Shoplifting in England and Wales has reached its highest level in two decades, with over 400,000 incidents reported for the first time since 2002. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed a sharp increase from 304,459 cases in the previous year to 402,000 in the year up to September 2023. The rise coincides with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, exacerbated by escalating prices and post-Christmas financial strain. A survey indicated that 84% of people expected January to be financially challenging due to increased costs and holiday spending. There was a 4.3% inflation rate in December 2023, despite a slight decrease in food inflation from 7.7% in November. Rising food prices continue to affect millions. Major retailers, including Co-op, reported substantial losses due to shoplifting. In response, the Government has launched an action plan to address the issue, with ongoing efforts to combat the crime.
In a makeshift field hospital near Avdiivka, a surgeon is treating soldiers for frostbite and shrapnel wounds as the war with Russia nears its two-year anniversary. With exhaustion and frustration mounting among defenders due to weapon shortages and the absence of a swift victory, casualties are rising. Vitalii, a former children's hospital surgeon, said, ‘I urge the West to be more decisive in assisting Ukraine; otherwise sooner or later their soldiers will (also) have to fight against this evil that has invaded our country.’ After many months, the Kremlin's forces appear close to surrounding the ruins of Avdiivka, with some Ukrainian soldiers privately admitting that the town, scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the war so far, could fall at any moment. In such dire circumstances, the resilience of the Ukrainian soldiers shines through as they continue to fight against overwhelming odds.
On 14 February Vladimir Putin signed a law enabling authorities to seize assets from individuals convicted of spreading false information about the military. The law, approved swiftly by parliament, targets those discrediting the government or inciting extremism, potentially affecting exiled critics who have property in Russia. A Kremlin spokesman dismissed concerns about misuse, stating it aims to penalise traitors and scoundrels. The law expands on existing legislation which is used to silence dissent, particularly about the war in Ukraine. Thousands have faced imprisonment or fines for criticising the government. The timing of this new law, a month before the election in March, underscores the restricted political environment in Russia. Putin’s main rival Alexey Navalny is in prison, and Boris Nadezhdin, critical of the war in Ukraine, has been barred from standing.
Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted his troops will advance on the Gazan city of Rafah, defying international pleas to reconsider. He has ordered his army to prepare for a ground assault on the city, where some 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering, but talked of first ‘allowing the civilian population to leave the battle zones’. His aim is to eliminate Hamas from the city. The prime ministers of France, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have urged Israel to refrain from the operation to avoid a humanitarian disaster, while Spain and Ireland have asked the EU to investigate ‘urgently’ whether Israel is complying with its human rights obligations in Gaza. The Hamas-run health ministry reports that the death toll in Gaza is now at least 28,500 casualties.
The recent demolition of two mosques has accentuated religious divisions as India prepares for elections in April / May, expected to secure prime minister Narendra Modi a third term. The demolitions, in Uttarakhand and Delhi, come weeks after the inauguration of the contentious Ram Mandir temple on the site of a historic mosque torn down by Hindu fundamentalists in the 1990s. That ceremony, marking a huge shift away from modern India’s secular founding principles, was hailed by Hindu nationalists as a crowning moment in their decades-long campaign to reshape the nation. Both demolitions were supposedly because of ‘illegal encroachment’. In Uttarakhand, violent confrontations followed, claiming six lives and prompting curfews. Many scared Muslims have said they just want to leave. Analysts fear escalating religious tensions as Modi's BJP advances its populist, divisive policies ahead of the elections. Despite Modi's aspiration to portray India as a vibrant modern superpower, many Muslims feel marginalised in the world’s largest democracy.
In 1973, Solomon Bulan resigned as a secondary school advisor in Bario, Malaysia, confessing his lack of personal conviction. His emotional confession triggered a community-wide revival marked by repentance and reconciliation. The movement, known as the Bario revival, spread across tribes and communities, sparking four waves of spiritual renewal over eleven years. This led to cultural transformation and contributed to the growth of the Malaysian church. Despite periods of spiritual dryness, faithful intercessors sustained subsequent revivals. The revival's impact extended beyond spiritual realms, healing the land and fostering a vibrant worship culture. Prayer meetings, spontaneous worship, and evangelism became commonplace, emphasising God's power to transform lives. In recent years, efforts to commemorate and reignite the revival have seen the formation of intergenerational prayer movements like Tribal Gathering 2023, uniting believers across Malaysia and Southeast Asia in anticipation of a new move of God. The heart of this movement lies in young leaders seeking to awaken and mobilise the church for spiritual transformation.
Former army general Prabowo Subianto, 72, has claimed victory in Indonesia’s presidential election with nearly 60% of the vote, according to unofficial results from state-owned Antara, CNN Indonesia, and Reuters. Prabowo has said, ‘I will nurture, protect and defend all the people of Indonesia, regardless of their background’. He also urged his supporters to remain calm, to prevent a repeat of 2019's deadly riots. Indonesia, home to over 200 million voters, faced logistical challenges due to its vast geography and diverse population. Young voters played a significant role in the election. Prabowo’s military past, linked to alleged human rights violations and ties to Suharto's regime, remains contentious. Despite losses in previous elections, he joined forces with former president Joko Widodo’s son Gibran, a move criticised for potential nepotism. The transformation from military figure to democratic supporter has marked his political career, culminating in this victory and a new chapter in Indonesian politics.
South Africa's contingent of 2,900 soldiers deployed to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is expected to cost just over R2 billion (£850 million), as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission takes on a year-long tour to help stabilise that troubled region. The SAMIDRC also includes soldiers from Malawi, Tanzania and the DRC itself. The deployment of this force follows its principle of collective self-defence and collective action, which states: ‘Any armed attack perpetrated against one of the state parties shall be considered a threat to regional peace and security, and shall be met with immediate collective action.’ President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended his deployment of the force as ‘South Africa's international obligation’ towards the SADC.