Assad’s Future, Brazil Protests, Bollywood Anniversary

Assad’s Future, Brazil Protests, Bollywood Anniversary


Syrian opposition negotiator Mohamad Alloush said during the Geneva Syria peace talks Saturday that Syria’s political transition could only start once Bashar al-Assad was no longer president. “We consider that the transitional period starts with the fall of Bashar al-Assad or his death,” The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying. The UN-led peace talks talks represent the first serious diplomatic intervention in Syria since Russia began airstrikes in September. The fate of Assad had been one of the main stumbling blocks in previous talks. On Saturday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem ruled out any discussion on Assad’s future. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded by accusing the Assad regime of “trying to disrupt the process,” the BBC reports.

  • A ceasefire agreed by most participants in the conflict â€" excluding ISIS and al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria â€" began late last month. The purpose of the partial, temporary truce was to enable the warring sides and their foreign backers to launch a fresh attempt to end the five-year conflict.
  • Al-Qaeda militants stormed a rebel-held town in northern Syria yesterday, arresting U.S.-backed fighters and seizing weapons belonging to the Free Syrian Army, AP reports. Fighters for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front have been making advancements to exert authority over rebel-held areas since the partial ceasefire began two weeks ago.
  • More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed in the civil war, which began with an anti-Assad uprising five years ago this week. Almost half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced â€" 6.5 million within Syria and 4.8 million outside Syria, The Chicago Tribune reports.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s already battered Christian Democratic Union party was dealt another blow yesterday as voters cast their ballots for regional assemblies, Deutsche Welle reports. The anti-refugee Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party made dramatic advancements, winning state parliament seats for the first time in three regions. Merkel’s party also suffered painful defeats at the hands of the Greens and the Social Democratic Party.


Warmer temperatures in France over the past 26 months have allowed the French to save 5.3 billion euros in energy costs, Le Figaro reports.


Photo: Osmancan Gurdogan/Depo Photos/ZUMA

Turkey conducted airstrikes against Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq this morning in retaliation for an Ankara car bomb attack that killed at least 37 people and injured 122 others Sunday, CBS News reports. Fighter jets raided Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) positions, including the Qandil mountains, where the group’s leadership is based. The car bomb attack was the second deadly assault blamed on Kurdish militants in the capital in the past month. Speaking after the attack, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would bring terrorism “to its knees,” and that the Turkish state would “never give up using its right of self-defense.”


Al-Qaeda has claimed an attack on a popular beach hotel in the city of Grand-Bassam in Ivory Coast on Sunday that left at least 16 people dead including four Europeans, reports The Telegraph. Ivory Coast's interior minister Hamed Bakayoko stated that foreign citizens from France, Germany, Burkina Faso, Mali and Cameroon were among the victims. At least two of the six attackers â€" armed with Kalashnikovs and grenade belts â€" are said to have been encircled by the police around 6:30pm local time. Al-Qaeda has pledged to continue attacking allies of France and the shooting in Ivory coast is the third assault on a West African hotel since November.


New Delhi, India, ranks among the worst cities in the world for air quality. Automobiles share much of the blame, with some 1,400 cars a day joining the estimated 8.5 million vehicles already circulating there. But there are other factors too, Marjorie Cessac reports for Les Echos. “‘In India, for the majority of the population it’s about having something to eat, a roof and not necessarily fresh air,’ says Piyush Srivastava, director of ElectroGreen India, a group that is about to launch a magazine on environmental issues. ‘At any rate, people don’t have a choice. They must live with pollution.’ In the meantime, slowly but surely, air pollution continues to take its toll. It’s believed to be responsible for 30,000 early deaths every year in Delhi alone, a catastrophe until now ignored by political leaders.”

Read the full article, New Delhi Pollution, A Roadmap To Disaster.


Celebrating 85 years of Bollywood in today’s 57-second shot of history.


Officials at Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank said today that eight people have died and seven have been hospitalized after an apparent chemical accident, Reuters reports. It happened yesterday amid restoration of the building’s fire fighting system. “Gas pyrogens intended to extinguish fires opened and leaked oxygen, resulting in injuries and death,” a statement from the bank reads.


Angered by a worsening recession and corruption scandals, an estimated 3.6 million Brazilians protested yesterday, calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. Read more about it and see daily O Globo’s front page in our Extra! feature here.


An Amtrak train carrying 128 passengers from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed early this morning about 20 miles west of Dodge City, Kansas, injuring dozens of people, Kansas news site KMBC reports. The train company reports that no one suffered life-threatening injuries. Amtrak is currently working with the BNSF railroad network to investigate the cause of the accident.


Rescue work continuous after the federal government declared a major disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi yesterday, Louisiana daily The Advocate reports. At least three people died and many have been rendered homeless in what authorities describe as an “historical” flood in the two Southern states over the weekend. Thunderstorms brought up to two feet of rain in certain areas. Louisiana’s emergency management office warned that “the crisis is not over,” saying that 5,000 homes have been damaged and that the National Guard had so far rescued some 3,300 citizens, Reuters reports. The National Weather Service warned last night that portions of the lower Mississippi Valley were at risk for additional severe thunderstorms today.


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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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