International News October

International News October


Lost Renaissance masterpiece discovered in Frenchwoman’s kitchen

A 13thcentury painting of Christ’s Passion by the early Florentine master Cimabue has been discovered in the kitchen of an elderly woman in the town of Compiègne, north of Paris.

The piece was initially discovered by an auctioneer in June this year when asked to value the contents of the house after the 90-year-old woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, decided to move away. However, even the auctioneers were surprised to find what they had thought was a work by a lesser painter was in fact by the master himself. Eric Turquin, a French Old Masters expert who tested the piece said ‘there was no disputing it was by the same hand’ as other known Cimabue’s and values it in the range of 4 to 6 million euros.

Cimabue, who taught Giotto and is known as the first of the Florentine masters, is thought to have painted the piece, Christ Mocked, as part of a series of 8 depictions of the Passion of Christ in 1280. Of these only two others have known whereabouts. One, The Virgin and Child with Two Angels, was given to the British nation in 2000 and is in the National Gallery after being found in a country house in Suffolk. The other, the Flagellation of Christ, is in the Frick Collection in New York.

The family had no idea what the painting was having assumed for years it was a Russian devotional icon and were planning to throw it away before the auctioneer made the discovery.

Abortion now fully decriminalised across Australia

New South Wales became, on the 26thSeptember, the final state in Australia to decriminalise abortion 119 years after it was included in the state’s criminal code. Abortion law is devolved to the states in Australia but the new law will closely replicate precedent in other states, allowing terminations up to 22 weeks of pregnancy or later if two doctors agree.

The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 was passed by the Upper House 26 to 14 after almost 40 hours debate. It had already been passed out of the Lower House.
Many last minute changes were made to the bill as 25 amendments were adopted from more than 100 considered. These changes drew some backlash from the medical profession, being described as ‘unfortunate’ and ‘unnecessary’ although not ultimately ‘to the detriment of the bill’s purpose’ by the President of the state branch of the Australian Medical Association. Particular concerns were raised about an amendment to create a statutory advisory board for doctors which was felt to be duplicative and potentially to hamper the process.

The bill had proved divisive among members of the right-wing Liberal Party that governs New South Wales. One anti-abortion MP, Tanya Davies, even threatened a leadership coup against the state’s premier if her demands surrounding late-term abortions were not met.

The bill will now receive Royal Assent and become law.

Harsh new criminal code met with violent protests in Indonesia

A new draft criminal code for Indonesia has been met with days of student led protests due to its threat to civil liberties. Among the most draconian of the changes proposed is a ban on extramarital sex. This will activists argue, in effect, also criminalise unmarried cohabitation and homosexuality as gay marriage is illegal in Indonesia.

The protests have seen pitched battles between protestors and security forces. Police have reacted to protests with tear gas and water cannons and two students have died. Amnesty International has decried what it calls ‘massive police violence’ against the demonstrators. The students, for their part, have responded to police aggression with rocks.

In total 18 articles of the code have drawn the protestors’ anger. These include new regulations on sex education and contraception and sentences of up to 4 years for unauthorised abortions. The blasphemy law will be expanded and criticising the President, Vice President and State will be criminalised as will associating with Marxist-Leninist organisations. Concerns are also high that a vaguely drafted article could be used to legitimise existing local Sharia Law practices. Indonesia is 87% Muslim and the world’s largest majority Muslim country by population.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, (pictured with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) who was first elected in 2014 and won a second 5-year term this April, has drawn the ire of the students for his rightward turn in recent years. In particular, he has been increasingly silent on the human rights abuses of the former military dictatorship and in August deployed troops to supress an uprising in West Papua.

Work begins on Saudi Arabia’s planned ‘smart city’

Ground was broken on 17thSeptember for the first phase of Neom, a planned massive city development on the coast of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. The project which is the brainchild of Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman was announced in 2017 as part of the kingdom’s plans to diversify its economy away from fossil fuels.

Neom is intended by Bin Salman to be a home for the ‘world’s greatest minds and best talents’ as well as being an almost entirely automated city. Somewhat optimistically, the plans call for ‘zero work/stress related diseases’ and the ‘highest rate of Michelin starred restaurants per inhabitant’ in the world. The city will utilise ‘cloud seeding’ to make rain for a lush microclimate and will exist in a quasi-independent regulatory jurisdiction allowing for, among others, the sale of alcohol.

The Crown Prince’s titanic ambitions for the project verge into science fiction. According to leaked documents seen by America’s Wall Street Journal in July, the plans for the city include: flying cars, a theme park populated with robotic dinosaurs, a beach which glows in the dark and even ‘a giant artificial moon’.

How any of this will be accomplished is unclear as despite the start of building work the funding of the project has become precarious. Plans called for a budget of $500 billion with 60% being financed with an IPO of Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, and the rest with foreign investment. However, overseas financing has dried up in the wake of the Kingdom’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October last year as well as investor doubts over the feasibility of Bin Salman’s expansive schemes.

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