Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
Wagner chief killed in plane crash
The context: Yevgeny Prigozhin was the head of a military company Wagner Group—that leases mercenary soldiers around the world. Its soldiers played a prominent role in the invasion of Ukraine. However, once a close friend of President Putin, Prigozhin led a mutiny that had his troops marching toward Moscow—before abruptly turning around (detailed here). The two men appeared to have patched up their differences and even had a cordial meeting in June.
What happened now: Prigozhin was killed when his plane from St Petersburg to Moscow crashed—killing all 10 passengers and crew. There are rumours that the plane was shot down:
A post by Grey Zone, a Wagner-connected social media channel, claimed Russian anti-aircraft defences had shot down the plane. It said that residents heard “two bursts of characteristic air defence fire” before the crash. “This is confirmed by inversion traces in the sky in one of the videos,” it added.
Western sources say they had been told the plane had been brought down by a Russian anti-aircraft missile system. Here is a clip shared on social media of the plane crashing to earth:
If true, no one will be surprised since Putin is notorious for punishing anyone who steps out of line. As CIA chief William Burns put it last month: “Putin is someone who generally thinks that revenge is a dish best served cold.” The Economist has more on what this means for Wagner and Russian power politics. (Financial Times, paywall, CNN)
The vanishing RTI information
Years of data has gone missing on the government’s Right To Information portal. Records of a user’s previous applications have disappeared—as have the responses from authorities:
The scale of the deletion on the portal may be staggering. According to data obtained by The Hindu, the RTIOnline portal has processed over 58.3 lakh applications from 2013, when it was launched, to 2022. The number of applications filed has been growing steadily, with over 12.6 lakh applications filed in 2022.
The Hindu has more details.
Elon Musk’s new X-rated move
The social media platform formerly known as Twitter is changing the way it displays links to news stories—as confirmed by the big boss himself. Soon, when you share an NDTV or NYT story, the platform will strip away any headline text. All your tweet will show is the lead image. This is a disaster for news sites, of course:
Currently, news links come up on the timeline of users as “cards” along with an image, source address and an abridged headline. Such a packaging helps draw clicks and helps publishers gain readers.
But when X takes away all that, no one knows what is in that link unless you take great pains to explain. And that may exactly be the point:
The move may be an attempt to drive people to sign up for X’s premium service. With the shortened links, users could be inclined to include more text along with their posts. The premium service allows a single post of up to 25,000 characters.
A miraculous rescue in Pakistan
Six children and two adults were trapped in a cable car—dangling 1,000 feet in the air. The kids were on their way to school—travelling between two mountains in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Then this happened:
As the makeshift cable car had reached about the midway point carrying passengers straight across between two mountains, Tuesday around 7:30 a.m., one of the two cables it ran along snapped. That left the car dangling precariously at an angle from the remaining cable. Doors of the small, cramped, car swung open at one end, leaving the children there inches away from the long drop to the floor of the ravine below.
For 15 hours, the nation watched as military helicopters tried to retrieve them. They managed only one. In the end—as this Al Jazeera report shows—it took an extraordinary kind of heroism to rescue the children, one by one:
Another miracle in Incheon: A Chinese man drove a water scooter for 200 miles across the Yellow Sea—to escape from China to South Korea. He is a political dissident—who was jailed for 18 months in 2017 for “inciting subversion of state power.” He is now seeking asylum, preferably in the US, UK or Canada. (Washington Post)
Also in Pakistan: The country is once again dealing with floods—which have led to the evacuation of 100,000 people. Authorities are blaming the Indian monsoon: “The head of Punjab's government, Mohsin Naqvi, said that monsoon rains had prompted authorities in India to release excess reservoir water into the Sutlej river, causing flooding downstream on the Pakistani side of the border.”
Fyre Festival is baaaack!
The context: Back in 2017, Billy McFarland became notorious for hosting the worst festival ever. The Fyre Festival was hyped as a luxurious weekend in the Bahamas—with celebrities, top-notch food and concerts. The reality turned out to be complete chaos—a disaster so spectacular that it became a Netflix documentary. McFarland spent almost four years in jail after pleading guilty to fraud.
What happened now: Believe it or not, McFarland is back with Fyre Festival 2. He teased the festival on social media. He has even sold out all 100 presale tickets—“despite the event having no lineup of artists, exact date or location.” Amazing! See McFarland’s Insta message below. (Washington Post)
The best public library in the world is…
The Biblioteca Gabriel García Márquez in Barcelona! Yes, it’s named after the famous author and houses a collection of 40,000 documents on Latin American literature. But it received the award “for a model that makes the library an extension of the home, with armchairs and spaces that invite people to feel at home.” You can also appreciate its unique ambience below. (The Guardian)
Three things to see
One: Fans of ‘Scam 1992’ rejoice! The trailer for ‘Scam 2003’ just dropped. This one focuses on Abdul Karim Telgi who duped the government of Rs 300 billion (30,000 crore)—with forged stamp papers.
Two: Sticking with trailers, here’s something for devotees of Zack Snyder. The director’s new project—’Rebel Moon’—will unfold in two parts. It is supposedly inspired by Star War movies—and the famed Akira Kurosawa. This first one is called ‘A Child of Fire’ and will start streaming on Netflix from December 22. (Variety)
Three: We don’t know what you feel about companies using national monuments to stage PR stunts. WhatsApp transformed the Gateway of India in Mumbai into a “digital experience that follows the journey of a WhatsApp message between a sender and a receiver.” Umm, yuck? (Indian Express)