We’re talking about NATO’s plans to bolster its eastern forces and the Taliban’s unfulfilled promise to open girls’ schools.
NATO strengthens troop presence near Ukraine
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced plans to double the alliance’s battlegroups on its eastern flank — in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia — hours before President Biden was due to land in Brussels for a key allies summit.
The NATO action and upcoming meetings are part of a coordinated effort by the West to push for tougher penalties to prevent Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from turning into a bigger conflict. Biden is expected to target Russian lawmakers with new sanctions this week.
On the ground in Kiev, Ukraine, a hail of rockets landed in a residential area near the city center, causing extensive damage but few casualties. Russia’s progress has been slow: British intelligence has suggested that the battlefield in the north of the country has remained largely static for days. Here is a map tracking the movements of troops in Ukraine.
Occupation abroad: In brief remarks to the Japanese parliament, Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, appealed to the country’s memories of a nuclear disaster and a chemical weapons attack in an attempt to gain support.
Across Asia, Covid rules are disappearing fast
Covid restrictions had largely disappeared in India by the time millions of people celebrated a Hindu festival last weekend. In the Philippines, where thousands gathered for a political rally on Sunday, Covid protocols had faded into the background.
Many Asia-Pacific countries are dismantling their longstanding Covid rules at breakneck speed, even as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is still raging in parts of the region. The changes are being driven by a mix of medical advice, economic pressures and the sentiment of a pandemic-weary public.
New Zealand announced plans to ease more restrictions, which had been some of the world’s toughest. And Japan, which had one of the strictest barriers to entry, is considering abolishing quarantine requirements for foreign businessmen and students.
The one major exception is mainland China, which still has strict Covid restrictions after long adhering to its “zero Covid” approach.
In other pandemic news:
West and Central African countries have fared better with Covid than many wealthy ones. The debate over the reasons has divided scientists.
Moderna said it would seek emergency clearance for its coronavirus vaccine for children under 6 in the US
South Korea has asked crematoria to increase their capacity and funeral homes to secure more refrigerators as Covid deaths rise.
Taliban keep promise to open girls’ schools
The Taliban abruptly reversed their decision to reopen girls’ high schools this week, saying they would remain closed until officials could guarantee they adhere to Islamic law.
Many of the more than a million high school girls who grew up in an era of women’s opportunity were shocked by the news. Some found out after arriving for classes yesterday. A twelfth grade student in Kabul said the decision had wiped out her last bit of hope that she could fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer.
A spokesman for the Taliban’s Ministry of Education said they had decided not to allow girls to return due to, among other things, a lack of religious uniforms and female teachers.
The move could threaten the Taliban’s ability to secure billions of dollars in humanitarian aid. It comes just over a week before a pledge conference where the UN had hoped donor countries would allocate millions of dollars in much-needed aid. Both the UN and the US condemned the Taliban’s decision.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan: While many girls in Kabul and elsewhere were unable to attend classrooms, at least two northern cities started their semester as planned, a geographic discrepancy that points to the Taliban’s largely erratic policy making.
THE LAST NEWS
Facing a rapidly rising divorce rate, China passed a law last year that forces couples to undergo a 30-day cooling-off period before breaking up permanently. The rule seems to have worked; recent government statistics show a sharp decline in the divorce rate. But the country has a much bigger challenge: fewer Chinese citizens are getting married.
ART AND IDEAS
Filming Gotham (in Liverpool)
The latest Batman film, released earlier this month, features the skyscrapers and imposing architecture of the fictional metropolis of Gotham.
But instead of filming in New York — the city most closely associated with Gotham — “The Batman” used the streets of Liverpool as the latest superhero backdrop.
Gotham City Hall is actually St. George’s Hall in Liverpool, and a statue seen outside in the film is Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th-century British Prime Minister. “The Batman” is the latest in a series of movies and TV shows – fueled mainly by streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime – to bring production to the UK.
More than 80 percent of spending on film and high-end TV production in Britain comes from US and other overseas production companies. But local authorities are also responding to the trend. The Liverpool film agency invested $2.6 million in six TV shows and set aside millions more for studio space.
For more information on ‘The Batman’, check out our Anatomy of a Scene feature.