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Specialists tend to the body of a victim outside a damaged shopping center hit by a missile strike in Belgorod, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2024.

REUTERS/Stringer

Hard Numbers: Missiles hit Russian border city, ex-FBI informant in Biden bribe case faces charges, Gaza needs new ‘Marshall Plan,’ UK slips into recession, Bangkok’s air becomes unbreathable

7: At least seven people, including a one-year-old girl, were reportedly killed on Thursday by an apparent Ukrainian missile strike in Belgorod, the closest major Russian city to Ukraine. This is not the first time Belgorod has been targeted amid the Russia-Ukraine war – dozens were killed in a strike there last December, as Ukraine seeks to show that it can still strike Russia, even as Moscow’s forces slowly push forward the front lines in the Donbas. Meanwhile, the US warned that the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, which has seen some of the worst fighting recently, is at risk of falling into Russian control.

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The Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

A breakthrough in Northern Ireland?

The Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s largest pro-UK party, says it has cut a deal that allows the government to function after two years of political paralysis – but the EU, whose Brexit deal is at stake, is watching closely.
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FILE PHOTO: New Israeli Shekel banknotes are seen in this picture illustration taken November 9, 2021.

REUTERS/Nir Elias

Hard Numbers: Short sellers made bank ahead of Hamas attack, Sunak hits bottom over immigration, Spotify slashes workers, fresh violence in India’s Manipur, US envoy charged with helping Castro

862 million: Did some stock market investors know about Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack ahead of time? A new report alleges an unusual pattern of short-selling of Israeli securities in the weeks, and even hours, leading up to the deadly rampage. In one example, short sellers of stock in Leumi, Israel’s largest bank, reaped profits of $862 million by dumping stock between Sept. 14 and Oct. 5.

25.4: Don’t pull out that head of lettuce just yet, but British PM Rishi Sunak’s popularity among his own Tory Party has crashed to record lows. His net approval rating is now negative 25.4 points, and roughly three in five Tories who supported the party in 2019 say they are still with the party, with many eyeing Nigel Farage’s far-right Reform UK party instead. Conservative voters are angry with Sunak for failing to stop a record wave of asylum-seekers arriving in the UK.

17: “Music for everyone,” yes, but not jobs for everyone. Music streaming giant Spotify has slashed 17% of its workforce — some 1,500 people — in a move to try to turn an annual profit for the first time since it was founded in Stockholm in 2006.

13: At least 13 people were killed in the latest round of violence in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, where ethnic clashes since May between the majority Hindu Meitei ethnic group and the predominantly Christian Kuki-Zo minority have killed at least 180 people and displaced tens of thousands. Earlier this year, PM Narendra Modi drew criticism for failing to react swiftly to violence in Manipur.

25: Did a former top US diplomat in Latin America use his 25-year-long career to promote the interests of the Cuban government? The FBI thinks so. Manuel Rocha, a former US ambassador to Argentina and Bolivia, has been arrested on suspicion that he was serving the Castro regime while officially working for los Yanquis.

Detail of a metope that forms part of the Parthenon sculptures, sometimes referred to in the UK as the Elgin Marbles, is displayed at the British Museum in London, Britain, January 25, 2023.

REUTERS/Toby Melville

Everything is political™: Ancient sculptures edition

Sometimes life imitates art. Sometimes art imitates life. And sometimes — sometimes — art actually screws up a summit between two European heads of state. This week, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak abruptly canceled a meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis after the Greek leader demanded the return of the so-called “Elgin marbles” in a BBC interview. London says the Greeks had promised not to raise the issue publicly. Athens denies this.

What are the Elgin marbles? A set of sculptures from the Parthenon, the famous ancient Greek temple in Athens. They have been on display at the British Museum since the 19th century, when the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire – Lord Elgin – plucked them off the badly neglected and half-wrecked Parthenon, which at the time was under Ottoman rule.

The government of modern Greece has long demanded their return to Athens. In 2009 the government even opened a swanky new museum to house the treasures. But the British have refused to hand them over. For one thing, London points out, Elgin had Ottoman permission to remove the artworks, which would otherwise have suffered further neglect and destruction.

But more importantly, a 1963 British law meant to shield artworks from politically motivated decisions actually prohibits the British Museum from repatriating works of art altogether. That law has come under fresh scrutiny amid wider debates about whether European museums should return items taken from former colonies.

Is Sunak OK? Using the marbles dispute to cancel a meeting that was meant to focus on “Gaza, Ukraine, climate, and migration” seems distinctly artless. It’s true that Sunak’s Conservative Party is especially adamant that the sculptures should stay in England. And yes, the PM is struggling with a sluggish economy and an intra-party split over immigration. But the Parthenon sculptures are hardly red meat for his base, and in any event, Athens has reportedly been nearing a quiet compromise with the British Museum.

The best explanation we’ve seen: a text message that someone on the EU Commission evidently sent to our Eurasia Group pal Mujtaba Rahman: “Has Sunak lost his marbles?”

Former PM David Cameron has been appointed foreign secretary by PM Rishi Sunak.

REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

David Cameron returns to British government

A familiar face has returned to Britain’s government. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reshuffled his cabinet on Monday, pushing Home Secretary Suella Braverman out and installing James Cleverly in her place. Cleverly, who had been serving as foreign secretary, is being replaced by none other than former Prime Minister David Cameron.

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Art courtesy of Midjourney

Did the US steal the UK’s AI thunder?

World leaders gathered last week at Bletchley Park, the former headquarters of Britain’s codebreakers during World War II, to make sense of what is perhaps the most important emerging technology. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak played host, attempting to position the United Kingdom at the forefront of regulating artificial intelligence.
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to members of staff during a visit to a regional hospital.

Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS

Sunak's three strikes

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has had a tough week. First, one of his MPs, Boris Johnson loyalist Nadine Dorries, resigned, accusing Sunak of “betraying” conservatism, and saying “History will not judge you kindly.” Second, Standards Commissioner Daniel Greenberg sanctioned Sunak for failing to report his wife Akshata Murty’s holdings in a childcare company, Koru Kids, one of six agencies chosen to benefit from a new government program. Sunak had not disclosed Murty’s interest and sent a letter apologizing “for these inadvertent errors” while agreeing to rectify them.

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