Macau‘s Pawnshops — Pawnshops in Macau are enabling mainland Chinese gamblers to avoid China’s currency controls, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Under Chinese law, mainland gamblers can only take out 20,000 yuan ($3,217) out of the country; to sidestep this regulation, they reportedly go to Macau’s pawnshops and pretend to buy expensive goods with their debit or credit cards. The gamblers then get a cash refund in Macau patacas or Hong Kong dollars. The U.S. State Department reported last year that “the ease of changing yuan into other currencies, and the commingling of illicit and legitimate money at the casinos, make Macau vulnerable to money laundering, including proceeds from corruption,” notes Reuters.
France’s Islamic Converts — The New York Times notes that the number of conversions to Islam in France have doubled in the past 25 years, creating a challenge in a country where government and public attitudes toward Islam are “awkward and sometimes hostile.” According to experts, more young people are converting to Islam to become more integrated in neighborhoods where Islam is the dominant religion. “Islam is regularly at the center of heated debates about the nature and future of France and its culture,” according to the Times, “and politicians can win attention and support by criticizing the expansion of Muslim customs into the wider public sphere.”
Back in the Public Eye — The former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has made his longest public appearance since 2010, in order to vote in the country’s general election, reports the Guardian. While chatting with well-wishers, the 86-year-old Castro talked about efforts to reform the economy, Latin American integration, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and other matters, reports the daily. The current president, Castro’s brother Raúl, to whom Fidel ceded power after falling ill in 2006, is decentralising the state-dominated economy, allowing more space for private initiative in agriculture and retail services, and has lifted many restrictions on personal freedoms, such as travel and buying and selling homes and cars, notes the Guardian. No opposition parties are permitted to take part in the election, and all candidates have been selected by the ruling Communist Party, remarks the BBC.
Gay Marriage Debate – The new Archbishop of Canterbury will be confirmed in the post in a legal ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral Monday, reports the BBC. On Rt Rev Justin Welby’s first day in the role, he’s expected to reveal that he believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, reports the Daily Telegraph. Welby’s remarks will come ahead of a landmark vote Tuesday evening on reforms, which have been championed by Prime Minister David Cameron, to allow same sex marriage, reports the Times of London. The proposals have proven deeply divisive, notes the Telegraph, with some members of parliament claiming that proposed legal protections for churches are inadequate. Welby, 57, previously worked in the oil industry before studying theology and becoming ordained in 1992. He had only been a bishop for just over a year when he was chosen to become Archbishop of Canterbury, notes the BBC. The enthronement takes place in March.
Bolshoi Acid Attack — The Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director, who was the victim of an acid attack last month, has told the BBC that he knows the identity of his attacker. No-one has yet been arrested over the attack, which has left Sergei Filin fighting to save his eyesight. Filin said he’s aware that some people had disliked the direction in which he was taking the ballet company — infamous for infighting and rivalries — and speculated that one reason for the attack was to remove him as the Bolshoi’s artistic director and to damage the reputation of the Bolshoi Ballet, reports the BBC.