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Terror In Brussels, "New Day" For Cuba, No-Frills Smokes

Terror In Brussels, "New Day" For Cuba, No-Frills Smokes

TERROR BLASTS HIT BRUSSELS AIRPORT, METRO

Photo: Ye Pingfan/Xinhua/ZUMA

Several blasts hit the Brussels airport and a Metro station this morning in what are being investigated as terror attacks that claimed at least 28 lives (13 at the Zaventem airport and 15 at the Maelbeek Metro station). The death toll is likely to rise, and many more people were injured, newspaper Le Soir reports. "What we feared has happened," Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters. He spoke of "violent and coward attacks" and described it as a "dark day for Belgium." He urged citizens to stay "calm" and "united."

  • The first two blasts occurred at the airport's departure area at around 8 a.m. local time. At least one of the explosions came at the hands of a suicide bomber, Politico quotes Belgian authorities as saying. RTBF quoted witnesses as saying that they heard gunfire and someone shouting in Arabic just before the explosions occurred, reportedly at the American Airlines check-in desk. Video footage taken afterward shows the devastation inside the airport. A third bomb was reportedly found on the airport's runway.
  • Just over an hour later, at least one explosion targeted the Metro station of Maelbeek, near European Union buildings in central Brussels.
  • Belgian authorities have raised the threat level to its maximum of 4. The airport has been evacuated, and all flights have been cancelled, as have all international trains to Brussels. The city's Metro, tram and bus networks have also been shut down.
  • Neighboring countries, including France, have reestablished controls at their borders with Belgium. "We are at war," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. President François Hollande said that "through Brussels, it's Europe as a whole that was hit."
  • According to BFMTV, Belgian authorities were told yesterday that an attack was imminent.
  • The attacks come four days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, one of the terrorists behind the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. It's unclear whether today's carnage is linked to Abdeslam, though reports published yesterday and today said that he was planning attacks in Brussels and Germany.
  • An article published two days ago in The New York Times, which was based on a 55-page French police report compiled after the November attacks, reported that authorities were concerned that more terrorists may have been involved in the organization of the Paris attacks or planning future ones. It quotes a friend of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the dead mastermind behind the Nov. 13 killings, as saying that he had crossed into Europe amid the flow of migrants with 90 other "kamikazes-in-waiting."
  • In Le Monde, French cartoonist Plantu pays homage to the victims.

EU MISSION ATTACKED IN MALI

Gunmen attacked a hotel in Bamako, Mali, last night that was being used as headquarters for an EU military mission to train Malian troops in their fight against al-Qaeda-linked jihadists, Le Monde reports. There were no casualties among the mission's personnel, but at least one attacker was killed.


VERBATIM

"What we did for 50 years did not serve our interests or the interest of the Cuban people," U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday during a historic news conference with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. "The embargo's going to end," Obama added. "When, I can't be entirely sure. But I believe it will end, and the path that we're on will continue beyond my administration," The Washington Postquotes him as saying, calling his visit to Cuba "a new day. Un nuevo dia." But the two leaders sparred on human rights and Guantanamo.


ARIZONA, UTAH AND IDAHO VOTE TODAY

Republican front-runner Donald Trump is looking to expand his lead with a crucial winner-take-all vote in Arizona today, but The Hill notes that Marco Rubio's withdrawal last week could help challenger Ted Cruz. The Texas senator is also "tantalizingly close to the 50% support mark that would turn Utah from a proportional contest into winner-take-all," the newspaper writes. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders hopes to regain some momentum against Hillary Clinton.

  • Today's primaries come after both Clinton and Trump addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. According to Israeli media i24news, Clinton took a swipe at Trump by suggesting he lacked "steady hands." "My friends, Israel's security is non-negotiable," she said. Trump pledged to move the U.S. embassy "to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem."

ON THIS DAY


It seems fitting that the laser was patented the same day Captain Kirk was born. Beam us up to On This Day, Scotty.


AUNG SAN SUU KYI GETS MYANMAR CABINET POST

Aung San Suu Kyi, the former political prisoner whose National League for Democracy party won a historic election in November, will be part of an 18-member cabinet and is expected to lead the Foreign Ministry, the Myanmar Times reports.


2.7 MILLION HOURS

Germany's 40,000 federal police officers have worked 2.7 million extra hours since the beginning of the migrant crisis, Der Spiegel reports. Security sources say that most of the extra work came after Germany reestablished border checks in mid-September.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Prince Charles believes brutalist buildings are like "monstrous carbuncles," but as German daily Die Welt reports, there is a frenzied architectural movement afoot to save these concrete blocks. "The attacks on brutalism are nearly always unfair," Peter Praschi writes. "It may not be obvious to everyone at first glance, but these buildings were designed to benefit people. They were designed to celebrate democracy. Government buildings, libraries and cultural centers built in the brutalist style were supposed to stand out rather than fade into the background. Their aesthetics, which often ignored the boundary between architecture and sculpture, were a conscious gesture of presumptuousness. Brutalists rejected the idea that public buildings should be modest in their use of materials. Their buildings were meant to last for eternity, and they thought that the enemies of progress would quiet down at some point."

Read the full article, Viva Brutalism! Architectural Preservation For 20th-Century Slabs.


MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD



NO-FRILLS SMOKES

Plain cigarette packaging will become compulsory in France starting in January, and companies will have to stop producing current designs by May 20, Le Mondereports. On future packaging, 65% of the surface will be dedicated to health warnings, and all logos, colors and distinctive designs will disappear, leaving just a small space at the top for the brand name. France, where 78,000 smoking-related deaths occur each year, will become the second country to adopt plain packaging, after Australia.

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Geopolitics

With The Chechen War Veterans Fighting For Ukraine — And For Revenge

They came to fight Russia, and to avenge the deaths of their loved ones and friends killed in Chechnya. Not wanting to sit in the trenches, they've found work in intelligence and sabotage.

Photo of members of the pro-Ukrainian Chechen group "Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion" posing with weapons

Members of the pro-Ukrainian Chechen group "Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion"

Lydia Mikhalchenko

At least five Chechen units are fighting for Ukraine, with more than 1,000 troops in each unit — and their number is growing.

Most of these Chechen fighters took part in the first and second Chechen wars with Russia, and were forced to flee to Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe after their defeat. Vazhnyye Istorii correspondent Lydia Mikhalchenko met with some of these fighters.

Four of the five Chechen battalions are part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and are paid the standard wages (about €4,000 per month for those on the front line) and receive equipment and supplies.

Chechen fighters say they appreciate that Ukrainian commanders don't order them to take unnecessary risks and attack objectives just to line up with an unrealistic schedule or important dates — something Russian generals are fond of doing.

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The experienced Chechen fighters have taken fewer losses than many other units. Unhappy sitting in trenches, they mostly engage in reconnaissance and sabotage, moving along the front lines. "The Russians wake up, and the commander is gone. Or he's dead," one of the fighters explains.

Some of the fighters say that the Ukrainian war is easier than their previous battles in Chechnya, when they had to sit in the mountains for weeks without supplies and make do with small stocks of arms and ammunition. Some call this a "five-star war."

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