Fight For Kobani, Pistorius Sentencing, Turtle Twerking

CEO of Total Christophe de Margerie was killed in a plane crash at Moscow’s Vnukovo international airport.
CEO of Total Christophe de Margerie was killed in a plane crash at Moscow’s Vnukovo international airport.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ISIS fighters have launched an assault “on all fronts” in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP. The offensive came hours after U.S. airplanes dropped ammunition and medical aid to besieged Kurdish fighters. It also came after Turkey’s apparent policy reversal, as the country is now allowing Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross into Kobani from Turkey, a decision the U.S. welcomed. Meanwhile, The Independent reports that UK drones now deployed in Iraq will soon carry out reconnaissance flights in Syria and possibly missile strikes without a new parliamentary vote. When Westminster voted to support Iraq strikes against ISIS a month ago, several parliament members said they would oppose such an operation in Syria.

China has retained its title of world's top executioner, U.S.-based rights group Dui Hua reported today. The country executed 2,400 people in 2013, 1,622 more than the rest of the world combined.

Pro-democracy protest leaders and Hong Kong government officials are finally meeting to discuss how to end a weeks-long crisis that has paralyzed part of the city. Such talks have been cancelled twice in recent weeks, and there is little hope that the sides will find common ground because officials insist that Beijing will not consent to demands for more democracy, the South China Morning Post explains. On its live blog, The Wall Street Journal writes that tensions are high at one of the main protest sites and that as many as 2,000 police officers will be deployed.

South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to a maximum jail term of five years for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, after being found guilty of manslaughter, The Mail and Guardian reports. He was taken directly to a prison in Pretoria.

The Steenkamp family told reporters they were “satisfied” with the sentence and relieved the seven-month trial was over. “It doesn’t matter. He’s going to pay something,” Reeva’s mother June Steenkamp was quoted as saying.

Pistorius’ defense lawyer said, however, that the athlete would likely serve just 10 months of his sentence in prison and the rest under house arrest. Judge Thokozile Masipa also gave Pistorius a three-year suspended sentence for a firearms charge.


The Ukrainian army is believed to have fired cluster munitions, weapons banned in most countries, in populated areas of the rebel-held city of Donetsk, The New York Times reveals. The findings, also reported by Human Rights Watch, show that a Swiss employee of the International Red Cross was killed earlier this month in such an attack, weeks after a fragile ceasefire was negotiated between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels. According to the newspaper, the news “could also add credibility to Moscow’s version of the conflict, which is that the Ukrainian national government is engaged in a punitive war against its own citizens.” This comes just days before Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

As Le Temps" Nic Ulmi reports, the Greek island of Gavdos is home to a group of physicists who believe that they can become immortal by programming themselves not to die. “The people who live here call themselves simply ‘the group,’” the journalist writes. “Island natives call them ‘the Russians,’ which is fairly accurate. Most of the group members are from Russia, and their story began some 30 years ago, in a village close to Stavropol. In Gavdos, everyone knows about them: No mystery, no secrets surround them.”
Read the full article, Welcome to Gavdos, The Island Of Immortals.

The third quarter saw the Chinese economy grow at its slowest pace since March 2009. Although the 7.3% growth from a year earlier is better than markets anticipated, it will cause “speculation that the government may introduce more stimulus measures,” the BBC reports. But Beijing has repeatedly said they would tolerate slower growth, an inevitable consequence of attempts to reshape the economy by boosting domestic consumption so it relies less on exports and investment. Read more from Reuters.

Christophe de Margerie, the CEO of French oil company Total, was killed along with three crew members when their private jet collided with a snowplow as it was taking off overnight at Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport, news agency Ria Novosti reports. The snowplow’s driver is said to be in serious condition, and Russian investigators says that he was drunk at the time of the accident. French prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation. In a written statement, President François Hollande hailed the man who “defended with talent” French industry abroad, highlighting his “independent character and original personality.” Russian President Vladimir Putin also offered his condolences and said that Moscow had “lost a real friend of our country, whom we will remember with the greatest warmth.”

Oscar de la Renta, one of the most famous fashion designers of the 20th century, also died on Monday at his home in Kent, Connecticut, at age 82.

Miley Cyrus won’t like this.

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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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