[News] News From Other Places!

It's news you can use from places with different views! (Don't misuse or abuse you yahoos.)

Prederick wrote:

Yeah, I watched a doc on PBS a few weeks ago about the Korean War, and among many other things, I did not realize how quickly South Korea went from "Authoritarian state" to "the Prime Minister being tone deaf about groceries might get him punted out of office."

Okay, the President wasn't on the ballot, but the PM did offer to resign after the ruling party got their asses handed to them.

Senior ruling party politicians in South Korea have offered to resign to take responsibility for its heavy defeat in Wednesday’s national assembly elections – a result that has severely weakened the country’s conservative president, Yoon Suk Yeol.

The prime minister, Han Duk-soo, tendered his resignation on Thursday as the scale of the drubbing meted out to the conservative People Power party (PPP) became apparent, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Han Dong-hoon, the PPP’s leader and head of the party’s disastrous election campaign, resigned. “I apologise to people on behalf of our party, which fell short of receiving people’s support,” Han told reporters in Seoul.

Yoon said he “humbly accepted” the result and promised an overhaul of state affairs.

Liberal opposition parties scored a landslide victory, dealing a resounding blow to Yoon and his conservative party but falling just short of a super majority.

Han echoed Yoon’s contrite tone, saying the government would “humbly accept” the result.

“The government will reflect on state affairs to see if there have been any shortcomings in meeting their expectations, and devote even more effort to improving people’s livelihoods and move forward reform tasks for the country’s future,” he told a cabinet meeting on Thursday, according to Yonhap.

The Democratic party (DP) won 161 out of 254 directly contested seats, while the PPP won 90 seats. With proportional representation seats included, the DP and its satellite party secured 175 seats and the PPP and its satellite party 108, media reports said.

The result means the opposition narrowly failed to secure super majority of two-thirds of the 300 seats – a scenario that would have enabled it to block presidential vetoes and the passage of constitutional amendments.

Yoon, who is nearing the end of the first two years of his five-year single term, was likely to become a lame duck leader, some analysts said.

A jubilant Democratic party leader, Lee Jae-myung said: “When voters chose me, it was your judgment against the Yoon Suk Yeol administration and you are giving the Democratic party the duty to take responsibility for the livelihood of the people and create a better society.”

Lee won a seat in the city of Incheon to the west of the capital, Seoul, against a conservative heavyweight candidate considered a major ally of the president.

The bitterly fought race was seen by some analysts as a referendum on Yoon, whose popularity has suffered amid a cost-of-living crisis and a spate of political scandals.

“Judgment” was the common theme running through comments by opposition victors, many of whom had campaigned heavily focused on what they said was Yoon’s mismanagement of the economy and his refusal to acknowledge his wife acted improperly when she accepted a Dior bag as a gift.

First lady Kim Keon Hee has not been seen in public since 15 December and was absent when Yoon voted, reflecting the view by some analysts and opposition party members that she had become a serious political liability for the president and his party.

The vote was also a success for minor parties that capitalised on public discontent with the established parties. The new Rebuilding Korea party, led by former justice minister Cho Kuk, was projected to win 12-14 seats, despite being formed only weeks ago.

“The figures today show the strong anger of people at Yoon for his two-year governance,” political analyst Yum Seung-yul told Agence France-Presse.

“What if he won’t change even with this stunning election outcome? I think there will be even more public anger and that worries me.”

Nearly 29.7 million people, or 67% of eligible voters, cast their ballots, according to the National Election Commission.

It marked the highest ever turnout for a parliamentary election, though the numbers were down from the 2022 presidential vote that narrowly brought Yoon to power.

Yoon, who took office in May 2022, was not up for election this time but his ability to pass legislation is likely to be badly damaged by the poor showing by his PPP.

He has suffered low ratings for months, hamstrung in implementing his pledges to cut taxes, ease business regulations and expand family support in the world’s fastest ageing society.

Mason Richey, a professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said Yoon might focus more on his overseas agenda now, though those plans could also be at risk if the opposition seeks to cut budgets with its majority.

“Given his likely lame duck status, the temptation for Yoon will be to focus on foreign policy where he will still have statutory power,” Richey said.

I should note, for those of us not from South Korea, the big winners, the Democratic Party of Korea, ain't exactly the Working Families Party or anything.

(Now, in something Americans WILL recognize, their opposition calls them a bunch of extremist leftist socialists.)

It is refreshing to see a peaceful acceptance of election results and professional decorum in the face of opposition. I vaguely remember what that was like in the U.S. ...

Missed this, Mexico and Ecuador are currently having a tiff:

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico released security camera video Tuesday of the moments when Ecuadorian authorities forced their way into Mexico’s embassy, pushed a Mexican diplomat to the ground and carried out Ecuador’s former vice president who had been holed up there.

The action Friday night greatly escalated tensions between the two countries, which had already been tussling since ex-Vice President Jorge Glas, a convicted criminal and fugitive, took refuge at Mexico’s embassy in December.

Ecuadorian police scaled the embassy walls and broke into the building Friday. Roberto Canseco, Mexico’s head of consular affairs and the highest ranking diplomat present since Ecuador expelled the ambassador earlier in the week, tried to keep them from entering, even pushing a large cabinet in front of a door.

But police restrained him and pushed him to the floor as they carried Glas out.

Mexico, as well as experts, say it appeared to be a blatant violation of international accords. Mexico broke off diplomatic relations with the country in response. Leaders across Latin America condemned Ecuador’s actions as a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

At his daily news briefing Tuesday, Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador played the security video and said it showed the “authoritarian and vile” way police had raided the embassy.

López Obrador criticized North American allies Canada and the United States for what he said was not speaking out forcefully enough against the raid. Mexico has said it plans to file a formal complaint with the International Court of Justice.

Later Tuesday, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan appeared to voice a stronger rejection of Ecuador’s actions.

“We condemn this violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, including the use of force against embassy officials,” Sullivan said during Tuesday’s press briefing. “We’ve reviewed the security camera footage from the Mexican embassy and believe these actions were wrong. The Ecuadorian government disregarded its obligations under international law as a host state to respect the inviolability of diplomatic missions and jeopardized the foundation of basic diplomatic norms and relationships.”

The Organization of American States discussed the dispute Tuesday as well.

Ecuador’s Deputy Minister of Human Mobility Alejandro Dávalos told OAS representatives gathered in Washington, D.C. that Glas did not meet the requisites to merit receiving asylum from Mexico and could not be considered politically persecuted.

But Secretary General Luis Almagro noted that “the use of force, the illegal incursion into a diplomatic mission, nor the detention of an asylee are the peaceful way toward resolution of this situation.” He said Ecuador’s actions could not be allowed to set a precedent.

Probably something they should not try on US Marines.

To clarify, this is the Country of Georgia, not the State of Georgia.

I went into it hoping I was going to see a video of one of MTG's constituents punching her in the face.

And yeah, I realized later this would have been the wrong thread for that anyway, but it really got my hopes up for a minute.

It looks like the anticonservative coalition has won a supermajority in the Korean parliamentary elections. This effectively makes right wing President Yun a lame duck as even his veto power is meaningless now. He also appears unable to stop a pending investigation into his wife for insider trading. Looks like Korea is waking up from their Trumplike nightmare earlier than we are.

Birth, death, escape: Three women's struggle through Sudan's war

On April 14, 2023, Yasmine* stepped off the plane and into the arms of her sister in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.

The Sudanese human rights activist was five months pregnant and living in a nearby country, yet she was happy to be home. She was looking forward to spending some quality time with her parents.

But the next day, her life and her country changed forever.

“I woke up to sounds of very heavy artillery at about 5 or 6am, and it lasted until 7 or 8am,” Yasmine, 31, told Al Jazeera over voice messages from Khartoum, where she still lives.

“I remember rushing to turn on Al Jazeera. They were talking about a heavy conflict.”

The roar of fighter jets and crackle of gunfire she, her brother, sister and 2-year-old niece heard in their top-floor apartment confirmed Yasmine’s worst nightmare. Sudan’s civil war had started and Yasmine was torn between comforting her siblings and telling the world about what was happening.

She recalls having to stop a phone interview with a journalist from the BBC when she heard an army jet overhead.

“I remember screaming so loud in the interview when I saw the plane and we had to hang up,” she said.

The West says China makes too much. Its workers disagree

Ren Wenbing is reluctant to leave the hollowed-out brick shell which was once a thriving factory in China's manufacturing hub of Dongguan.

"All the workers feel astonished," says the 54-year-old as he points out where he once assembled furniture and where everyone would gather to eat lunch.

The owner of the company has moved production to South East Asia to cut costs. Mr Ren says he is owed more than 80,000 RMB ($11,000; £8,800) in redundancy pay, which could take him years to earn.

"We are disappointed, and we grieve," he adds, as a machine takes a sledgehammer to the windows.

Mr Ren is not just mourning the loss of a furniture firm. He grieves for the passing of China's once unstoppable economy, which is making it harder for millions of workers to find a job.

For people like him, not enough is now made in China.

But the West has been accusing China of making far too much - it was the dominant message during US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's recent visit. She chided Beijing for "unfair economic practices," for producing more than it needs or the world could afford to absorb.

The "Made in China" brand that is etched, sewn or branded on t-shirts, tables and TVs in so many homes around the world is changing. It is now at the heart of the electric cars that are pouring into Germany, and the solar panels that are powering Europe's renewable policies. And that is worrying the West.

Rising trade tensions with the United States, strict Covid lockdowns and a global downturn mean some manufacturers who once flocked to Chinese shores are looking elsewhere. Foreign investment in the country is at a 30-year low.

But now the old industrial pillars of furniture, clothing and electrical goods are struggling, Beijing is looking to its "new productive forces": solar panels, lithium batteries and electric cars.

"We are exporting to the UK, Belgium, Germany, mostly European countries, but also to Africa, Australia, South America, North America and also South East Asia," salesperson Yan Mu says as he shows off the company's storage batteries.

His is one of the stalls at an exhibition held by hundreds of green energy storage companies in a refurbished and repurposed steel plant on the edge of Beijing.

"I think Chinese companies are leading the whole energy storage market. With innovation, with new technologies, battery sales, PCS [power conversion systems]... well, everything. Right now, I think 80% to 90% of the energy storage equipment are designed and manufactured in China."

A few hours' drive from Dongguan, there are more signs of the scale of this industry: there are solar panels as far as the eye can see.

China has installed more solar panels in the last year than the United States has managed to build in a decade, the mass manufacturing going on here driving the cost down to half of what it was last year.

Manufacturers across Europe are struggling to compete. In 2023, 97% of the solar panels installed across Europe came from China.

But China's new industries are far less labour-intensive than the ones that once fuelled its spectacular growth - and they require specialised, high-skilled workers and, increasingly, robots. While China's youth unemployment has made the bigger headlines, its overall urban unemployment rate is still over 5%.

The US and the European Union believe this is how China is trying to save its economy - producing cut-price and state-subsidised green technology to sell abroad. They say it's a tactic that is driving down the cost of solar panels and other emerging technology and driving Western firms out of business.

China says its success is down to innovation, not state subsidies and there is a demand for their exports as countries transition from fossil fuels to more climate-friendly sources of energy.

You need not watch the whole video, just the first 30 seconds, for the rapping.

Oh Lord, the rapping.

Prederick wrote:

You need not watch the whole video, just the first 30 seconds, for the rapping.

Oh Lord, the rapping.

I have your palate cleanser.

Bolsonaro supporters hit streets of Rio and hail new hero Elon Musk

Thousands of diehard supporters of Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro have hit the streets of Rio to champion their embattled leader and celebrate the new hero of their far-right movement: Elon Musk.

The tech billionaire has spent recent weeks using his social network X to bash Bolsonaro’s arch-enemy, the supreme court judge Alexandre de Moraes. Moraes is responsible for several investigations into Bolsonaro that could land the ex-president in jail, including one examining the alleged coup plot that preceded the rightwing insurrection in Brasília on 8 January 2023.

Since early April Musk has been on the warpath against Moraes, calling him “Brazil’s Darth Vader” and comparing his actions to those of a “brutal dictator”.

“This judge has brazenly and repeatedly betrayed the constitution and people of Brazil. He should resign or be impeached,” Musk tweeted.

Musk’s online campaign against Moraes – who has responded by including the X owner in an inquiry into the online dissemination of fake news – has outraged progressive Brazilians who suspect it is part of a calculated transnational ploy to undermine Brazil’s leftwing government.

The head of the governing Workers’ party, Gleisi Hoffmann, said Musk’s “truculent offensive” was an attack on the rule of law designed to boost Brazil’s far right. The first lady, Janja Lula da Silva, has accused X of being part of “a coordinated operation against democracy”.

But the self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” Musk has thrilled Bolsonaro followers, who accuse Moraes of waging an anti-constitutional crusade against far-right influencers, politicians and activists. In recent years, Moraes has instructed social media firms including X to block dozens of accounts belonging to allies or supporters of Bolsonaro and ordered the arrest of a series of figures linked to the ex-president.

On Sunday, Musk’s image and name were everywhere as tens of thousands of Bolsonaro followers congregated on Rio’s Copacabana beach to pay homage to both men.

Alfredo Queiroz, 68, travelled to the rally from the nearby city of Rio das Ostras with a banner emblazoned with the billionaire’s portrait and the words “Thank you Elon Musk.”

“He is supporting Brazil against this shameless bloody dictatorship that we have in this country,” he said.

Sergio Galvão, a 51-year-old Bolsonarista wearing a bright yellow football shirt, said: “Elon Musk has been an essential guy for us. God has used this man to expose the dictatorship that has taken hold in Brazil to the whole word. He is a crucial tool.”

“We want Bolsonaro back in power,” Galvão added as thousands of rightwingers marched down the beach to see the ex-president speak.

As Bolsonaro prepared to address the throng outside beachside apartment blocks adorned with yellow and green Brazil flags, a succession of rightwing politicians and preachers lauded Musk.

“Elon Musk is definitely watching what is happening here right now,” the pro-Bolsonaro congressman Gustavo Gayer told the crowd in Portuguese, before switching to English to send a message the billionaire could understand (and potentially share with his 181.5 million X followers).

“This is a message to the world,” Gayer bellowed. “Look at what is happening here in Brazil today. What you see here are freedom-loving people who are fighting for democracy.”

Minutes later, Bolsonaro continued the tributes, declaring: “[Musk] is a man who truly cares about the freedom of all of us.”

“He is the man who had the courage to show … the direction our democracy was going in and how much freedom we have lost,” Bolsonaro said, before requesting a round of applause for the South African-born billionaire.

Analysts said Sunday’s seafront mobilisation was the latest attempt by Bolsonaro to project political strength in the face of the increasing likelihood of imprisonment.

The richest man in the world is part of a transnational far-right network trying to take over governments and dictate policy. Great!

Prederick wrote:

The richest man in the world

I only mention this because I have no doubt it irks Elon greatly and thus amuses me-

Mark Zuckerberg overtakes Elon Musk as the world's 3rd-richest person as their companies' stocks go in opposite directions

How Chinese firms are using Mexico as a backdoor to the US

The reclining armchairs and plush leather sofas coming off the production line at Man Wah Furniture's factory in Monterrey are 100% "Made in Mexico".

They're destined for large retailers in the US, like Costco and Walmart. But the company is from China, its Mexican manufacturing plant built with Chinese capital.

The triangular relationship between the US, China and Mexico is behind the buzzword in Mexican business: nearshoring.

Man Wah is one of scores of Chinese companies to relocate to industrial parks in northern Mexico in recent years, to bring production closer to the US market. As well as saving on shipping, their final product is considered completely Mexican - meaning Chinese firms can avoid the US tariffs and sanctions imposed on Chinese goods amid the continuing trade war between the two countries.

As the company's general manager, Yu Ken Wei, shows me around its vast site, he says the move to Mexico has made economic and logistical sense.

"We hope to triple or even quadruple production here," he says in perfect Spanish. "The intention here in Mexico is to bring production up to the level of our operation in Vietnam."

The firm only arrived in the city of Monterrey in 2022, but already employs 450 people in Mexico. Yu Ken Wei says they hope to grow to more than 1,200 employees, operating several new lines at the plant in the coming years.

"People here in Mexico are very hardworking and fast learners," says Mr Yu. "We've got good operators, and their productivity is high. So, on the labour side, I think Mexico is strategically very good too."

Certainly, nearshoring is considered to be providing an important shot in the arm to the Mexican economy - by June of last year, Mexico's total exports had risen 5.8% from a year earlier to $52.9bn (£42.4bn).

The trend is showing few signs of slowing down. In just two months of this year, there were announcements of capital investment in Mexico of almost half of the annual total back in 2020.

The Man Wah sofa factory is located inside Hofusan, a Chinese-Mexican industrial park. Demand for its plots is sky high: every available space has been sold.

In fact, the Industrial Parks Association of Mexico say every site due to be built in the country by 2027 has already been bought up. Little wonder many Mexican economists say China's interest in the country is no passing fad.

"The structural reasons that are bringing capital to Mexico are here to stay," says Juan Carlos Baker Pineda, Mexico's former vice-minister for external trade. "I have no indication that the trade war between China and the US is going to diminish any time soon."

Mr Baker Pineda was part of Mexico's negotiating team for the new North American free trade agreement, USMCA.

"While the Chinese origin of the capital coming into Mexico may be uncomfortable for the policies of some countries," he says, "according to international trade legislation, those products are, to all intents and purposes, Mexican".

That has given Mexico an obvious strategic foothold between the two superpowers: Mexico recently replaced China as the US's main trading partner, a significant and symbolic change.

Mexico's increased trade with the US has also come about in part through a second key aspect of nearshoring in the country: US firms setting up Mexican facilities too, sometimes after relocating production from factories in Asia.

Perhaps the standout announcement came from Elon Musk last year, when he unveiled plans for a new Tesla Gigafactory outside Monterrey. However, the electric car company is yet to break ground on the $10bn plant.

And, while Tesla is apparently still committed to the project, it has slowed its plans amid concerns over the global economy, and recent job cuts at the carmaker.

But regarding Chinese investment, some urge caution over Mexico being drawn into the wider geopolitical struggle between the US and China.

"The old rich guy in town, the US, is having problems with the new rich guy in town, China," says Enrique Dussel of the Centre for China-Mexico Studies at the National Autonomous University in Mexico. "And Mexico - under previous administrations, and in this one - doesn't have a strategy vis-à-vis this new triangular relationship."

With elections looming on both sides of the US-Mexico border, there may be new political considerations ahead. But whether it's Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the White House over the next four years, few expect any improvement in US-China relations.

Mr Dussel thinks nearshoring is better defined by what he calls "security-shoring", saying Washington has placed national security concerns above all other factors in its relationship with China. Mexico, he argues, must be wary of being caught in the middle.

Amid this tension, Mr Dussel says: "Mexico is putting up a big sign to China saying: 'Welcome to Mexico!'. You don't need a PhD to know that this isn't going to end well for bilateral relations between the US and Mexico in the medium term," he adds.

Others are more optimistic. "In my mind, the question is not if this trend will continue, but rather how much of this trend can we take advantage of," says former Mexican trade official, Juan Carlos Baker Pineda.

"I'm sure people are having these same discussions in Colombia, in Vietnam, in Costa Rica. So, we need to make sure in Mexico that those conditions that are aligned by themselves go hand-in-hand with corporate and government decisions to sustain that trend in the long term."

Back in Monterrey, the talented Mexican seamstresses at Man Wah Furniture put the finishing touches to another sofa before it's shipped north.

When an American family buys it at a Walmart store near them, they may have little idea of the complex geopolitics underpinning its production.

But whether nearshoring is a clever back door to the US, or part of a costly war between superpowers, it's currently Mexico's key advantage in these hostile times of global trade.

The fate of Korea's 'first and biggest' sex festival

Lee Hee Tae had high hopes for his sex festival, which he proudly billed as South Korea's "first and largest".

He envisaged 5,000 fans flocking to see their favourite Japanese porn actors and actresses, who were being flown in for last weekend's event. There was to be a bondage fashion show, a sex toy exhibition, and some adult games, that involved bursting balloons between people's bodies.

But with just 24 hours to go, the festival was cancelled.

South Korea is known for its conservative approach to sex and adult entertainment. Public nudity and strip shows are banned, and it is illegal to sell or distribute hard-core pornography, though not to consume it.

"Virtually every developed country has a sex festival, but here in South Korea we don't even have an adult entertainment culture. I want to take the first steps towards creating one," said Lee Hee Tae, whose company Play Joker produced legal soft-core pornography before their pivot to organising events.

A month before, women's rights groups from the town of Suwon, where the event was due to be held, came out to protest. They accused the festival of exploiting women in a country where gender violence is endemic.

This was not, they argued, a festival aimed at both sexes. The heavily female, scantily-clad advertising suggested ticket holders were likely to be overwhelmingly male.

The local mayor condemned the event for taking place near a primary school and the authorities threatened to revoke the venue's licence if it went ahead. The venue pulled out.

Frustrated, but unfazed, Mr Lee switched locations, but a similar chain of events played out. The new authority accused the festival of "instilling a distorted view of sex" and insisted the venue cancel. Next, Mr Lee found a ship docked on the river in Seoul. But, following pressure from the council, the boat's leaseholder threatened to barricade it and cut off the electricity if its promoter allowed the festival to go ahead.

At each turn, Mr Lee had to scale down the festival as ticket holders called in refunds, costing him hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Nearly out of options, he found a small underground bar in the glitzy Gangnam neighbourhood in Seoul, that could hold around 400 people. This time he kept the location a secret.

So, Gangnam council wrote to every one of its hundreds of restaurants warning them they would be shut down if they hosted the festival, accusing it of being "morally harmful". But the bar stood its ground.

Then, the day before, the Japanese porn stars pulled out. Their agency said the backlash to the festival had "reached fever pitch" and the women were worried they might be attacked and even stabbed.

From his office in Gangnam, Mr Lee told the BBC he was shocked events had taken "such an unthinkable turn", adding that he had received death threats. "I have been treated like a criminal without doing anything illegal", he said, stating that the festival fell well within the lines of the law. There was to be no nudity or sexual acts performed, similar to an event he held last year, which garnered little publicity.

Play Joker has staged attention-grabbing stunts in the past. Last year they had a woman parade the streets of Seoul wearing nothing but a cardboard box, inviting passers-by to put their hands inside and touch her breasts.

Mr Lee says he wants to challenge Korea's attitudes to sex and pornography, which are stuck in the past.

"The authorities are hypocrites. If you go online everyone is sharing pornography, then people log off and pretend they are innocent. How much longer are we going to keep up this pretence?"

Although popular international porn websites cannot be accessed from South Korea, most know how to use internet VPNs to override restrictions.

The group that protested the original event, the Suwon's Women's Hotline, described the festival's cancellation as a "triumph". "Whatever the organisers say, this was not a celebration of sex, but the exploitation and objectification of women, and the sex industry encourages violence against women," said Go Eun-chae, the director of the hotline that provides support for victims of domestic violence.

Ms Go and other women's rights organisations in Korea argue the country has a problem with sexual violence that needs urgent attention. "It pervades our culture," she said, adding that men had endless opportunities to freely express their sexuality without needing a festival to do so.

Bae Jeong-weon, who lectures in sexuality and culture at Sejong University, said one of the issues with the festival was that it was mostly geared towards a male audience.

"There is a lot of violence against women here, and so women are much more sensitive to issues of exploitation," she said. In a 2022 survey by the government's gender ministry, more than a third of women said they had experienced sexual aggression.

"In South Korea we have a history of talking about sex negatively, in terms of violence and exploitation, rather than as a positive, enjoyable act," Ms Bae added.

In Gangnam, where the festival was eventually due to take place, the neighbourhood's mostly younger residents appeared divided according to their gender. "It's not pornographic and they're not doing anything illegal, so I don't think it should have been blocked," said a male IT worker Moon Jang-won. But 35-year-old Lee Ji-yeong said she sympathised with the various councils and was "repulsed at the festival for commercialising sex".

But most agreed that by banning the festival, the authorities had overreached.

"This ban was a decision by old, conservative politicians who want to appeal to older voters," said 34-year-old Yoo Ju. "This generation still believes that sex must be hidden," she continued, adding that young people's attitudes to sex were shifting, and that she and her friends talked openly about it.

Politics in South Korea is still largely guided by conservative, traditional values and authorities have been accused of overreaching before, stifling diversity. Last year, Seoul city council stopped Queer Pride being held on the city's main plaza following opposition from Christian groups. The government has yet to pass an anti-discrimination law which would protect both the queer community and women, both of whom face significant prejudice.

The controversy over the sex festival has seen these two issues of sexual diversity and gender equality become entangled, with the organisers arguing authorities were stopping people from freely expressing themselves, and women asserting that their rights were being violated.

The authorities will have to figure out how to navigate this tricky dilemma. Play Joker told the BBC it plans to try again to host the festival in June, only bigger, with Mr Lee claiming to now have several politicians on his side. Over the weekend, the mayor of Seoul issued a statement on his YouTube channel stating the city had "no intention of getting involved in the future".

Armenians fear new war with Azerbaijan despite talk of peace

When more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh last September, Nina Shahverdyan and her brother, parents and cousin spent 30 hours on the road trying to leave.

"People died of heart attacks. People died because they were just too old to live through that pain. Children were crying," she remembers.

In a matter of days Azerbaijan's military regained all the lands it had lost in a war triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

What worries Armenians now is that their neighbour wants more, even if Azerbaijan's president talks of being close "as never before" to a peace deal.

They have heard Ilham Aliyev speak before of Armenia being "Western Azerbaijan" and see it as a sign of imminent invasion.

Only last month Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan warned that Azerbaijan was looking to start "a new, large-scale war". He has since agreed to hand back four abandoned border villages in a sign of improving relations.

Azerbaijan says Armenian fears are unfounded. However, President Aliyev has demanded that Armenia give his country a free railroad corridor through its territory to its exclave of Nakhichevan.

Armenia wants to have control over the road and the Azerbaijani leader has in the past threatened to take the corridor "by force".

An increasing number of civilians in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, are taking up military training run by volunteer organisations.

"It doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl," says Nina, as she learns to use firearms. "You need to know how to protect yourself in a country like Armenia, where all the borders can be attacked."

Independent foreign policy expert Zaur Shiriyev believes all the talk about Western Azerbaijan was nothing more than "a tactical manoeuvre aimed at compelling the Armenian side to relinquish claims regarding the rights and security of Karabakh Armenians".

But it is not just statements that worry Nina. The conflict between two countries has extended far beyond Karabakh.

Before Azerbaijan recaptured Karabakh there were clashes along Armenia's recognised border.

Cities deep inside Armenia's territory were shelled for the first time in 2022 and Azerbaijani forces advanced into Armenian territory and remain there. More than 300 soldiers died in just two days, and as recently as February this year four Armenian servicemen were killed by shelling.

According to a recent opinion poll, Armenians place national security and border issues as their biggest problem. Their sense of insecurity is fuelled by disillusionment with Russia, traditionally seen as Armenia's security guarantor.

Both Russia and the Russian-led CSTO military alliance of which Armenia is a member stayed neutral and refused to intervene in the most recent conflict with Azerbaijan. And Moscow has also failed to deliver $200m of Russian-made weapons which Yerevan had already paid for.

Armenia had already been looking West even before the fall of Karabakh.

It hosted a joint military exercise with the US and has since secured weapons sales from France and a commitment to train Armenian officers. The French ambassador said his country was the first Nato member to provide arms to a formal ally of Russia.

For both government and the public, it was clear, says Alexander Iskandaryan, director of The Caucasus Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Yerevan: "Russia in reality has either never been such a security provider for Armenia as it was seen in Armenia, or it has not been that for a very long time."

Armenian officials have hinted at plans to apply for EU membership, and the European Parliament last month adopted a resolution on deepening ties with Yerevan.

Nikol Pashinyan says he simply wants to "diversify" Armenia's foreign policy, but both Russia and Azerbaijan see a threat to their interests and warn of serious consequences.

Russia's foreign ministry says Armenia has become "a tool the West plans to use to set the South Caucasus on fire".

And yet tens of thousands of Russians have headed to Armenia since 2022, either because of their opposition to the war in Ukraine or because they are fleeing mobilisation.

Despite the lack of mutual trust between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the two neighbours are trying to reach a peace agreement.

They have established a bilateral delimitation commission tasked with agreeing on borders.

Armenia has promised to return four Azerbaijani villages on the northern border held since the 1990s. Mr Pashinyan has rejected criticism of the deal, arguing it is the only way to avoid war.

But residents of Armenia's border villages fear being left exposed to attack and being cut off from the rest of the country.

The prime minister has tried to reassure them.

"We don't want you to say: 'Oh no, Azerbaijan is 50m from here'," the Armenian leader said. "We want you to be able to say: 'Wow, Azerbaijan is 50m from here, let's go trade there.''

After three decades of enmity and war that seems quite a step.

Even if the two leaders can agree terms, Alexander Iskandaryan of The Caucasus Institute is sceptical of such a warm peace, and independent Azerbaijani expert Zaur Shiriyev agrees.

"It's important not to overemphasise the peace agreement."

Iranian women violently dragged from streets by police amid hijab crackdown

Harrowing first-hand accounts of women being dragged from the streets of Iran and detained by security services have emerged as human rights groups say country’s hijab rules have been brutally enforced since the country’s drone strikes on Israel on 13 April.

A new campaign, called Noor (“light” in Persian), was announced the same day the Iranian regime launched drone attacks against Israel, to crack down on “violations” of the country’s draconian hijab rules, which dictate that all women must cover their heads in public.

Hours later, videos verified by human rights groups showing women and girls being forcefully arrested by agents of the notorious Gasht-e-Irshad (“morality police”) flooded social media along with stories of beatings and assault.

One mother and daughter walking through a busy Tehran square were surrounded by five chador-clad female agents and two male agents, who hurled insults and accusations before they grabbed the women. When they resisted arrest, they were violently dragged into the van, a source close to the family said.

Dina Ghalibaf, a student at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University and was among the first to tweet about a confrontation. On her now suspended X (formerly Twitter) account, she said: “Yesterday in the police room of Sadeghiyeh metro station, I insisted that I had the right to use the metro as a citizen and a taxpayer. But then, they violently dragged me into a room and Tasered me. They handcuffed me and one of the officers sexually assaulted me.”

A day after her post, she was reportedly arrested and transferred to the notorious Evin prison. The state judiciary’s Mizan news agency announced that Ghalibaf will face legal action and refuted her allegations of sexual assault.

However, jailed Nobel peace prize laureate Narges Mohammadi sent a voice message – published by relatives on Instagram – about Ghalibaf’s visible bruises. In the post, she urged Iranian women to share their stories of arrest and sexual assault at the hands of the security forces.

The Guardian spoke to the families of two women who were arrested last week and three women who were arrested by the Gasht-e-Irshad. One young woman from Tehran said: “Around eight agents surrounded me on Saturday and started screaming at me. They hurl insults like ‘whore’, ‘naked America-loving slut’ – all while kicking me in the legs, stomach and everywhere. They don’t care where they hit you.”

Another woman said: “Both women and men touch our bodies during arrests. They say they’re religious and loyal Muslims, but don’t care if the male agents touch our bodies, which is supposedly forbidden for them to do. There were around six evil women agents and three of them attacked me. Two of them held my hands [behind] my back and one of them tried to throw me into the white van. Two male agents then violently grabbed my arms and pushed me into the van. While in the van, they were verbally abusing us and took five or six of us – arrested for hijab – to the detention centre in Gisha.”

The woman added that at the detention centre she saw about 40 detained women. After spending more than five hours in detention, where they were subjected to insults and beatings, some of the women were released.

A family member told the Guardian: “My mother was kicked in her legs, and now has bruises and long lasting injuries to her legs. During her arrest, the agents called her ‘ugly’, ‘old dog’ and a ‘crone’, and continued hitting her.”

The Guardian has seen pictures of at least two women who showed signs of violent attacks, which they say occurred during their detention last week. Since nationwide protests gripped Iran after the death in custody of the 22-year-old Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini, independent human rights organisations and the UN fact-finding mission on Iran have investigated cases of rape and sexual assault of protesters, concluding that the Iranian regime committed crimes against humanity.

Speaking on the continued repression, Shabnam, a student, said: “In and around Valiasr Square there’s always police present. It’s not just ‘morality police’ or hijab bans, even the traffic police have joined hands in making our lives hell. They stop motorcycles, cars, taxis … wherever they find women driving or seated without a hijab. Some get fined, some have their vehicles confiscated and others get away with a warning but later receive an SMS that they need to come and surrender their vehicle because they’ve defied hijab rules. Many of my friends have received these SMSs.”

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist, has launched the United Against Gender Apartheid campaign in collaboration with Iranian and Afghan activists to urge the international community to codify gender apartheid.

“I want the free world to hear the tragic stories of women who experienced gender discrimination in Iran and Afghanistan in a united movement,” she said.

Kosar Eftekhari, a 24-year-old artist was blinded by the security forces during protests and has now joined other women to speak up. “I was arrested eight times by the ‘morality police’ – the Islamic Republic took my eyesight simply for being unveiled,” said Eftekhari, urging world leaders to recognise and classify the Islamic Republic as a gender apartheid regime.

The “chastity and hijab bill” was sent back to the Iranian parliament by the country’s Guardian Council in October 2023 for further clarifications of “vague” terms. Human rights activists fear women could face longer jail terms and the harshest punishments when the law is implemented.

An Iranian student said: “There are hijab ‘protectors’ swarming and stationed almost permanently in the Shahr and Enghelab theatre subway. There’s no escaping them and I want the world to know.

“We are not going anywhere, there’s no wearing of hijab or following the rules of this regime. We boycotted the elections and we won’t stop.”

I think the "Woman, Life, Freedom" global social media campaign in 2022 when the Mahsa Amini protests began were good. Unfortunately, I also think that a lot of people got rudely introduced to exactly how much impact social media campaigns can have, especially against a regime that's already been sanctioned for nearly half a century and clearly will not relinquish power or acquiesce to outside pressure at the end of anything but many, many, many guns.

Like, it reminds me of this documentary about the plight of women in Afghanistan. Which is obviously abominable.

Agreeing with Malala that “storytelling is the soul of any activism”, Lawrence commissioned Mani to coordinate the shooting of first-person testimonies. “Hopefully this movie,” says Lawrence, “made by Afghan women, through their perspective of this moment, will mean it’s not just a flash of a story in a pan. It is a resistance happening right now. These women need the world to witness this so that they are not suffering in vain, and we need to pressure our governments to hold the Taliban accountable.”

Progress has been slow. The US administration has not taken responsibility for the repercussions of its military retreat. Western feminists tend to focus on matters of immediate domestic import, and on identity politics, rather than the massive and dramatic human rights abuse in the Middle East.

“It is a reality that breaks your heart,” says Malala. “Why is there silence? Why is there inaction? Activists and storytellers cannot spend too much time thinking about it.” The ultimate obligation lies with the general public, she believes. “I think it’s the job of the people to hold their leaders to account and put more pressure on them. So I hope that people will begin to question their representatives and ask them what they have been doing. What do they mean when they say they’re committed to gender equality – those nice fancy words – when they don’t take any action to protect women’s rights and girls’ education in Afghanistan?”

I am, flatly, unsure what could force the Taliban to change other than literally military action. It seems pretty clear, to me at least, nothing else will work. I do genuinely want to know what the method for "holding the Taliban accountable" should be, as, again, they're also being sanctioned plenty, and their reaction has been "we are going to do exactly what we want."

Like, I hope I'm not being willfully obtuse, but everything I've come to know about the Taliban indicates that no sanctions (most of which will impact the people of Afghanistan more than it will affect the Taliban), no international pressure will get them to change tack. All indications I've seen point to it taking what it took last time, a multi-national military invasion. So outside of "spreading awareness," what else can be done?

As famine looms in Sudan, the hungry eat soil and leaves

There is so little food in some areas of Sudan that people are taking extreme measures to survive.

In the Al Lait refugee camp, they are eating dirt.

The impoverished camp, located in North Darfur, has seen a new influx of displaced people as Sudan’s year-old civil war has brought fighting to large swathes of the country and a campaign of ethnic cleansing to Darfur.

Garang Achien Akok is one of the thousands of new arrivals in the area. Akok, his wife and their five children abandoned their home in the southern region of Kordofan after Arab militiamen on camels stormed their village and torched their hut, he said.

Akok, 41, reached Al Lait in December, but has no work and can’t feed the family. At times, they go two or three days without eating. When that happens, Akok said, he watches helplessly as his wife and children dig holes in the ground with a stick, slide their hands in and grab some soil. Then they roll the soil into a ball, put it in their mouths and swallow it with water.

“I keep telling them not to do it, but it's hunger,” he said. “There is nothing I can do.”

Hunger and starvation are spreading across Sudan, as the war that erupted in April last year between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) shows no sign of abating. The outlook is dire, according to interviews with over 160 civilians caught in the fighting and more than 60 aid workers and food security experts, as well as a review of food surveys by aid agencies. Reuters reporters also spent close to a week in Omdurman last month, one of three cities that comprise the capital Khartoum, interviewing people who had suffered severe food shortages.

Parts of Sudan are on the brink of famine – a brewing crisis that is man-made. Agriculture has been ravaged as farmers have had their harvested crops stolen by the RSF and fled their lands due to the violence. Hunger, not just fighting, is now driving displacement as people leave home in search of food. Malaria and other diseases are spreading among the displaced. Key aid hubs have been looted by the RSF and its allied militias. And international aid arriving in Sudan is being blocked by the military from reaching people in areas where starvation has set in.

“Sudan’s war has created the world’s largest hunger crisis,” said Anette Hoffmann, author of a report on the food emergency in Sudan by the Netherlands-based Clingendael think tank. “We will likely see a famine that we haven’t seen in decades.”

The Sudanese army and RSF did not respond to detailed questions for this report. Sudan’s foreign ministry, part of the military-led government, has said it is committed to facilitating the delivery of aid, and has accused the RSF of looting and blocking aid. Lieutenant General Ibrahim Jaber, the military’s second in command, has said that Sudan “will not fall into hunger” and had “more than it needs.” Some Khartoum residents said the army has at times provided limited amounts of food relief amid the fighting.

The RSF has denied looting, saying any rogue actors in its ranks will be held responsible, and has blamed the army for obstructing the delivery of aid.

People across Sudan are taking increasingly desperate measures to survive. In West Darfur, farmers whose lands were plundered by the RSF have eaten the seeds they bought for planting because they have run out of food. In the Kordofan region, people have sold their furniture and clothes to get cash for food. In Khartoum, residents under siege in their homes have picked the leaves off trees and boiled and eaten them.

Almost 18 million people in Sudan – more than a third of the nation’s 49 million people – are facing “high levels of acute food insecurity,” according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a globally recognized hunger monitor. The IPC also estimates that of this group, nearly five million people are one step from famine. Immediate action is needed to “prevent widespread death and total collapse of livelihoods and avert a catastrophic hunger crisis in Sudan,” the IPC said in March. The group added that it has been unable to update a projection it made in December because of data gaps in conflict areas and internet and phone outages in much of Sudan.

The Clingendael report has drawn three possible scenarios for Sudan. The most optimistic one projected that 6% of the population will face famine. In the worst case, 40% of people would endure famine during the lean season between harvests, which starts in May and runs to September.

In some places, people are already dying. Doctors Without Borders has reported that an estimated one child is dying on average every two hours in the vast Zamzam displaced persons camp in North Darfur – a result of disease and malnutrition.

Despite the deepening food crisis, the situation in Sudan has drawn less international scrutiny than other humanitarian emergencies in places such as Ukraine and Gaza. Some observers have called Sudan’s conflict “the forgotten war.”

“Our biggest challenge is the funding and lack of attention to Sudan,” said Chessa Latifi, senior program advisor in global health at relief organization Project HOPE. “People are so involved in Ukraine and so involved in Gaza that there is no space for anyone to think, to be open to listen and hear about Sudan.”

International pressure on the warring parties has failed so far to break the aid logjam. Isobel Coleman, deputy administrator of USAID, the U.S. government relief agency, said Sudanese army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo were responsible for aid not reaching people.

“This looming threat of famine hangs on them,” she told Reuters. “People are literally dying by the day because of lack of access to food and other essentials.”

The top comments are people going "How has CNN found him if the FBI is looking for him?" and once again I am reminded that not everyone is doing the reading.

wrong thread