Google

Google yanks California news sites over proposed law

  • The Silicon Valley tech firm is preparing for the possible passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) that would create a "link tax" for connecting users in the state to news articles, Google Global News Partnerships vice president Jaffer Zaidi said in a blog post.
  • Google on Friday said it is testing removing links to California news sites for some users in the western US state as legislators mull making the online search giant pay for connecting people to news.
  • The Silicon Valley tech firm is preparing for the possible passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) that would create a "link tax" for connecting users in the state to news articles, Google Global News Partnerships vice president Jaffer Zaidi said in a blog post.
Google on Friday said it is testing removing links to California news sites for some users in the western US state as legislators mull making the online search giant pay for connecting people to news.
The Silicon Valley tech firm is preparing for the possible passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) that would create a "link tax" for connecting users in the state to news articles, Google Global News Partnerships vice president Jaffer Zaidi said in a blog post.
The CJPA was passed by the California Assembly in June of last year, and is currently being considered by the state's senate.
"As we've shared when other countries have considered similar proposals, the uncapped financial exposure created by CJPA would be unworkable," Zaidi contended.
"If enacted, CJPA in its current form would create a level of business uncertainty that no company could accept."
Google and Facebook-owner Meta have pushed back against efforts in other jurisdictions to require them to compensate news outlets for stories that make it onto their platforms.
Facebook briefly blocked news articles on its site in Australia in 2021 after the passage of a similar law, before the company and Google agreed to make deals to remunerate news publishers.
In France, an agreement was reached in 2022 between Google, publishers and press agencies to allow news content displayed on its platform.
And in November, after months of negotiations, Canada and Google signed an agreement under which the world's number one online advertising company would pay Canadian media companies $100 million a year in compensation for lost advertising revenues.
Supporters of such laws argue that tech titans attract users with news stories and devour online advertising dollars that would otherwise go to struggling newsrooms.
Google's trial involves removing links to news websites that might be covered by the proposed law to measure the effect on the platform, according to Zaidi.
Only two percent of Google search queries are news related as people shift to getting news from short-form video, newsletters, podcasts and social media, according to Zaidi.
Google is also halting investments in the California news "ecosystem" until it is clear what regulators have planned, Zaidi added.
"A healthy news industry in California will require support from both the California government and a broad base of private companies," Zaidi said.
gc/des

abortion

US sterilizations spiked after national right to abortion overturned: study

  • The data revealed the rate of sterilizations was already inching up in the years prior to the June 2022 court decision. 
  • Sterilization rates abruptly spiked after the national right to an abortion was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 2022, a study said Friday.
  • The data revealed the rate of sterilizations was already inching up in the years prior to the June 2022 court decision. 
Sterilization rates abruptly spiked after the national right to an abortion was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 2022, a study said Friday.
The research letter was published in JAMA Health Forum and was the first to evaluate how the landmark decision impacted "permanent contraception" procedures among young adults.
They found the jump was both higher and more sustained for women than for men.
"The major difference in patterns of these two procedures likely reflects the fact that young women are overwhelmingly responsible for preventing pregnancy and disproportionately experience the health, social and economic consequences of abortion bans," said lead author Jacqueline Ellison of University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health in a statement.
Sterilization procedures are far more complex and anywhere from two-to-six times more expensive in women than for men, the statement added. What's more, reversing female sterilization requires complex, invasive surgery, which is not the case for males.
The research pulled medical record data from large academic medical centers and affiliated clinics via the TriNetX platform. The study focused on the 18-30 age group as they are more likely to have abortions and also more likely to regret sterilizations. 
The data revealed the rate of sterilizations was already inching up in the years prior to the June 2022 court decision. 
But the ruling triggered an immediate spike among both sexes, with the magnitude of that jump more than double for women than for men.
After the initial shock, the rate of men getting vasectomies or "the snip," returned to the previous historic trend. But the new, higher rate of women getting tubal sterilizations continued to rise more rapidly than before the court decision.
A limitation of the study was that the TriNetX platform does not capture state or health care organization identifiers, the authors said.
"We were therefore unable to assess the potential outcomes of state abortion policy," they wrote, nor could they provide a breakdown of how policies impacted vulnerable groups such as racial minorities, immigrants and those on a low income.
ia/tjj

India

Rushdie's first thought on attempted assassin: 'So it's you'

  • Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie, who went into hiding in Britain.
  • Salman Rushdie, targeted for assassination since 1989 over his writing, had long wondered who would kill him.
  • Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie, who went into hiding in Britain.
Salman Rushdie, targeted for assassination since 1989 over his writing, had long wondered who would kill him. When he was stabbed almost fatally, his first thought was, "So it's you."
The novelist has recounted his thoughts on his 2022 near death in a book, "Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder," which is set for publication on Tuesday.
In an excerpt from the book which he read for the CBS News show "60 Minutes," Rushdie described "the last thing my right eye would ever see" -- a man in black clothes "coming in hard and low" like a "squat missile."
"I confess, I had sometimes imagined my assassin rising up in some public forum or other, and coming for me in just this way. So my first thought when I saw this murderous shape rushing towards me was, 'So it's you. Here you are.'"
The Mumbai-born novelist -- acclaimed for his novel "Midnight's Children," a magical realist take on the Indian subcontinent's partition -- faced a storm of criticism in the Muslim world in 1988 when he released "The Satanic Verses," which touches on early Islam including through dream sequences that reference the Prophet Mohammed.
Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie, who went into hiding in Britain. He has since become a naturalized American.
Rushdie, 76, in recent years has lived with greater openness and became a presence on the New York social circuit. He was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant in August 2022 as he prepared to speak at an arts gathering in New York state.
Speaking to 60 Minutes, Rushdie said that one of the surgeons who saved him told him, "'First you were really unlucky and then you were really lucky.'"
"I said, 'What's the lucky part?' And he said 'Well, the lucky part is that the man who attacked you had no idea how to kill a man with a knife.'"
sct/dw

religion

Pope Francis to make 12-day Asia trip in September

BY CLéMENT MELKI

  • Francis had been due to visit Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia in September 2020 but the trip was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in September, the Vatican announced Friday, an ambitious trip that could test the 87-year-old's increasingly fragile health.
  • Francis had been due to visit Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia in September 2020 but the trip was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in September, the Vatican announced Friday, an ambitious trip that could test the 87-year-old's increasingly fragile health.
Running from September 2 to 13 and covering around 30,000 kilometres (18,600 miles) in total, the trip is the longest for the Argentine since he became head of the worldwide Catholic Church in 2013.
"He will visit Jakarta from 3 to 6 September, Port Moresby and Vanimo from 6 to 9 September, Dili from 9 to 11 September and Singapore from 11 to 13 September," the Vatican said in a statement.
The visit, his first abroad since September last year, has been on the cards for months, but the pontiff's health issues had raised questions on whether it would go ahead. 
Francis pulled out of a key Easter event at the last minute in March, and has asked aides to read several of his speeches in recent weeks due a bout of bronchitis.
The pontiff, who uses a wheelchair, has suffered increasing health problems in recent years, from knee pain to surgery for a hernia and on his colon.
He is known for his work ethic -- he never takes holidays -- but has been forced to make concessions to his age and health, including cancelling a trip to UN climate talks in Dubai last year.
Francis had been due to visit Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia in September 2020 but the trip was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tolerance, unity and peace

Involving more than 30 hours of flight, an eight-hour time difference and a series of meetings and masses, the September trip will represent a major physical challenge.
But the pontiff loves being among his flock, and his arrival is keenly awaited.
The government in Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, had already announced the pope's visit last month, describing it as a "special gift" for the country's Catholics.
In a statement Friday, its foreign ministry said the visit was important "for all religious communities".
"The visit is also expected to strengthen the message of tolerance, unity and world peace," it said.
According to the Pew Research Centre, Indonesia is home to 242 million Muslims and around 29 million Christians -- 8.5 million of whom are Catholics. 
Authorities in Papua New Guinea had also announced in January his visit, but no trips are considered official until the Vatican confirms.
Papua New Guinea is home to more than nine million Christians -- almost the entire population -- though most Papua New Guineans are Protestant, while retaining many traditional animist beliefs.
A 400-year-old version of the King James Bible, bound in calfskin, sits in the centre of the country's parliament. 
The last papal visit was in 1995, when Pope John Paul II was met with tribal dancers adorned with the feathers of exotic birds, grass skirts and loincloths.
Since becoming pope 11 years ago, Francis has made 44 trips abroad, the most recent to Marseille, France, in September.
He has also announced plans to visit Belgium this year, while he has mentioned a possible visit home to Argentina.
Francis also has three coming trips planned within Italy, the first of which will be to Venice on April 28.
cmk-ar/ams/js

animal

Philippines trains pet dogs for search and rescue

BY PAM CASTRO

  • But there are concerns that there might not be enough of them if a major earthquake were to hit the sprawling metropolis of Manila.
  • With her owner holding her leash, Philippine pooch Hazel sniffs through rubble in a simulated search for survivors of a major earthquake in the capital Manila.
  • But there are concerns that there might not be enough of them if a major earthquake were to hit the sprawling metropolis of Manila.
With her owner holding her leash, Philippine pooch Hazel sniffs through rubble in a simulated search for survivors of a major earthquake in the capital Manila.
Hazel is taking part in a programme training pet dogs and their owners in search and rescue so they can be deployed in the aftermath of a disaster.
Every Sunday, around 46 mongrels and purebreds of all sizes are put through their paces by volunteer trainers at a facility in suburban Manila where they learn to find people, scale ladders, and bound over wooden structures.
Philippine disaster agencies already have search and rescue dogs that are deployed when disasters strike the archipelago nation.
But there are concerns that there might not be enough of them if a major earthquake were to hit the sprawling metropolis of Manila.
Hazel, who was a skinny street mutt before she was adopted by her owner Nathalia Chua, lacks the pedigree of some of her classmates.
But she shows plenty of enthusiasm as she follows instructions to search rubble, overturned water drums and small wooden huts.
The three-year-old barks and wags her tail when she finds a person hiding in a drum, drawing cheers from trainers and back rubs from Chua.
"My end goal with Hazel is just to be as prepared as possible if the 'big one' comes," Chua, 17, told AFP, referring to a major earthquake seismologists predict could strike the city one day.
Manila is vulnerable to quakes due to its location on the West Valley Fault and its proximity to the Manila Trench off the main island of Luzon.
Seismologists believe the movement of either one could trigger a major earthquake in the city of more than 13 million people that could kill tens of thousands.
The MMDA K-9 Corps volunteer group has trained around 700 pet dogs since it began the programme in 2016.
It aims to train at least 3,400 pet dogs in search and rescue across the city.
"We all know that for the 'big one'... we really need to be prepared," said trainer Katrina Florece, 25, at the training facility owned by the government's Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
Hazel was malnourished and fearful when Chua found her in 2021 during a family holiday on the western island of Palawan.
The search and rescue training has helped her become calmer and more confident.
"She loves it," Chua said. "I think even if the dog doesn't end up enjoying search and rescue, joining this is a great opportunity to learn and bond with your dog."
Dogs have to complete at least 12 training sessions before they can be deployed in real-life disaster response operations.
American chef Jon Hrinyak, 40, regularly brings his German Shepherd Oly to the training in the hope that they might be able to save someone's life one day.
"You hope that when something happens... we can be there to assist someone," Hrinyak said.
"A single life that we can help is worth it."
pam/amj/dhw

Japan

Clouds gather over Japan's ambitious Osaka World Expo

BY ETIENNE BALMER

  • Expo 2025 global PR director Sachiko Yoshimura maintained that global participants would be "united" by the event even though there are conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and elsewhere.
  • One of the largest wooden structures ever built is taking shape in Osaka, but hopes that Expo 2025 will unite the world are being dogged by cost blowouts and a lack of public enthusiasm.
  • Expo 2025 global PR director Sachiko Yoshimura maintained that global participants would be "united" by the event even though there are conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and elsewhere.
One of the largest wooden structures ever built is taking shape in Osaka, but hopes that Expo 2025 will unite the world are being dogged by cost blowouts and a lack of public enthusiasm.
The imposing circular centrepiece will be crowned by a 20-metre-high (65-foot) sloping canopy, designed by top architect Sou Fujimoto, known as the "Grand Roof".
It has a circumference of a staggering two kilometres and 161 countries and territories will show off their trade opportunities and cultural attractions at pavilions within the vast latticed ring.
A crane hoisted a block of beams into place this week as organisers said construction was largely on schedule, one year before visitors will be welcomed.
Expo 2025 global PR director Sachiko Yoshimura maintained that global participants would be "united" by the event even though there are conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and elsewhere.
Russia will not be among the participants at Expo 2025, which will run from April 13 to October 13.
"Of course there are so many crises around the world, but we want everybody to actually get together and think about the future and sustainability," Yoshimura said.
It has also met a lukewarm response in Japan, where promotion is ramping up and the red-and-blue Expo 2025 mascot "Myaku-Myaku" -- billed by the official website as "a mysterious creature born from the unification of cells and water" -- is ever-present.
A recent Kyodo News survey found that 82 percent of Japanese companies, sponsors and others involved said "fostering domestic momentum" would be a challenge.

Ballooning budget

The construction budget has ballooned 27 percent from 2020 estimates to 235 billion yen ($1.5 billion) due to inflation and Japan's chronic worker shortage.
Some say the costs are also hard to justify when 6,300 people are still in evacuation centres and hotels after an earthquake on New Year's Day devastated parts of central Japan.
Fujimoto's "Grand Roof" alone has a price tag of 35 billion yen and has been slammed by opposition leader Kenta Izumi as "the world's most expensive parasol".
The "Grand Roof" and other structures are temporary, with no clear plan for them other than organisers saying they will be reused or recycled.
The site on an artificial island in Osaka Bay will be cleared after the Expo, with plans to build a resort there containing Japan's first casino.
Jun Takashina, deputy secretary general of the Japan Association for Osaka 2025, acknowledged budget and regulatory "struggles" among foreign participants but said organisers would help make sure the displays are ready in time.
Among the most hotly anticipated attractions are flying electric cars, which take off vertically, showcasing the event's technological and environmental aspirations.
But the vehicles -- subject to reams of regulations -- will be a "kind of experiment", Yoshimura said.
More than 1.2 million tickets have already been sold and organisers hope to attract 28.2 million visitors, including 3.5 million from abroad.
That would be four million more than the last World Fair in Dubai but pales in comparison to the 64 million people who attended the 1970 Expo in Osaka, a record until it was overtaken by Shanghai in 2010.

'Future like science fiction

The first world fair to celebrate culture and industrial progress was held in London in 1851, with the Eiffel Tower built for the 1889 Paris World Fair.
Osaka academic Shinya Hashizume, a specialist in architecture history and town planning, said he was amazed as a 10-year-old when he saw a "future that looked like science fiction" at the 1970 Expo.
The first film in IMAX format was shown at that event and visitors could admire rocks brought back from the Moon.
"Those six months were extraordinary for Osaka. Simply put, the whole town was having a party," he said.
The advent of mass tourism and hyper-connected societies may have since lessened the attraction but some Osaka residents still think it's a good idea.
Kosuke Ito, a 36-year-old doctor, said it would "strengthen the economy".
However, Yuka Nakamura, 26, said she might be put off by adult entry fees ranging from 4,000 to 7,500 yen ($25 to $50) a day.
etb-yy/ep/kaf/pbt/jfx

tuberculosis

Asia-Pacific gets new weapon in fight against drug-resistant TB

BY PAM CASTRO

  • Now, a new drug regimen involving fewer pills and side effects is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, where trials have shown a more than 90 percent cure rate after six months.
  • A faster and vastly more effective treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific region, raising hopes of a "new era" in tackling one of the world's deadliest infectious diseases.
  • Now, a new drug regimen involving fewer pills and side effects is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, where trials have shown a more than 90 percent cure rate after six months.
A faster and vastly more effective treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific region, raising hopes of a "new era" in tackling one of the world's deadliest infectious diseases.
The region had most of the world's estimated 10.6 million new TB cases in 2022, and more than half of the 1.3 million deaths, World Health Organization (WHO) figures show.
While TB can be successfully treated with antibiotics, more than three percent of new TB patients are resistant to commonly prescribed drugs.
Until recently, treatment for these patients involved daily painful injections or a fistful of pills for 18 months or longer, while some endured severe side effects such as nausea and, in extreme cases, blindness.
Many people prematurely quit their treatment, which had a success rate of 63 percent or lower.
Now, a new drug regimen involving fewer pills and side effects is being rolled out in the Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, where trials have shown a more than 90 percent cure rate after six months.
The treatment, known as BPaL, combines the antibiotics bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid, and has received regulatory approval in more than 60 countries since 2019, according to the non-profit TB Alliance, which developed it.
The WHO updated its guidelines in 2022 to allow BPaL to be used with or without a fourth antibiotic called moxifloxacin.
BPaL has been life-changing for Filipino cook Efifanio Brillante, who was diagnosed with drug-resistant TB in June 2022 and initially went on an older form of treatment.
Brillante, 57, was swallowing 20 tablets a day, but it left him feeling so nauseous that he couldn't work or eat.
He stopped the medication after two weeks even though he knew the decision could be fatal.
"It's very difficult. You're always in bed," Brillante told AFP about his experience of having TB.
"Sometimes I couldn't even breathe."
The following month, Brillante joined a BPaL trial at the Jose B Lingad Memorial General Hospital in Pampanga province, north of the Philippine capital Manila.
He took between three and seven pills a day and was cured after six months.
"I'm very thankful that I was healed," Brillante told AFP in his home.
"If I didn't take that BPaL, I might already be buried in the cemetery."
- 'A curable disease' - 
TB, once called consumption, is caused by a bacteria that primarily attacks the lungs and is transmitted through the air by infected people, for example by coughing. 
While it is found in every country, poorer people living and working in overcrowded conditions are at higher risk of the disease.
Eight countries accounted for two-thirds of new TB cases in 2022: India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 
One of the biggest challenges of treating drug-resistant TB has been getting patients to take the full course of their medication.
Even in countries where treatment is free, patients face crippling travel costs to hospitals and loss of income, or even their job, due to the illness and side-effects of the drugs, leading many to stop taking their pills.
In Vietnam, most people diagnosed with TB are from low-income families, Hoang Thi Thanh Thuy from the Vietnam National Tuberculosis Program told AFP.
Nearly everyone with drug-resistant TB endured "catastrophic" expenses over the period of their treatment, she said.
"All of these difficulties can affect patient compliance and lead to poor treatment and increasing drug resistance," Thuy said.
Identifying people with TB is also a challenge.
In Indonesia, some healthcare facilities are still not able to properly diagnose the disease, said Imran Pambudi of the health ministry.
Fear of social stigma from a positive diagnosis is also common.
"We're trying to educate them that TB is a curable disease," said Irene Flores, who led the BPaL trial at the Jose B Lingad Memorial General Hospital in the Philippines. 
"If they come early, we can prevent complications."

More investment needed

After years of decline, the number of people falling ill with TB and drug-resistant tuberculosis began increasing during the Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupted diagnosis and treatment, the WHO said previously.
After gargantuan global efforts to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus, the WHO has called for increased funding to fight TB.
"As TB stopped being a high income-country problem, motivation to invest in research and development for new TB drugs dried up," said Sandeep Juneja, senior vice president of market access at the TB Alliance.
To help accelerate the rollout of BPaL, with or without moxifloxacin, the TB Alliance has set up a "knowledge hub" in Manila to provide training and assistance to other countries.
In India, where BPaL has been approved, there is growing impatience for it to be introduced into health clinics given the country's world-beating caseload.
"BPaL should be rolled out soon because it will spare patients a lot of headaches and provide psychological relief too, besides reducing cost of treatment in the long run," said Ravikant Singh, founder of advocacy group Doctors For You.
Juneja said the new regimen meant treating drug-resistant TB was no longer a guessing game of whether a patient would survive or not.
But more is needed to be done, he added.
"I hope this is... just the beginning of a new era of TB treatment where they will be even simpler, even shorter."
burs-pam/amj/dhw/jfx

economy

Educated and unemployed: India's angry young voters

BY ANUJ SRIVAS

  • The International Labour Organization estimates 29 percent of India's young university graduates were unemployed in 2022.
  • At a run-down job centre in the suburbs of India's financial capital Mumbai, 27-year-old Mahesh Bhopale dreams of a well-paid government post -- just like millions of other young, unemployed graduates.
  • The International Labour Organization estimates 29 percent of India's young university graduates were unemployed in 2022.
At a run-down job centre in the suburbs of India's financial capital Mumbai, 27-year-old Mahesh Bhopale dreams of a well-paid government post -- just like millions of other young, unemployed graduates.
As the world's most populous nation readies for general elections that begin April 19, politicians face a sobering reality. India is the fastest-growing major economy, but there are still not enough white-collar jobs for its educated youth.
"Our only way out of this life is to get a government job and get good benefits," said biology graduate Bhopale. "That will help us get married and start a family."
He has eked out a living in part-time jobs ranging from a tailor's assistant to a nighttime security guard while cramming for gruelling civil service examinations.
Coming from a farming village to the big city seeking work, Bhopale said he lacked the contacts to push his application in the private sector.
"A government job is the best kind of job," he said. "Educated people from villages like us can't get high-paying private sector jobs."
He isn't alone. The International Labour Organization estimates 29 percent of India's young university graduates were unemployed in 2022.
That rate is nearly nine times higher than for those without a diploma, who typically find work in low-paid service or construction jobs.

'Demographically expanding'

Over half of India's 1.4 billion people are aged under 30, according to government health figures.
"Jobs are not rising as fast as the potential workforce is demographically expanding," said development economist R. Ramakumar, from Mumbai's Tata Institute of Social Sciences, noting many of the new jobs being created are in farming.
"That is one reason why you see a large number of applicants for a small number of positions in government jobs," Ramakumar said.
It also explains the "urge of people to go out of India through illegal channels", seeking jobs in the United States or Canada, he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is widely expected to win a third term in the upcoming elections, points to his success in convincing global tech giants like Apple and Dell to set up in India.
But critics say this has not translated into the millions of manufacturing jobs that people demand.
The World Bank warned this month that India -- like other South Asian nations -- was "not creating enough jobs to keep pace with its rapidly increasing working-age population".
South Asia is failing "to fully capitalise on its demographic dividend", said Franziska Ohnsorge, the bank's regional chief economist, calling it a "missed opportunity".
Many young Indians say they have no choice but to join the frenetic race for government jobs, prized for their decent pay, benefits and security.
Competition is intense.
State-run Indian Railways, for instance, receives millions of applications for hundreds of thousands of mid or low-level jobs.
Ganesh Gore, 34, said he had tried and failed the civil service exam five times. 
"No party or politician helps us out," said Gore. "They are sitting there to eat money."
In 2022, after the government switched some permanent military jobs to temporary contracts, violent protests erupted, with people setting railway trains on fire.
Riskier jobs also find many takers.
Earlier this year, thousands queued to submit applications for jobs in Israel after labour shortages sparked by the war against Palestinian militants in Gaza.

'Millionaires and billionaires'

India overtook Britain in 2022 to become the world's fifth-largest economy, and grew at a robust 8.4 percent in the October-December quarter, helped by a surging manufacturing sector.
But many young people say they are frustrated by a lack of opportunities.
In December 2023, protestors hurled smoke canisters into parliament while shouting anti-government slogans to highlight unemployment.
Saraswati Devi, whose daughter Neelam was arrested after the protest, said she was distraught over her inability to find a job.
"She is highly qualified, but wasn't getting a job.... she often used to say that 'I should just die as despite studying so much, I am unable to earn two meals,'" Saraswati told local media.
But it remains unclear if anger at unemployment will translate to voters turning from Modi's ruling party.
A March survey of students in the capital Delhi found only 30 percent blamed Modi's government for high unemployment rates, according to the Delhi-based Lokniti-CSDS research centre.
But some like Gore, smarting from his latest exam failure, see politicians as the tools of the mega-rich.
He believes they are profiting from national growth without supporting the wider country.
"The country is run by the handful of millionaires and billionaires," said Gore. "So politicians don't have much sway."
asv/pjm/cwl/jfx

music

Peso Pluma: Mexico's 'Spider-Man' scaling global music charts

BY NATALIA CANO

  • "You wouldn't expect that a skinny guy with semi-blond, disheveled hair who breaks the stereotypes of other great figures of regional Mexican music would end up being one of the great global pop stars," Waizel said.
  • Fast-rising Mexican music star Peso Pluma identifies with Spider-Man.
  • "You wouldn't expect that a skinny guy with semi-blond, disheveled hair who breaks the stereotypes of other great figures of regional Mexican music would end up being one of the great global pop stars," Waizel said.
Fast-rising Mexican music star Peso Pluma identifies with Spider-Man. His critics accuse him of glamorizing drug-trafficking villains.
Despite -- or perhaps partly because of -- the controversy he generates, the 24-year-old has scaled global music charts with a string of hits.
Former US president Barack Obama included "La Bebe" -- Peso Pluma's collaboration with fellow Mexican singer Yng Lvcas -- in his list of favorite music of 2023.
And in February, Peso Pluma -- real name Hassan Emilio Kabande Laija -- won a Grammy for Best Musica Mexicana Album for "Genesis."
Many industry watchers expressed shock that he was left out of the Best New Artist category.
"He sees himself as a kind of superhero, the new hero of Mexican music," Uriel Waizel, lead editor at streaming platform Spotify in Mexico, told AFP.
On Friday night, Peso Pluma, who takes his nickname from the featherweight boxing category, will perform on the main stage at the Coachella music festival in the California desert.

'Biggest new artist'

Peso Pluma is part of a new generation of singer-songwriters of the "corrido" genre that became popular during the 1910-1917 Mexican revolution, but these days is also known for rap-infused ballads about drug traffickers.
Last year he canceled a concert in the border city of Tijuana after a cartel allegedly threatened to kill him following a shout out he gave to a rival gang.
Rolling Stone magazine featured him on its front cover this month and described him as "the biggest new artist on the planet."
His milestones include more than 20 songs in the Billboard Hot 100.
"Ella Baila Sola" (She Dances Alone), Peso Pluma's collaboration with the group Eslabon Armado, passed more than one billion streams on Spotify last December -- the first Mexican song to do so.
He prefers baggy clothes, sneakers and designer caps to cowboy boots and hat.
"You wouldn't expect that a skinny guy with semi-blond, disheveled hair who breaks the stereotypes of other great figures of regional Mexican music would end up being one of the great global pop stars," Waizel said.
In 2023 Peso Pluma performed at Coachella as a guest of the American singer Becky G.
This year "Mexico's going to rock the house," the performer vowed this month at a music awards show in Los Angeles.

Cancellations, break-up

In February, Peso Pluma pulled out of the Vina del Mar festival in Chile, citing personal reasons.
The cancellation came amid controversy over the content of his music, and coincided with his break-up with Argentine singer Nicki Nicole.
He also canceled several other shows in Latin America, before a triumphant comeback on March 29 at Mexico's Pa'l Norte Festival in Monterrey.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has urged young people to consider other genres due to the content of Peso Pluma's songs.
The artist justifies his lyrics as reflecting what he calls the reality of his violence-plagued country.
"It's what I see. It's my work. It's what I express," he said in an interview with Soy Grupero in 2022.
"Maybe it has to do with his personal history and the places where he has lived," said Cesar Burgos, a researcher at the University of Sinaloa.
The singer was born in the western city of Guadalajara, but his maternal roots are in Badiraguato in the northwestern state of Sinaloa -- the birthplace of infamous drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
In at least one of his songs, Peso Pluma shouts out Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel.
The controversy has done little to dent his popularity.
"I think his lyrics, and this goes a lot with corridos in general, are aspirational but also somewhat hopeful," said one fan, 25-year-old publicist Eduardo Lara.
nc/axm/dr/dw

Cannes

Coppola's 'Megalopolis' among entries for Cannes Film Festival

BY ERIC RANDOLPH

  • Success at Cannes can give a major boost to arthouse films such as last year's winner, "Anatomy of a Fall", which went on to win an avalanche of awards, including an Oscar.  er/ah/tw
  • Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola will return to the Cannes Film Festival with his long-awaited epic "Megalopolis", 45 years after winning a Palme d'Or for "Apocalypse Now", organisers said on Thursday, announcing a line-up that includes major names of world cinema. 
  • Success at Cannes can give a major boost to arthouse films such as last year's winner, "Anatomy of a Fall", which went on to win an avalanche of awards, including an Oscar.  er/ah/tw
Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola will return to the Cannes Film Festival with his long-awaited epic "Megalopolis", 45 years after winning a Palme d'Or for "Apocalypse Now", organisers said on Thursday, announcing a line-up that includes major names of world cinema. 
The 77th edition of the festival on the French Cote d'Azur, considered the most prestigious in the film industry, runs from May 14 to 25. 
This year's competition for the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize, includes another team-up between Emma Stone and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos -- "Kinds of Kindness" -- just weeks after Stone's Oscar win for their Frankenstein-style satire "Poor Things".
"The Apprentice", a biopic about the early years of Donald Trump by Iran-born director Ali Abbasi, is also expected to draw attention. 
But all eyes are likely to be on Coppola's "Megalopolis", marking the return of "The Godfather" director to Cannes at the age of 85. 
He has twice won the Palme d'Or -- for "The Conversation" (1974) and, controversially, for "Apocalypse Now" (1979), which was not even finished when it premiered at the festival.
He has self-funded "Megalopolis", said to be a Roman political drama transplanted to modern-day New York, starring Adam Driver, Forest Whitaker and  other stars. 
"We are overjoyed that he has done us the honour of coming to present this film," festival director Thierry Fremaux told reporters.

Gerwig's choice

This year's jury is led by "Barbie" director Greta Gerwig, who "embodies perfectly the soul of the festival", said Cannes president Iris Knobloch.
Only 19 entries of the main competition were announced Thursday -- there are usually around 22 -- though more may be added.
Among the more intriguing entries is "Emilia Perez", a musical comedy about a Mexican cartel boss undergoing a sex-change operation, with popstar-actor Selena Gomez in a supporting role. It is the latest unlikely creation from Palme-winning French director Jacques Audiard. 
Writer-director Paul Schrader reunites with his "American Gigolo" star Richard Gere for "Oh Canada", and Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino pens another love letter to his native Naples with "Parthenope", starring Gary Oldman. 
Canadian horror maestro David Cronenberg returns with what is billed as his most personal film yet, "The Shrouds", with Vincent Cassel.
Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov is to tell the true story of a radical Soviet poet "who became a bum in New York, a sensation in France, and a political antihero in Russia" in "Liminov: The Ballad of Eddie".

Gaza, Ukraine

It was already known that "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga", the latest instalment of the post-apocalyptic franchise, would get its world premiere at the festival, playing out of competition. 
So will Kevin Costner's new opus, "Horizon, An American Saga", in which the veteran star plays alongside Sienna Miller in the first of a planned series about the American West.  
Meanwhile, George Lucas -- the man behind "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" -- will receive an honorary Palme d'Or at the closing ceremony. 
A film about women's rights in China will also play out of competition. "She Has No Name" stars two of the country's biggest stars, Lei Jiayin and Zhang Ziyi.
Two highly topical films will have special screenings. 
"La Belle de Gaza" follows transsexual Palestinians moving to Israel, while "The Invasion" by Sergei Loznitsa centres on the war in his native Ukraine. 
Success at Cannes can give a major boost to arthouse films such as last year's winner, "Anatomy of a Fall", which went on to win an avalanche of awards, including an Oscar. 
er/ah/tw

safety

Meta turns to AI to protect minors from 'sextortion' on Instagram

BY DAXIA ROJAS

  • The legal filing alleged Meta had exploited young users by creating a business model designed to maximise time they spend on the platform despite harm to their health.
  • Meta said on Thursday it was developing new tools to protect teenage users from "sextortion" scams on its Instagram platform, which has been accused by US politicians of damaging the mental health of youngsters.
  • The legal filing alleged Meta had exploited young users by creating a business model designed to maximise time they spend on the platform despite harm to their health.
Meta said on Thursday it was developing new tools to protect teenage users from "sextortion" scams on its Instagram platform, which has been accused by US politicians of damaging the mental health of youngsters.
Gangs run sextortion scams by persuading people to provide explicit images of themselves and then threatening to release them to the public unless they receive money.
Meta said it was testing an AI-driven "nudity protection" tool that would find and blur images containing nudity that were sent to minors on the app's messaging system.
"This way, the recipient is not exposed to unwanted intimate content and has the choice to see the image or not," Capucine Tuffier, who is in charge of child protection at Meta France, told AFP.
The US company said it would also offer advice and safety tips to anyone sending or receiving such messages.
Some 3,000 young people fell victim to sexploitation scams in 2022 in the United States, according to the authorities there.
Separately, more than 40 US states began suing Meta in October in a case that accuses the company of having "profited from children's pain".
The legal filing alleged Meta had exploited young users by creating a business model designed to maximise time they spend on the platform despite harm to their health.

'On-device machine learning'

Meta announced in January it would roll out measures to protect under-18s that included tightening content restrictions and boosting parental supervision tools.
The firm said on Thursday that the latest tools were building on "our long-standing work to help protect young people from unwanted or potentially harmful contact".
"We're testing new features to help protect young people from sextortion and intimate image abuse, and to make it more difficult for potential scammers and criminals to find and interact with teens," the company said.
It added that the "nudity protection" tool used "on-device machine learning", a kind of Artificial Intelligence, to analyse images.
The firm, which is also constantly accused of violating the data privacy of its users, stressed that it would not have access to the images unless users reported them.
Meta said it would also use AI tools to identify accounts sending offending material and severely restrict their ability to interact with young users on the platform.
Whistle-blower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook engineer, publicised research in 2021 carried out internally by Meta -- then known as Facebook -- which showed the company had long been aware of the dangers its platforms posed for the mental health for young people.
dax-jxb/gil

crime

US astrology influencer worried about eclipse killed partner, baby: report

  • Hurtling down the major 405 freeway before dawn, Johnson shoved the children -- one nine years old, the other only eight months -- out of the moving vehicle.
  • A US astrology influencer worried about the recent solar eclipse stabbed her partner to death, then pushed her two children out of her moving car before fatally slamming the vehicle into a tree, a report said Wednesday.
  • Hurtling down the major 405 freeway before dawn, Johnson shoved the children -- one nine years old, the other only eight months -- out of the moving vehicle.
A US astrology influencer worried about the recent solar eclipse stabbed her partner to death, then pushed her two children out of her moving car before fatally slamming the vehicle into a tree, a report said Wednesday.
Danielle Johnson, who peddled weekly "aura cleanses" on her website and offered online zodiac readings, told followers that Monday's total solar eclipse in North America was "the epitome of spiritual warfare."
"Get your protection on and your heart in the right place," she wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, on April 4 under her online pseudonym Danielle Ayoka.
"The world is very obviously changing right now and if you ever needed to pick a side, the time to do right in your life is now."
Early Monday morning, she knifed her Air Force veteran partner dead, before taking off in a Porsche Cayenne with her two daughters, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Hurtling down the major 405 freeway before dawn, Johnson shoved the children -- one nine years old, the other only eight months -- out of the moving vehicle.
Only the nine-year-old child survived.
Half an hour later police were called to the scene of a horrific crash on the Pacific Coast Highway in which the luxury vehicle had slammed into a tree at 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour.
Johnson's body had been so disfigured in the crash that identification was difficult, the Times reported.
Police who went to the family apartment found a trail of bloody footprints and the body of 29-year-old Jaelen Allen Chaney. He had been stabbed in the heart.
The Times cited law enforcement sources as confirming that Johnson and Ayoka were the same person.
While eclipses have long been connected to end-of-times prophecies dating back to pre-history, scientists say there is no basis in fact for the conspiracies.
Monday's spectacular eclipse offered an unparalleled celestial show for tens of millions of people in North America, from Mexico's Pacific coast to Texas, Arkansas, Niagra Falls, New England and eastern Canada. 
Onlookers watched in awe as the Moon obscured the Sun, allowing the star's corona to be seen with the naked eye.
Only a partial eclipse was visible in Los Angeles.
hg/des

vote

S. Korea's scandal-plagued opposition leader is election's big winner

BY KANG JIN-KYU

  • With his party and its satellite set to boost their National Assembly majority, according to near-total vote results reported by South Korean news agency Yonhap, Lee is set to dominate the country's politics, analysts say.
  • The big winner in South Korea's parliamentary election is the country's most controversial politician: opposition leader Lee Jae-myung.
  • With his party and its satellite set to boost their National Assembly majority, according to near-total vote results reported by South Korean news agency Yonhap, Lee is set to dominate the country's politics, analysts say.
The big winner in South Korea's parliamentary election is the country's most controversial politician: opposition leader Lee Jae-myung.
His Democratic Party (DP) has notched a landslide win, making the scandal-plagued liberal a real danger to beleaguered President Yoon Suk Yeol.
A former factory worker who played up his rags-to-riches tale to rise to the top of Korean politics, Lee lost the 2022 presidential election to arch-rival Yoon by the narrowest margin in the country's history -- but now he's back for revenge.
With his party and its satellite set to boost their National Assembly majority, according to near-total vote results reported by South Korean news agency Yonhap, Lee is set to dominate the country's politics, analysts say.
He's also well-positioned to run again and take Yoon's job when the president's single five-year term ends in 2027.
The Democratic Party's parliamentary victory "will present Lee great momentum in his pursuit of the presidency," said Bae Kang-hun, a political consultant, adding that many of the DP's new lawmakers were staunch Lee allies.
"They will help him a great deal in the parliament to pave the way for him to get the party nomination," to run as the DP's presidential candidate in 2027, he added.
There was initially speculation the DP could snag a super-majority in Wednesday’s election, which would have opened the door to impeaching Yoon. 
However, those hopes had faded as tallies came in Thursday morning and the opposition came up short of the 200 seats required.
Lee, who was stabbed in the neck in January by a man pretending to be his supporter, rebounded from his 2022 presidential election loss to lead the DP with a pledge to "punish" Yoon through polls.
He had long called for the parliamentary elections to serve as a referendum on the president, saying the vote allowed "the people to decide whether the government should keep the power or be punished over its two-year governance."

'Strong anger'

The rise of a newly formed Rebuilding Korea party, led by former justice minister Cho Kuk, which is projected to win 12 to 14 seats, also shows the scale of voter discontent with the two main parties, experts say.
"The figures today represent strong anger of the people at Yoon for his two-year governance," said political analyst Yum Seung-yul, adding the key question now was "whether Yoon will change his governing style for the remainder of his term."
For years, Lee has sought to emphasise the stark contrast between his life story and that of Yoon, who was raised in an affluent family.
While he was running for president, his campaign published two photographs: one showed a floppy-haired young Lee in an ill-fitting suit and the other a teenage Yoon in a bow tie.
He also promoted policies including cash handouts to young adults, free school uniforms and free maternity care, and has previously vowed to expand his universal basic income scheme nationwide as president. 
Such proposals have found support in South Korea, amid growing worries about inequality, sky-high housing prices and youth unemployment.
"I escaped poverty, but many around me are still stuck... I want to change the system," he told AFP before the 2022 election.
But his opponents accuse him of being a populist who will pile on debt to pay for these schemes.
Lee's journey up the ranks of South Korean politics has also been marred by scandal, and he is under investigation in a slew of cases, which he claims are politically motivated.
He faces trial on charges of bribery linked to a firm that is suspected of illicitly transferring $8 million to North Korea.
Lee is also accused of a breach of duty that allegedly resulted in a loss of 20 billion won ($14.8 million) for a company owned by Seongnam city when he was its mayor.
There had been calls from within his own party for Lee to step aside -- but the party's election victory Wednesday will "silence dissent", political pundit Yoo Jung-hoon said. 
"He has produced the outcome, which will cement his path towards the next presidential run. With this outcome, he has become parliament's most powerful politician."
kjk-ceb/nro/lb

politics

Too busy for politics? S. Korea's young voters on what motivates them

BY HAILEY JO

  • "But if you look at the current situation, the cost of living is too high and there are not many policies for young people, even though my income level is not high at all.
  • High youth unemployment, feuding politicians and a cost of living crisis: young South Korean voters told AFP what was on their minds as they voted -- some for the first time -- in elections Wednesday.
  • "But if you look at the current situation, the cost of living is too high and there are not many policies for young people, even though my income level is not high at all.
High youth unemployment, feuding politicians and a cost of living crisis: young South Korean voters told AFP what was on their minds as they voted -- some for the first time -- in elections Wednesday.
This election cycle, younger voters were outnumbered by those over 60, official data showed, and at polling booths across the capital Seoul, there were visibly more older voters casting their ballots. 
AFP spoke to them to find out what was going on:

Hard to find jobs

Outside a polling station set up inside a KIA car showroom, university student Ahn Hyun-sup, 21, told AFP that it was his first time to vote in a parliamentary election.
"These days, many young people are not interested in elections. But if the young don't go out to cast their ballots, politicians will no longer listen to their opinions," he said.
"That's why I came to vote today. It is difficult for younger people to find jobs. I hope the newly elected lawmakers will solve some of the employment issues," he said.
Addressing the country's famously adversarial politics, he said: "I hope they stop fighting and make policies for the people."

Life not improving

For another first-time voter, Kim Yong-ho, 24, who owns a food and beverage business, it is important to vote because those who don't participate do not have the right to criticise the system.
"There is definitely less interest in this election," than in the 2022 presidential election, he told AFP.
"I think it is because (people) feel rather disappointed. The real situation after the election didn't improve as they expected," he said.
"Maybe the future may change because of politics, but at present, I don't really feel it's that significant." 

Rising rents

Son Su-yeon, 27, who works in the service industry, said it was her second time to vote in a general election -- and she believed it was very important young people showed up.
"The right to vote is so precious, I don't want to squander that right," she said, adding that people seemed more inclined to vote when they were discontented with the incumbent government.
Son said she could see that politicians had been trying to address the country's woefully low birthrate -- the world's lowest -- but "most policies don't seem realistic." 
But for her day-to-day life, the most important issue she wanted the government to focus on was unaffordable housing for young people living in capital Seoul. 
This "is one of the biggest problems now," she said. "I'm planning to get married in a few years, so that's something I have to consider." 

Cost of living

Choi Ji-sun, 25, has voted in every election since she became eligible, making Wednesday her third vote after the 2020 general election and the 2022 presidential election. 
"I believe the most powerful right citizens have is our right to vote," she told AFP, adding that it was important for citizens to stay politically engaged to hold politicians to account. 
"There are too many policies, and not all policy pledges are kept, so I've gradually become disengaged and my expectations have fallen," she added.
Politicians of all stripes make many promises on the campaign trail, she said, and have "always talked about creating a country where young people can thrive". 
"But if you look at the current situation, the cost of living is too high and there are not many policies for young people, even though my income level is not high at all. It's a bit bittersweet." 

'No impact'

Despite always voting, university student Cho Na-young, 22, who is currently looking for work, said she didn't feel that her political participation made much difference.
"To be honest, even if the members of the National Assembly or the President change, my life doesn't seem to change that much," she told AFP. 
"I don't live on (state) subsidies, and I don't pay a lot of taxes. I don't think (a change of government) really has much of an impact on my life," she added.
Even so, she said she was voting to try and make sure "a party that I hate would not be elected". 
"My friends also said they didn't like Lee Jae-myung and wanted to prevent Lee from being elected," she added, referring to the scandal-plagued leader of the opposition. 

North Korea tensions

All South Korean men must perform around 18 months of mandatory military service and Kim Yeong-kwang, 21, told AFP he had just finished his time in the army.
"Because I was recently discharged from the military, I'm most concerned about North Korea relations and national security issues," the university student said.
If the ruling People Power Party were to lose it is possible that South Korea's foreign policy could shift, and become more pro-China and less hawkish on the nuclear-armed North. 
"The young need to show more interest to make politicians care more about us and put forward policies for us," he said.
"But it seems we are not that interested maybe because we're too busy making a living." 
hj/ceb/jfx

history

Romanian ex-prisoners fight to save memory of former Communist jails

BY ANI SANDU

  • "It felt like entering a hole," Moica said, recalling the Christmas Eve when, aged 16, she arrived at Jilava in drizzling rain.
  • Niculina Moica felt the weight of history as she pushed open the rusty iron gate to the former Communist prison of Jilava, where she was detained as a teenager.
  • "It felt like entering a hole," Moica said, recalling the Christmas Eve when, aged 16, she arrived at Jilava in drizzling rain.
Niculina Moica felt the weight of history as she pushed open the rusty iron gate to the former Communist prison of Jilava, where she was detained as a teenager.
Jilava is one of 44 prisons and 72 forced labour camps set up under Romania's Communist regime (1945-1989) to incarcerate more than 150,000 political prisoners, according to the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes.
While some still function as prisons, many of the buildings have been closed and demolished or left derelict.
"It's a pity, because (Jilava) is a place where you can show the truth about the Communist period. The way prisoners were tortured, kept in such wretched conditions, the food, the cold," Moica, now 80, told AFP.
For years she has been fighting to have Jilava turned into a museum before the site further deteriorates, at risk of fading into oblivion.
"In every country you go to, such places can be visited. We let them fall apart," said Moica, who heads the Romanian Association of Former Political Prisoners.
After years of dragging its feet, the Romanian government has recently revived plans to have five former Communist prisons enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

'Entering a hole'

Originally built as a defence fortress around the capital Bucharest in the late 19th century, Jilava was later transformed into a prison and became one of the most notoriously crowded detention centres for political prisoners between 1948 and 1964.
Detainees were kept in dark and damp cells as deep as 10 metres (33 feet) underground.
"It felt like entering a hole," Moica said, recalling the Christmas Eve when, aged 16, she arrived at Jilava in drizzling rain. "I thought those guys were going to shoot me."
Convicted in 1959 for joining an anti-communist organisation, Moica spent five years behind bars, including several months at Jilava, about 10 kilometres (six miles) outside Bucharest.
So far only two former Communist prisons in Romania have been converted into museums with the help of private funds.
One of them is Pitesti, a two-hour drive from Bucharest and one of the five proposed UNESCO sites.
If they become UNESCO heritage sites, "no one can dispute the importance of these places", said Maria Axinte, 34, who initiated the Pitesti prison museum in 2014.
Hundreds of photos hanging from the ceiling are an enduring testament to the torture of more than 600 students at Pitesti prison. Some of them were later forced to become torturers themselves.
Since last year, Pitesti has been designated a historic monument and receives around 10,000 visitors every year.
Excited that the government has finally reinvigorated its plans to submit a UNESCO bid, Axinte nevertheless criticised the state for a "lack of interest (and) understanding" of what was at stake.

Nostalgia for Communism

Interviewed by AFP, Romania's Culture Minister Raluca Turcan blamed her predecessors for neglecting the past for too long, promising she would submit the country's UNESCO proposal by the end of the year.
She said the country had "a moral duty" and an "obligation" to make future generations aware of the painful aspects of Romania's recent history so that mistakes from the past would not be repeated.
Nostalgia for Communism has been on the rise in Romania amid a persistent cost-of-living-crisis.
In a recent poll of 1,100 Romanians, almost half (48.1 percent) answered that the Communist regime was "good for the country", an increase of three percentage points from 10 years ago.
Dozens of Romanians also continue to celebrate the birthday of the country's late Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
During her occasional talks about Communism at local high schools, Moica says, students sometimes tell her: "Mom used to say that life was better under Communism."
"Go ask your grandpa," Moica replies, telling them about the "damned cell" in Jilava she still looks for during every visit.
To this day she feels the urge to shower after leaving the former prison.
ani/kym/rlp

culture

Egypt's women rappers fight for place in rising scene

BY SOFIANE ALSAAR

  • But now party boats on the Nile River in Cairo blast Wegz through the Egyptian capital, and rappers are getting multinational advertising deals.
  • Egyptian rapper Dareen is a whirlwind of sharp verses and curly hair on stage, bringing the Cairo crowd to its feet and a fresh perspective to Egypt's male-dominated rap scene.
  • But now party boats on the Nile River in Cairo blast Wegz through the Egyptian capital, and rappers are getting multinational advertising deals.
Egyptian rapper Dareen is a whirlwind of sharp verses and curly hair on stage, bringing the Cairo crowd to its feet and a fresh perspective to Egypt's male-dominated rap scene.
Her raps flow over eclectic beats inspired by her childhood in Alexandria, the coastal city home to many of Egypt's biggest rap stars, including the massively popular Wegz, a male rapper on a rapid rise after a 2022 World Cup performance in Qatar.
In Alexandria "we make art, but in Cairo, it's a whole industry", Dareen, 21, told AFP, her bright pink nails protruding from fingerless leather gloves.
And the industry is booming. In 2022, Wegz was the most streamed Arab artist in the Middle East and North Africa on the music platform Spotify.
"The impact of rap can be seen in our charts, our wrapped data and in all key cultural events," said Mark Abou Jaoude, Spotify's Head of Music for the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.
Last year, 60 percent of Spotify's most-streamed Arab artists were in the hip-hop genre, which includes rap.
"We're also witnessing an increasing number of rap artists touring Europe and the United States, which serves as evidence of how fans worldwide, including diaspora communities, are connecting with the genre," Abou Jaoude said.
For a long time, Egyptian rap had "an underground status", according to music researcher Amr Abdelrahim.
But now party boats on the Nile River in Cairo blast Wegz through the Egyptian capital, and rappers are getting multinational advertising deals.
"The professionalisation of their craft has impacted how they make music and the verses they write, but also their dreams," said Abdelrahim.
"This is the first generation that's seeing their elders make big money from rapping."
And the genre's women performers -- out of the spotlight for years -- are vying for a piece of that success.
Dareen's own song Leila -- which talks about her disappointment with fellow artists -- has close to 180,000 views on YouTube.
Although Cairo's line-ups increasingly feature women rappers donning stylish streetwear for larger-than-life performances, there is still a class divide for them to cross.

Manhood, power, money

Far from the working-class African American communities where rap was born half a century ago, the Egyptian version and its audience are still "on the margins, because they're middle and upper class, while 'Mahraganat' is much more popular", said Abdelrahim.
Mahraganat, which is widely popular in Egypt where it is known as 'electro-shaabi', has become musical shorthand for Egyptian youth expression.
"You need only walk around Cairo" to hear it, Abdelrahim said.
In "all the tuktuks, all the stores, what you hear" is Mahraganat, with its mix of synthesised beats, traditional instruments and blunt lyrics celebrating manhood, power and money.
An easy creative choice for rap's rising women is to try to imitate that same machismo, but their lyrics seem to cast a wider net.
In her latest album "Kawabes", or nightmares in Arabic, Dareen raps about "the depression and mood swings" that "follow break-ups".
Stepping off stage to raucous applause, she says she wants to talk about "everything", uncensored, even her most vulnerable moments.
But rapping as a woman is an uphill battle on multiple fronts.

'Not taken seriously'

"Claiming our freedom as rappers is hard, whether from our families or from society," Dareen said, adding that the industry is "far from peaceful" and harsh on women.
"We're not taken seriously, they think we don't have problems when it's the exact opposite, especially here in Egypt where we're forced to deal with harassment and constant obstacles."
Egypt's conservative, deeply patriarchal society causes most women to shy away from professions in the public eye.
And in the macho world of rap, "to evolve, you have to frequent the same places, to integrate into the networks of artists and producers, an exclusively male world," Abdelrahim said.
While more women are stepping into the genre's spotlight, they have come mostly from more well-to-do echelons of Egyptian society.
According to Abdelrahim, almost all women rappers come from the upper class, where girls and women generally enjoy more freedom with less fear of social stigma.
"You can see more social diversity in the male rap scene," Abdelrahim said, where artists fire insults at those from privileged upbringings versus their own working-class backgrounds.
Their women counterparts, meanwhile, walk a tightrope between rap's boastfulness and the modesty demanded by society, side-stepping American hip-hop's brand of sexuality entirely.
"Assuming an overtly sexual femininity" -- like women rap stars Cardi B or Megan Thee Stallion -- "is not possible" if the performers want to be seen as worthy of respect, said Abdelrahim.
"Because ultimately they're judged by both society and their families."
sar/sbh/bha/srk/hkb

media

India's influencers rally millions to vote for Modi

BY ASMA HAFIZ

  • - 'Incentives' - Thakur, 23, already a popular reality TV star for her classical singing, shot to even wider attention when Modi shared her devotional song on social platform X during the inauguration of a contentious Hindu temple in Ayodhya in January.
  • Indian folk singer Maithili Thakur thought she was successful, with millions following her Hindu devotional tunes on social media -- but then Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent her popularity into the stratosphere.
  • - 'Incentives' - Thakur, 23, already a popular reality TV star for her classical singing, shot to even wider attention when Modi shared her devotional song on social platform X during the inauguration of a contentious Hindu temple in Ayodhya in January.
Indian folk singer Maithili Thakur thought she was successful, with millions following her Hindu devotional tunes on social media -- but then Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent her popularity into the stratosphere.
With India's marathon general elections set to start on April 19, critics say Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has co-opted the vast youth fan bases of hugely influential social media stars -- in fields ranging from music to culture, and fashion to fitness -- to push their political message.
Thakur was among 24 influencers handed prizes last month at the first government-organised National Creators Awards to promote "storytellers of a confident, assertive New India".
Many of the social media stars have a striking similarity in their promotion of India's Hindu-majority culture, and several back the BJP's right-wing ideology.
"There are many influencers who are collaborating with the current ruling government and making videos," said Thakur, who has 14 million followers on Facebook, and more than 4.5 million each on Instagram and YouTube.
But critics say the chance to maximise their followers and income from social posts by collaborating with the BJP may encourage influencers to uncritically back the ruling party, which is widely expected to win.

'Incentives'

Thakur, 23, already a popular reality TV star for her classical singing, shot to even wider attention when Modi shared her devotional song on social platform X during the inauguration of a contentious Hindu temple in Ayodhya in January.
"So much buzz was created," said Thakur, who was named Cultural Ambassador of the Year at the Creators Awards -- where she shared videos of meeting Modi.
The temple to the deity Ram was built at the site of a centuries-old mosque that was razed by a mob of Hindu zealots in 1992.
The close ties between the government and major social media stars worry Prateek Waghre, from digital rights organisation Internet Freedom Foundation.
"There is enough to be concerned about just by the nature of these collaborations," said Waghre, noting influencers wanted to both earn money from their posts and win new followers.
"Purely on the question of incentives, you can see how this will skew them to engage in discourse that's overwhelmingly positive, or at least non-critical."
While political parties across the board use social media, critics see the government's links with influencers as part of a sophisticated soft-power campaign policy by the Hindu-nationalist BJP.
Waghre said he also fears the offers of cash or attention could woo influencers to back a party "irrespective of their own political beliefs".
With over half of India's 1.4 billion people aged under 30, according to government health figures, using social media is a "tactic" to reach out to young voters, Thakur added.
The government's online platform, MyGov, also carried interviews with the prize-winning influencers praising Modi.
India's 462 million YouTube users are the platform's largest audience by country, according to market tracker Statista.

'Influence'

"By approaching the youth, you are trying to influence the major population of India," said Thakur, speaking to AFP from a room in her New Delhi home, which she uses as a recording studio, its walls adorned with colourful traditional paintings. 
But Thakur has also been appointed as an election commission ambassador, which means she can only encourage people to take part in polls, not promote a party.
Others are more direct.
Ex-wrestler Ankit Baiyanpuria, winner of the national fitness creator award, urged his eight million Instagram fans to vote for Modi's BJP.
BJP stalwarts, including Trade Minister Piyush Goyal and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, have also featured on social media star Ranveer Allahbadia's channels -- with the videos tagged "Collaboration with @MyGov".
Janhvi Singh, 20, who makes posts on culture and religion -- from explaining Hindu scriptures to showcasing traditional dress -- was given the Heritage Fashion Icon Award.
She called her collaboration with the government an "opportunity", and said she valued the BJP's focus on Hinduism because she feared India was "forgetting our roots and culture".
She noted that she did not directly tell her followers who to vote for.
"I don't share any such political views on social media openly," she said. "But I think it is important to spread this message that you should vote."
But she was clear her loyalties lay with Modi. 
"I think there is no other leader who is doing good for the country," she said.
ah/pjm/sco/smw

internet

Musk vs. Brazil Supreme Court: five things to know

BY JOSHUA HOWAT BERGER

  • He called on lower-house lawmakers to pass a bill regulating social networks, as the Senate did in 2020.
  • X owner Elon Musk is under investigation in Brazil after he accused a Supreme Court judge of censoring social networks, calling him a "dictator" and vowing to disobey rulings blocking users found to be spreading disinformation.
  • He called on lower-house lawmakers to pass a bill regulating social networks, as the Senate did in 2020.
X owner Elon Musk is under investigation in Brazil after he accused a Supreme Court judge of censoring social networks, calling him a "dictator" and vowing to disobey rulings blocking users found to be spreading disinformation.
Here are five things to know about the billionaire's beef with powerful, polarizing Justice Alexandre de Moraes.

Musk attacks

Musk went on the attack at the weekend against Moraes, who has waged a crusade against disinformation -- especially attempts by far-right supporters of ex-president Jair Bolsonaro to discredit the electoral system ahead of Brazil's 2022 elections.
Moraes has "betrayed the constitution" and "should resign or be impeached," the Tesla and SpaceX boss wrote on X, the former Twitter, threatening to defy court orders blocking users.
The flare-up came after US journalist and activist Michael Shellenberger last week accused Moraes of a "sweeping crackdown on free speech," in a report based on the "Twitter Files," a cache of internal documents Musk released in 2022 after buying the company.
Shellenberger said the files showed Moraes "sought to censor... sitting members of Brazil's Congress" and "weaponize Twitter's content moderation policies against supporters of then-president @jairbolsonaro."
Bolsonaro narrowly lost the 2022 elections to veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Supreme Court response

Moraes, who is also head of Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal, responded Sunday by ordering fines of 100,000 reais (around $20,000) a day for any blocked account that X reactivates -- which has not happened yet.
Users blocked by Moraes include figures like far-right ex-congressman Daniel Silveira, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2022 on charges of leading a movement to overthrow the Supreme Court.
Accusing Musk of "criminal instrumentalization" of X, Moraes placed the South Africa-born mogul under investigation for crimes including conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Moraes also added Musk to an ongoing "Digital Militias" probe, which is investigating accusations that Bolsonaro and his inner circle illegally used state resources to orchestrate online disinformation campaigns during his presidency (2019-2022).

Musk and Bolsonaro

Musk has something of a bromance with Bolsonaro, the politician dubbed the "Tropical Trump."
Bolsonaro, who has himself had numerous posts removed from social media for spreading disinformation, celebrated Musk's takeover of Twitter in 2022 and gave him a medal for his "service to Brazil" when the billionaire made a high-profile visit that year.
Bolsonaro reposted a video of that meeting Saturday on X.
Musk "is our salvation," he said in another video Sunday. "Our democracy is under threat."
Amid the row, Brazil's far right has rallied around Musk and doubled down on its hatred for Moraes. Hardline conservative lawmakers launched a manifesto backing the call for Moraes's impeachment.

Cage fight?

Musk put the spat in dramatic terms.
"We will probably lose all revenue in Brazil and have to shut down our office there," he wrote Saturday. "But principles matter more than profit."
Besides pledging to reinstate blocked accounts, he vowed a "full data dump" of Moraes's court orders.
He has not followed through on either yet.
Online, some rooted for the row to go to the ring, like Musk's aborted plan for a cage fight with Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg last year.
"Musk wanted to get in the octagon with Zuckerberg. Now he's going with Xandao (Moraes's nickname) instead. I'd pay to see that fight," one X user wrote.
Moraes looks unlikely to face impeachment -- or slow his disinformation crackdown.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Luis Roberto Barroso issued a statement Monday supporting Moraes's rulings.

'Censorship' vs. regulation

Senate president Rodrigo Pacheco, whose chamber would preside over any impeachment case, meanwhile rejected the "censorship" label. He called on lower-house lawmakers to pass a bill regulating social networks, as the Senate did in 2020.
Brazil is part of a growing international debate about the limits of free speech on social media, where some say allowing a free-for-all endangers democracy.
"Freedom of speech is one thing. Coordinated, financed attacks on democracy itself are another," Brazilian digital rights expert Estela Aranha told AFP.
She said it is "urgent and important" to regulate social media, but she is not holding out hope for that to happen soon in deeply polarized Brazil.
bur-jhb/md/dw

shooting

Parents of US school shooter sentenced to 10-15 years in prison

BY CHRIS LEFKOW

  • Oakland County Judge Cheryl Matthews sentenced them to 10 to 15 years in prison each with credit for the 28 months they have already spent behind bars.
  • The parents of a teenager who carried out a deadly school shooting in the US state of Michigan were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison on Tuesday in an unprecedented and closely watched case.
  • Oakland County Judge Cheryl Matthews sentenced them to 10 to 15 years in prison each with credit for the 28 months they have already spent behind bars.
The parents of a teenager who carried out a deadly school shooting in the US state of Michigan were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison on Tuesday in an unprecedented and closely watched case.
Jennifer Crumbley and her husband James -- who bought their son the gun as a Christmas present -- were the first parents of a school shooter to be convicted of manslaughter in the United States for the actions of their child.
Oakland County Judge Cheryl Matthews sentenced them to 10 to 15 years in prison each with credit for the 28 months they have already spent behind bars.
Their son Ethan, who is now 17, is serving a life sentence for the November 30, 2021 shooting which left four students dead and seven other people injured at Oxford High School, 45 miles (70 kilometers) north of Detroit.
"These convictions are not about poor parenting," Matthews said at an emotional hearing in Pontiac, Michigan, attended by relatives of the victims. "These convictions confirm repeated acts, or lack of acts, that could have halted an oncoming runaway train."
The judge admonished James Crumbley for allowing "unfettered access" to guns and ammunition in the family home and told Jennifer Crumbley her attitude towards her son was "dispassionate and apathetic."
Addressing the Crumbleys in court before sentencing, Nicole Beausoleil, the mother of Madisyn Baldwin, 17, one of the slain students, said: "Not only did your son kill my daughter but you both did as well."
"The blood of our children is on your hands," said Craig Shilling, the father of Justin Shilling, 17.
Steve St. Juliana, the father of another victim, Hana St. Juliana, 14, said her murder "has destroyed a large portion of my very soul."
"I will never walk her down the aisle," St. Juliana said. "I am forever denied the chance to hold her or her future children in my arms."

Multiple warning signs

Before the judge pronounced the sentence, the Crumbleys addressed the families of the victims and the court.
"I stand today not to ask for your forgiveness as I know it may be beyond reach but to express my sincerest apologies for the pain that has been caused," Jennifer Crumbley, 46, said. "I will be in my own internal prison for the rest of my life."
James Crumbley, 47, told the families he was "sorry for your loss as a result of what my son did."
"I cannot express how much I wish that I had known what was going on with him or what was going to happen, because I absolutely would have done a lot of things differently," he said.
During separate trials, the Crumbleys were accused of ignoring warnings that their son had mental health struggles.
Jennifer Crumbley said her husband bought their son the 9mm SIG Sauer handgun he used in the attack just days earlier as an early Christmas present.
She took the boy to a shooting range the day after the purchase.
The Crumbleys were summoned to the school on the day of the shooting itself after a teacher became alarmed by a violent drawing she found on Ethan's desk.
They were shown the drawing and advised they needed to get the boy into counseling. The parents allegedly resisted taking their son home and he returned to class.
He later entered a bathroom, emerged with the gun which had been concealed in his backpack and fired more than 30 shots.
Amid a huge number of deadly firearms incidents involving young people in the United States, pressure has been mounting to punish parents who make it possible for their children to get weapons.
The father of an Illinois man accused of killing seven people in July 2022 pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of "reckless conduct" for helping his son obtain the rifle used in the mass shooting.
A Virginia woman whose six-year-old son shot and severely wounded his teacher was recently sentenced to two years in prison for felony child neglect. She received an additional 21 months in prison after pleading guilty to illegally obtaining the firearm.
cl/caw

Arizona

Arizona top court upholds 1864 near total abortion ban

BY HUW GRIFFITH

  • Arizona was a territory, not a state, in 1864 when original legislation was drafted banning all abortions except those performed to save the life of the woman -- and imposing up to five years' prison for anyone carrying out the procedure.
  • The top court in Arizona on Tuesday ruled a 160-year-old near total ban on abortion is enforceable, thrusting the issue to the top of the agenda in a key US presidential election swing state.
  • Arizona was a territory, not a state, in 1864 when original legislation was drafted banning all abortions except those performed to save the life of the woman -- and imposing up to five years' prison for anyone carrying out the procedure.
The top court in Arizona on Tuesday ruled a 160-year-old near total ban on abortion is enforceable, thrusting the issue to the top of the agenda in a key US presidential election swing state.
The ruling -- allowing for doctors to be jailed for up to five years -- is the latest in a series of state-level measures on the deeply divisive issue of reproductive rights, which is expected to play an outsize role in this November's contest between President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger Donald Trump.
In a statement issued almost immediately after the Arizona news broke, Biden slammed the "cruel ban."
"This ruling is a result of the extreme agenda of Republican elected officials who are committed to ripping away women’s freedom," he said.
Citing the US Supreme Court's 2022 ruling that ended a nationwide guarantee of abortion access and instead allowed states to set their own rules, Arizona's top court said a local law dating from the US Civil War era could stand.
Arizona was a territory, not a state, in 1864 when original legislation was drafted banning all abortions except those performed to save the life of the woman -- and imposing up to five years' prison for anyone carrying out the procedure.
In its Tuesday ruling the state's supreme court said the legislature had never explicitly encoded a right to abortion in local law, and the right had only existed because of now-removed federal rules.
"The legislature has demonstrated its consistent design to restrict elective abortion... and an unwavering intent since 1864 to proscribe elective abortions," the ruling said.
"To date, our legislature has never affirmatively created a right to, or independently authorized, elective abortion."
In practice, Arizona has permitted abortions up to the 15th week of pregnancy.

'Affront to freedom'

The ruling included a 14-day stay on enforcement to allow for legal challenges.
Beyond the stay, its fate is far from clear: Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, has vowed she will not enforce a ruling she called an "unconscionable... affront to freedom."
"Today's decision to reimpose a law from a time when Arizona wasn't a state, the Civil War was raging, and women couldn't even vote will go down in history as a stain on our state," she said.
"And let me be completely clear, as long as I am Attorney General, no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law in this state."
The right to choose is supported by a clear majority of Americans, and is a huge animating issue at the voting booth, across a broad spectrum of the population.
Tuesday's ruling looks set to drive support for a local ballot initiative in Arizona this November that would see abortion enshrined as a constitutional right in the state.
Similar measures in other US states -- even much more conservative ones like Kansas -- have passed and Democrats believe abortion initiatives on the ballot in November will help drive turnout for Biden.
Arizona's ruling comes the day after de facto Republican presidential candidate Trump said he favored letting states decide their own rules on abortion.
Trumpeting his role in the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe vs Wade -- the half-century-old framework that established a national right to reproductive freedom -- Trump said Americans were happy with the way US law now stood.
"My view is now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint, the states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both," the Republican said in a video posted on his Truth Social network.
"And whatever they decide must be the law of the land, in this case, the law of the state."
Biden has said that if he is reelected and Democrats regain full control of Congress he will push for federal abortion rights to become law again.
hg/sms