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Rohingya, Italy, Brazil Fires: Your Friday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering Rohingya Muslims still mired in hopelessness, an unlikely turn for the Five Star Movement in Italy, and a father-son bonding journey in Iceland.

ImageCreditAdam Dean for The New York TimesBroken promises for displaced Rohingya Muslims

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar for Bangladesh two years ago to escape a vicious ethnic cleansing campaign, and governments from both countries have vowed to get them home.

But a Times investigation found that only a few dozen have been repatriated — and maintaining the fiction that refugees are about to return is politically useful for both sides.

A vast majority of Rohingya are still crammed into squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh, fearing what might await them if they were to return. In Myanmar, much of the land in Rakhine State, which was emptied by the ethnic cleansing, now holds power stations, government buildings and, most of all, military and border guard bases.

Promises made: This report by our Southeast Asia bureau chief, Hannah Beech, is part of a series by The Times that investigates the vows made by those in power when things go wrong.

ImageCreditVincenzo Pinto/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesItaly’s Five Star Movement is back at center stage

With the collapse of Italy’s government this week, the country’s immediate political future rests once again in the hands of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

The movement’s political leader, Luigi Di Maio, said discussions had begun to find a majority. He met last night with President Sergio Mattarella, who said later that the major party leaders had requested more time to determine whether they could put together a new majority. Mr. Mattarella said he would check back with them starting on Tuesday.

Though the Democratic Party expressed its willingness to join with Five Star early on Thursday, over the course of the day it added requirements, and pressure, calling on Five Star to agree on spending cuts, more leniency toward migrants and more.

Takeaway: If Five Star can strike an alliance with its sworn enemies in the Democratic Party, it could avoid the early elections that are likely to decimate its ranks and keep the hard-right League Party, and its surging leader, Matteo Salvini, out of power for years.

Context: It was a remarkable turn for Five Star, which has been hemorrhaging popular support and which for the past year has been cannibalized and humiliated by the League, its former coalition partner.

ImageCreditUeslei Marcelino/ReutersBrazil faces backlash as Amazon smolders

As dozens of fires scorched large parts of the Amazon, the Brazilian government struggled to contain growing outrage over its environmental policies, which have paved the way for runaway deforestation of the world’s largest rain forest.

The fires, many intentionally set, are spreading as Germany and Norway appear to be on the brink of shutting down a $1.2 billion conservation initiative for the Amazon.

Effects: In the northern state of Rondônia, which has been among the most affected by the fires, indigenous leaders described watching wild animals dashing out of areas of the forest as the flames approached. Watch our video showing the scope of the destruction.

Political impact: Concern over the environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaro has put into jeopardy a trade agreement between the E.U. and a handful of South American nations.

Quotable: “The ongoing forest fires in Brazil are deeply worrying,” the European Commission said in a statement on Thursday. “Forests are our lungs and life support systems.”

If you have 6 minutes, this is worth itLike ‘Sex and the City,’ but in SenegalImageCreditJane Hahn for The New York Times

By taking on taboos, a hit show called “Mistress of a Married Man” has set off a debate about contemporary womanhood in Senegal, which is largely Muslim. The pilot episode alone has received more than three million views on YouTube.

The show is part of a burst of female-driven television and film production across Africa in which writers, producers and actors are openly asserting female sexuality and challenging traditional gender roles.

Here’s what else is happening

Germany stabbing: A German court convicted a Syrian asylum seeker of manslaughter in a stabbing last year that touched off nationalist and neo-Nazi rioting in the eastern city of Chemnitz and revealed the strength of an anti-immigrant backlash.

Qantas: The Australian airline is preparing test runs of what could become the world’s longest flights: 19 hours nonstop to Sydney from New York and London.

Sperm donors: Scores of people born through artificial insemination have learned that the fertility doctors who performed the procedures secretly used their own sperm.

U.S. 2020: There are signs of a disconnect between support for former Vice President Joe Biden in polls and excitement for his campaign on the ground in Iowa.

From Opinion: The Yellowstone National Park supervolcano — an 8 out of 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index — has erupted three times over the past 2.1 million years, most recently 640,000 years ago. A Yellowstone eruption, unlikely but not impossible, in addition to covering large areas of the U.S. in darkness, could spread aerosols globally and sink global temperatures and rainfall totals for years.

Greener fashion: François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, plans to unveil details of a Fashion Pact today that he is to present to world leaders at the Group of 7 summit this weekend. The agreement outlines group commitments focused on climate, biodiversity and oceans, and it includes high-end brands like Chanel and Prada.

ImageCreditBara Kristinsdottir for The New York Times

Snapshot: Above, the 34-mile Laugavegur Trail in southern Iceland, where a writer took his 11-year-old son to bond. “Soon our busy lives would resume,” he wrote. “School would start. Days would pass. My son would grow up. But for now, I cheated time, and dusk lingered.”

From The Times: We’re introducing a special audio companion series to The 1619 Project, our exploration about the legacy of American slavery. It debuts today on “The Daily,” and you can listen to the trailer here.

What we’re reading: Adam Pasick, on the briefings team, writes: Jeff Bezos has been criticized as a micromanager. But Recode reports that the Amazon founder is quietly giving a fraction of his enormous wealth to a few dozen charities with virtually no oversight or supervision. What gives?

Now, a break from the newsImageCreditRyan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Cook: An imperfect blueberry pie is a thing of beauty.

Listen: Feist’s “1234” turned into a “Sesame Street” blockbuster. The Canadian singer-songwriter talks about how being on the set “just felt like playing.”

Watch: Perry Henzell’s “The Harder They Come,” with one of cinema’s most infectious scores, is back on the big screen in New York.

Smarter Living: How do you stop your smart speaker’s human helpers from eavesdropping? Actual people may be listening to what you tell Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa. But most tech companies offer the ability to disable human vetting for their virtual assistants, and there are other steps to minimize the information shared.

And going with the flow may help you overcome the fear of flying in bumpy skies.

And now for the Back Story on …‘The Wizard of Oz’ImageCreditMGM Studios, via Getty Images

The legendary film is celebrating its 80th anniversary on Saturday, but it very nearly ended up a disastrous footnote in the history of Hollywood.

The production was a mess, cycling through multiple screenwriters and directors, including the director Richard Thorpe, who was let go less than two weeks into filming because of creative differences. Victor Fleming, the sole credited director, stepped in, shooting most scenes before sprinting off to save “Gone With the Wind” from its own on-set problems. King Vidor finished the job.

Multiple cast members were also injured during filming: Margaret Hamilton, who played the terrifying Wicked Witch of the West, was severely burned; and Buddy Ebsen, the Tin Man, was poisoned by the makeup. (The role was recast with Jack Haley.)

The movie went over budget and was initially a box office bomb. Today, it endures as a cultural icon, thanks in large part to TV syndication beginning in the late 1950s, Judy Garland’s signature performance of “Over the Rainbow” — and those highly coveted ruby slippers.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

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Thank you
Alisha Haridasani Gupta helped compile today’s briefing. Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford wrote the break from the news. Aisha Harris, assistant TV editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at

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