From France's abortion law to "villian hitting" in Hong Kong – Here are today's Headlines

France has now become the first country to incorporate the right to abortion into its constitution.

From France's abortion law to "villian hitting" in Hong Kong – Here are today's Headlines
The Eiffel Tower lights up with the message "My body My choice" after French lawmakers enshrined the right to abortion in its constitution during a special congress in Versailles, in Paris, France, March 4, 2024. REUTERS/Abdul Saboor

To start off, we're looking into:

France says abortion is a right

France has now become the first country to incorporate the right to abortion into its constitution. Lawmakers changed the 1958 constitution, marking the 25th amendment to the Fifth Republic's founding document and the first since 2008. The amendment was widely supported by both houses of the French Parliament, with 780 votes in favor and only 72 against. President Emmanuel Macron cheered the decision, calling it a moment of "French pride" with a "universal message." Meanwhile, the move faced criticism from anti-abortion groups and the Vatican. Here's the backstory.

"Above all, we're sending a message to all women: your body belongs to you," said France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal. 

AMD’s Chinese chip blocked

AMD China semiconductor chips
The logo of semiconductor company Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD) is seen on a graphics processing unit (GPU) chip in this illustration picture taken February 17, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo

AMD has reportedly run into a roadblock trying to sell custom artificial intelligence (AI) chips it's made specifically for China. The chipmaker adjusted its chip to meet US export rules, but the Commerce Department has said it's still too advanced. According to insiders, US officials told AMD it can't sell the chip, referred to by insiders as MI309, to China without a special license. This adds a new layer of complexity to AMD's plans, especially with stricter tech export controls. Here's the backstory.

"US actions against China regarding export control, investment screening and unilateral sanctions seriously hurt China's legitimate interests," Chinese President Xi Jinping has reportedly said.

Alibaba invests in AI start-up

Alibaba artificial intelligence
3D printed clouds and figurines are seen in front of the Alibaba Cloud service logo in this illustration taken Feb. 8, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Alibaba is looking to make a comeback through AI, especially with former dealmakers Joseph Tsai and Eddie Wu at the helm after taking over from Daniel Zhang last year. Insiders familiar with the matter said the company is backing Chinese AI start-up MiniMax in a financing round of at least US$600 million. This would be the second big AI deal for Alibaba this year, as it recently led a US$1 billion funding round in another AI start-up called Moonshot AI. Here's the backstory.

"We're on the cusp of a new revolution, spanning human-machine interactions, computing models and AI-assisted creation," Eddie Wu, who became Alibaba's CEO in September, wrote on the WeChat account of the Cyberspace Administration of China. "We're in the process of accelerating new productive forces."

To end, we'll look into:

The risks of remote work

Since the pandemic kept a lot of us on lockdown, many companies adopted hybrid or remote work arrangements. But four years later, these options, for the most part, are becoming less common. Companies like Goldman Sachs and Google are pushing employees to head back to the office. In fact, a report last August by Resume Builder found that 90% of companies surveyed are planning return-to-office policies by the end of this year.

But a lot of employees are dragging their feet – or just straight up refusing to go back to how things used to be. Hybrid or remote workers often say they have a better work/life balance and save time and money on commuting and childcare. Some can even afford larger homes by moving to less expensive areas. These factors can make life outside of the office more appealing. Click here for more.

In other news ...

📰Middle East update: Pramila Patten, the UN's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, has said that her team found "convincing information" of hostages in Gaza being subjected to sexual violence and torture since the attack by Hamas on October 7, and they believe that it may be ongoing with hostages still being held. While Hamas has rejected this report, Israel's foreign ministry said it welcomed the "definitive recognition that Hamas committed sexual crimes." The allegations include acts of rape, gang rape, sexual torture and mutilation. Israel also rejected parts of the report that mentioned allegations of sexual violence against Palestinians in Israeli custody, like "prolonged forced nudity" during detentions.

US Vice President Kamala Harris had a meeting in the US with Benny Gantz, an Israeli war cabinet member, urging him to let more humanitarian aid into Gaza. In Egypt, ceasefire talks have come to a halt, with Hamas saying that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't want to reach an agreement. Hamas has said it won't release any hostages until after a ceasefire. 

A telecoms company and a US official have said that crucial communication cables have been cut in the Red Sea, affecting data flowing between Europe and Asia, but it's unclear whether they were sabotaged or if an anchor caught on the cables.  

🗞️Russia/Ukraine update: Ukraine has said it's successfully sunk a Russian warship in a drone attack in the Black Sea. The country said its air defense systems have also taken out 18 of 22 Russian drones launched over the Odesa region.  

Yesterday, we reported on a leak of audio by Russian sources of German air force officials discussing giving Ukraine long-range missiles, possible strike targets and the operations of UK troops in Ukraine. Germany's Defense Minister has now said the call may have been intercepted in a random sweep of insecure data on the sidelines of the Singapore airshow because one of the generals didn't use a secure phone line to dial in from his hotel.  

🛥️South China Sea update: Amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, "dangerous maneuvers" by a Chinese coast guard ship caused two collisions with Philippine ships, injuring four crewmen, according to a Philippine official. This comes ahead of Australia (which is not a member) hosting a summit of leaders from nine members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to discuss improving economic and security ties, with a specific focus on maritime security in the South China Sea.

⚠️Haiti update: We reported yesterday that Haiti had declared a state of emergency after a group of armed forces attacked its largest prison, leading to a lot of escaped prisoners, with a major gang leader looking to overthrow PM Ariel Henry. Henry is believed to be abroad, and the gang-led armed forces are now reportedly trying to take over Port-au-Prince airport to prevent his return. 

📩US Super Tuesday: The second-biggest voting day in the US is on March 5, commonly called Super Tuesday, where the greatest number of states cast their votes on their preferred presidential candidate leading to the November national elections. Taylor Swift made a rare political statement on her Instagram Stories on Tuesday, encouraging her fans to vote. 

🤳Meta down across the globe: On Tuesday, Meta's social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Threads, all went down for a little over two hours, affecting tens of thousands of users. Elon Musk poked fun at his competitors from his platform, X (formerly known as Twitter), to say that its servers were working fine.

🚫US TikTok ban?: On Tuesday, some US lawmakers introduced a bill that would give ByteDance 165 days to divest TikTok or it would be banned from US app stores, including Apple, Google and others. The legislation will be reviewed at an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday, where it will be decided if it goes for a potential vote.

👨‍⚖️Another Musk lawsuit: When Elon Musk took over Twitter, now called X, in 2022, he fired several top-level execs who were supposed to receive severance packages, including former CEO Parag Agrawal. Four former Twitter execs have now sued Musk for cheating them out of more than US$128 million worth of severance payments after they were let go. The case, Agrawal v. Musk, was filed in California on Monday.

🌕Russia-China nuclear moon plans: In 2021, Russia and China announced they were working to build a scientific station on the moon by the end of 2035. On Tuesday, Interfax news reported that the head of Russia's space agency said it's working on plans with China to also deliver and install a nuclear power plant built by robots on the moon by 2035.

📈Bitcoin soars: Bitcoin hit a new record high on Tuesday at over US$69,000, beating its previous all-time record of US$68,999.99 in November of 2021. A lot of this surge is off the back of the US recently greenlighting spot exchange-traded crypto products. But, as of the time of publication, the crypto price was back in the US$64,000 neighborhood, as a lot of investors apparently decided to cash in on their profits.

📱iPhone sales drop further in China: With ongoing challenges in China, one of its largest markets, Apple's iPhone sales dropped by 24% year-on-year in the first six weeks of this year as domestic competitors, like Huawei, continue to rise in popularity.

🥵Humid Hong Kong: If you're in the city, you may have noticed water droplets gathering on windows and walls on Tuesday, as Hong Kong saw 100% humidity with limited visibility and lots of condensation. But, don't worry, the weather observatory says temps are expected to drop later this week as low as 16 C (60.8 F).

🔨Hong Kong's villain hitting: In Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, locals gathered on Tuesday to take part in the traditional Chinese ritual, "villain hitting" – "da siu yan" in Cantonese – to beat away villains that are near them. The villain hitters, or sorcerers, have a stall where they hit a paper effigy with their shoe while cursing the "villain." It costs HK$50 (US$6) to hire them, and the process takes about five minutes.

Hong Kong villian hitting
People participate in a "Da Siu Yan" (villain hitting) ritual, during "Jingzhe", under a flyover in Hong Kong, China March 5, 2024. During Jingzhe, individuals hire "villain hitters", typically elderly women, to perform rituals aimed at dispelling malevolent forces or adversaries by striking images, paper tigers, or inscribed names on paper. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Quiz Time!

Which country just incorporated the right to abortion in its constitution?

  1. The US
  2. France
  3. Germany
  4. The UK

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Written and put together by Joey Fung, Alisha Khan and Christine Dulion

**The answer to the quiz is [2]