Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Saudi king dies, Japan’s hostage deadline, Chinese executive missing, social squids

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What to watch for today

Japan tries to convince ISIL not to kill two hostages.  The Islamist militant group says it will kill the men if it doesn’t receive a $200 million ransom payment—the same amount that Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe pledged to an anti-ISIL coalition. Japan is trying to contact the group to explain that the money was for humanitarian aid, not military assistance.

Zambia gets a new president. If extended polling due to torrential rains doesn’t delay counting, one of the 11 candidates will become the leader of Africa’s second-largest copper producing country. Ruling party candidate Edgar Lungu holds the lead so far with 50.1% of the vote.

Thailand’s ousted prime minister faces impeachment. The military-appointed legislature will decide the fate of Yingluck Shinawatra, who faces charges related to a disastrous rice program, which could lead to a five-year ban from politics and stoke tensions in the starkly divided country. Yingluck will also face criminal charges of negligence in a separate proceeding, which carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.

McDonald’s caps off an awful year. The fast food chain announces its fourth-quarter earnings, ending a year in which the company suffered food safety scandals in Asia, rising competition from “fast casual” restaurants in the US, and saw half of its Russian outlets closed by the government.

While you were sleeping

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah died. His 10-year reign was marked by bouts of ill health, and his 79-year-old brother Salman now takes over as king, though he is suffering from possible dementia himself. None of this clears up the Kingdom’s quandary as it nears the end of the second generation of male offspring of the country’s founder, Abdul Aziz.

The Chinese chairman of a Credit Suisse venture is missing. Lei Jie, chairman of brokerage Founder Securities and its joint venture with Credit Suisse, has been unreachable since Monday, the company said. Beijing Zenith Holdings, Founder’s second-largest shareholder, has accused Founder executives of misappropriating state assets and insider trading.

Hutchison Whampoa closed in on a deal for Britain’s O2. The Li Ka-shing-owned conglomerate is set to agree to buy the UK’s O2 mobile network (paywall) for more than £10 billion ($15 billion), according to the Financial Times. Trading in Hutchison shares was suspended in Hong Kong on Friday morning.

China’s PMI contracted for a second straight month… The HSBC/Markit flash purchasing managers’ index, which surveys small- and medium-sized companies, was 49.8 in January, up from 49.6 in December but still below the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction. Analysts said growth has been hampered by weak domestic demand.

…As Japan’s expanded for the third. Markit/JMMA’s flash purchasing managers’ index rose to 52.1 in January, a little higher than December’s 52 mark. Manufacturers reported rising payroll numbers and strong growth in new orders, suggesting Abenomics is starting to take effect.

Yemen’s leaders resigned. President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and prime minister Khaled Baha submitted their resignation to parliament, after Houthi rebels took control of the presidential palace and demanded changes to the country’s constitution.

Quartz obsession interlude

Cassie Werber on discussing menstruation in sports. “In the UK, the press is agog after a British tennis player mentioned menstruation, confronting the world of sport with a topic that until now has remained strictly unmentionable. Heather Watson, the UK player who crashed out of the Australian Open, said ‘girl things’ were part of the problem, and became one of the first athletes to raise the issue.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Climate change denial should disqualify politicians from holding office. There is simply no reason to trust them with power.

Ukraine is a bigger problem than Russia. The West should resolve the crisis in Ukraine before addressing relations with Russia.

Gentrification isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t actually hurt long-term residents when rents rise.

Germany isn’t turning back to xenophobia. Anti-foreigner sentiment is at historic lows (paywall).

Surprising discoveries

Schools have a right to know students’ Facebook passwords. At least according to one US judge’s ruling in a bullying case.

Squids use their camouflage to socialize. The giant humboldt squid quickly changes color to communicate with fellow cephalopods.

Not every Indian outfit is a sari. It’s just a much easier word to master than  “lehenga” or “salwar kameez.”

A measles outbreak began in Disneyland. And it’s thanks to people who don’t believe in vaccinations.

Chinese towns are creating walls of shame. If you fail to pay your fines in Changsha, your face be displayed on a huge public screen.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, socialized squids, and non-sari couture to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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