Geopolitics

Unification Talks Begin, Shocking Torture Survey, Ex-Israel PM Sentenced

Professional rock climbers set up an art installation Monday at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum.
Professional rock climbers set up an art installation Monday at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum.
Worldcrunch

DONETSK AND LUHANSK START UNIFICATION TALKS
The self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk have initiated talks that could lead to the two cities forming a single state after Sunday’s referendum demonstrated that voters wanted to secede from Kiev, Ria Novosti reports. This comes after Donetsk voiced its collective wish to follow in the footsteps of Crimea and join the Russian Federation, while Luhansk hasn’t ruled out the possibility of putting the question to a future vote. But according to RT, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow so far had no response for Donetsk.

  • German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in Kiev, where he met with Interim Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk to push for “round table” talks between the government and pro-Russian and separatist groups from eastern Ukraine. “I hope that under these conditions it is possible to take steps to bring back occupied buildings and eventually to disarm illegal groups and restore the state’s monopoly on violence,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

  • The European Union and Canada yesterday expanded their list of sanctioned Ukrainians and Russians, with several officials threatening to impose more sanctions if Russian hampers the Ukrainian presidential election planned for May 25. Russia’s Foreign Ministry branded the new sanctions as “feckless” and “irresponsible.”

36%
A new global Amnesty International survey conducted in 21 countries across every continent shows that 36% of people believe torture can be justified to obtain critical information.

FORMER ISRAEL PM SENTENCED TO JAIL
A Tel Aviv court has sentenced former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to six years in prison after finding him guilty on two counts of bribery in a high-profile corruption case, The Jerusalem Post reports. Olmert, who was accused of accepting a bribe over a controversial real estate project called Holyland when he was mayor of Jerusalem, was also fined 1 million shekels ($290,000). He announced he would appeal the decision and the sentence to the Supreme Court.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD

ANTARCTIC ICE SHEET COLLAPSE “UNSTOPPABLE”
Researchers at NASA and the University of California at Irvine said that the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet was underway and that the process was “unstoppable,” although it would take centuries, The Washington Post reports. According to the scientists, the melting will eventually lead to a rise in the sea level of up to 12 feet. In another study also due to be published this week, researchers at the University of Washington explain that “The fastest scenario is 200 years, and the longest is more than 1,000 years.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As The Economic Observer’s Qi Yue reports, China has published a tough new environmental law that will take effect next year. “Both lawmakers and the public are placing high hopes that this new text can truly push China to urgently face its environmental challenges,” the journalist writes. “Pollution in the country is no longer anecdotal — it has become a full-blown emergency. Daily smog has become the norm for many urban residents. Only 40% of cities at and above prefectural level met with national air quality standards in 2012.”
Read the full article:
The Missing Teeth Of China's New Environmental Law.

FAREWELL
Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who won a 1980 Academy Award for his creation of the alien monster in the film of the same name, has died at 74.

SOUTH SUDAN CEASEFIRE BROKEN
Fighting between the South Sudanese army and the rebels resumed yesterday, with both sides accusing each other of breaking the ceasefire agreed on Friday, AFP reports. According to Defense Minister Kuol Manyang, government troops were ordered “not to go and attack, but only to fight in self defense” in response to rebel attacks in the oil-producing state of Upper Nile. On Sunday, President Salva Kiir announced that the country’s first general elections, planned for next year, would be postponed until 2017 “because reconciliation between the people will have to take time,” Sudan Tribune quoted him as saying.

SNAPSHOT
Professional rock climbers set up an art installation Monday at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. Read more about it here.

THE NSA SPIED ON UN ENVOYS
In his new book No Place To Hide, journalist Glenn Greenwald publishes documents showing that the National Security Agency spied on envoys from the United Nations’ Security Council in 2010 at the request of ambassador Susan Rice, in order to “develop a strategy” to secure a vote for new sanctions on Iran. The Pulitzer Prize winner publishes other documents, including a list of foreign embassies and missions that were spied on. Read the full story on The New York Times.

HEAVY METAL HUNGER
Scientists in the Philippines have discovered a plant that feasts on nickel, absorbing it from the soil without poisoning itself. Read more about the Rinorea niccolifera here.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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