Flooded Balkans, South Korean Tears, Rubik Doodle

A ceremony marking the 70th a-nniversary of the Crimean Tatar deportation in Kiev — Photo: Zurab Dzhavakhadze/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA
A ceremony marking the 70th a-nniversary of the Crimean Tatar deportation in Kiev — Photo: Zurab Dzhavakhadze/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Kremlin announced in a statement that President Vladimir Putin had ordered Russian troops stationed near Ukraine to return to their home bases, AP reports. According to RT, Putin also expressed support for talks between Kiev and supporters of the country’s federalization, and urged the Ukrainian authorities to put an end to “punitive operation and violent actions” and find “a peaceful solution to all the problems.”

  • Ukrainian presidential candidates, meanwhile, are preparing for Sunday’s planned election. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has liberated from jail after the Maidan uprising, writes in The New York Times that the country’s “spirit of resistance” will help Ukrainians “secure the democracy and the European future to which they have shown such extraordinary devotion.” In an extensive article about billionaire Petro Poroshenko, dubbed "The Chocolate King" and currently the poll’s favorite, The Wall Street Journal writes that he “emerged as perhaps the brightest leader” after the Maidan protests and built a campaign promising to meet the protesters' demands for a political overhaul.” According to a poll published in the newspaper, over 25% of Ukrainians are still undecided about their vote, while 13% said they would not take part in the election.

A ceremony in Kiev's St. Michael's Square over the weekend marked the 70th anniversary of the Crimean Tatar deportation. See our Snapshot here.

Serbia and Bosnia have appealed for international aid to rescue people in flooded areas after the equivalent of three months of rain fell in just a few days in the Balkans region, the BBC reports. At least 35 people have died in what is being described as the worst flooding the region has seen since modern records began 120 years ago. The Daily Telegraph writes that the floods triggered some 3,000 landslides, causing landmines left over from the 1990s war to be unearthed, as the rising water threatens Serbia’s main power plant.

The three-time Formula 1 world champion Sir Jack Brabham, who famously won the title in a car he built himself, has died at the age of 88 at his home on Australia's Gold Coast after a long battle with liver disease.

At least 32 children were killed in northern Colombia when the bus they were traveling in caught fire and exploded, newspaper El Tiempo reports. The vehicle was carrying 43 children and a few adults who were returning home after a religious service. It is still unclear what caused the fire, although witnesses said that the fire started after the driver let some of the children fill up the tank with gasoline he kept on the bus while he left to drink a soda, according to El Espectador. He then fled the scene but was caught by the police hours later. If the testimonies are true, the driver could face up to 40 years in jail for homicide.

"The ultimate responsibility for failing to respond properly to this accident lies with me,” South Korean President Park Geun-hye said, tearfully issuing a fresh apology for the ferry sinking that killed 300 people.


The Libyan capital of Tripoli remained “tense” but apparently calm this morning after gunmen loyal to a “rogue general” stormed the parliament yesterday, plunging the country into further chaos three years after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled, AP reports. The fighters insisted their attack was not a coup but instead represented "the people's choice," saying that “the country can't be a breeding ground or an incubator for terrorism.” The same group launched a deadly attack Friday against Islamist militias in Benghazi, killing 70 people. The Libyan government, which has been struggling to rule an increasingly divided country, condemned the attack. Read more from The Washington Post.

As Le Monde’s Pascale Krémer writes, scouting in France is undergoing a resurgence of sorts, in large part thanks to new organizations trying to provide opportunities for kids in tougher neighborhoods. “The Catholic Scout movement has been established for a decade in about 50 low-income urban areas of France — all over the Ile-de-France region around Paris, as well as in other French cities such as Lille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Montpellier or Toulouse. The inexpensive activity provides some much-needed structure for the children and covers topics and other important information and development that school doesn’t really offer. The French Scouts directors feel there is a particular balance between their own philosophy and the parents’ expectations.
Read the full article,
In France, Catholic Scout Movement Breaks Into Inner City

The trial of Ratko Mladic, chief of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 war, began today at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Mladic, dubbed as the “Butcher of Bosnia” is facing 11 charges, including that of genocide and crime against humanity “for his role in the June 1995 massacre of almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys,” writes AFP.

The Rubik’s cube turns 40 today, and Google’s special doodle is especially for 1980s nostalgics. A few days ago, we published a La Stampa interview of its inventor, Erno Rubik, in which he explained that he created the cube and its 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible combinations “to convince human beings that there are no unsolvable problems.” Read it here.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!