Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Obama’s Eurotrip, Apple-Comcast talks, Russia eyes Moldova, bubble gum bust

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What to watch for today

Barack Obama tours Europe. Over the next few days, the US president will meet with G7 leaders, NATO representatives and EU officials to discuss how to present a unified front against Russia’s expansion into Ukraine. Obama will also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is in Europe for the first time as leader of China.

French voters say “meh.” Final results of this weekend’s local elections are set to show a record low turnout of 65%, which does not bode well for French President Francois Hollande. His popularity has plunged since his election in 2012, and disillusioned voters could help boost local representation of the far-right National Front.

More bad news for bitcoin traders. Cryptocurrency exchange Vircurex will freeze all user accounts and halt withdrawals of bitcoin and other virtual currencies—the latest exchange to collapse in recent weeks. Vircurex has been hit by hackers and what amounts to a run on its virtual bank.

Apple and Comcast discuss a streaming deal. The companies are negotiating the details of an Apple set-top TV box (paywall) that would get special access on Comcast’s broadband network. Apple had been discussing a similar deal with Time Warner Cable, which agreed to be purchased by Comcast in a deal that is still under regulatory review.

Over the weekend

Chinese industry slowed for a fifth straight month. The preliminary Markit/HSBC Purchasing Manager’s Index hit an eight-month low of 48.1 in March, indicating a contraction of manufacturing activity. Separately China’s deputy central bank governor, Pan Gongsheng, said a few corporate debt defaults would be good for market discipline.

Spaniards protested high unemployment. An anti-austerity demonstration in Madrid turned violent when youths clashed with police. Tens of thousands traveled to the Spanish capital to protest unemployment and poverty, claiming that cutbacks in health and education spending are causing irrevocable harm.

Brazil’s president hit an oil slick. Dilma Rousseff is taking heat over allegations state-owned oil company Petrobas overpaid for a US refinery while she was the head its board.

NATO sees a Russian threat to Moldova. A build-up of troops along the eastern border of Ukraine has prompted concerns that Russia could make a move on Moldova’s breakaway Trans-Dniester region.

IMS Health prepared for a stock market check-up. The prescription data provider is reportedly preparing for an IPO (paywall), aiming to raise around $1 billion, which would make it the third-largest US flotation this year.

Turkey shot down a Syrian war plane. Turkey said it fired a missile at a Syrian fighter jet after it ignored warnings to turn back before entering Turkish airspace. A Syrian military spokesperson criticized the attack, which brought the plane down 1,200 meters inside Syrian territory, as “blatant aggression.”

The NSA infiltrated Huawei. Files leaked by Edward Snowden showed that the US National Security Agency hacked into the headquarters of the Chinese telecom equipment giant. ”The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us,” a Huawei spokesman said.

Quartz obsession interlude

Christopher Mims on how Twitter needs to grow up. “As a public company, the pressure is on Twitter to grow. That means getting people to spend more time on the site, and getting more people to show up in the first place. This is no doubt what’s behind recent rumors that Twitter is eliminating some of its conventions, like @ replies and hashtags, because they’re “arcane.” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has admitted that Twitter can be confusing and “opaque” for new users. But the question for Twitter is, can it solve its problems without wrecking what’s best about the site?” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The US needs to step back from Ukraine. And the EU needs to step up.

Don’t help your kids with their homework. Parental assistance actually brings down test scores.

We have reached peak punctuation! The overused exclamation point could soon lose out to image-based communication such as emojis and gifs.

America’s industrial revolution is not over. We might be nearing the end of the fossil fuel era, but we’ve hardly tapped the potential of alternative energy.

Surprising discoveries

Solar panels could be grown from bacteria. Scientists are using living cells to create materials you wouldn’t find in nature.

Germans intercepted a cocaine shipment headed to the Vatican. It was packed in 14 condoms.

A teacher figured out how to keep students in order. Detention’s got nothing on the threat of “Game of Thrones” spoilers.

Americans are so over bubble gum. Sugar-free mint-flavored chewing gum is ascendant.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments and surplus chewing gum—but no TV spoilers, please—to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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