The New York Times 2024-02-07 06:41:33


What Israeli Soldiers’ Videos Reveal: Cheering Destruction and Mocking Gazans

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An Israeli soldier gives a thumbs up to the camera as he drives a bulldozer down a street in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, pushing a battered car toward a half-collapsed building.

“I stopped counting how many neighborhoods I’ve erased,” the caption reads on the video posted to his personal TikTok, accompanied by a militaristic anthem.

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A Year After a Devastating Quake: Container Cities, Trials and Grief

At 4:17 a.m. on Tuesday, thousands of people in cities across southern Turkey gathered to cry, light candles and chant against the government, marking the moment a year ago that a powerful earthquake devastated the region.

The 7.8-magnitude quake, and a second violent tremor hours later, damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings, killing more than 53,000 people in southern Turkey and another 6,000 people in northern Syria. It was the area’s broadest and deadliest earthquake in hundreds of years.

The scale of the destruction, and the failure of emergency services to reach many people buried in the rubble until days later, angered survivors. Many accused building contractors of cutting corners to increase their profits and the government of failing to enforce safe building standards.

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Tucker Carlson Says He Will Soon Interview Putin

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will “soon” sit for an interview with Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host said on Tuesday, a sign that the Russian leader is seeking to make a direct appeal to American conservatives as U.S. aid to Ukraine hangs in the balance.

“We’re here to interview the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Carlson said in a video apparently shot from a high-rise in central Moscow and posted to the social network X. “We’ll be doing that soon.”

The Kremlin did not immediately confirm that the interview would take place, and has declined to comment on the possibility when asked by journalists in recent days. Mr. Carlson has been in Moscow for several days, according to Russian state media, which has delivered a blow-by-blow account of his visit, raising anticipation of a potential interview by Mr. Carlson of Mr. Putin.

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Charles III’s Cancer Diagnosis Could Reshape How the Monarchy Works

Queen Elizabeth II liked to say that she needed to be seen to be believed. Now it falls to her son King Charles III to test that principle, after a cancer diagnosis that will force him out of the public eye for the foreseeable future.

For a family that has cultivated its public image through thousands of appearances a year — ribbon-cuttings, ship launchings, gala benefits, investiture ceremonies, and so on — the sidelining of Charles may finally force the royals to rethink how they project themselves in a social-media age.

The king’s illness is the latest blow to the British royal family, which has seen its ranks depleted by death (Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip), scandal (Prince Andrew), self-exile (Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan), and other health woes (Catherine, the wife of Prince William).

The Royal Line of SuccessionKing Charles III’s cancer diagnosis may mean a more prominent public role for others in the royal family. Here’s the current line of succession.

Charles, who is 75, took part in 425 royal engagements in 2023, his first full year on the throne, according to a count by The Daily Telegraph. That made him the second hardest-working royal after his younger sister, Princess Anne, who did 457. Both were busier than in the previous year, when Elizabeth, though in the twilight of her life, still appeared in public sporadically.

While Anne, 73, shows little sign of slowing down and William plans to return to public duties while his wife convalesces at home from abdominal surgery, even a temporary absence of the king from the public stage would put heavy pressure on the family’s skeleton crew of working royals.

“There aren’t that many of them,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “There are only two of them who are under 50. They’ve got to decide whether to continue to deliver on the queen’s mantra. What is the core minimum of engagements they need to do to do that?”

The answer to that riddle, royal watchers argue, may lie in technology and social media. During the coronavirus pandemic, when Elizabeth was sequestered at Windsor Castle, she conducted meetings via Zoom calls, becoming comfortable enough with it that she cracked jokes with the pixelated faces on her computer screen.

Buckingham Palace’s use of social media can also amplify the in-person exposure of family members. The royal family’s Instagram account claims more than 13 million followers and its account on X well over five million.

For young people, who spend hours a day online and follow their favorite celebrities on social media, a royal turning up to dedicate a new primary school or neighborhood health clinic may not matter as much as it did to their parents or grandparents.

The greatest burden of the king’s illness is likely to fall on his 41-year-old heir, William. He has worked to carve out a role on issues from climate change to homelessness. How much time he will be able to devote to those causes while he is also functioning as an understudy for his father is not clear.

Ed Owens, a royal historian who recently published “After Elizabeth: Can the Monarchy Save Itself?,” argues that the royals should step back from these charitable pursuits in any event, because they interfere with the proper role of the government in society.

“The culture of royal philanthropy,” Mr. Owens wrote, “has too often capitalized on the gaps left exposed in a broken welfare state.”

William has also jealously guarded his family’s privacy: Kensington Palace, where he has his office, offered few details about the condition of Catherine. There were no photographs of the couple’s three young children — George, Charlotte, and Louis — visiting their mother in the hospital.

That approach stood in contrast to his father, who approved the disclosure of an unusual amount of detail about his prostate treatment, and more recent cancer diagnosis. The scrutiny of William will inevitably increase, experts said, as he occupies a more central place in the Windsor family hierarchy.

Another question looms, over the role of Prince Harry, the king’s younger son, who fell out bitterly with his father and brother after he and Meghan withdrew from royal duties and moved to California in 2020.

Harry arrived in London on Tuesday to visit his father, leading royal watchers to muse that the crisis could prompt a reconciliation between him and his family. But Harry did not bring his own family and it was not even clear where he would stay; the king evicted him from his residence, Frogmore Cottage, last year.

While Charles will cede the public stage for now, the palace has taken pains to emphasize that he remains a fully vested constitutional sovereign. He will continue to meet weekly with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and see other visitors. He will continue to plow through official documents, delivered to him daily in a traditional red box.

There are no current plans to name counselors of state, who could perform some of the king’s duties if he were he incapacitated by illness. Among those on the roster for that role are Queen Camilla and William.

There are some rituals only a sitting monarch can perform. Charles must grant a request from the prime minister to dissolve the Parliament before a general election. He must also ask the leader of the party holding a majority to form a government.

None of this is hypothetical in a year that is expected to include an election, and one in which the opposition Labour Party currently has a roughly 20-point lead over the Conservatives in opinion polls.

Elizabeth viewed these duties as so solemn that she steeled herself, two days before her death at 96, to meet with Boris Johnson, the outgoing prime minister, and Liz Truss, his successor, at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

Mr. Sunak, who has spoken to Charles about his cancer, sought to soothe worries about the king’s prognosis. Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live on Tuesday, he said, “Thankfully, this has been caught early.”

A spokesman at 10 Downing Street later clarified that Mr. Sunak was not passing on new information but referring to the palace’s statement, which took note of the “swift intervention” of Charles’ medical team.

Whatever his prognosis, the king’s cancer thrusts the royal family into uncharted territory. Historians noted that when Charles’s grandfather, King George VI, had cancer surgery in 1951, the palace told the public almost nothing about his condition. He died five months later, putting his daughter Elizabeth on the throne, 72 years ago on Tuesday.

When she died in September 2022, her death certificate listed the cause as “old age.” Gyles Brandreth, a friend of the royal family, said later in a biography of the queen that she had been suffering from a form of bone-marrow cancer.

By opting to be more open about his health struggles, Charles has diverged from long family practice. He did so, the palace said, “in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.”

Whether the king can disprove the queen’s mantra about having to be seen to be believed is another question.

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Kenyan Cult Leader Is Charged in the Deaths of 191 Children

A doomsday cult leader whom the Kenyan authorities say ordered his congregants to starve themselves to death was charged on Tuesday, along with 29 others, with the murder of 191 children — in a case that has drawn global attention and brought widespread scrutiny over religious freedoms in the East African nation.

The decision, by a court in the coastal town of Malindi, was handed down almost a month after a judge ordered that the cult leader, Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, and the others who are accused undergo mental health evaluations before facing any charges.

Only one of the suspects was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. Mr. Mackenzie, a pastor, and the other defendants pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to appear before the court on March 7 for a bond hearing. They are accused of killing the children from January 2021 to September 2023, according to the prosecution.

Mr. Mackenzie, wearing a striped black-and-white polo shirt, stood alongside the others accused in a packed courtroom on Tuesday. He was seen whispering to the other defendants and, at one point, consulting his lawyers, according to video broadcast on television. Armed police officers were stationed inside and outside the courtroom premises.

Since last April, hundreds of bodies have been exhumed from the 800-acre Shakahola Forest, where Mr. Mackenzie and his followers lived, with many buried in shallow graves. Dozens of other followers have been rescued, but hundreds more are missing, according to local officials.

The country’s interior minister, Kithure Kindiki, last week declared the pastor’s church, Good News International Ministries, “an organized criminal group.”

Mr. Mackenzie was a taxi driver who reinvented himself as an evangelical pastor about two decades ago. As his congregation grew, the authorities said, he urged followers to convene in the Shakahola Forest as a sanctuary from what he claimed was the fast-approaching apocalypse. As he preached that the world was about to end, officials say many of his followers starved themselves to death. Mr. Mackenzie denies telling them to do so.

In April, the police uncovered dozens of bodies from graves in the forest connected to the pastor. The revelations quickly gripped the nation, with many questioning why security and intelligence officials failed to detect the disappearances of victims early on.

President William Ruto, an evangelical Christian, compared the episode to “terrorism” and appointed a commission to investigate the deaths.

Mr. Kindiki, the interior minister, said the forest would be turned into a national memorial “so that Kenyans and the world do not forget what happened here.”

But from the outset, community activists and human rights groups reproached the government, urging officials to provide the survivors and the victims’ families with financial compensation.

The case has run into many roadblocks, with victims’ families and activists saying that the legal process is moving too slowly. Some of the cult members have refused to eat while staying at a rescue center and had to be given psychiatric and mental health support. And some of the lawyers representing Mr. Mackenzie and his co-defendants also pulled out of the case last June, citing frustration with the government over the amount of time they were given to consult and prepare their clients.

Activists have also raised concerns that the prosecution was treating some of the victims as perpetrators instead of focusing on Mr. Mackenzie and his close associates.

Many of the recovered bodies have not undergone DNA testing to identify them, said Shipeta Mathias Hezron, the Rapid Response officer with the Haki Africa rights organization. And while Tuesday’s charging is a step forward, Mr. Hezron said the case was a long way from being over.

“Let them charge those who participated in the crime, forced people to starve or killed them,” he said in a phone interview. “But for those suffering, there will be no closure anytime soon.”

Mohamed Ahmed contributed reporting from Mombasa, Kenya.

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A Russian Bank Account May Offer Clues to a North Korean Arms Deal

Russia has allowed the release of millions of dollars in frozen North Korean assets and may be helping its isolated ally with access to international banking networks, assistance that has come after the North’s transfer of weapons to Moscow for use against Ukraine, according to American-allied intelligence officials.

The White House said last month that it had evidence that North Korea had provided ballistic missiles to Russia, and that the North was seeking military hardware in return. Pyongyang also appears to have shipped up to 2.5 million rounds of ammunition, according to an analysis by a British security think tank.

While it is unclear whether Russia has given North Korea the military technology it may want, new banking ties would be another sign of the steady advancement in relations between the two countries. The expanding partnership has most likely emboldened the North, as it has issued a stream of belligerent threats in recent months, U.S. officials say.

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King Pushed for Transparency on Diagnosis. He Raised Questions in the Process.

When Buckingham Palace announced on Monday that King Charles III had been diagnosed with cancer and would halt his public engagements to undergo treatment, it predictably set off a storm of questions.

What kind of cancer? How advanced? What form of treatment? How long would he be sidelined? And the essential, if often unspoken, question when a patient faces a potentially existential health threat: Would he survive?

The palace, paradoxically, fueled this frenzy by disclosing more about the king’s medical condition than it had for Queen Elizabeth II or any other previous British monarch. It said it did so at the behest of Charles himself, who wanted to “share his diagnosis to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.”

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Discontent and Defiance on the Road to Pakistan’s Election

Christina Goldbaum and

The reporters traveled along a famed highway in Pakistan’s most heated political battleground to understand how Pakistanis are feeling before a national election on Thursday.

The highway is the most politically charged slice of a politically turbulent country. It winds 180 miles from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, through the fertile plains of Punjab Province to Lahore, the nation’s cultural and political heart.

For centuries, it was known only as a sliver of the Grand Trunk Road, Asia’s longest and oldest thoroughfare, linking traders in Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent. But in Pakistan, this stretch of the smog-drenched highway has become the stage for major rallies and protests led by nearly every famed civilian leader the country has had.

As Pakistan heads into national elections on Thursday, the road is buzzing. Politics dominates the chatter between its vendors and rickshaw drivers, their conversations seeped in a culture of conspiracy, cults of political personality and the problems of entrenched military control.


The map highlights the Grand Trunk Road from Islamabad to Lahore in Pakistan . The towns of Gujar Khan, Jhelum, Wazirabad and Gujranwala along the road are also located.

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Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera Dies in Helicopter Crash

Sebastián Piñera, a former president of Chile who helped strengthen the nation’s young democracy after becoming its first conservative leader since a military dictatorship, died in a helicopter crash in Chile on Tuesday, the government said. He was 74.

The helicopter, carrying four people, crashed into Lake Ranco in the Los Ríos region in southern Chile about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, shortly after taking off, the government said. Three people survived and swam to shore, and the Chilean Navy recovered Mr. Piñera’s body. It is unclear who was piloting the aircraft, but Mr. Piñera was known to fly his own helicopter.

Mr. Piñera was a billionaire businessman and investor who served two terms as Chile’s president, from 2010 to 2014 and from 2018 to 2022.

A conservative, Mr. Piñera ushered in pro-business policies that helped boost growth and make the nation of 19 million, in his words, “a true oasis” in Latin America.

But he also faced enormous protests from residents who said his government disregarded the poor — Chile is one of the world’s most economically unequal nations — and he left office both times with low approval ratings.

“President Piñera contributed, from his perspective, to build broad agreements for the good of the nation,” President Gabriel Boric of Chile said in a televised address on Tuesday. “He was a democrat from the very beginning and genuinely sought what he believed was best for the country.” Mr. Boric announced three days of national mourning.

Perhaps Mr. Piñera’s most significant legacy was helping Chile’s conservative movement win power for the first time since the end of Chile’s brutal military dictatorship under Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1990.

After 20 years of leftist rule following the dictatorship, his first election, in 2010, showed that Chile’s democracy was strong and healthy, said Robert Funk, a political science professor at the University of Chile.

“He did that basically on his own,” Mr. Funk said. “He pushed the parties on the right to participate and accept the rules of the game at a time when they were not so convinced.”

Mr. Piñera is survived by his wife, Cecilia Morel, whom he married in 1973, and their four children.

Mr. Piñera made his first fortune by introducing credit cards to Chile during the dictatorship in the early 1980s. He later used those funds to invest in a vast array of companies, including in real estate, banking, energy and mining. He owned a television broadcaster along with major shares of an airline and a professional soccer club.

He then used his wealth to enter politics, first as a senator and later as president.

Mr. Piñera steered Chile through some of its most difficult moments in recent years. Weeks after he was elected in 2010, a powerful earthquake and tsunami killed 525 people in the country and displaced an additional 1.5 million.

Later that year, Mr. Piñera staked his presidency on rescuing 33 miners who were trapped nearly a half-mile underground. His government’s elaborate plan — drilling a narrow hole and lowering a custom-made capsule — was successful, and Mr. Piñera embraced and celebrated with the men as they were lifted to freedom one by one after 68 days underground.

In his second term, Mr. Piñera oversaw his government’s widely praised response to the pandemic, as he secured a large stock of vaccines from China and rolled out an efficient vaccination program.

His government also faced mass protests in 2019 that began over a small hike in subway fares but eventually ballooned into broad complaints over inequality.

Mr. Piñera used the military to quell the protests, and later clashes between the police and demonstrators left more than 30 civilians dead and 460 others blinded or with severe eye trauma from rubber bullets.

Eventually, Mr. Piñera acquiesced to demands for a national referendum on whether to scrap Chile’s Constitution, which had roots in the dictatorship. Chileans voted overwhelmingly to draft a new charter, but last December, after four years and two failed constitutional plebiscites, the nation chose to live, for now, with the current text.

Mr. Piñera was an efficient and skilled manager, who in general oversaw a broad improvement in Chileans’ quality of life, Mr. Funk said, but he also often failed as a politician and communicator, particularly in understanding poorer people’s problems.

“He governed through an Excel spreadsheet,” Mr. Funk said. “He said we’re doing well on this box, on this box. But his failure was that he didn’t have a sense of the politics beneath that, of people’s frustration, of how his governments would really rub people the wrong way.”

Mr. Piñera also faced scandals. He went into hiding briefly in the 1980s when the authorities sought to arrest him as part of an investigation into fraud at a bank he helped lead. He was never convicted.

When he transitioned from business to politics, he was criticized for conflicts of interest between his investments and his positions in public office.

As president, he was eventually forced to have his assets managed by blind trusts. Yet, it was later revealed that he had moved much of his wealth to tax havens in Luxembourg and the British Virgin Islands, said Sergio Jara, the author of a book on Chilean business leaders, including Mr. Piñera.

“He was a voracious and diverse investor, owning minority shares in over 100 companies,” Mr. Jara said. “This allowed him to build one of Chile’s greatest fortunes.”

John Bartlett contributed reporting from Valdivia, Chile.

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President’s Assassination Case Yields an Unexpected Name: the First Lady’s

A Haitian prosecutor has recommended charges against 70 people for the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Among the former Colombian soldiers and Haitian government officials accused in the case is one unexpected name: former First Lady Martine Moïse, who was seriously injured in the attack.

A copy of a criminal complaint filed by a public prosecutor and submitted to a Haitian court that was obtained by The New York Times does not accuse her of planning the killing or offer any direct evidence of her involvement.

Instead, it says that she and other accomplices gave statements that were contradicted by other witnesses, suggesting that they were complicit in the attack and notes that one of the main suspects in custody in Haiti claimed Mrs. Moïse wanted to take over the presidency.

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Many Israelis Want Netanyahu Out. But There Is No Simple Path to Do It.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is on his last legs, it is widely believed, and will be forced to relinquish his post once the war against Hamas in Gaza ends.

He is historically unpopular in the opinion polls and blamed for the governmental and security failures that led to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, the killings of an estimated 1,200 Israelis and the difficult war that has followed. He faces a long-running trial on a variety of corruption charges.

And he has defied President Biden on American efforts to create a postwar path to a two-state solution, with a demilitarized Palestine alongside Israel. While opposition to a Palestinian state is popular among Israelis, defiance of Washington is considered risky.

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Welcome to ‘Dalifornia,’ an Oasis for China’s Drifters and Dreamers

To find the dance circle in the bed-and-breakfast’s courtyard, drive north from the bedsheet factory converted into a crafts market, toward the vegan canteen urging diners to “walk barefoot in the soil and bathe in the sunshine.” If you see the unmanned craft beer bar where customers pay on the honor system, you’ve gone too far.

Welcome to the Chinese mountain city of Dali, also sometimes known as Dalifornia, an oasis for China’s disaffected, drifting or just plain curious.

The city’s nickname is a homage to California, and the easy-living, tree-hugging, sun-soaked stereotypes it evokes. It is also a nod to the influx of tech employees who have flocked there since the rise of remote work during the pandemic, to code amid the picturesque surroundings, nestled between snow-capped, 10,000-foot peaks in southwest China, on the shores of glistening Erhai Lake.


Map locates the city of Dali in southwest China, on the shores of Erhai Lake.

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For New Moms in Seoul, 3 Weeks of Pampering and Sleep at a Joriwon

Four mothers sat quietly in the nursing room around midnight, breastfeeding their newborn babies. As one mother nodded off, her eyelids heavy after giving birth less than two weeks earlier, a nurse came in and whisked her baby away. The exhausted new mom returned to her private room to sleep.

Sleep is just one of the luxuries provided by South Korea’s postpartum care centers.

The country may have the world’s lowest birthrate, but it is also home to perhaps some of its best postpartum care. At centers like St. Park, a small, boutique postpartum center, or joriwon, in Seoul, new moms are pampered for a few weeks after giving birth and treated to hotel-like accommodations.

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London’s Highline Will Echo Its New York Inspiration, With Local Notes

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The derelict rail bridge stretches across a busy north London street, green foliage peeking out of the gaps between the beams overhead, where bright blue paint flakes from rusting steel.

Farther east, the railway’s grand Victorian-era arches span a small slice of park wedged between two streets, where tents belonging to homeless people, a discarded mattress and broken bottles are scattered about.

While the elevated train line and some of the areas it cuts through may look neglected now, if all goes according to plan, it will become the site of the Camden Highline, a planned public park that aims to turn this disused stretch of the city into a thriving green space.


Map locates the proposed Camden Highline in Camden Town in north central London. It also locates the town of King’s Cross, east of Camden Town.

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New Utopian Enclave? Or a Testament to Inequality?

Simon Romero and

Reporting from Guatemala City

Leer en español

Try going for a stroll in much of Guatemala City: It is a pedestrian’s nightmare.

Motorcycles speed down crowded sidewalks. Rifle-grasping guards squint at each passerby, sizing up potential assailants. Smoke-belching buses barrel through stop signs.

But tucked within the chaotic capital’s crazy-quilt sprawl, there is a dreamlike haven where none of that exists.

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A Child of Another War Who Makes Music for Ukrainians

When the owner of an underground club in Kyiv reached out to Western musicians to play in Ukraine, long before the war, there were not so many takers.

But an American from Boston, Mirza Ramic, accepted the invitation, spawning a lasting friendship with the club’s owner, Taras Khimchak.

“I kept coming back,” Mr. Ramic, 40, said in an interview at the club, Mezzanine, where he was preparing for a performance during a recent tour of Ukraine.

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A Woman Who Shows Age Is No Barrier to Talk Show Stardom

Pushing a walker through a television studio in central Tokyo earlier this week, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi slowly climbed three steps onto a sound stage with the help of an assistant who settled her into a creamy beige Empire armchair.

A stylist removed the custom-made sturdy boots on her feet and slipped on a pair of high-heeled mules. A makeup artist brushed her cheeks and touched up her blazing red lipstick. A hairdresser tamed a few stray wisps from her trademark onion-shaped hairstyle as another assistant ran a lint roller over her embroidered black jacket. With that, Ms. Kuroyanagi, 90, was ready to record the 12,193rd episode of her show.

As one of Japan’s best-known entertainers for seven decades, Ms. Kuroyanagi has interviewed guests on her talk show, “Tetsuko’s Room,” since 1976, earning a Guinness World Record last fall for most episodes hosted by the same presenter. Generations of Japanese celebrities across film, television, music, theater and sports have visited Ms. Kuroyanagi’s couch, along with American stars like Meryl Streep and Lady Gaga; Prince Philip of England; and Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union. Ms. Kuroyanagi said Gorbachev remains one of her all-time favorite guests.

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They Thought They Knew Death, but That Didn’t Prepare Them for Oct. 7

At 76, David Weissenstern has collected the remains of the dead for most of his adult life. But after the Oct. 7 attacks, in which Hamas-led fighters killed about 1,200 people along Israel’s border with Gaza, he can no longer stand the smell of grilled meat. The odor, he says, reminds him too much of burned human flesh.

His son Duby Weissenstern, 48, has lost track of time after working successive days and nights to recover those killed on Oct. 7. He now marks time in relation to that date.

And his son-in-law Israel Ganot, 32, now gags at the smell of food that has turned rotten. He was in the second wave of recovery workers who reached bodies that had been trapped under rubble for weeks.

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The Year in People: Our 12 Favorite Saturday Profiles of 2023

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A teenager jailed in Egypt, determined to bear witness to the abuses he suffered during years of detention. A proponent of peace in Colombia, shadowed by death threats. A father in India, fighting his own patriarchal impulses to give his two daughters a better life.

With reports from six continents and 34 countries, the Saturday Profile in 2023 revealed people making a difference, mostly under the radar. Every week, our correspondents often sought out not the famous nor the powerful, but the unheralded with stories worth hearing.

A Muslim cleric in Ukraine, now a medic on the front lines of the war. An anticorruption whistle-blower in Bangkok, with (he’d be the first to admit) a disreputable past. A scientist and hair salon owner in Paris, dedicated to styling curly hair.

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Russian Skaters Stripped of Olympic Gold, Setting Up New Fight for Medals

International skating’s governing body on Tuesday sought to put an end to a two-year-old controversy by revising the disputed results of a marquee figure skating competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. But in stripping Russia of its victory in the team event, awarding the gold medal to the United States and denying Canada the bronze it had been expecting, the sport may have only set the stage for yet another protracted legal fight.

The revised finishes were announced by the skating body, the International Skating Union, one day after the teenage Russian star Kamila Valieva was banned for four years for doping. Disqualifying Valieva, a 15-year-old prodigy who had led Russia to an apparent victory, had the most immediate effect on the Olympic team standings: elevating the U.S. to gold and Japan to silver, while, surprisingly, dropping Russia just enough that it could still claim the bronze.

Within hours, Russia’s Olympic committee, already furious about Valieva’s ban, announced that it would appeal any outcome that denied it the team gold. Canadian officials quickly threatened to appeal the ruling as well. That left skating officials and the International Olympic Committee, which had chosen not to award medals in the team event until Valieva’s doping case was resolved, wondering how they could at last arrange a “dignified Olympic medal ceremony” for an ugly dispute that appeared nowhere near its end.

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FIFA Convictions Are Imperiled by Questions of U.S. Overreach

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Nearly a decade after police officers marched world soccer officials out of a luxury hotel in Zurich at dawn, revealing a corruption scandal that shook the world’s most popular sport, the case is at risk of falling apart.

The dramatic turnabout comes over questions of whether American prosecutors overreached by applying U.S. law to a group of people, many of them foreign nationals, who defrauded foreign organizations as they carried out bribery schemes across the world.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year limited a law that was key to the case. Then in September, a federal judge, citing that, threw out the convictions of two defendants linked to soccer corruption. Now, several former soccer officials, including some who paid millions of dollars in penalties and served time in prison, are arguing that the bribery schemes for which they were convicted are no longer considered a crime in the United States.

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Depardieu Sexual Assault Suit Dropped Over Statute of Limitations

A sexual assault lawsuit filed against Gérard Depardieu by a French actress has been dropped because it was past the statute of limitations, prosecutors in Paris said on Monday, but the French actor is still under investigation in a separate case.

In the lawsuit that was dropped, the actress Hélène Darras had accused Depardieu of groping her on the set of “Disco,” a comedy released in 2008. Her suit had been filed in September but was made public only last month, shortly before she appeared in a France 2 television documentary alongside three other women who also accused Depardieu of inappropriate comments or sexual misconduct.

The documentary, which showed Depardieu making crude sexual and sexist comments during a 2018 trip to North Korea, set off a fierce debate in France that prompted President Emmanuel Macron and dozens of actors, directors and other celebrities to defend Depardieu, splitting the French movie industry.

Depardieu, 75, has denied any wrongdoing, and he has not been convicted in connection with any of the accusations against him.

On Monday, the Paris prosecutor’s office said that Darras’s suit was dropped in late December because the statute of limitations had run out on the alleged assault, an outcome that was widely expected — including by the actress herself. She told Agence France-Presse in December that she still “wanted to respond to the defense that plays down our allegations by saying they’re ‘just’ witness accounts.”

In France, adult victims of sexual assault have six years after an alleged crime to file a lawsuit.

Another lawsuit, filed in Spain by Ruth Baza, a Spanish journalist who has accused Depardieu of kissing and groping her without her consent when she was in Paris in 1995, could face a similar fate.

Depardieu has been charged with rape and sexual assault in a case involving Charlotte Arnould, a French actress who says he sexually assaulted her in Paris in 2018, when she was 22. That investigation is continuing, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.

While allegations of Depardieu’s sexual misconduct had been growing for years, criticism of the actor resurfaced recently after the France 2 documentary.

Darras was one of 13 women — actresses, makeup artists and production staff — who in April had told Mediapart, an investigative news website, that Depardieu had made inappropriate sexual comments or gestures during film shoots over the years.

In the France 2 documentary, and in interviews with Mediapart and other outlets, Darras said that in 2007, on the set of “Disco,” Depardieu had groped her repeatedly in between takes, touching her hips and buttocks, and had propositioned her, even after she refused.

Darras, who was 26 at the time, had said that no one on set had reacted to the groping because Depardieu was treated like a “king,” and that she had been afraid to speak out because she was just starting her career and was worried about being blacklisted.

In a news conference this month, Macron — who had condemned what he called a “manhunt” against Depardieu — said he had “no regrets about defending the presumption of innocence for a public figure.”

But, he added: “If I have one regret, at that moment, it’s that I didn’t say enough about the importance of the voice of women who are victims of this violence, and how essential this fight is for me.”

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An Olympic Dream Falters Amid Track’s Shifting Rules

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Maximila Imali, a top Kenyan sprinter, did not lose her eligibility to compete in the Paris Olympics because she cheated. She did not fail a doping test. She broke no rules.

Instead, she is set to miss this year’s Summer Games because she was born with a rare genetic variant that results in naturally elevated levels of testosterone. And last March, track and field’s global governing body ruled that Ms. Imali’s biology gave her an unfair advantage in all events against other women, effectively barring her from international competition.

As a result, Ms. Imali, 27, finds her Olympic dream in peril and her career and her livelihood in limbo.

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Luis Rubiales, Ex-Chief of Spanish Soccer, to Face Trial Over World Cup Kiss

Luis Rubiales, Spain’s onetime soccer chief, is due to be tried over his nonconsensual kiss of a star player during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony last summer after a judge recommended on Thursday that he face a court’s judgment in a high-profile case that has upended the sport in Spain.

The judge also recommended that Mr. Rubiales and three officials with the Royal Spanish Football Federation, soccer’s governing body in the country — including Jorge Vilda, who was fired as the women’s team coach in the wake of the incident — be tried on charges of coercion for exerting pressure on the player, Jennifer Hermoso, to show support for Mr. Rubiales in the immediate aftermath of the kiss.

The judge concluded that the kiss by Mr. Rubiales, after the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney, Australia, “was nonconsensual and was a unilateral and surprise act.” The judge also found that even if the kiss was more celebratory than sexual in nature, Mr. Rubiales’s behavior was within the bounds of the “intimacy of sexual relations” and he should be held to account.

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El rey Carlos es diagnosticado con cáncer. Hay preocupación y pocos detalles

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

El rey Carlos III ha sido diagnosticado con un tipo de cáncer y suspenderá sus compromisos públicos para someterse al tratamiento médico, lo que ensombrece un ajetreado reinado que comenzó hace menos de 18 meses tras la muerte de su madre, la reina Isabel II.

El anuncio, hecho por el Palacio de Buckingham el lunes por la noche, se produjo una semana después de que el monarca, de 75 años, fuera dado de alta de un hospital londinense, tras una intervención para tratar un agrandamiento de la próstata.

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Nayib Bukele se adjudica la victoria en El Salvador

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Nayib Bukele, el presidente milénial que reconfiguró su país con una serie de medidas enérgicas contra las pandillas y las libertades civiles, se adjudicó una victoria aplastante en las elecciones de El Salvador del domingo, lo que podría extender durante años su control sobre cada área del gobierno.

Si bien no se han dado a conocer los resultados oficiales, las encuestas habían insinuado durante semanas que Bukele ganaría por mucho, mostrando que los votantes casi con certeza le darían otro periodo de cinco años y ampliarían la mayoría absoluta de su partido en la legislatura.

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Los incendios forestales en Chile consumieron un jardín botánico de 107 años

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

El viernes por la tarde, cientos de personas deambulaban por los idílicos terrenos del Jardín Botánico Nacional de Viña del Mar, en Chile, en su mayoría ajenos a que, justo al otro lado de unas colinas y una carretera, un voraz incendio forestal galopaba hacia ellos.

El peligro no tardó en hacerse patente. Los guardaparques empezaron a recorrer el lugar en moto, gritando a los visitantes que huyeran hacia las salidas. Pero cuando muchos llegaron allí, el fuego ya había arribado.

“Un humo negro y grueso se alzaba arriba de nosotros, así que nos tiramos al pasto justo dentro de la reja”, recordó Alejandro Peirano, el director del jardín, el lunes por la mañana. “Uno de mis guardaparques me miró y me dijo: ‘Director, ¿vamos a morir?’”.

En otro lugar, otros tres guardaparques intentaban rescatar a una compañera, Patricia Araya, de 60 años, cuidadora de un invernadero que vivía en el jardín y cuidaba de sus dos nietos y de su madre, de 92 años. Llegaron a la puerta de su cabaña, pero el fuego se acercaba. “Sentía que el calor me quemaba la espalda. Me di cuenta que me caían encima pedazos” de corteza, dijo Freddy Sánchez, de 50 años, el lunes, mientras resguardaba la entrada del parque.

“Tuvimos que volver”, dijo. “Lo único que el cuerpo quiere es buscar cómo escapar del calor”.

La multitud que se apiñó en el jardín delantero sobrevivió. Fue una especie de milagro, dado que el 98 por ciento del jardín de más de 400 hectáreas fue destruido.

Araya, su madre y sus dos nietos no lo hicieron, convirtiéndose en cuatro de las 122 muertes confirmadas en uno de los incendios forestales más mortíferos de la historia moderna.

El lunes, las autoridades continuaron la búsqueda de cadáveres con perros rastreadores en los casi 65 kilómetros cuadrados arrasados por los rápidos incendios del viernes en la provincia de Valparaíso, una popular zona turística cerca de la costa central de Chile.

También hicieron balance de la destrucción general, incluidas unas 15.000 viviendas y una de las joyas nacionales de Chile: el Jardín Botánico Nacional de Viña del Mar, de 107 años de antigüedad.

El jardín botánico, que se extiende a lo largo de unos cuatro kilómetros cuadrados, es uno de los más grandes del mundo, y es también un centro crucial de conservación e investigación para la región. Durante décadas, el personal ha construido y estudiado un jardín diverso, con más de 1000 especies de árboles, entre ellas algunas de las más raras del mundo.

Debido a la aislada geografía de Chile, un país incrustado entre la cordillera de los Andes y el océano Pacífico, el país alberga muchas especies vegetales endémicas, es decir, que no aparecen en ningún otro lugar en estado salvaje.

El jardín ha sido fundamental para preservar esas especies, entre ellas muchos cactus raros. También ha albergado plantas medicinales, plantas exóticas de Europa y Asia, una gran colección de especies de las remotas islas Juan Fernández, en el Pacífico, y algunos de los últimos árboles Sophora toromiro conocidos del mundo, originarios de Rapa Nui, o Isla de Pascua, pero extintos en estado salvaje.

“Es una pérdida terrible. Años y años de investigación que muchísima gente ha hecho en el jardín, cultivando colecciones especiales”, dijo Noelia Álvarez de Román, especialista en América Latina de Botanic Gardens Conservation International, una red mundial de jardines botánicos.

Peirano dijo que el parque había sido dañado por incendios en el pasado, incluyendo en 2013 y 2022, con alrededor de una cuarta parte de los terrenos quemados. Comentó que el personal está habituado y que patrullan diariamente las zonas más susceptibles al fuego, limpiándolas y concientizando a las personas.

“Pero este incendio fue totalmente inesperado”, añadió. “Nunca hemos visto nada de esta magnitud”.

Wildfires in Chile’s Valparaíso region

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Source: NASA Notes: Data is as of 3:31 a.m. Chile Summer Time on Feb. 7. Areas marked in red indicate where active burning was detected within 24 hours of the most recent fires reflected on the map. Exact fire boundaries may differ from the map by 500 meters or more. By Madison Dong, John Keefe and Matthew Bloch

Peirano subrayó que las vidas perdidas eran mucho más devastadoras que los daños físicos. Araya había trabajado en el parque durante unos 40 años, y esta semana había planeado celebrar una nueva ceremonia de matrimonio con su pareja de muchos años para luego irse de vacaciones juntos, dijo Peirano en una entrevista en la televisión.

Ya se había tomado el viernes libre en el trabajo, y sus nietos, de 1 y 9 años, habían llegado a quedarse con ella ese mismo día.

Las autoridades reiteraron el lunes que creían que los incendios habían sido provocados de manera intencional.

El gobernador de la provincia de Valparaíso, Rodrigo Mundaca, declaró a la prensa que las autoridades habían determinado que al menos un incendio de grandes proporciones comenzó hacia las 2 p. m. del viernes en cuatro focos diferentes, a pocos metros unos de otros.

“¿Me parece que eso puede ser espontáneo, natural? No”, dijo, y añadió que los trabajadores de los bosques nacionales habían apagado fuegos provocados intencionadamente un día antes. “Por lo tanto”, añadió, “yo lo he dicho: aquí hay una intencionalidad manifiesta y esperamos que la justicia pueda dar con los responsables”.

Dos personas fueron detenidas el domingo como sospechosas de intentar provocar incendios cerca del jardín botánico, pero posteriormente fueron puestas en libertad porque la policía dijo que no tenía pruebas suficientes. Las autoridades dijeron que mantendrían los toques de queda nocturnos mientras proseguían la investigación y la recuperación de los incendios.

Las altas temperaturas y la sequía que precedieron a los incendios crearon condiciones peligrosas en Chile. El fenómeno climático cíclico conocido como El Niño ha contribuido al calor y la sequía en algunas zonas de Sudamérica, y el cambio climático global también ha provocado un aumento generalizado de las temperaturas.

Los fuertes vientos del viernes hicieron que los incendios se propagaran rápidamente, lo que sorprendió a las autoridades y dejó a muchas personas atrapadas tratando de escapar de los asentamientos en las laderas. El lunes, los bomberos habían controlado en gran medida las llamas.

En el jardín botánico, el humo de los bosques de eucaliptos quemados todavía flotaba en el aire, mientras los trabajadores talaban los árboles caídos con motosierras y helicópteros con enormes cubos de agua sobrevolaban la zona. Peirano estaba claramente entristecido, y calificó los jardines carbonizados que tenía a sus espaldas de “un tesoro para los chilenos”, pero también se mostró decidido a que el bosque volviera a crecer.

“Los bosques nativos volverán a brotar, pero vamos a necesitar que lleguen las lluvias y esas no van a llegar antes de mayo”, dijo. Añadió que algunas de las especies exóticas del jardín también sobrevivieron al infierno, al igual que el histórico baniano de 150 años de Lahaina, Hawái, del cual empezaron a brotar hojas pocas semanas después de que un incendio forestal destruyera gran parte de la ciudad.

Entre las plantas supervivientes se encontraban algunos de los casi extintos árboles Sophora toromiro de Rapa Nui, así como árboles Ginkgo biloba del “Jardín de la Paz” del parque, formado por plantas que sobrevivieron a la bomba atómica de Hiroshima, Japón.

El lunes, en una entrevista en la televisión, dijo que estas plantas habían tenido fuerza “para brotar después de Hiroshima”. Y añadió que, ya que el incendio les pasó por encima, tendrán “doble fuerza si superan esta etapa”, y su significado será doblemente fuerte.

Daniel Politi y Lis Moriconi colaboraron con la reportería.


La primera dama y el bolso Dior: una crisis política sacude Corea del Sur

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

El presidente estaba enfrentando una economía en desaceleración, una mortífera avalancha humana y amenazas nucleares de un vecino beligerante. Luego se presentó un escándalo mucho más personal: las imágenes de una cámara oculta que mostraban a su esposa aceptando como regalo un bolso Dior de 2200 dólares.

Se ha convertido, rápidamente, en una de las mayores crisis políticas para el presidente Yoon Suk Yeol de Corea del Sur, quien se ha destacado en la política exterior al alinear su país más estrechamente con Estados Unidos y Japón, pero se ha visto empantanado con controversias en casa. Y muchas de ellas involucran a la primera dama, Kim Keon Hee.

El video de Kim, que se dio a conocer a fines del año pasado, causó una ruptura entre Yoon y uno de sus lugartenientes de mayor confianza. Ha sacudido a su partido político: un miembro de alto rango pidió a Kim que se disculpara y la comparó con María Antonieta. Y, según las encuestas, se ha convertido en un problema significativo antes de unas elecciones parlamentarias cruciales en una atmósfera política cada vez más polarizada.

Durante casi dos años, Kim ha desafiado cómo esta sociedad profundamente patriarcal ve el papel de la cónyuge presidencial. A diferencia de las primeras damas anteriores, que solían permanecer a la sombra de sus maridos, ella ha disfrutado de la atención mediática e incluso ha instado públicamente al gobierno de Yoon a prohibir la cría y el sacrificio de perros para el consumo humano. Ha hablado sobre la devoción de Yoon por ella, diciendo en 2022 que él había prometido cocinar para ella y “mantuvo esa promesa durante la última década”.

Pero Kim también ha cortejado frecuentemente la controversia, a veces de maneras que, según los críticos, ponen de relieve su influencia indebida en el gobierno.

En 2021, cuando Yoon, quien había sido fiscal, estaba en campaña para la presidencia, ella se disculpó por maquillar su currículum para promocionar su negocio de exposiciones de arte. Luego vino la publicación de conversaciones con un reportero, quien grabó secretamente a Kim insinuando que estaba profundamente involucrada en la campaña de su esposo. Llamaba a Yoon “un tonto” que “no puede hacer nada sin mí”. También declaró que se vengaría de los medios de comunicación hostiles “si tomo el poder”.

Kim también ha enfrentado acusaciones de que estuvo envuelta en un esquema de manipulación de precios de acciones antes de la elección de Yoon. En diciembre, el Parlamento controlado por la oposición aprobó un proyecto de ley que hubiera dispuesto que un fiscal especial investigara los dichos. Yoon, de 63 años, quien como Kim, de 51, ha negado las acusaciones, vetó el proyecto de ley.

Yoon, quien ha dicho que su “recuerdo más feliz” fue casarse con Kim en 2012, no ha podido dejar atrás las imágenes relacionadas con la bolsa de Dior.

El video fue tomado en septiembre de 2022 por un pastor coreano-estadounidense llamado Choi Jae-young con una cámara oculta dentro de un reloj de pulsera. Las primeras noticias sobre el episodio surgieron más de un año después, en un canal de YouTube de izquierda llamado la Voz de Seúl, el mismo medio que publicó la charla de Kim con un reportero.

En el video se muestra a Choi de visita en la oficina personal de Kim fuera del complejo presidencial dándole el regalo.

“¿Por qué sigues trayendo estas cosas?”, se le oye decir a Kim. “Por favor, no necesitas hacer esto”.

Choi aboga por relaciones amistosas entre Corea del Norte y Corea del Sur, mientras que Yoon ha adoptado una postura más agresiva hacia el Norte. Dijo que conoció a Kim cuando Yoon estaba en campaña para presidente y recibió una invitación para la toma de posesión de Yoon en mayo de 2022. Un mes después, visitó la oficina de Kim para agradecerle y dijo que le regaló un juego de cosméticos de Chanel de 1300 dólares.

Durante esa reunión, Choi dijo que escuchó una conversación en la que Kim parecía estar desempeñando un papel en el nombramiento de un alto funcionario del gobierno. Dijo que fue entonces cuando decidió “desenmascararla”. Un reportero de la Voz de Seúl le proporcionó la cámara espía y el bolso Dior de piel de ternera azul nube, y Choi envió una foto del bolso Dior a Kim, pidiendo otra reunión.

Choi dijo que aunque había pedido reunirse con la primera dama varias veces, solo se le concedió audiencia en dos ocasiones y únicamente cuando ella sabía de antemano que llevaba regalos caros. A los funcionarios gubernamentales y sus cónyuges se les prohíbe aceptar regalos con valor de más de 750 dólares incluso si no hay un posible conflicto de interés.

“El regalo era un boleto para una audiencia con ella”, dijo Choi.

En el video, Kim también expresó su deseo de “participar activamente en las relaciones Corea del Sur-Corea del Norte”, lo que hace temer que se estuviera extralimitando en su papel.

Mientras que el escándalo causa estragos, Kim ha evitado apariciones públicas durante un mes y medio. Cuando se le preguntó a la oficina de Yoon si el presidente y Kim tenían algún comentario sobre el asunto, respondió que no tenía “nada que compartir”.

Kim no ha comentado públicamente sobre las diversas acusaciones en su contra desde su disculpa de 2021, cuando dijo que se “limitaría al papel de esposa” si Yoon era elegido. Pero durante una inusual entrevista con Artnet News el año pasado, señaló un cambio, al decir que quería convertirse en “una vendedora de la cultura K” y apoyar a Yoon y su gobierno en la “diplomacia cultural”.

En las conversaciones grabadas por Choi y Voz de Seúl, ella parecía negar las acusaciones de irregularidades, calificándolas de campañas de difamación política.

Algunos funcionarios del Partido del Poder Popular de Yoon han acusado a Choi de tender una “trampa” a Kim y programar la publicación del video para influir en las elecciones de abril. También han dicho que Kim no ha usado el bolso, que ha sido almacenado en un depósito presidencial.

En las encuestas, una mayoría de los surcoreanos dicen que fue inapropiado que Kim aceptara el bolso y que quieren una investigación y una explicación de Yoon.

“Este es un asunto explosivo” porque recuerda a los surcoreanos la corrupción recurrente que ha deshonrado a la mayoría de los expresidentes del país, dijo Ahn Byong-jin, politólogo de la Universidad Kyung Hee en Seúl.

Algunos miembros del partido de Yoon han exigido una disculpa de Kim como control de daños. La oposición acusó a Kim de tráfico de influencias y “manipulación de asuntos gubernamentales”. Yoon, agregaron, estaba siendo excesivamente protector de su esposa, en marcado contraste con el enérgico enjuiciamiento de su gobierno por cargos de corrupción contra Lee Jae-myung, el líder de la oposición.

Yoon también ha sido criticado por sus aliados en los medios de comunicación.

“Los conservadores de este país ya no pueden cargar con el ‘riesgo Kim Keon Hee’”, dijo un columnista en el diario conservador Dong-A Ilbo.

El presidente del Partido del Poder Popular, Kim Gi-hyeon, renunció ante la creciente presión,. Yoon lo reemplazó con un aliado cercano, Han Dong-hoon. Pero Han pareció criticar cómo el gobierno gestionó el escándalo y nombró al alto oficial que luego comparó a la primera dama con María Antonieta, una crítica que resonó ampliamente entre el público.

Yoon luego exigió la renuncia de Han, según los medios locales, pero la semana pasada los dos hombres parecían haber llegado a una tregua incómoda.

Su manejo del escándalo ha mostrado cuánta influencia tiene Kim dentro de la oficina de Yoon, dijeron analistas políticos. Es por eso que los surcoreanos bromeaban, a decir de Ahn, con que “hay dos VIP en la oficina de Yoon y la VIP Número 1 es Kim Keon Hee”.

Choe Sang-Hun es el jefe de la corresponsalía de The New York Times en Seúl. Cubre noticias de Corea del Norte y del Sur. Más de Choe Sang-Hun


La censura china busca acallar a las voces que critican sus políticas económicas

Daisuke Wakabayashi y

Reportando desde Seúl

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La principal agencia de inteligencia de China emitió el mes pasado una ominosa advertencia sobre una amenaza creciente para la seguridad nacional del país: los chinos que critican la economía.

El Times  Una selección semanal de historias en español que no encontrarás en ningún otro sitio, con eñes y acentos.

En una serie de publicaciones en su cuenta oficial de WeChat, el Ministerio de Seguridad del Estado pidió a los ciudadanos que comprendieran la visión económica del presidente Xi Jinping y no se dejaran influir por quienes buscan “denigrar la economía de China” mediante “falsas narrativas”. Las autoridades del ministerio dijeron que, para combatir ese riesgo, los organismos de seguridad se centrarán en “reforzar la propaganda económica y la orientación de la opinión pública”.

China intensifica su represión mientras lucha por recuperar el dinamismo y el rápido crecimiento económico del pasado. Pekín ha censurado y ha tratado de intimidar a economistas prestigiosos, analistas financieros, bancos de inversión y personas influyentes en las redes sociales por sus valoraciones críticas de la economía y las políticas del gobierno. Además, se están suprimiendo los artículos periodísticos sobre personas que pasan apuros económicos o sobre el bajo nivel de vida de los trabajadores inmigrantes.

China ha seguido dando unas perspectivas positivas para la economía, señalando que el año pasado superó su previsión de crecimiento económico del 5 por ciento sin recurrir a medidas de estímulo arriesgadas y costosas. Sin embargo, más allá de las cifras, su industria financiera batalla por contener enormes cantidades de deuda de los gobiernos locales, su mercado bursátil se tambalea y su sector inmobiliario está en crisis. El lunes se ordenó la liquidación de China Evergrande, una promotora inmobiliaria ambiciosa que estaba acuciada por una deuda de más de 300.000 millones de dólares.

El alcance de la nueva campaña de información es mayor que el de la labor habitual de los censores gubernamentales, quienes siempre han vigilado de cerca las conversaciones sobre economía en internet. Ahora sus esfuerzos se extienden a los comentarios económicos generales que se permitían en el pasado. La implicación de las agencias de seguridad también evidencia cómo los intereses empresariales y económicos entran en la visión cada vez más grande de Xi acerca de lo que constituye una amenaza para la seguridad nacional.

En noviembre, el Ministerio de Seguridad del Estado, autodenominándose como “firmes guardianes de la seguridad financiera”, afirmó que otros países utilizaban las finanzas como arma en los juegos geopolíticos.

“Algunas personas con segundas intenciones intentan crear problemas y sacar provecho del caos”, escribió el ministerio. “No se trata solo del ‘mercado del oso’ y ‘los vendedores en corto’. Estos agoreros del mercado intentan sacudir la confianza inversora de la comunidad internacional en China y desencadenar una agitación financiera interna en nuestro país”.

En el último año, China ha fijado su atención en las empresas consultoras y asesoras con vínculos en el extranjero mediante redadas, detenciones y arrestos. Estas empresas, que ayudaban a las compañías a evaluar las inversiones en el país, se han convertido en un daño colateral en la campaña de Xi para reforzar la seguridad nacional. Estos esfuerzos por frenar el flujo de información, restringir la publicación de datos económicos desfavorables y limitar el discurso financiero crítico solo parecen aumentar la preocupación de los inversores y las empresas extranjeras sobre el estado real de la economía china.

“En mi opinión, cuanto más suprime el gobierno la información negativa sobre la economía, menos confianza tiene la gente en la situación económica real”, dijo Xiao Qiang, investigador científico de la Escuela de Información de la Universidad de California en Berkeley.

Las nuevas inversiones extranjeras en China cayeron un 8 por ciento en 2023, su nivel más bajo en tres años. El índice chino CSI 300, que sigue a las mayores empresas cotizadas en Shanghái y Shenzhen, cayó un 12 por ciento el año pasado, frente a una subida del 24 por ciento del S&P 500. El índice chino ha bajado otro 5 por ciento este año, hasta mínimos de casi cinco años.

El primer ministro Li Qiang pidió el lunes medidas más eficaces para estabilizar el mercado bursátil, en un contexto de informaciones sobre un posible paquete de rescate del mercado de valores.

Xiao, el investigador académico, dijo que en la segunda mitad de 2023 empezó a notar que los censores chinos retiraban con más rapidez muchos artículos de noticias financieras. Entre ellos: un artículo de diciembre en el sitio de noticias financieras Yicai que citaba una investigación según la cual 964 millones de chinos ganaban menos de 280 dólares mensuales.

Este mes, también se retiró de internet un documental de NetEase News sobre trabajadores inmigrantes que soportaban un nivel de vida extremadamente bajo. Los resultados de la búsqueda del documental titulado Working Like This for 30 Years, también se restringieron en Weibo, un sitio de redes sociales similar a X.

Desde junio, Weibo ha restringido que decenas de cuentas publiquen después de que, según dijo, “publicaran comentarios que hablaban mal de la economía” o “distorsionaran” o “desprestigiaran” las políticas económica, financiera e inmobiliaria de China.

En noviembre, Weibo advirtió a los usuarios que no fueran “maliciosamente pesimistas” sobre la economía ni difundieran sentimientos negativos. El mes pasado, la empresa dijo que esperaba que los usuarios ayudaran a “incrementar la confianza” en el desarrollo de la economía.

Otros servicios de redes sociales también están tomando medidas para censurar el discurso negativo sobre la economía. Douyin, la versión china de TikTok, tiene normas específicas que prohíben la “malinterpretación maliciosa de las políticas relacionadas con el sector inmobiliario”.

A Liu Jipeng, decano de la Universidad China de Ciencias Políticas y Derecho de Pekín, se le prohibió publicar o añadir nuevos seguidores en Douyin y Weibo el mes pasado, después de que dijera en una entrevista que no era el momento adecuado para invertir dinero en acciones. También escribió en Weibo, donde tiene más de 500.000 seguidores, que a la gente le resultaba difícil invertir con seguridad porque había muchas instituciones poco éticas. Su cuenta de Douyin, en la que tiene más de 700.000 seguidores, tiene un aviso que dice que el usuario “tiene prohibido ser seguido debido a una violación de las normas de la comunidad”.

Los bancos y las sociedades de valores también están sometidos a un intenso escrutinio por el contenido de sus estudios económicos. En junio, la Oficina Reguladora de Valores de Shenzhen advirtió a China Merchants Securities, una agencia de valores con sede en Shenzhen, sobre un informe “elaborado descuidadamente” un año antes, en el que se advertía que las acciones nacionales seguirían bajo presión debido a la economía.

En julio, Goldman Sachs provocó una venta masiva de acciones bancarias chinas después de que uno de sus informes de investigación calificara con la etiqueta de “venta” a tres grandes prestamistas y advirtiera que los bancos podrían tener dificultades para mantener los dividendos por las pérdidas derivadas de la deuda de los gobiernos locales. Securities Times, un periódico financiero estatal, contratacó diciendo que el informe se basaba en una “interpretación errónea de los hechos” y que “no es aconsejable malinterpretar los fundamentos de los bancos chinos”.

Un economista de una sociedad de valores extranjera dijo que un funcionario del gobierno chino le había pedido recientemente que fuera “más reflexivo” al redactar informes de investigación, especialmente si el contenido podía interpretarse de manera negativa. El economista pidió no ser identificado por temor a represalias.

Incluso un comentario que antes era aceptable se ha vuelto problemático a la luz de los actuales retos económicos de China.

En una entrevista de 2012, un año antes de que Xi asumiera el poder, Wu Jinglian, un famoso economista chino, advirtió que el país se encontraba en un punto de inflexión. Afirmó que China podía avanzar con una economía de mercado regida por la ley, o podía dejarse influir por quienes buscaban una agenda alternativa de fuerte implicación gubernamental.

Wu dijo en la entrevista que los problemas sociales de China “son fundamentalmente el resultado de unas reformas económicas incompletas, un grave retraso en las reformas políticas y una intensificación del poder administrativo para reprimir e interferir en las actividades económicas privadas legítimas”.

La entrevista se volvió a publicar el año pasado con motivo del 45 aniversario de la apertura de la economía china. Fue ampliamente compartida y es considerada como un reproche a la política económica de Xi —que ha impulsado un mayor control estatal a expensas de las reformas del mercado— antes de que fuera retirada de WeChat.

Pero la campaña de presión se ha intensificado tanto que está convirtiendo en críticos a quienes suelen defender las políticas de Pekín. Hu Xijin, influyente comentarista y exredactor jefe de Global Times, periódico del Partido Comunista, escribió en Weibo que la labor de las personas influyentes era “ayudar constructivamente” al gobierno a identificar los problemas, “en vez de encubrirlos activamente y crear una opinión pública que no es real”.

Daisuke Wakabayashi es corresponsal de negocios en Asia para el Times, con sede en Seúl. @daiwaka

Claire Fu cubre noticias en China continental para The New York Times en Seúl. @fu_claire