Arming Kurds, India's "Shame," Panama Canal Birthday

Russian aid trucks entering Ukraine
Russian aid trucks entering Ukraine

Aug. 15, 2014

European Union foreign ministers are in Brussels today for an emergency meeting about whether to arm Iraq’s Kurdish Peshmerga fighters against ISIS, which the U.S. and France are already doing, the BBC reports. A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that the UK would “favorably consider” supplying Kurdish forces with weapons if they requested it.

Writing in The Guardian, former high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina Paddy Ashdown explains that one of the downsides of arming the Peshmergas is that “intentionally or not, we will end up acting as handmaiden to Kurdish ambitions for full independence — and in so doing, effectively assist in the dismemberment of Iraq.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice praised yesterday’s decision from ousted Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to officially resign and back his nominated replacement Haider al-Abadi, describing it as "another major step forward in uniting the country."

"When we hear about these rapes our heads hang in shame,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during a public address today. Read more of his comments here.

British journalists from The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian claim they saw a column of at least 23 “armoured vehicles and military trucks” from Russia cross the border into Ukraine last night. If accurate, the journalists’ accounts would confirm that Moscow is arming rebels in eastern Ukraine, an accusation Russia has previously denied. This came as the Ukrainian army hit the center of Donetsk with shells for the first time. Both reports say that the separate humanitarian convoy of some 270 trucks from Moscow stopped short of the border. According to the BBC, Ukraine border guards are now inspecting the convoy, which Kiev fears may carry weapons for pro-Russian rebels.


The scale of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa responsible for 1,069 deaths as of Monday is “vastly underestimated,” according to the World Health Organization. “The outbreak is expected to continue for some time,” the organization said in a statement, adding that “extraordinary measures” are needed “on a massive scale.” Meanwhile, AFP reports that athletes from Ebola-hit countries have been barred from competing in some Youth Olympics events, with the competition due to open tomorrow in China.

The Panama Canal, which connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, celebrates its 100th anniversary today amid a difficult $5.25 billion expansion project that is expected to double the canal’s capacity when it is completed next year. Here are 12 important facts about the 50-mile waterway.

A new UN report entitled "Being LGBT in Asia" notes that 83 countries still criminalize homosexual behavior, and fewer than 50 countries have laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.

Israel’s military operation in Gaza has left the strip’s agriculture devastated, causing prices to increase sharply, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said yesterday. Reuters writes that the price of tomatoes jumped by 179%. Close to 30,000 Gazans rely on farming, fishing and raising livestock to live. The news was followed by an article on Haaretz estimating that Israel has fired 32,000 artillery shells on Gaza, four times more than during the 2008-2009 conflict. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that Palestinians are returning to “piles of rubble where their homes once stood,” as the five-day ceasefire reached yesterday seems to be holding.

The bank accounts of four passengers from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been drained of some $35,000, four months after their plane went missing.

— Crunched by Marc Alves

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.



• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.


"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.



For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.


Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

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We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.


Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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