WHILE YOU SLEPT

Hajj Boycott, Big Enchilada, Bleached Reef

SPOTLIGHT: IRAN TO BOYCOTT HAJJ PILGRIMAGE

Tensions between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are once again threatening to escalate. The two archenemies are already entangled in proxy wars against each other, in Syria and Yemen, and diplomatic ties between the two have been cut since Saudi Arabia executed a Shia cleric at the beginning of this year. But Riyadh and Tehran are now taking their conflict to another level, the hajj.


Yesterday, Iranian authorities announced that their pilgrims won’t be travelling to Saudi Arabia for this year’s hajj, a spiritual journey that all Muslims are required to do at least once in their lifetime. Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization put the blame on the Gulf kingdom for its “continued obstructionism” and for politicizing the religious event. Resentment over the deaths of 465 Iranians in a stampede at last year’s pilgrimage is still high in Iran, where the victims’ families are still waiting for a formal apology from Saudi Arabia. No doubt this and the urge to protect its civilians against what it sees as Sunni retaliation against Shia Muslims also motivated Iran’s decision.


But the conflict between these two key Muslim nations in the Middle East, which now adds the most vital of religious rites on top of simmering political and economic battles, should alert Western leaders. There are myriad firefights and full-fledged wars across the region to resolve. But as long as Saudi Arabia and Iran see each other as enemies, the Middle East won’t be at peace.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY



ISIS UNDER PRESSURE IN BOTH IRAQ AND SYRIA

Iraqi troops battling ISIS terrorists have entered the city of Fallujah, a week after the beginning of the offensive to retake the city, AFP reports. Meanwhile in Syria, ISIS fighters also came under attack in the cities of Aleppo and Raqqa, where Turkish and Syrian warplanes respectively hit targets yesterday and this morning. The terrorist organization meanwhile claimed responsibility for a new wave of bombings in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad that killed at least 20 people early this morning.


SYRIAN OPPOSITION CHIEF NEGOTIATOR RESIGNS

Mohammed Alloush, the chief peace negotiator of Syria’s main opposition group, announced yesterday he was resigning. He said the peace talks had failed to “stop the bloodshed of our people” and to “push Syria towards a political transition without al-Assad and his criminal gang,” Al Jazeera reports.


â€" ON THIS DAY

From the Lincoln Memorial to Charles de Gaulle, here’s May 30 in history, in 57 seconds.


VERBATIM

“California is the big enchilada,” Bernie Sanders said on NBC’s Meet the Press, making it clear he intends to fight until the end for the Democratic nomination. But he didn’t really rule out the possibility of becoming Hillary Clinton’s running mate.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

A growing number of women have approached American self-defense trainer and martial artist Rick Henderson for training in the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, Germany, in which scores of women were sexually assaulted and robbed by gangs of men. “You should not need to fight but you should know how defend yourself, should the situation arise. No one has the right to grope you,” Süddeutsche Zeitung’s David-Pierce Brill quotes Henderson as saying.

Read the full article here, After New Year's Eve Attack, German Women Learn Self-Defense.


DEADLIEST WEEK OF THE YEAR FOR MIGRANTS

Between 700 and 900 migrants are feared to have died in the Mediterranean over the past week as they attempted to cross from Libya to Europe, Medecins Sans Frontières and the U.N. Refugee agency said yesterday. Departures from Libya to Italy have increased sharply since the European Union signed a controversial deal with Turkey to stop migrants from entering the EU via Greece.


EXTRA!

During ceremonies yesterday marking the centenary of the Battle of Verdun, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande called for European unity by heeding lessons from the past. See how German daily Rheinische Post featured the commemorations on its Monday front page.


AMERICAN INDICTED IN TORCHED FRENCH POLICE CAR PROBE

French prosecutors have indicted a 27-year-old American for his alleged role in the torching of a police car, while two officers were still in the vehicle, during a protest in Paris on May 18, Le Monde reports. Four other people have also been charged for voluntary manslaughter.


â€" MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Well-Deserved Shade â€" Villefranche-de-Rouergue, 1974


14 FEET

The United States Secret Service want to build a new, higher picket fence (at 14 feet, or 4.3 meters) around the White House to prevent fence jumping, which The New York Times says “has become a regular occurrence.”


GREAT BARRIER REEF BLEACHED

Bleaching has killed 35% of corals in central and northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef, Australian scientists say, warning that global warming is the biggest threat to the World Heritage Site.


â€" MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

LIZARD TONGUE

Is Mark Clattenburg, the referee of Saturday night’s Champions League final won by Real Madrid, really a lizard?

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Green

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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