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Temporary Ukraine Truce, Petrobras Scandal, Pope On Spanking

Temporary Ukraine Truce, Petrobras Scandal, Pope On Spanking

WARRING UKRAINE PARTIES CALL TRUCE
Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have reached agreement with government forces on a humanitarian corridor to allow the evacuation of civilians out of Debaltseve, a key railway hub in the heart of the latest fighting, AP reports. A rebel spokesman said 1,000 civilians would be evacuated today, though it’s not clear where they’ll go.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande are due to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow following their meeting yesterday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Merkel and Hollande are eager to broker a lasting peace deal, which Le Monde characterizes as a “last chance” to end the conflict. Their peace plan is said to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity but also to offer some autonomy for separatist-held areas. Pictured: Night shelling over Donetsk.
  • European leaders are wary of an all-out war in eastern Europe and have repeatedly opposed sending weapons to Kiev. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was also in Kiev yesterday, said that President Barack Obama was “reviewing all his options” amid mounting calls to send military aid.
  • Putin’s spokesman reacted angrily to news that a 2008 Pentagon report claimed the Russian president suffered from Asperger’s syndrome. “That is stupidity not worthy of comment,” he said. Read more from AFP.

$200 MILLION
A former head at Brazil’s Petrobras oil giant alleged yesterday that the governing Workers’ Party had received between $150 million and $200 million in kickbacks from 90 of the biggest contracts Petrobras signed with major companies from 2003 until 2013, O Globo reports. This tops a difficult week for the government and the state-owned company, which saw its boss and five senior executives resign. Read more and see the newspaper’s front page in our feature Extra!

JORDAN EXPANDS ISIS STRIKES
Jordan continued to strike ISIS positions, including training centers and weapons storage sites, yesterday and characterized it as “only the beginning” of retaliation after the brutal ISIS murder of a Jordanian pilot, Al Jazeera reports. According to The Independent, some of the missiles carried messages written in chalk. One read, “For you, the enemies of Islam.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner graced us with yet another verbal woopsie Wednesday when she mocked Chinese pronunciation of Ls and Rs in a tweet — while on a state visit to China seeking investment, no less. It’s not the first time she’s launched inappropriate zingers and WTF remarks. For a little trip down blunder lane, we’ve compiled a list of other notable Kirchner faux pas.

Read the full story, Cristina Kirchner’s 11 Worst Gaffes Ever.

MASS UK SURVEILLANCE UNLAWFUL
A secret court in Britain ruled that mass Internet surveillance by the country’s intelligence agency GCHQ was unlawful before December and breached human rights law, The Independent reports. It’s the first time that the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, set up in 2000, has ruled against intelligence agencies. The legal challenge was brought by several associations, including Amnesty International and Privacy International. Privacy International’s deputy director praised the ruling, saying that “for far too long, intelligence agencies like GCHQ and NSA have acted like they are above the law.”

VERBATIM
“One time, I heard a father say, ‘At times I have to hit my children a bit, but never in the face so as not to humiliate them.’ That's great. He had a sense of dignity. He should punish, do the right thing, and then move on,” Pope Francis said about corporal punishment during his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

FAILED ENGINES CAUSED TRANSASIA CRASH
Taiwanese officials have concluded that the TransAsia plane crash in a Taipei river was caused by the failure of both engines to produce enough thrust at takeoff, moments before the crash, Reuters reports. After pilots signaled a problem with the first engine, the crew apparently turned off the second and restarted it in an attempt to gain power, but it failed. The dead pilot was hailed as a hero yesterday for having managed to avoid buildings. His body was found with his hand still clutching the aircraft’s joystick. At least 35 people are now known to have died. Eight people are still missing.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD


JAPAN TO ENFORCE VACATION TIME
There’s a Japanese word for working literally to death, “karoshi.” With an estimated 200 such deaths every year, the Japanese government is reportedly planning to introduce legislation that will make it the legal responsibility of employers to ensure workers take their holidays. According to AP, the average Japanese workers barely take half of their vacation days, preferring to keep them in case of illness and fearing resentment from co-workers.

ON THIS DAY

On this day in 1945, Bob Marley was born. Time for your 57-second shot of history.

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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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