The interim Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, escaped unharmed after militants from his Fatah movement opened fire near him in a tent crowded with mourners for the late president Yasser Arafat -- a warning that the period leading to the Jan. 9 election of an Arafat successor could be chaotic and violent. \nAn Abbas bodyguard and a security officer were killed and six people were wounded in Sundays' shooting in Gaza City. The first shots triggered a chaotic firefight of several minutes with security guards -- though it appears from the casualty count that most fired in the air, rather than taking aim. \nSome 30 or 40 gunmen were involved, none of the masked, but police declined to say yesterday whether arrests had been made. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent group with ties to Fatah, denied it sent the gunmen, and the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups were not considered suspects. \nAbbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, played down the incident, saying it was not an assassination attempt. \nHowever, some of the gunmen had chanted anti-Abbas slogans. \nSufian Abu Zaydeh, a Palestinian Authority official in Gaza, said he stood near Abbas when the shooting erupted. The gunmen "are people who don't accept Abu Mazen ... don't accept anyone," Abu Zaydeh told Israel Army Radio, but declined to say whether he recognized the armed men. \nThe temporary Palestinian leadership, headed by Abbas, has been trying to send a message of unity since Arafat's death last Thursday. \nThe death of Arafat has opened up what many leaders believe is a crucial opportunity to revive the peace process in the Middle East and lay the groundwork for Israel and a Palestinian state to live side by side without bloodshed. \nIn a policy shift, an Israeli official indicated that the Jewish state was reassessing its policy on its plan to pull troops and 8,800 Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. \nForeign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel would be willing to coordinate a planned withdrawal from Gaza if the Palestinian Authority cracks down on militant groups. \nIsraeli and Palestinian officials alike have expressed fears that an evacuation from Gaza without coordination would bring chaos to the Gaza Strip, where militant groups have been vying for control in recent months. \nMeanwhile, Abbas was due to hold separate meetings yesterday with representatives from the sprawling Palestinian security services and 13 main factions, officials said, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Fatah movement.
Two years ago, Qi Jiayao visited his mother’s hometown of Shaoxing in eastern China. When he tried to speak to his cousin’s children in the local dialect, Qi was surprised. “None of them was able to,” said the 38-year-old linguist, who teaches Mandarin in Mexico. The decline in local dialects among the younger generation has become more apparent in recent years as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has sought to bolster a uniform Chinese identity. Mandarin is now spoken by more than 80 percent of China’s population, up from 70 percent a decade ago. Last month, China’s State Council promised to
France is to relax some COVID-19 restrictions from early next month in a bet that an outbreak of the Omicron variant of SARS-COV-2 would recede thanks to faster inoculations and plans to shut the unvaccinated out of most social activities. The French government is to lift the obligation to work from home at least three days a week from Feb. 2, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday. It would also remove a requirement to wear a mask outdoors, and scrap attendance limits for sports arenas and cultural venues, Castex said. Infections with the Delta variant are “clearly receding,” while the
DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS: Beijing is attempting to address its population decline, including considering raising the retirement age and allowing more than two children China’s birthrate has fallen to its lowest level in six decades, barely outnumbering deaths last year despite major government efforts to increase population growth and stave off a demographic crisis. Across China, 10.62 million babies were born last year, a rate of 7.52 per thousand people, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics said yesterday. In the same period 10.14 million deaths were recorded, a mortality rate of 7.18 per thousand, producing a population growth rate of just 0.34 per 1,000 people. The growth rate is the lowest since 1960, and adds to the findings of May last year’s once-per-decade census, which found
‘PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE’: Authorities asked anyone who bought a hamster after Dec. 22 to hand it over after hamsters at a shop tested positive for the Delta variant Hong Kong’s government yesterday faced outrage over its decision to cull hundreds of small animals after hamsters in a store tested positive for COVID-19. Like China, Hong Kong maintains a staunch “zero COVID” policy, stamping out the merest trace of the virus with contact tracing, mass testing, strict quarantines and prolonged social distancing rules. Its latest measures target hamsters and other small mammals — including chinchillas, rabbits and guinea pigs, which authorities on Tuesday said would be culled as a “precautionary measure.” The drastic move came after hamsters sold at the Little Boss pet shop tested positive for the Delta variant of