U.S. SAYS RUSSIA TARGETING REBELS, NOT ISIS
Russiaâ€™s intervention in Syria has elicited anger from U.S. officials who are accusing Moscow of aiming at the regionâ€™s Western-backed rebels â€" not ISIS fighters, as the country claims. The New York Times reports that Russiaâ€™s participation in the civil war is an effort to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to support. Moscow launched a series of airstrikes yesterday against what it said were Islamist positions inside Syria. According to Lebanon's al-Mayadeen TV, quoted by BBC News, there was a series of new strikes today, targeting rebel positions in the northwest held by an alliance known as the Army of Conquest.
Read more about it in our Le Blog.
AFGHAN CITY STILL CONTESTED
The situation in Afghanistanâ€™s city of Kunduz, which the Taliban captured three days ago from the governmentâ€™s military, is still unclear this morning, with both sides claiming to control key areas.
- Afghan troops claimed today that they had regained control of the city center after fierce clashes with Taliban militants, Reuters reports.
- According to Al Jazeera, Taliban fighters retook some areas they lost overnight, leading to heavy fighting this morning. â€œThey Taliban said they had left the center of the city because of heavy bombardment by NATO forces, and now they are trying to get it back,â€ Al Jazeera reporter Qais Azimy said.
- The operation launched overnight saw government forces inflict heavy casualties on Taliban fighters, the BBC reports.
- An army victory would be significant for the government 10 months after the NATO coalition withdrew from the country.
PALESTINIAN FLAG RAISED AT UN FOR FIRST TIME
Though the Israel-Palestine conflict was overshadowed by the Syrian war during this yearâ€™s UN General Assembly, it was on the agenda yesterday in New York.
- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said during an address that Palestinians would â€œno longer continue to be boundâ€ by the Oslo Accords, the peace process signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993 and 1995, unless they receive â€œinternational protectionâ€ from Israel, The Guardian reports.
- â€œThe status quo cannot continue,â€ Abbas told the Israeli delegation, led by ambassador Ron Prosor. â€œIt is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations for the sake of negotiations. What is required is to mobilize international efforts to oversee an end to the occupation in line with the resolutions of international legitimacy.â€.
- The Israeli delegation has yet to react, according to Le Monde.
- Following the address, the Palestinian flag was hoisted for the first time at the UN headquarters, Al Jazeera reports. This decision had been approved Sept. 10 by 119 UN members. The U.S. and Israel, which were among the eight votes against the motion, strongly criticized the move.
â€œI am putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they are going back,â€ Donald Trump said during a rally in New Hampshire yesterday, the latest lunacy from the Republican presidential candidate.
LIMITING THE UN VETO IN GENOCIDE CASES
During the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday, dozens of countries signed a French proposal for the UN Security Councilâ€™s five permanent members to renounce using their veto in cases of mass atrocities and genocide, daily Ouest-France reports. At least 75 of the 193 UN members have so far approved the motion, but more nations are expected to join. But the four other permanent members â€" the U.S., China, Great Britain and Russia â€" did not sign it. The aim is to prevent the Security Council from being paralyzed during massacres such as Syriaâ€™s.
The pharmaceutical industry looks to identify new diseases so it can push new drugs on the market, and patients play along. The approval of reduced female libido as a pathology is a case in point, Wiebke Hollersen writes for Die Welt. â€œThese days, not wanting to have sex can be cured. Thereâ€™s a pill for that, and it has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But this certainly is no proof that a woman not having anymore sexual desire towards her partner has anything to do with a pathological disturbance. Critics say a womanâ€™s lagging libido is the latest in a number of â€˜made-up diseases.â€™ The pharmaceutical industry, eager to open up new markets, is fond of declaring new official illnesses for typical life difficulties.â€
Read the full article, Big Pharma, Low Libido And The Rise Of Disease Mongering.
PAKISTAN KILLS 25 TALIBAN MILITANTS
Pakistani forces killed 25 suspected Taliban militants in airstrikes today near the border with Afghanistan, Reuters quoted the Pakistani army as saying. This is part of an offensive launched last year by the countryâ€™s authorities against Pakistani Taliban militants in lawless border regions, particularly in North Waziristan.
ON THIS DAY
Dame Julie Andrews of Mary Poppins and Sound of Music fame turns a youthful, dewy-skinned 80 years old today. That and more in todayâ€™s shot of history.
DID THE CASTROS HELP ESCOBAR?
The top gunman for the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar claims in a new interview that Fidel and Raul Castro, as well as Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, were involved in the cocaine trafficking business. Read details from Worldcrunch following a report in Argentine daily Clarin.
MY GRAND-PÈREâ€™S WORLD
CLIMATE CHANGE MAY THREATEN ENERGY SYSTEMS
The effects of global warming, such as severe floods, strong storms and rising sea levels, could constitute a serious threat to the worldâ€™s energy systems, including fossil fuel power stations and distribution grids, a report from the World Energy Council (WEC) suggests. This means our water, transport and health infrastructures, which are all interconnected in developed and developing cities, could collapse in extreme weather, leading to catastrophic humanitarian situations. â€œWe are on a path where todayâ€™s unlikely events will be tomorrowâ€™s reality,â€ WEC Secretary General Christoph Frei warned. â€œWe need to imagine the unlikely. Traditional systems, based on predicted events, no longer operate in isolation.â€
BAD BUZZ FOR BEIJING
A communist party theme park honoring the foundation of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China opened this week in Wuhan. Visitors can learn about â€œthe glorious history of the CCP and the values that all good communists seek to uphold.â€ The park is full of â€œcartoon statues commemorating important figuresâ€ from the partyâ€™s history, but also athletes and astronauts. Predictably, Chinese Internet users took to ridiculing the place, calling it â€œbrainwashingâ€ and a â€œwaste of taxpayer money.â€
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?
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
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
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.