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Your Friday Briefing – The New York Times

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We’re covering threats of virus resurgence around the world, and the convictions of top pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong.

Experts around the world are reminding people that despite hope from Covid-19 vaccinations and a clearer path forward, it is much too soon to let down our guard.

In Hungary, despite the country having one of the highest per capita coronavirus death rates in the world, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that his government will not tighten restrictions and is determined to continue moving to reopen society. There were 302 deaths on Wednesday, the highest there since the start of the pandemic.

The U.S., where some states are in crisis mode, is a study in contrasts. In Michigan, a major hotspot, more than 2,200 Covid-19 patients statewide are hospitalized, a figure that has more than doubled since the beginning of March. And yet officials are relaxing mask rules and other measures to get the virus under control.

“Looking at numbers yesterday felt like a gut punch,” said a Michigan epidemiologist. “We’re going to have to go through this surge, and all this hard work again to get the numbers down.”

So far, Japan has mustered little more than expressions of “grave concern” about the fate of the Uyghur Muslims, hundreds of thousands of whom have been detained in camps in China’s Xinjiang region.

It is the only member of the Group of 7 nations that did not participate in coordinated sanctions against China over the abuse. But that appears to be changing, as views toward China harden among the Japanese public. Lawmakers are increasingly calling on the government to take a tougher line on China, and the country’s Uyghur community, about 3,000 people, has been more vocal.

If Japan were to fully join the effort to compel China to end abuses there, it would add a crucial Asian voice to what has otherwise been a Western campaign.

Hesitations: China is a critical market for Japanese exports, and the economy has struggled greatly over the past year. The Japanese retail company Muji, which has more than 200 stores in mainland China, recently declared that it would continue to use cotton from Xinjiang despite accusations of forced labor there.

Raising awareness: Halmat Rozi, a Uyghur living in Japan, invited Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, to surreptitiously record an intimidating phone call he received from a Chinese security official. The footage was broadcast to millions of viewers.


Seven of Hong Kong’s veteran pro-democracy leaders were found guilty on Thursday of unauthorized assembly, a verdict seen by their supporters as a severe assault on civil liberties in the territory.

The defendants were some of the city’s most prominent and internationally recognized activists: Martin Lee, a barrister known as the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong; Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon and founder of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper; and Margaret Ng, a respected barrister and columnist. They, along with four others, were convicted of participating in and organizing an unauthorized march in 2019.

Severe penalties would send a strong message about how the courts may rule in several other trials this year on similar charges of illegal assembly.

Details: They each face up to five years in prison. Sentences will be handed down on April 16. The case centered on a rally on Aug. 18, 2019, during which protesters marched toward the city’s business district. While there was no violence and minimal disorder, prosecutors argued that the march violated Hong Kong’s public order ordinance.

The crackdown: More than 2,400 people have been charged since Hong Kong authorities set out to quash the pro-democracy movement following protests in 2019, which had posed the greatest challenge to Beijing’s rule in decades.

There is one silver lining to visiting an art museum during a pandemic: The absence of crowds lets you appreciate the art in new ways. Our critic communed with van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat,” and wrote: “I got to do the kind of prolonged, thoughtful looking it takes to really make a painting come alive.”

Hiroko Tabuchi, one of our Climate reporters, wrote in our Climate Forward newsletter about the intersection between climate justice and Anti-Asian discrimination, which we are sharing with you here.

A wave of violence against Asians and Asian-Americans in recent weeks has cast a light on a segment of the American population that has frequently been absent from conversations on racial injustice — and on climate and the environment.

That means vulnerable communities may not be getting the attention they need to address longstanding environmental concerns.

Asian-Americans tend to live in neighborhoods that suffer disproportionately from air pollution, and are likely to be exposed to more carcinogens. (I wrote last year about a Laotian community in Richmond, Calif., that has long dealt with the dangers of living in the shadow of a giant oil refinery and was grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.)

Native Pacific Islanders, too, have suffered from pesticide exposure and health hazards from waste sites located in their communities, and also are on the forefront of dealing with the effects of climate change. (We recently spoke to Haunani Kane, a Native Hawaiian woman who is leading a climate vulnerability assessment on the effects of sea level rise on the Pacific islands.)

In an incident this week, a 65-year-old Filipino woman in New York City was viciously attacked in New York. It’s difficult to focus on issues like climate change when you feel immediate hatred around you.

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Joyce Carol Oates slams Brandeis over ban on ‘picnic,’ other words

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Even liberal novelists aren’t buying Brandeis University’s “Oppressive Language List,” which contains head scratchers like “picnic,” “rule of thumb” and “everything going on right now.”

Pulitzer Prize winner Joyce Carol Oates took to her popular Twitter account on Thursday to poke fun at the list, which was developed by the school’s Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center.

“What is strange is that while the word ‘picnic’ is suggested for censorship, because it evokes, in some persons, lynchings of Black persons in the US, the word ‘lynching’ is not itself censored,” Oates said in one post.

“Picnic” disappeared from the online Oppressive Language List sometime last week as reports of its existence spread, according to reports.

The university-sponsored website previously said the word “has been associated with lynchings of Black people in the United States, during which white spectators were said to have watched while eating.”

But other ultra-woke corrections remain — including suggestions to say “friends” instead of “tribe,” “give it a go” instead of “take a shot at” and “content note” instead of “trigger warning” — the latter because “the word ‘trigger’ has connections to guns for many people.”

Oates, 84, is a prolific tweeter who often uses her account to promote liberal politics and her opposition to former President Donald Trump.

Brandeis University released at list of “potentially oppressive language” from its Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center.
Brandeis University released at list of “potentially oppressive language” from its Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center.
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In another post on Thursday, the “Black Water” author worried what would become of professors and educators who disavowed the list’s recommendations.

“What sort of punishment is doled out for a faculty member who utters the word ‘picnic’ at Brandeis?–or the phrase ‘trigger warning’?” she asked.

“Loss of tenure, public flogging, self-flagellation?”

The university in a prepare statement last week said the “was developed by students” and was “in no no way an accounting of terms that Brandeis students, faculty or staff are prohibited from using or must substitute instead.”

“It is simply a resource that can be accessed by anyone who wants to consider their own language in an effort to be respectful of others who may have different reactions to certain terms and phrases,” spokesperson Julie Jette said.

About dis year BET Award

“Di BET Awards na di ultimate celebration of Black culture, and we dey look forward to spotlighting and celebrating Black women during dis year show

“Recognizing dem for everything wey dem don accomplish and applaud dem for what to come.”

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Belgian artist’s ‘portable oasis’ offers COVID protection — and fresh air

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When governments around Europe told people to create a “bubble” to limit their social contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was probably not what they had in mind.

Alain Verschueren, a Belgian artist and social worker, has been strolling through the capital Brussels wearing a “portable oasis” – a plexiglass mini-greenhouse which rests on his shoulders, cocooning him in a bubble of air purified by the aromatic plants inside.

Verschueren, 61, developed the idea 15 years ago, inspired by the lush oases in Tunisia where he had previously worked. In a city where face coverings are mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19, his invention has gained a new lease of life.

“It was about creating a bubble in which I could lock myself in, to cut myself off a world that I found too dull, too noisy or smelly,” Verschueren said, adding that he has asthma and finds breathing within his contraption more comfortable than wearing a facemask.

Alain Verschueren grabs attention from bystanders while wearing his "Portable Oasis" in Brussels, Belgium.
Alain Verschueren grabs attention from bystanders while wearing his “Portable Oasis” in Brussels, Belgium.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

“As time went by, I noticed that people were coming up to me and talking to me. This isolation became much more a way of connecting,” he said.

Onlookers in Brussels appeared amused and confused by the man wandering between the shops – mostly closed due to COVID-19 restrictions – encased in a pod of thyme, rosemary and lavender plants.

Alain Verschueren claims he finds breathing within his "Portable Oasis"  more comfortable than wearing a facemask due to his asthma.
Alain Verschueren claims he finds breathing within his “Portable Oasis” more comfortable than wearing a facemask due to his asthma.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

“Is it a greenhouse? Is it for the bees? Is it for the plants? We don’t know, but it’s a good idea,” Charlie Elkiess, a retired jeweller, told Reuters.

Verschueren said he hoped to encourage people to take better care of the environment, to reduce the need to protect ourselves from air and noise pollution.

Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his "Portable Oasis" while walking in a street in Brussels, Belgium on April 16, 2021.
Belgian artist Alain Verschueren wears his “Portable Oasis” while walking in a street in Brussels, Belgium on April 16, 2021.

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Chad’s longtime president Idriss Déby dies after fight against rebels

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President Idriss Déby died from wounds suffered on the battlefield during a fight against rebels.

Chad President Idriss Déby — who ruled the central African country for over 30 years — died Tuesday of wounds suffered on the battlefield during a fight against rebels, the military announced.

The stunning announcement on national media came just hours after officials had declared the 68-year-old the winner of the April 11 election, paving the way for him to stay in power for six more years.

The military said Déby had taken “the heroic lead in combat operations against terrorists who had come from Libya.”

After being wounded in battle, he then was taken to the capital, Gen. Azem Bermandoa Agouma said.

“In the face of this worrying situation, the people of Chad must show their attachment to peace, to stability and to national cohesion,” Agouma said.

Chad President Idriss Deby
A supporter carries a picture of Chad President Idriss Deby during a Peace Process rally in Darfur.
REUTERS

An 18-month transitional council will be led by the late president’s 37-year-old son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, the military said, as it imposed a nightly 6 p.m. curfew.

Déby, a former army commander-in-chief, first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre, who was later convicted of human rights abuses.

Chadian President Idriss Deby inspects a seized rebel technical in Adre, Chad.
Chadian President Idriss Deby inspects a seized rebel technical in Adre, Chad.
AFP via Getty Images

He had survived several armed rebellions over the years and managed to stay in power until this latest insurgency led by a group calling itself the Front for Change and Concord in Chad.

The rebels are believed to have armed and trained in Libya before crossing into Chad on April 11.

President of Chad Idriss Deby
Deby first came to power in 1990 when his rebel forces overthrew then-President Hissene Habre.
EPA

Déby was a major French ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in Africa, hosting the base for the French military Operation Barkhane and providing forces to the peacekeeping effort in Mali.

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