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Ukraine's Tentative Truce, "Jihadi John" Unmasked, Super-Supermassive Black Hole

Ukraine's Tentative Truce, "Jihadi John" Unmasked, Super-Supermassive Black Hole

FIGHTING DIE DOWN IN EASTERN UKRAINE
The shaky truce in Eastern Ukraine finally appears to be taking hold. Wednesday marked the first casualty-free day since the Minsk agreement and the official start of a ceasefire on Feb. 15, the BBC reports. Pro-Russian rebels continued to withdraw their heavy weaponry from the frontline and the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic said nearly 80% had been withdrawn, according to news agency Tass. Ukrainian forces, he claimed, have only withdrawn 15-20% of their weapons.

  • The situation on the diplomatic side, however, escalated with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accusing Vladimir Putin of “destabilizing” Ukraine through “land grabs.” Kerry threatened to impose more sanctions on Russia’s struggling economy and said that “to date, neither Russia nor the forces it is supporting have come close to complying with their commitments.”
  • In response, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said such statements were intended “to whip up public hysteria and distract attention from the need to fulfill the Minsk agreements.” In reference to Kerry’s threats, which echoed those made yesterday by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Lavrov claimed: “These calls signal that the politicians from the particular countries and organizations, the U.S. and the EU, do not wish to seek the implementation” of the Minsk deal.

IDENTITY OF “JIHADI JOHN” REVEALED
British security services have revealed that “Jihadi John,” the man with a British accent pictured in videos of the beheading of Western hostages, including U.S. journalists, is a British citizen from West London. Read more from The Washington Post.

ON THIS DAY

Ready for your 57-second shot of history?

SPYLEAKS POINT OUT SOUTH AFRICA’S MISTRUST OF ISRAEL
South African intelligence services accused Israel of conducting "cynical" policies in Africa that include "fueling insurrection," "appropriating diamonds" and even sabotaging Egypt's water supply, in secret documents leaked to and published by Al Jazeera. According to the documents, the South African services believe Israeli scientists have created a type of plant that flourishes along the Nile but absorbs vast quantities of water so as to drastically reduce the amount of water in Egypt. Another document alleges that Israel fueled “insurrection inside Sudan,” ultimately leading to the country’s breakup and the creation of oil-rich South Sudan with which Tel Aviv has close ties.

SUPER-SUPERMASSIVE BLACK HOLE
Photo above: NASA/Caltech
The discovery of a black hole with a mass 12 billion times that of our sun is leading scientists to question growth theory. Astronomers are puzzled at how the black hole, which was formed 900 million years after the Big Bang, could have expanded so much in what is in galactic history such a short period of time. “It's time for a new hypothesis and for some new physics,” said one of the scientists. Read more from Australia’s ABC.

NEIN! TO GREEK BAILOUT
As Germany’s parliament gets set to vote on the extension of the Greek bailout Friday, tabloid Bild got straight to the point in its Thursday edition: “No! No more millions for the greedy Greeks!" The daily even suggested that readers who oppose the bailout send in a selfie with the front page. Read more in today’s Extra!

ISIS ABDUCT MORE CHRISTIANS IN SYRIA
The number of Assyrian Christians abducted by ISIS in villages in northeastern Syria rose to 220 after a third day of attacks, Reuters reports. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says ISIS fighters now control 10 Christian villages in the region. According to the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network, as many as 1,000 families have fled the villages. The abducted are believed to have been taken to one of ISIS’ strongholds. Fights rage on meanwhile between the terrorist group and Kurdish and Christian militiamen for the control of these villages, which are located near a strategic river. Read more from AP.

$15.2 BILLION
Global art sales set a new record in 2014 with a total of $15.2 billion sold at auction during the year, Artprice said in its annual report. This represents an increase of 26% compared to 2013. A record number of 1,679 sales worth $1 million or more were recorded over the year, four times more than a decade ago.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As the satirist magazine’s new edition hits the stands, Le Monde’s Raphaëlle Bacqué asks: Can Charlie Hebdo survive life in a bunker?
“The few people Charlie Hebdo recently tried to recruit declined the offer. ‘They ask us if they'd have to attend editorial meetings, if they’d have to sign with their real names,’” Riss says.
At the back of a cafe where we agreed to meet, two policemen from the anti-terrorist unit are sitting at a table, discreetly keeping a close eye on all entrances. Riss, a former railroader with grey eyes, says he understands why cartoonists are reluctant to come work for the paper. “For days, I was in hospital thinking that killers would come to finish me off,” Riss openly admits. “And I still wake up at night with the same nightmare.”
Read the full article, What Now For Charlie Hebdo?

92 ARRESTED IN DENMARK HUMAN TRAFFICKING OP
Police in Denmark have arrested 95 people in an operation The Copenhagen Post describes as “probably the biggest human trafficking bust in Danish history.” Among those arrested, 22 are accused of human trafficking, most of them Romanians. A Danish lawyer and an accountant were arrested on suspicion of fraud and tax evasion. The rest are believed to be victims in the case. The police believe their identities were misused to commit the crimes, which brought in an estimated $8.2 million.

VERBATIM
“Nobody even tries to use any diplomatic words,” Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser told The New York Times just days before Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to the U.S. Congress. He added that the relationship between Israel and the U.S. “has never been so terrible as it is today.”

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


SOUTH KOREA LEGALIZES ADULTERY
South Korea’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a controversial 1953 ban on adultery is unconstitutional. “Even if adultery should be condemned as immoral, state power should not intervene in individual private lives,” said presiding justice Park Han-Chul.

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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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