in Foreign Policy.


EU, US probe Big Tech

cnsphoto via REUTERS

European Union investigators are reportedly readying new probes into Apple and Google’s market power, the latest sign of a growing Western push against Big Tech. For Apple, in particular, the EU inquiry is part of a litany of challenges worldwide, Bloomberg reported. Washington yesterday sued the company, arguing it was illegally monopolizing the smartphone market, rivals are winning market share in China, and the EU is pressuring Apple over rivals’ access to the App Store. Even its hardware may be facing issues: A new academic paper indicated the company’s M-series chips have a flaw baked into their underlying design that leaves them vulnerable to hackers, and argued any fixes would severely degrade their performance.


AI deals draw antitrust scrutiny

REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

A spate of recent Big Tech deals in the artificial intelligence space will test major antitrust regulators, analysts said. The agreements do not amount to traditional mergers and acquisitions — Apple is reportedly in talks to build Google’s AI engine into the iPhone; Microsoft is working with a France-based rival of OpenAI (with which it is already a partner) and has poached the leadership of Inflection AI while paying the startup’s investors — but critics argue they reduce competition regardless. The Inflection deal “could be seen as an effort to reduce competition … as Inflection is going to be a shell of its former self,” an expert told Reuters. Semafor’s Business & Finance Editor Liz Hoffman was more direct: “It’s stealth M&A and will be heavily scrutinized.”

For more reporting and analysis on the world of business, subscribe to Liz’s twice-weekly newsletter. →


Rohingya migrants rescued at sea


Dozens of Rohingya refugees were rescued from a capsized boat in the Indian Ocean. An Indonesian ship rescued 75 of the migrants, who were sailing from Bangladesh to Malaysia after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, but another 71 may have been on board. Migration is a growing political concern across the world — Bangladesh refuses to let Rohingya leave camps, and Europe and the United States are both struggling to reduce migrant numbers crossing their borders. It’s “the ultimate case of an insoluble problem,” the Financial Times’ associate editor argued, down in large part to “the geographic proximity of rich places to poor ones,” and it is time for politicians to stop “pretending that all questions have answers.”


Medicare to provide weight-loss drug

REUTERS/Victoria Klesty/Illustration/File Photo

Wegovy will soon be available to U.S. Medicare patients with heart conditions. The drug, the higher-dose version of semaglutide specifically for weight loss, costs around $1,300 a month. As well as treating obesity, in a major trial last summer the drug was shown to reduce heart attack and stroke risk in overweight patients. It’s not clear whether Wegovy reduces heart risk directly by making people slimmer — patients on the trial lost 9% of their body weight, on average — or by more direct means: In its lower-dose form, Ozempic, semaglutide is also a diabetes medication. Two in five Americans are obese, Gizmodo reported, making the U.S. a huge market for the drug.

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Quito’s water conservation export

REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

A model of water conservation pioneered by Ecuador’s capital is being copied worldwide. Quito receives its water from the Andes peaks, and 20 years ago realized that changes to land use in mountain ecosystems — notably cattle grazing — was damaging the watersheds that gathered the water. Alongside a charity, it established Water Funds, a way of financing the protection of those watersheds. The model has now been exported to 11 Latin American countries, as well as parts of Africa, Asia, and the United States. El País reported that Norfolk in eastern England — a low-lying region with high risk of flooding and poor water quality — will now use the system to fund water conservation methods.


Fourth Starship launch nears

REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

SpaceX hopes its fourth Starship launch could happen as soon as May. The world’s most powerful rocket launched for the third time last week, and reached orbit before apparently burning up on re-entry. It was deemed a huge success after much shorter flights in April and November last year, and while the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate, its inquiry is not expected to take long: The FAA said despite the “mishap … we deem it a successful launch attempt,” and that there were no major safety concerns. SpaceX already has four Starships built, and more “coming off the production line,” an analyst told Gizmodo: It expects soon to start using them for practical purposes, such as deploying satellites.


Japan turns from Swift to K-pop

REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/File Photo

K-pop is supplanting Western music at the top of Japanese charts. Western artists did well in Japan for decades: Beatlemania saw screaming crowds in Tokyo in the 1960s. But in 2023, Western music accounted for just 0.3% of streaming and sales of Japan’s most popular songs, compared to 29.8% in 2008. Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero only reached 34 in the Japanese charts, despite her domination elsewhere. K-pop, meanwhile, has taken over much of Western music’s market share, while homegrown “J-pop” has also grown in popularity. Nikkei reported that young Japanese people used to listen to Western music “as part of their admiration for Western culture,” but now they care less about artists’ nationalities and are more influenced by what is trending on social media.

  • The CERAWeek energy conference concludes.
  • Slovaks go to the polls in the first round of the presidential election on Saturday.
  • World Water Day, an annual U.N. event to raise awareness about the 2.2 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water, is marked.
World Happiness Report

The 2024 World Happiness Report highlighted marked regional differences in how people evaluate the quality of their lives. Compared to 15 years ago, “negative emotions are more frequent … everywhere except East Asia and both parts of Europe,” the report stated. Central and Eastern Europe saw the largest increases in happiness, while scores fell in South Asia, North America, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Read more highlights from the World Happiness Report, from our insights partner, Gallup. →

Reading List

Each Friday, we’ll tell you what a great bookstore suggests you read.

Amulet Books

Cape Town’s Book Lounge recommends diving into the romance-fantasy genre — or “romantasy” — with Alex Aster’s Lightlark. Bookseller Branden describes it as “high romance, high fantasy and high pace.” Buy it from your local bookstore.

Tulane Public Relations/Wikimedia Commons

Canadian author Michael Ondaatje published his first collection of poetry in 25 years. In A Year of Last Things he takes readers on a global journey, spanning Bulgarian churches, the Californian coast, Japan’s Edo period, and more. In an interview with Literary Hub the writer of The English Patient — which in 2018 was named the greatest-ever winner of the Man Booker Prize — said writing novels was “like putting on a big theatrical production” while writing poetry “feels more like whispers than opera, more a sense of composing almost private soliloquies.”

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