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French Fashion Designer Thierry Mugler Dies Aged 73

French designer Thierry Mugler, who reigned over fashion in the 1980s and died on Sunday, was as famous for his fantastical couture as for his blockbuster fashion shows. He was 73.

Mugler’s daring collections came to define the decade’s power dressing, with his clothes noted for their structured and sophisticated silhouettes, showcased by his extravagant shows.

“I always thought that fashion was not enough on its own and that it had to be shown in its musical and theatrical environment,” he once said.

In later years, he dressed Beyonce and Lady Gaga — and in 2019 came out of retirement to create Kim Kardashian’s Met Gala look.

“We are devastated to announce the passing of Mr Manfred Thierry Mugler on Sunday January 23rd 2022,” said a post on the designer’s official Facebook account.

His agent Jean-Baptiste Rougeot, who said the designer had died of “natural causes,” added he had been due to announce new collaborations early this week.

Born in Strasbourg in December 1948, as a young teen Mugler joined the Opera du Rhin’s ballet company before studying at the School of Decorative Arts.

From a young age he created his own clothes, adapting items bought at nearby flea markets. He moved to Paris aged 20, initially to work with another ballet company — but was more successful with his own wardrobe.

Mugler soon became a freelance stylist and worked for various fashion houses in Paris, London and Milan.

In 1973, he took the plunge and created his own label “Café de Paris”, before founding “Thierry Mugler” a year later.

His designs exacerbated and celebrated women’s forms: shoulders accentuated by padding, plunging necklines, constricted waists and rounded hips.

“Dancing taught me a lot about posture, the organization of clothing, the importance of the shoulders, the head carriage, the play and rhythm of the legs,” said Mugler.

A showman at heart, he organized spectacular presentations of his creations pioneering the modern spectacle of the 21st century fashion show.

“Today’s fashion shows are a continuation of what Mugler invented. The collections were pretexts for fashion shows,” recalled Didier Grumbach, former CEO of Thierry Mugler.

He had showmanship in his blood: for the 10th anniversary of his label in 1984, he organized the first public fashion show in Europe with 6,000 attending the rock concert-like show.

But nothing compared to the 20th anniversary celebration in 1995, staged at the Cirque d’Hiver.

Models including Jerry Hall, Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova and Kate Moss paraded alongside stars such as Tippi Hedren and Julie Newmar with the spectacle culminating in a performance from James Brown.

The 1992 launch of his company’s first perfume “Angel” — in collaboration with Clarins, which acquired a stake in the company before taking control in 1997 — was a runaway success.

Clarins shuttered Thierry Mugler ready-to-wear in 2003, a year after the designer reportedly left the brand, but continued the scent business with “Angel” rivalling Chanel’s No.5 for the top spot in sales.

Renowned for his work with celebrities, he counted Grace Jones and Hall among his muses, and had a long-running creative collaboration with David Bowie — even dressing him for his wedding to Iman.

Despite seemingly retiring from fashion’s frontlines in the early 2000s, Mugler continued to impact culture and worked with Beyonce on her “I am…” world tour. 

In later years the designer suffered a series of accidents requiring facial surgery and rebuilt his body with intensive bodybuilding while engaging in meditation and yoga.

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UNESCO Lists Viking-Era Wooden Sailboats on Heritage List 

For thousands of years, wooden sailboats allowed the peoples of Northern Europe to spread trade, influence and sometimes war across seas and continents.

In December, the U.N.’s culture agency added Nordic “clinker boats” to its list of traditions that represent the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden jointly sought the UNESCO designation.

The term “clinker” is thought to refer to the way the boat’s wooden boards were fastened together.

Supporters of the successful nomination hope it will safeguard and preserve the boat-building techniques that drove the Viking era for future generations as the number of active clinker craftsmen fades and fishermen and others opt for vessels with cheaper glass fiber hulls.

“We can see that the skills of building them, the skills of sailing the boats, the knowledge of people who are sailing … it goes down and it disappears,” said Søren Nielsen, head of boatyard at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, west of Copenhagen.

The museum not only exhibits the remains of wooden vessels built 1,000 years ago, but also works to rebuild and reconstruct other Viking boats. The process involves using experimental archaeological methods to gain a deeper, more practical understanding of the Viking Age, such as how quickly the vessels sailed and how many people they carried.

Nielsen, who oversees the construction and repair of wooden boats built in the clinker tradition, said there are only about 20 practicing clinker boat craftsmen in Denmark, perhaps 200 across all of northern Europe.

“We think it’s a tradition we have to show off, and we have to tell people this was a part of our background,” he told The Associated Press.

Wooden clinker boats are characterized by the use of overlapping longitudinal wooden hull planks that are sewn or riveted together.

Builders strengthen the boats internally by additional wooden components, mainly tall oak trees, which constitute the ribs of the vessel. They stuff the gaps in between with tar or tallow mixed with animal hair, wool and moss.

“When you build it with these overlaps within it, you get a hull that’s quite flexible but at the same time, incredibly strong,” explained Triona Sørensen, curator at Roskilde’s Viking Ship Museum, which is home to the remains of five 11th-century Viking boats built with clinker methods.

Nielsen said there is evidence the clinker technique first appeared thousands of years ago, during the Bronze Age.

But it was during the Viking Age that clinker boats had their zenith, according to Sørensen. The era, from 793 to 1066, is when Norsemen, or Vikings, undertook large-scale raiding, colonizing, conquest and trading voyages throughout Europe. They also reached North America.

Their light, strong and swift ships were unsurpassed in their time and provided the foundations for kingdoms in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

If “you hadn’t had any ships, you wouldn’t have had any Viking Age,” said Sørensen. “It just literally made it possible for them to expand that kind of horizon to become a more global people.”

While the clinker boat tradition in Northern Europe remains to this day, the ships are used by hobbyists, for festivities, regattas and sporting events, rather than raiding and conquest seen 1,000 years ago.

The UNESCO nomination was signed by around 200 communities and cultural bearers in the field of construction and traditional clinker boat craftsmanship, including Sami communities.

The inscription on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list obliges the Nordic countries to try to preserve what remains of the fading tradition.

“You cannot read how to build a boat in a book, so if you want to be a good boat builder, you have to build a lot of boats,” the Viking Ship Museum’s Nielsen said. “If you want to keep these skills alive, you have to keep them going.”

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Brussels Police Clash with Anti-Vaccination Protesters

 Police in Brussels fired water cannon and clouds of tear gas at 50,000 protesters demonstrating Sunday against COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions European authorities are imposing to try to contain the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Some of the protesters came from France, Germany and other countries, shouting “Liberty!” as they marched through the headquarters city of the European Union. Videos showed some black-clad protesters attacking a building used by the EU’s diplomatic service, hurling projectiles at its entrance and smashing windows.

Anti-vaccination demonstrators also marched in Barcelona, following protests in other European capitals on Saturday against vaccine passports and other requirements that national governments have imposed as daily coronavirus infections and hospitalizations surge because of the omicron strain.

In Brussels, white-helmeted riot police riot repeatedly charged after protesters who ignored instructions to disperse. Police water cannon trucks fired powerful jets and tear gas filled the air in the Belgian capital.

A protest leader yelled over a loudspeaker, “Come on people! Don’t let them take away your rights!”  

Nearly 77% of Belgium’s total population have been fully vaccinated, and 53% have had a booster dose, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Belgium has recorded more than 28,700 virus deaths in the pandemic.

Several thousand anti-vaccination mandate protesters marched in Washington along the National Mall. In the United States, the Supreme Court recently rejected a vaccination mandate President Joe Biden tried to impose on 84 million workers employed at large businesses but let stand a narrower mandatory vaccination order affecting 17 million hospital health care workers.

Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told ABC’s “This Week” show that the number of omicron cases in the U.S. has started to recede.

“Things are looking good,” he said. “I don’t want to be overconfident, but (the falling number of the coronavirus cases are) headed in the right direction.”

The Europe protests have been targeting new restrictions imposed by some governments. Protesters in Stockholm demonstrated Saturday against the vaccine passes needed to go to indoor sites where 50 or more people are congregated.   

Protesters took to the streets of Paris to demonstrate against the new COVID pass, set to go into effect Monday, that will curtail the activities of the unvaccinated, restricting their ability to travel and go to entertainment sites, including bars, movie theaters and sports events.   

Demonstrators in Helsinki protested the vaccination passes that can be required to enter restaurants and other venues. The protesters in Finland’s capital also demonstrated against the Finnish government’s move giving local and regional authorities the ability to enact wide-ranging measures to combat the omicron variant.   

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center in the U.S. reported Sunday that worldwide it has recorded 350 million COVID infections and 5.6 million deaths. The center said nearly 10 billion COVID vaccine shots have been administered. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

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Comoros Loses Both Goalkeepers as COVID Sweeps Through Squad

Comoros, the surprise package of the Africa Cup of Nations, is struggling to put a team together for their last-16 game against host nation Cameroon after 12 players and management tested positive for COVID-19, their federation announced Saturday.

The 12 positive tests include both of the Coelacanths’ fit goalkeepers, with the third goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina already injured. Comoros is due to face Cameroon on Monday.

“The Coelacanths affected by COVID … include coach Amir Abdou, our only two goalkeepers, Moyadh Ousseini and Ali Ahamada,” the federation tweeted two days before a historic match for the Comoros who qualified for the last 16 in their first appearance at the tournament.

In a video posted on the account, general manager El Hadad Hamidi also named five outfield players who have tested positive: midfielders Nakibou Aboubakari, Yacine Bourhane, striker Mohamed M’Changama and defenders Kassim Abdallah and Alexis Souahy.

With no goalkeepers currently available for the game, the Comoros are in serious trouble.

Confederation of African Football rules for the tournament dictate that teams must play games as long as at least 11 players test negative for the coronavirus.

If no goalkeeper is available, an outfield player must stand in.

“We are trying to do everything in our power to find alternative solutions” but “without the coach, without major players and especially without our only two goalkeepers who remained, the situation is quite complicated,” admitted Hamidi.

The Comoros, representing a tiny island nation off the southeast coast of Africa, snatched their qualification to everyone’s surprise by beating Ghana 3-2 and advancing as one of the best third-placed sides. 

 

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UAE Bans Flying of Recreational Drones After Fatal Attack

The United Arab Emirates has banned the flying of drones in the country for recreation after Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed a fatal drone attack on an oil facility and major airport in the country.

As of Saturday, drone hobbyists and other operators of light electric sports aircraft face “legal liabilities” if caught flying the objects, the Interior Ministry said, adding it may grant exemptions to businesses seeking to film.

A rare drone and missile strike on the capital of Abu Dhabi blew up several fuel tankers and killed three people last week.

The Houthis, who hold Yemen’s capital and have fought a bloody, yearslong war with a Saudi-led military coalition that includes the UAE, claimed the assault. While the UAE has largely withdrawn troops from the stalemated conflict, the country continues to be a major player and support local militias on the ground.

The UAE said the Houthis targeted the country with bomb-laden drones and cruise and ballistic missiles, adding the country had intercepted some of the projectiles. In response to the strike, the Saudi-led coalition has escalated attacks on the rebel-held parts of Yemen in the last week.

Government regulations in the UAE already restrict flying drones in residential areas as well as near, around and over airports. Drone users typically must obtain a certificate from the civil aviation authorities. 

 

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Facebook Removes Kurdish Pages Linked to Misinformation on Belarus Migrant Crisis

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has removed two popular Kurdish Facebook pages accused of spreading misinformation that helped convince thousands of Kurds to mass along the border of Belarus and Poland late last year.

The two accounts, one from a Kurdish lawmaker with 143,000 followers and another belonging to a Kurdish journalist with nearly 270,000 followers, were spreading misinformation that falsely claimed Kurds who went to the Belarus-Poland border would be allowed into the European Union.

There was no such immigration plan. Instead, frustrated crowds clashed with border guards and thousands were later deported. 

The false posts were among many seen by Kurds who traveled to the border area and were interviewed by VOA.

“We followed the crowd towards the Polish borders after rumors on Facebook. It resulted in nothing more than adversity for this destitute people,” said Hersh Saeed Ahmad, a Kurdish migrant in Belarus.

But the accounts on Facebook continued to publish widely read posts until earlier this month when VOA contacted Meta asking if the pages were violating the company’s policies. 

“Meta has decided both pages violated our policies for misinformation under Violence & Incitement Community Standards, and both have been taken down,” a spokesperson from the company told VOA in an email.

The episode illustrates how the social media network continues to struggle to police even well-known spreaders of misinformation who are involved in high-profile news events, especially when misinformation is being published in languages other than English.

Spreading misinformation 

The Belarus-EU border crisis began last July and worsened by November, when thousands of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and Iraqi Kurdistan, attempted to cross into the EU from Belarus.

In mid-November, violence broke out at the Polish border when security forces used tear gas and water cannons to prevent migrants from breaking the border fencing. Polish police at the time reported several injuries in their ranks from migrants throwing stones at them.

At the time, Facebook told news outlets that it was working to shut down information about human trafficking in the region.

But two prominent Kurdish Facebook pages continued to traffic in misinformation about the situation at the border until earlier this month.

Sirwan Baban, a member of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament, and Ranj Pshdary, a Kurdish journalist based in Greece, used their pages on Facebook to tell their followers in early November that the EU and Germany had decided to open their borders to let in migrants stranded on a Belarus-Poland border point.

 

It was a claim denied by EU officials at the time, but thousands of migrants, mostly Kurds, still stormed the Polish border fence and clashed with police.

VOA interviews with officials in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Kurdish migrants in Belarus confirmed that misinformation on Facebook, including from Baban and Pshdary, helped to lure thousands of people towards the Polish border.

Hersh Saeed Ahmad, a 36-year-old Kurd from Sulaimani province, is among those migrants who, after reading posts on social media, took his wife and 4-year-old child to the Polish border in November.

“Our situation after the storming turned from bad to worse,” he said. “Our admission by Germany was nothing more than lies and rumors on Facebook.”

Another migrant, Bahadin Muhsin Qadir, said they were told the Polish security at the border had announced through loudspeakers that they will be transferred through buses to Germany.

The standoff at the border during extreme weather conditions left more than a dozen people dead, according to human rights activists, who say the total number is likely higher but hard to confirm due to restricted access to the area.

Ari Jalal, the head of Kurdish foundation Lutka for Refugees and Migrants, told VOA that his group registered two deaths among the Kurds at the border. He said about 4,000 migrants have since returned to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, with about 1,100 people remaining in Belarus camps.

“In addition to bodily and material damage, the Kurdish migrants are also psychologically broken down completely,” said Jalal, while expressing his frustration at “how gullible Kurdish youth can be manipulated by livestream videos on social media.” 

Facebook’s efforts 

Working with independent experts, Meta says it works to detect and remove harmful false claims that could contribute to the risk of imminent violence or physical harm ­— such as claims in Arabic and Kurdish that either the Polish border is open to migrants or Germany is sending buses for the migrants to the border. 

In November, The New York Times reported that an account belonging to a Kurdish-German influencer widely known online as Karwan Rawanduzy was disabled on Facebook for frequently promoting bogus stories that fueled the crisis.

In early December, Meta released a threat report saying it removed 38 Facebook accounts, five groups and four Instagram accounts linked to the Belarusian KGB that were inflaming the migrant crisis. It also reported taking down 31 Facebook accounts, four groups, two Facebook events and four Instagram accounts that originated in Poland and targeted Belarus and Iraq.

Despite those high-profile takedowns, the social media giant missed other far-reaching pages that were still being used to mislead migrants.

False claim of open border 

In the case of Sirwan Baban, a lawmaker, and Ranj Pshdary, who calls himself a journalist, both with thousands of followers, Facebook for months served as their main medium to encourage migrants to amass at the Polish border.

Pshdary, 32, from Iraqi Kurdistan’s Qaladza town, has gained recognition in Kurdish media for his role in covering the Belarus crisis. On November 13, he went live on Facebook to tell migrants “the great news” that the EU was going to open its doors to let them in. In the video, viewed and shared by thousands, people claiming to be migrants in Belarus or their relatives, joined Pshdary’s call in encouraging the migrants to prepare to cross into Poland “in the next couple of days.”

“The Polish border will be opened to migrant on November 15 and the migrants will be sent to Germany via buses,” Pshdary said.

Three days later, thousands of migrants, mostly Kurds, headed from a Belarus forest to the Polish border, anticipating a crossing into Poland. They clashed with the Polish police, but no migrants crossed over.

Pshdary, in another live Facebook video titled “I confess that we failed,” admitted he had intentionally misled people.

“I don’t want to conceal from you that I was the organizer of the crowd. On Friday, [Nov. 12, 2021], I met with the representatives of the migrants… Seeing that the Belarus police were torturing a lot of young migrants, there was no option but to encourage those people to cut the barbed wire fence so that those young people can be seen as perpetrators and violated against [by the Polish security].”

Pshdary said in his Facebook Live he believed that falsely saying the border was open would have created a spectacle with women, children and older migrants out in the cold, thus embarrassing EU politicians and forcing them to open their doors on a humanitarian basis.

When reached by VOA, Pshdary insisted that his plan was “good intentioned” and aimed at helping the migrants who desperately reached out to him for a way out.

Lawmaker resigns from diaspora committee

Lawmaker Sirwan Baban, who served as a member of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament’s diaspora committee at the time of the crisis, gave similar false hopes to migrants on Facebook and on TV.

On November 8, he appeared in a live interview with the Kurdish media network Rudaw, which was streamed live on Facebook with 755,000 views, claiming he had access to a “proclamation” from the EU: “It says the migrant situation in Belarus has escalated and become tragedy and a global issue. Therefore, the European Union has met tonight, telling Poland, ‘Let Belarus continue its dictatorship. You open your borders and allow the migrants in. Once in Poland, we will distribute them among other European countries.'” 

In an interview with VOA, Baban denied coordinating his false information about border openings with Pshdary, claiming that he had received reliable information that the EU’s refugee committee and some German officials had made a “recommendation” to let in the migrants. However, he declined to share the source of his information with VOA.

“This issue is portrayed this way in Kurdistan only to implicate me,” he added. 

In addition to using his Facebook page, Baban also went live on several Facebook groups and other social media pages to promote the story which — at the time — was also denied by Kurdish Foreign Relations officer Safin Dizayee in an interview with VOA Kurdish Service.

Among videos Baban posted of alleged migrants celebrating and thanking him for his efforts to influence EU officials is a young girl introducing herself as Saya and saying, “Mr. Sirwan Baban, the parliamentarian, thank you very much for such a great news … I will see you in Germany.”

The Kurdistan Regional Parliament’s diaspora committee in an urgent statement on November 11 accused Baban of spreading misinformation “that pushes the youth into harm’s way.”

The head of the committee, Rebwar Babkai, told VOA that Baban has since been forced to resign from the committee due to his role in spreading the misinformation.

“I hope this is a lesson to all of us holding a public position to feel the responsibility of our jobs,” Babkai said, adding it was unclear if his region’s government was going to take further action against Baban.

Limits of Facebook’s enforcement? 

Some social media observers say Facebook’s failure to detect those pages after months of misinformation shows “a gap” that needs to be filled particularly in non-English content.

“I think Facebook needs to do more when it comes to content in local languages,” said Dlshad Othman, a Kurdish cybersecurity expert based in Washington.

Othman said the social media company has improved over the years in moderating content in major Middle Eastern languages such as Arabic, often at the expense of languages for smaller populations like the Kurds. A Facebook representative declined to answer VOA questions about how many Kurdish-literate moderators the company employs. 

Moustafa Ayad is the executive director for Africa, Middle East and Asia at the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a research group that monitors online extremism and disinformation. He told VOA that while Facebook’s technical advances such as the development of artificial intelligence have been helpful in countering disinformation, the company needs to do more.

“I believe all of these issues can be fixed with effective moderation in those languages,” he said. “It is not only just language skills but also an understanding of what is happening in those countries in a geopolitical and social level.” 

Facebook says it works with law enforcement, academics, non-profit organizations and others to detect and remove harmful false claims, ads, posts, pages and groups about people smuggling over international borders, and did so during the crisis in Belarus. It uses technology, human review and “reports from our users and trusted partners to detect and remove such content,” said a Meta spokesperson in an email to VOA.

“We remove this content as soon as we become aware of it regardless of who posts the content,” the spokesperson said.

 

While their pages were removed, the journalist and lawmaker still have a presence on Facebook.

As of January 19, Pshdary, the journalist, has a personal account with 3,600 followers. 

The lawmaker Baban’s personal account has over 15,000 followers. On a recent post, he invites viewers to like his new page created on January 22.

 

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White House Says COVID-19 Tests Being Shipped 

The White House says some of the at-home, free COVID-19 tests it is offering to Americans have begun shipping via the U.S. Postal Service. 

During a Friday press briefing, Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said shipping started Thursday. 

He said demand has been high and added that there had already been millions of orders through the government website that was launched earlier this week. 

He would not provide specific numbers when asked, saying the White House was waiting on data. 

Americans are allowed to order four of the tests per household.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for a lack of tests during the omicron surge. 

During the briefing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said the average number of omicron cases was down nationally by about 5%, mostly in areas where it began to surge. She said there were about 744,600 cases per day on average in the past seven days. 

She warned that some parts of the country could still see an increase in infections. 

“In some parts of the country we are seeing the number of daily cases caused by the omicron variant beginning to decline,” she said. “The surge in cases started at different times in different regions and (we) may continue to see high case counts in some areas of the country in the days and weeks ahead.” 

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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Judge Blocks Vaccine Mandate for US Federal Workers 

A federal judge on Friday issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the enforcement of U.S. President Joe Biden’s requirement that federal workers be vaccinated. 

Biden announced the mandate, which required 3.5 million federal workers to be vaccinated or ask for a medical or religious exemption, in September. There was no option to be regularly tested instead. 

When the mandate went into effect in November, the White House said 95% of federal workers had either been vaccinated or applied for medical or religious exemptions. 

Those not conforming to the mandate could lose their jobs. 

Judge Jeffrey Brown of Texas, writing in the injunction, questioned if a president “can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment.”

He called the mandate a “bridge too far,” citing a recent Supreme Court ruling striking down a mandate on private employers. 

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down the Biden vaccine mandate requiring companies with more than 100 workers to be fully vaccinated. The court allowed a mandate requiring certain healthcare workers to be vaccinated. 

Brown said public health could be adequately protected using masks and social distancing. 

The plaintiff in the suit is a group called Feds for Medical Freedom.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it will appeal the injunction. 

COVID-19 has killed more than 861,000 Americans. 

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

 

 

 

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