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from The Great Debate UK:

Why Antwerp is under threat as the world’s diamond trading centre

--Vashi Dominguez is the founder of Vashi.com. The opinions expressed are his own.--

When the European Union and the U.S. took action against Russia over the invasion of Crimea and the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, alarm bells immediately rang for the diamond industry. Russia is one of the biggest suppliers ($2.8 billion last year) of rough diamonds for Belgium, through which 80% of all rough diamonds and 50% of all polished stones pass. If Antwerp were to lose access to Russia’s diamonds, it would be the latest in a string of challenges facing the world’s diamond trading centre.

Aside from Russia, Antwerp has seen great success recently with Zimbabwe. To much surprise, the EU lifted sanctions placed on diamond trade with Zimbabwe in September 2013. Antwerp’s newly formed relationship with the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) saw its first two sales, in December 2013 and February 2014, yield an impressive $80.5 million from 1.3 million carats.

However, Antwerp’s Zimbabwean successes bring great risk. It will stand accused of offering a direct route to European jewellery shops for unethical diamonds, and of removing a source of pressure on Zimbabwe to eliminate abuses and improve transparency in its mining operations. The ever-present chance of further European sanctions, or the involvement of other political powers, means a trading relationship with Zimbabwe is not a stable basis for Antwerp to rely on.

from Photographers' Blog:

Afghan refugees – Seeking sanctuary

Brussels, Belgium

By Francois Lenoir

It was a cold, wet morning when I passed through the doors of the Church of Saint John the Baptist at the Beguinage, a grand 17th century building in the center of Brussels.

Inside, children were playing and shouting in the large, dark hall, which was lined with rows and rows of tents. I had not just entered a church – I was inside people’s homes. The building had become a very private space.

from Photographers' Blog:

Squatting in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

By Yves Herman

Once a church and convent, the “Gesu squat” is a huge building which has long been home to an eclectic group of residents.

But now, if a project by a Swiss developer gets the green light, it may be turned into a hotel and luxury apartments, and its inhabitants will face expulsion. At first, Gesu was occupied by artists, who organized events and exhibitions between 2009 and 2012. They had to leave, however, after clashes with newcomers – mainly people in precarious situations looking for a place to live.

from MacroScope:

Abe’s European spring break: Japan stimulus sends euro zone yields to record lows

It wasn't just the Nikkei. Euro zone government bonds rallied following Japan's announcement of a massive new monetary stimulus. That sent yields on the debt of several euro zone countries to record lows on bets that Japanese investors might be switching out of Japanese government bonds into euro zone paper, or might soon do so.

The Bank of Japan on Thursday announced extraordinary stimulus steps to revive the world's third-largest economy, vowing to inject about $1.4 trillion into the financial system in less than two years in a dose of shock therapy to end two decades of deflation.

from Photographers' Blog:

All or nothing

Brussels, Belgium

By Francois Lenoir

My first big assignment after a few weeks off was to cover convicted Belgian serial killer and child molester Marc Dutroux, who was appearing in court in Brussels on February 4 to request his release. Benelux chief photographer Yves Herman was covering the exterior of the courthouse waiting for the arrival and the departure of the convoy carrying the serial killer. We also had a photographer at the Nivelles prison.

Heavy security measures surrounded the building. Police officers were placing fences inside the palace to prevent people from looking into the hearing through the windows. No pictures were allowed inside.

from Photographers' Blog:

The hard jobs

By Denis Balibouse

If I had my dream life as a photographer, it would be a mix of working like Ansel Adams, Michael Kenna and Hirochi Sugimoto, contemplating nature and shooting landscapes in black and white. However, I am a photojournalist, and I cover news: mostly sport, politics and finance, but sometimes heart-breaking events.

Last week in Sierre, western Switzerland, a bus carrying 52 people crashed in a tunnel, killing 6 adults and 22 children.

from The Great Debate UK:

Belgium: A role model for the rest of Europe?

By Mark Hillary. The opinions expressed are his own.

In addition to the economic meltdown, there is another political story in Europe at present - Belgium.

I’m not referring to the recent release of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Adventures of Tintin’ movie - though it might be argued that Captain Haddock bears a passing resemblance to several much-missed British political figures, thanks to the trademark slur.

from Oddly Enough Blog:

You want fries with that museum?

Honey, I have a surprise!
An entire museum of fries!
Let's order a malted,
And everything salted,
Then leave, before anyone dies!

Blog Guy, I read your item about the Ramen Museum in Japan, which sounds kind of boring. Are there any really great food-themed museums?

from Environment Forum:

A parka with windows, a big box in the sky

Could you find domestic happiness living in an angular white parka with windows? A big box set on top of an apartment building? A turtle-shaped shell? A modular Y filled with triangles?

At the U.S. Energy Department's Solar Decathlon, visitors can try on -- OK, tour -- these avant garde houses, knowing at least that they're supremely energy efficient. And with the solar power industry on the defensive after the Solyndra bankruptcy, it's a decent showcase for new technologies.

from MacroScope:

Is Europe’s core rotten?

Europe's debt problems had thus far been largely contained to the so-called periphery, places like Greece, Ireland and Portugal. But increasingly, doubts are rising about countries once seen as insulated -- Spain, Italy, even Belgium and France.

Bond markets are not painting a pretty picture. Ten-year Italian and Spanish yields are now firmly trading above 6 percent -- 7 percent is considered the point of no return, the level above which funding costs become unsustainable.

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