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April 9
2020

GERMANY

Deutsche Bank looking at long rap sheet and ailing finances 150 years since opening

Deutsche Bank opened for business 150 years ago at 21 Französische Strasse in Berlin, and the landmark anniversary sees the banking colossus fighting to recover financially after years of mismanagement and one expensive scandal too many.

It was founded one month before it opened its doors, and began by funding German industry and railroads in the 19th century. It helped bankroll the Nazis in the 20th Century, before becoming a traditional lender between World War II and the 90s. By 2008, it had become one of the three largest banks in the world.

PBS notes that the fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis revealed that some of the world's most powerful banks were involved in reckless financial dealings. Deutsche Bank took a particularly aggressive approach, according to the United States broadcaster, and the consequences are still playing out now, more than a decade later.

According to DW, Germany’s biggest lender has a global reputation for scandal, and as global finance went high-tech, high-risk, Deutsche Bank joined the game. It became a banker to Russian oligarchs, Iran, and the principal lender to Donald Trump after he’d gone bankrupt, before he ran for office as U.S. president. In 2015 Deutsche Bank was fined a record $2.5 billion dollars by U.S. and British authorities for its role in an interest rate scam between 2003 and 2007, and in 2016 the so-called Panama Papers investigation yielded allegations that the bank helped its customers transfer money from criminal activities to tax havens.

The scandal sheet includes accusations and fines for laundering money out of Russia, wire fraud and violating U.S. sanctions against countries that include Iran, Syria, Libya and Sudan.

Many of the scandals have resulted in massive penalties and settlements, and the 150th anniversary sees Deutsche Bank struggling financially. The bank reported a whopping loss for the last three months of 2019 and for the full year as it cut staff and wrote down the value of assets. The New York Times described it as one of Europe’s most troubled big lenders.

#23444 Published: March 4, 2020

April 9
2020

KAZAKHSTAN

Soyuz blasts off for ISS with its last confirmed NASA passenger?

Russia launches its Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) from Baikonur, and astronaut Christopher Cassidy is occupying the last confirmed NASA seat on the Russian spacecraft. The coronavirus pandemic does not appear to be impacting the Roscosmos launch schedule or NASA’s. The American agency stresses that protocols are in place to ensure astronauts do not carry pathogens into Space.

Due to delays in the development of U.S. astronaut taxis, vulnerable NASA expects to buy more seats in 2020 – at $85 million each.

Since NASA mothballed its space shuttles in 2011, it has relied on the Russian spacecraft to get astronauts to the ISS. Roscosmos has been steadily raising the price of Soyuz seats, and NASA is obliged to pay up in order to maintain a continuous U.S. presence on the space station.

NASA is counting on private U.S. craft to pick up the slack as part of its Commercial Crew Program.

The agency awarded $2.6 billion to SpaceX and $4.2 billion to Boeing in 2014 to get their capsules – known as Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner, respectively – up and running. Both companies missed the target date of Dec 2017, and are looking at 2020 at the earliest.

Russian cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin make up the April crew, which is due to return on Oct 22, 2020.

#23340 Published: March 17, 2020

April 10
2020

NORTH KOREA

North Korean leaders meet in Pyongyang amid coronavirus denials

Pyongyang plans to hold a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, its rubber-stamp legislature, on this date. Analysts say this will involve gathering almost 700 of the secretive nation’s leaders in one spot even as many other countries have mandated bans on meetings because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"If it goes ahead, it would be the ultimate show of [North Korea’s] confidence in managing the coronavirus situation," Rachel Minyoung Lee, of the North Korea monitoring website NK News, said on Twitter on Mar 21, when the date of the session was announced.

There have been no reported cases of coronavirus in North Korea, but experts have cast doubt on this. North Korea borders China, where the virus emerged in December, and South Korea, which has experienced a major outbreak.

According to Daily NK, a South Korean news organisation, 180 North Korean soldiers died in January and February from symptoms that may have been caused by the coronavirus, and that approximately 3,700 soldiers were under quarantine.

A Daily NK source inside North Korea’s military reported on Mar 6 that the military’s medical corps had sent a report to military leaders detailing the impact of Covid-19 on the country’s soldiers. The report said the soldiers who died were predominantly stationed on or around the Sino-North Korean border.

#23458 Published: March 24, 2020

April 15
2020

FRANCE

Notre Dame burned one year ago and restoration project faces setbacks

Fire devoured the roof and weakened the structure of Notre Dame Cathedral one year ago, and at the time of the blaze President Emmanuel Macron vowed that it would reopen within five years. He faces increasing setbacks to honoring his promise. The latest is the coronavirus pandemic, which is certain to slow – or halt – progress on the repairs to the 850-year-old Paris landmark.

On Mar 16 the president ordered people to stay at home for two weeks, a lockdown that is likely to jeopardize Paris authorities’ plan to reopen the cathedral plaza and crypt on or near the anniversary and construction workers’ project to remove the damaged scaffolding of the structure.

The challenges to delivering on his promise also include settling the argument over whether to rebuild the roof and spire in its original style or with a modern makeover, and also the task of cleaning up the toxins spewed by the fire in the vicinity of the cathedral. The New York Times reports that on nearby pavements and in the immediate surroundings of the construction site, lead levels were 955 times above the threshold.

The Gothic cathedral, which dates from the 12th century, is famous for its flying buttresses, breathtaking stained glass windows and carved gargoyles. The fire spared much of the treasure inside, including Catholic relics and artifacts, paintings, statues and other precious artwork.

#23434 WRITE THROUGH UPDATE MAR 17 REFLECTS NEW SETBACKS TO RESTORATION

April 15
2020

SOUTH KOREA

Legislative elections will go ahead despite virus outbreak

The elections for the 300-seat unicameral National Assembly will go ahead, even as the country grapples with the second highest number of coronavirus cases in Asia after China. It sees President Moon Jae-in and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) in a precarious position because of the flagging economy.

The party’s loss would turn Moon into a lame duck president for the remaining two years of his term, with little chance of pursuing his policy agenda.

The country will take some extraordinary steps to ensure voter safety. The Nikkei Asian Review reports that the National Election Commission will allow infected patients to vote at hospitals, treatment centers or from home, and ballot boxes might be placed on buses. All 14,000 voting stations at home and abroad will be disinfected and equipped with hand sanitizers, according to the publication, and voters will have their temperature checked.

The party’s fortunes hinge on the perception of Moon’s performance since he took office. After some early shining moments because of the Apr 2018 inter-Korean summit and his proactive response to the country’s massive wildfire in 2019, he has lost ground. The Diplomat notes that there has been little progress on addressing bread-and-butter issues of the electorate. The regional publication reports that weak global demand for its exports has hit the country’s economy hard. Employment rates are in the spotlight, as this area was a prime focus of Moon’s initial economic policy.

Meanwhile, the once scandal-hit Liberty Korea Party, the nearest rival of the ruling party in a field of some eight parties, saw rising approval rates in 2019.

#23314 WRITE THROUGH UPDATE MAR 17 TO REFLECT OUTBREAK