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Ukraine Offensive, Qualcomm fine, Ibrahimovic in wax

UKRAINE LAUNCHES OFFENSIVE
Ukrainian government forces launched an offensive against pro-Russian rebels near the port city of Mariupol today, Reuters reports. Leaders from Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia are set to gather tomorrow in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss a possible ceasefire. After meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged that there were “tactical disagreements” between the two, CNN reports. Merkel has repeatedly expressed her strong opposition to “a military solution to this conflict,” but Obama reasserted that his administration was considering all options, including sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. Read more from The Washington Post.

ON THIS DAY

Bob Dylan’s third studio album, The Times They Are a-Changin", was released on this day in 1964. Time for your 57-second shot of history.

ASSAD’S ANTI-ISIS INTELLIGENCE
In a BBC interview, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his government was receiving information about the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS in Syria from third parties, among them Iraq, where the terrorist group also controls a large territory. Assad added that there had been no direct cooperation or dialogue with the coalition “because we cannot be in an alliance with countries which support terrorism,” an apparent reference to Gulf states, Turkey and others, which have been accused in the past of aiding jihadist groups. Although he appeared open to the idea of some cooperation, he said he wouldn’t talk to U.S. officials “because they don't talk to anyone, unless he's a puppet.”

  • Assad also denied accusations that the Syrian army was using barrel bombs indiscriminately on rebel-held areas, killing scores of civilians in the process. “In most of the areas where the rebels take over, the civilians fled and come to our areas," he said. "So most of the areas that we encircle and attack are only filled with militants.” Watch the whole interview in English here.
  • Syrian Kurdish forces, meanwhile, continue to gain territory around the town of Kobani on the Turkish border and now control one-third of the surrounding villages, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. According to The Independent, ISIS is experiencing growing defections, many of those leaving having been marked for suicide bombing missions.

TWITTERVERSE SNOOPING
Twitter’s semi-annual transparency report showed a 40% increase in government requests for user information from six months ago. Russia, Turkey and the United States were responsible for most of the increase. The countries with the most requests to remove content are Turkey (477), Russia (91), and Germany (43).

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Caixin reports, more than 1,000 acres of historical areas have been lost since 1990 in Beijing alone, and the country must figure out how to balance urbanization with preservation. “In the next six years, as many as 100 million Chinese people will migrate from rural areas to cities,” the newspaper writes. “Towering skyscrapers, massive street blocks, industrial parks, multi-lane highways and shopping malls have and will replace ancient temples, traditional courtyards, palaces and tombs. The Chinese sense of community is changing. In many cases, people can no longer walk to work or shop in their own neighborhoods. Driving has become a basic requirement — which means that cities are being built for cars instead of people.”
Read the full article, As China Urbanizes, History Is Lost Forever.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

SOUTH SUDAN OIL TOWN SHELLED
Rebel fighters in South Sudan attacked government positions in the oil town of Bentiu, where as many as 53,000 people are sheltering inside a United Nations camp. The shelling marks a brutal return to violence after slim hopes that a peace deal could be reached. “This is a violation of the cessation-of-hostilities agreement, and we will act in self defense,” the country’s defense minister told AFP. UN official Valerie Amos warned yesterday that 2.5 million people were facing starvation, and she called for an arms embargo, which the U.S. has so far resisted, The Guardian reports. The next round of faltering peace talks between the government and the rebels, led by the former vice president, is due to resume on Feb. 19.

$975 MILLION
Chinese antitrust regulators have fined U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm $975 million, the largest in China’s corporate industry, after finding the company guilty of abusing its dominant position on patent licensing, The Wall Street Journal reports. Qualcomm is also required to lower its royalty rates, a decision that could help Chinese smartphone makers Xiaomi and Huawei.

DEFEAT FOR RULING DELHI PARTY
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s honeymoon appears to be over after his Bharatiya Janata Party was defeated by opposition in an election for the Delhi state assembly. According to NDTV projections, the Aam Aadmi Party, led by former tax inspector Arvind Kejriwal, is poised to win at least 67 of the 70 seats in the assembly. “When you are on the path of truth, all the forces of universe come together to help you,” Kejriwal said. His campaign was particularly successful with the working class and the poor, which comprise 60% of Delhi’s population. Read more from The Times of India.

VERBATIM
“My sculpture will replace the Eiffel Tower,” Paris PSG footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic joked as a 35-kilo wax figure of himself was unveiled at a Paris museum.

NETFLIX IN CUBA
In yet another sign of improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Netflix has launched its service in the communist island. But some are wondering why, given that the subscription fee represents half of the average monthly wage there and just 0.0004% of Cubans have broadband access.

Crunched by Marc Alves

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Society

Tour Of Istanbul's Ancient Yedikule Gardens, At Risk With Urban Restoration

The six-hectare gardens in the center of Istanbul, which are more than 1,500 years old, have helped feed the city's residents over the centuries and are connected with its religious history. But current city management has a restoration project that could disrupt a unique urban ecosystem.

Photo of Muslims performing Friday prayer in the garden of Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul.

Last March, Muslims performing Friday prayer in the garden of Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul.

Tolga Ildun via ZUMA Press Wire
Canan Coşkun

ISTANBUL — The historic urban gardens of Yedikule in Istanbul are at risk of destruction once again. After damage in 2013 caused by the neighborhood municipality of Fatih, the gardens are now facing further disruption and possible damage as the greater Istanbul municipality plans more "restoration" work.

The six-hectare gardens are more than 1,500 years old, dating back to the city's Byzantine era. They were first farmed by Greeks and Albanians, then people from the northern city of Kastamonu, near the Black Sea. Now, a wide variety of seasonal produce grows in the garden, including herbs, varieties of lettuce and other greens, red turnip, green onion, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, pepper, corn, mullberry, fig and pomegranate.

Yedikule is unique among urban gardens around the world, says Cemal Kafadar, a historian and professor of Turkish Studies at Harvard University.

“There are (urban gardens) that are older than Istanbul gardens, such as those in Rome, but there is no other that has maintained continuity all this time with its techniques and specific craft," Kafadar says. "What makes Yedikule unique is that it still provides crops. You might have eaten (from these gardens) with or without knowing about it."

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