1 Russia economy shrinks 2% (BBC) Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia’s economy shrank by 2% in the first three months of this year, the first contraction since 2009. He attributed the shrinkage to the pressure of sanctions and the weak oil price. But, addressing MPs, he said the economic situation was not as bad as in 2009 and was stabilising.
He said Russia faced “a new reality” and that the heaviest pressure had come from “the main political decision last year – the return of Crimea to Russia”. Western sanctions were imposed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014, and they have been escalated during the fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow is backing separatist forces.
He compared the significance to Russia of the return of Crimea to “the reunification of Germany or the return to China of Hong Kong and Macao”. He estimated that losses as a result of sanctions had dented income from some foreign exports by €25bn (£18bn; $26.7bn), 1.5% of gross domestic product, a figure he said could “increase several times” this year.
The country’s central bank has predicted the economy could shrink by up to 4% this year if oil stays at about $50 a barrel. But Mr Medvedev said Russia could cope, even if economic conditions deteriorated further: “If external pressure intensifies, and oil prices remain at an extremely low level for a long time, we will have to develop in a new economic reality”, he said.
2 Army deployed to tackle South Africa xenophobic violence (David Smith in The Guardian) The South African government has deployed the army to volatile hotspots in Johannesburg and Durban after a wave of xenophobic violence killed at least seven people, displaced more than 5,000 and plunged the country into a diplomatic crisis.
Officials described military intervention as a last resort that would act as a deterrent, but an opposition party described it as an over-reaction reminiscent of the racist apartheid regime. One of the areas in question is Johannesburg’s Alexandra township. On Saturday a Mozambican man, Emmanuel Sithole, was stabbed to death in the township in broad daylight and on Monday night a Zimbabwean husband and wife were both shot in their necks but survived.
By Tuesday the mood was generally calm. The xenophobic outbreak is the worst since 2008, when 62 people were killed in Alexandra and other Johannesburg townships. The army was deployed to restore order on that occasion, and has also been used against striking workers in 2012 and last year.
Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini has denied triggering the wave of xenophobia in a speech last month when he called for foreign nationals to leave. Regional relations have been strained, with Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique organising for some citizens to return home.
3 Eritrea, North Korea are most censored states (San Francisco Chronicle) The small African nation of Eritrea tops even North Korea in its restrictions on the media, a new global report says. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has issued its annual list of the world’s top 10 most censored countries.
Here’s the rest of the list: Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Iran, China, Myanmar and Cuba. How nations restrict Internet access is an important factor in the report. Eritrea allows only dial-up access, and North Korea allows Internet access to a small number of elite. And Eritrea has the world’s smallest percentage of citizens with mobile phones, at 5 percent.
The report says 44 journalists are imprisoned in China, more than any other country. That’s the highest number since the journalism group started keeping track a quarter-century ago.
The report also takes note of “four heavily censored nations that nearly made the list:” Belarus, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It says each country has little or no independent media.