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The world in brief.

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The world in brief. 61

 

 

President Joe Biden described Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a “genocide” for the first time, saying that it has “become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out even the idea of being Ukrainian”. Though Mr Biden’s comments do not carry any legal weight Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, praised them, saying that “calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil.”

Finland will decide within weeks whether to join NATO, according to its prime minister Sanna Marin. She spoke at a joint news conference with Magdalena Andersson, the prime minister of Sweden. Ms Andersson’s country is also considering joining the alliance. In Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, support for joining NATO has surged since the invasion of Ukraine; Russia has warned both countries against the idea.

The presidents of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland arrived near Kyiv to meet their Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania’s leader, said they were carrying a “strong message of political support and military assistance”. Poland and the Baltics were among the most vociferous critics of Russia’s military build up prior to the invasion. Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was also scheduled to join the trip but said on Tuesday that he was “not wanted” in Ukraine.

A court in Jersey, an English Channel island and tax haven, froze $7bn of assets linked to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. France seized 12 of Mr Abramovitch’s properties, including a £90m chateau near Cannes and a luxury estate on the Caribbean island of St Barts. In March EU and British authorities slapped a range of sanctions on the billionaire in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Police fined Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, for attending several parties during the covid-19 lockdown. Mr Johnson had told the House of Commons he had not broken the lockdown laws his government had implemented. Lying to Parliament is usually a sacking offence. Mr Johnson apologised, but said he will not resign. He has been backed by his cabinet, and even Conservative MPs who previously said he should resign over “partygate” now argue that he must stay.

Britain’s inflation leapt to another 30-year high of 7% in March, up from 6.2% in February. The increase in food and fuel prices piles pressure on the embattled government to ease the cost-of-living squeeze. Inflation in America climbed to 8.5% for March, reaching its highest level since late 1981. Americans are also facing a double-digit increase in energy prices after President Joe Biden banned fuel imports from Russia.

The stock of Shionogi & Co, a Japanese drugmaker, fell by around 16%—the most in more than a decade—after it was announced that its experimental antiviral covid-19 drug harmed fetuses in animal trials. Similar treatments from competitors, such as Lagevrio from Merck & Co and Paxlovid from Pfizer, also raised risks for birth defects and were still approved for use.

Fact of the day: 144, the number of identical cuboids making up Tokyo’s 1970s futurist Nakagin capsule tower.


Grim days in the Donbas

The world in brief. 62
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

After nearly seven weeks of fighting, the war in Ukraine is about to turn uglier still. Russia has given up on capturing Kyiv, the capital, and is concentrating the fury of its battered units in an arc around the eastern Donbas region, under a new overall commander, General Alexander Dvornikov. The next phase will be reminiscent of the second world war, said Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba; “a knife-fight,” predicted an American official.

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, is pleading with anyone who will listen—including the South Korean parliament—to send as many weapons as soon as possible. The onslaught could start within days, his government reckons. But the guns are hardly silent. Russian forces are inching forward and may be about to take the port city of Mariupol. The defending forces there say they are running out of food and ammunition. Claims that Russia has used chemical weapons are unproven. One way or another, though, expect many more horrors ahead.

Sri Lanka’s economic woes worsen

The world in brief. 63
PHOTO: REUTERS

Sri Lanka’s government announced on Tuesday that it will default on all foreign-currency denominated debt—around $35bn-worth at the end of 2021. The country’s foreign reserves have plunged by 70% in less than two years and stand at just $2.3bn. On April 18th, Ali Sabrythe finance minister, will start emergency talks with the IMF.

The finance ministry blames war in Ukraine and covid-19 for the default. But there are other factors. Tax cuts in 2019 have cost the government dearly. A currency peg at an overvalued rate has encouraged Sri Lankans to send remittances through unofficial channels, costing the public purse.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the increasingly unpopular president, wants to stay in power with the backing of a national-unity government. In a televised speech, his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the prime minister, admitted that talks with opposition parties and defectors have failed. But he made it clear that the pair will not quit. More turmoil lies ahead.

The world in brief. 64

Wall Street’s banks report results

The world in brief. 65
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Three months ago results from Wall Street banks kicked off a major stock market sell-off. After compensation costs at Goldman Sachs spiked, their share price shed almost 10% in a single day. Spooked investors realised price pressures were not transitory and that the Fed would have to raise rates sharply to control them. Share prices slumped.

Investors are unlikely to be so frightened by this week’s latest round of bank earnings (JPMorgan Chase reports on Wednesday, followed by Citi, Goldman, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo on Thursday). Granted, the uncertainty around war in Ukraine has dimmed some types of corporate activity, such as mergers, but volatility in stock and bond markets tends to encourage more trading. The next quarter on Wall Street is likely to be a mixed bag. One thing is clear: this set of bank results won’t trigger fears of prolonged inflation—because such concerns are already widespread. Data published on Tuesday showed that America’s consumer-price index rose by 8.5% in the year to March.

Petrobras’s new president

The world in brief. 66
PHOTO: DAVE SIMONDS

On Wednesday shareholders of Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, are expected to approve a new chief executive, chosen by the government. José Mauro Coelho, an industrial chemist, is the president’s choice. Jair Bolsonaro fired Joaquim Silva e Luna, a former general who had been in post only since April 2021, in March. The president first hoped to replace him with Adriano Pires, an economist, who refused the invitation.

The company needed “someone more professional,” Mr Bolsonaro complained last week. The war in Ukraine has pushed up energy prices around the world. But in Brazil petrol costs had already risen by 47% in 2021. General inflation is running at over 11% a year. Three-quarters of Brazilians blame the president for this, according to a poll conducted last month. He trails former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in opinion polls for the presidential election due in October. Mr Bolsonaro’s appetite for a shakeup at Petrobras may be about more than professionalism.

A soggy celebration of Thai New Year

The world in brief. 67
PHOTO: ALAMY

Songkran is usually a joyful affair in Thailand. People drench friends using water pistols, plaster white powder across their faces and feast on seafood to celebrate the new year. Buddhists, a big majority of Thais, believe the ritual soaking purifies the soul and invites prosperity. Others join in as well. The three-day festivities begin on Wednesday, but not all Thais are counting their blessings.

Songkran has been cancelled two years running; this year celebrations will be (in one sense at least) watered-down again. Following a surge of covid-19 last month, the government has banned foam parties, alcohol at public gatherings and the water fights that are usually the main event—though traditional water sprinkling is allowed. Masks, albeit soggy ones, must be worn. Some would rather the revelry be cancelled altogether. Younger people complain on social media that the festival’s spirit has been washed away. Songkran is notorious for road accidents. Covid-19 has only added to the risks.

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