TIME Australia

Asylum Seekers Want Obama to Save Them From Australian-Run Internment Camps

Man holds a poster during a rally in support of asylum seekers in central Sydney
A man holds a poster during a rally in support of asylum seekers in central Sydney July 20, 2013 Daniel Munoz—Reuters

The refugees say they are being treated like animals at an Australian-run detention center in Papua New Guinea

Pakistani asylum seekers currently detained by Australian authorities on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea are calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to broker their release from captivity.

In a letter signed by ten Pakistani nationals, which was obtained by the Guardian Australia, the men say they’re being held against their will by Australian authorities in substandard conditions and argue that the U.S. president is the only person capable of securing their freedom.

“We beg for your help to take us out of this miserable situation,” read the letter.

In the message, the detainees claim officials played a role in instigating violent riots at the internment camps and say fellow refugees have died due to insufficient health care facilities.

The group claims to have fled from their homeland due to the Taliban’s increasingly ferocious terror campaign.

Since taking office, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Administration has ramped up a controversial immigration policy designed to discourage boatloads of asylum seekers from arriving on the country’s shores.

Australian authorities currently transfer immigrants arriving by sea to squalid detention centers in Papua New Guinea and the nearby island nation of Nauru, where they await Canberra’s decision on their status. But whatever officials determine, no boat people are currently being resettled in the Lucky Country.

TIME Veterans

Vietnam War Veteran’s Remains Returned to Family After 47 Years

US-VETERANS-DAY
The shadow of a member of the US Army appears on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Nov. 10, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

Staff Sgt. James L. Van Bendegom had been missing since his patrol was overrun in 1967

The remains of a fallen Vietnam War veteran who disappeared near the Cambodian border 47 years ago have finally been returned to his family, according to the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia.

In mid-July 1967, James L. Van Bendegom was captured after his patrol was ambushed and overrun by enemy forces while deep in hostile terrain. The 19-year-old staff sergeant reportedly died of his wounds in captivity.

Almost two decades later, a Vietnamese national in a refugee camp in Thailand provided U.S. authorities with the remains of an American service member; however, officials were unable to establish the identity of the soldier based on the evidence provided.

“Thanks to advances in technology, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) re-examined the remains and determined that there was a possibility for identification,” read a statement released by the U.S. mission in Phnom Penh on Friday. “The remains were then identified as belonging to Staff Sgt. Van Bendegom.”

Bendegom’s remains were returned to his family earlier this month and the solider was finally laid to rest with full military honors on Nov. 11, 2014 in Kenosha, Wis.

To date, there are still 1,639 American service members from the Vietnam War who remain unaccounted for.

TIME Afghanistan

London Condemns Kabul Bombing as Taliban Ups Pressure on Afghan Gov’t

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST
Afghan policemen stand guard at the site of a suicide attack at a foreign guesthouse in Kabul on November 27, 2014. Shah Marai — AFP/Getty Images

The militant group appears to be stepping up its campaign of violence in the Afghan capital as foreign forces prepare to withdrawal

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has condemned the Taliban’s “appalling” suicide attack on a vehicle belonging to the country’s embassy on Thursday that killed six people, including two individuals working for the U.K. mission.

“I am deeply saddened to confirm that a British national civilian security team member and an Afghan national working for the embassy were killed in the incident,” said Hammond in a statement. “We will not allow such inhumanity to deter us from continuing our partnership with the Government of Afghanistan.”

The assault on the British convoy was followed by another attack by two Taliban suicide bombers at a foreign guesthouse in a high-end neighborhood in central Kabul, where myriad embassies and international organizations reside. One foreign national was reportedly injured in the blast and an ensuing gun battle.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for both bombings and described the ambush of the British embassy vehicle as a strike against “foreign invading forces,” reports Reuters.

Thursday’s blasts come as the Taliban appears to be orchestrating an increasing number of acts of sabotage and violence against foreign installations across the Afghan capital, just as a lion’s share of the international troops stationed in the country prepare to pullout after 13 years of war. In the last 10 days alone, Kabul has been rocked by at least eight separate blasts, according to Agence France-Presse.

Earlier in the week, NATO confirmed that two foreign soldiers fighting with the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force were killed on Monday after a roadside bomb detonated near a military convoy traveling in Kabul.

Amid the uptick in violence are signs U.S. President Barack Obama is reevaluating his earlier promise to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of the year. The New York Times reported late last week that the White House’s calculus in the country appears to have shifted, after a new plan was authorized that will allow American troops to continue fighting Taliban insurgents there well into 2015.

TIME Pakistan

Militants Gun Down Pakistan Health Workers as Polio Crisis Intensifies

Hospital staff stand near the bodies of anti-polio drive campaign workers who were shot by gunmen, at a hospital morgue in Quetta
Hospital staff stand near the bodies of antipolio campaign workers who were shot by gunmen, at a hospital morgue in Quetta, Pakistan, on Nov. 26, 2014 Naseer Ahmed—Reuters

There have been 260 new cases of polio diagnosed in the South Asian nation this year

Public-health workers continue to be gunned down at will by Islamic militants across Pakistan, where ongoing attacks against vaccination teams have hampered the government’s ability to rein in a spiraling polio crisis.

On Wednesday, heavily armed militants in the Baluchistan region capital of Quetta mowed down members of an antipolio campaign, leaving four public-health workers dead and three others injured. Survivors of the ambush chided government officials for failing to provide sufficient security for the team.

“Two men on a motorcycle stopped our car and started shooting. No security arrangements were made,” one of the victims told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “We called everyone, but no one came to our rescue.”

The bloody scene in Quetta this week has sadly become all too familiar in conflict-riven Pakistan. On Monday, near the city of Peshawar, gunmen mounted on a motorcycle shot and injured another polio health worker. A Taliban splinter group later claimed responsibility for the attack and issued a statement deriding the polio vaccine as “dangerous to health” and “against Islam,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The uptick in brazen attacks against health workers has saddled Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s embattled administration with renewed criticism, after he made boisterous promises during his campaign in 2013 to make peace with Taliban forces.

“Such cowardly attacks against our goal of polio-free Pakistan will further strengthen our resolve to stamp this menace out of the country,” Ayesha Raza Farooq, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s focal person on polio eradication, said in a statement on Monday. “I urge the provincial government to take all measures necessary to protect the polio teams and ensure safe conduct of polio campaigns.”

The militants’ suspicion of vaccination programs has been fueled in large part by the bogus hepatitis B campaign crafted by U.S. clandestine officials searching for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, which later lead to the dramatic killing of the al-Qaeda chief by Navy Seals.

In 2012, Taliban forces operating in the country’s tribal belt banned polio vaccinations and began openly attacking public-health officials trying to administer inoculations. More than 60 public-health workers have been killed in the country since the declaration.

Since 2012, transmission of the virus has been most intense in the country’s restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). But following an offensive launched by the Pakistani military against insurgents in FATA’s North Waziristan in June, close to 1 million people fled the area. As a result of the exodus, the polio epidemic has spread to other parts of Pakistan that had previously been unexposed to the highly contagious virus.

In the onslaught’s wake, public-health officials claim to have vaccinated more than 1 million people in the past few months, including 850,000 children under the age of 10, who were previously inaccessible, according to the Global Polio Initiative. Still, polio continues to spread across the country.

Public-health officials confirmed this week the existence of 260 new polio cases in Pakistan this year — a fourfold increase since the same duration in 2013, according to the New York Times. Pakistan is one of just three countries where polio remains endemic.

TIME weather

Thanksgiving Travel Chaos Amid Winter Storms, More Than 200 Flights Canceled

Looming snowstorms and heavy rain will likely spur additional travel delays and cancellations during the beginning of the Thanksgiving weekend

More than 200 commercial flights were canceled by late Tuesday night ahead of the busiest travel day of the year for Americans, as weather forecasters predict that snowstorms and rain are likely to pound the northeast throughout Wednesday and Thursday.

Approximately half the flight cancellations came from just two airports, New York LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, according to USA Today.

On Tuesday, the New York City Office of Emergency Management issued a travel advisory that a “total of 3-5 inches of heavy, wet snow” is forecast to blanket the Big Apple Wednesday, resulting in “dangerous driving conditions throughout the day.”

The National Weather Service also issued numerous winter storm warnings for large swaths of the American northeast stretching from the Appalachia Mountains in North Carolina to the Maine coastline.

The news comes less than a week after the American Automobile Association predicted that more than 46 million Americans would travel 50 miles or more from their homes during the Thanksgiving weekend — the largest number for the holiday in the past seven years.

On a brighter note, drivers hitting the road will enjoy the lowest gasoline prices since December 2010 as global oil prices continue to slide. And that, at least, is something to be thankful for.

TIME weather

After Epic Snowstorm Pummels Western New York, Forecasters Now Warn of Rain

Officials warn that weekend rains could put additional stress on roofs or cause flooding

After relentless, lake-effect snowfall blanketed much of western New York this week, officials warned on Thursday that a new peril is now looming — rain.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told a press conference on Thursday that forecasted rain over the weekend might put additional strain on already stressed roofs as the snow absorbs the precipitation.

“There will be a rain starting on Saturday that will not initially create a situation where the snow will melt, but it will actually act as a sponge,” said Poloncarz, according to CNN. “So the water that is falling will go into the snow pack and will actually act as a sponge until it finally starts releasing it.”

Making matters worse, the National Weather Services warned early Friday that bouts of rainfall along with the arrival of warmer air could cause flooding over the weekend.

“Much warmer air will arrive over the weekend and into early next week along with rain showers at times … Potentially bringing a flood risk to areas which were buried by lake effect snow,” read a statement released by the agency.

Forecasts aside, authorities made steady progress and began clearing roads as snow continued to fall throughout Thursday. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown boasted on his Facebook page that city workers had removed more than 24,000 tons of snow from the city’s south side as of Thursday evening. However, the mayor warned residents that pedestrian travel was still prohibited in South Buffalo.

During a press conference earlier in the day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said state employees had cleared large swaths of highway clogged with several feet of snow but urged New Yorkers to refrain from driving in affected areas.

“Phase two of the storm is on its way and safety continues to be our top priority,” said the governor. “As snow removal efforts continue, we urge people to stay inside and off the roads so that we can get people back to their everyday routines as quickly as possible.”

After weathering three days of record snowfalls, homebound Buffalo residents also coped with back-to-back announcements that neither of the city’s beloved sports franchises would be able to host scheduled home games this weekend.

The NHL announced that Friday’s game between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers had been postponed indefinitely. Then the NFL said that the Bills home game against the New York Jets on Sunday will now take place more than 200 miles west in Detroit on Monday night.

TIME Ukraine

Report: U.S. Will Boost Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine

Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk arrive for their meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, 21 Nov. 21,2014.
Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk arrive for their meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, 21 Nov. 21,2014. Sergey Dolzhenko—EPA

Vice President Joe Biden said to be discussing aid during his visit

The Obama Administration is ready to increase its delivery of nonlethal aid to the Ukrainian government, but will refrain from furnishing Kiev with weapons to use in its fight against pro-Russian forces in the country’s southeast, according to a new report.

Reuters, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reports that Vice President Joe Biden will discuss the aid with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s administration during his trip to Kiev, where he landed Thursday.

The new nonlethal aid is said to include surplus supplies from the Pentagon’s inventory, including Humvees and radar systems.

Biden’s arrival in the Ukrainian capital coincides with the release of a new U.N. report claiming that at least 1,000 people have been killed in the country since the government and separatists signed a cease-fire deal in September.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME weather

Buffalo Braces for More Snow as Winter Storm Inundates Western New York

“It’s going to get worse in some ways before it gets better”

National weather forecasters are predicting that yet another one to three feet of snow will likely fall over western New York state during the next 48 hours after a mammoth winter storm earlier this week.

The forecasts come as the National Weather Service warned late Wednesday that existing snow loads on buildings in affected areas may be reaching their “critical levels and result in structural failure.”

The unwelcome news surfaced after large swaths of Erie Country were blanketed with more than five feet of snow, leading to driving bans and the closure of 140 miles of New York’s major transport artery Interstate 90.

In Buffalo, officials scrambled to respond to the crisis. During a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor Bryon Brown said municipal authorities successfully removed 5,000 tons of snow from the city’s south side but insisted that residents continue to adhere to a newly instituted driving ban. At least seven people have been killed in the area as result of the storm.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that harder times lay ahead as state officials worked desperately to clear roads and respond to emergencies caused by the storm.

“It’s going to get worse in some ways before it gets better.” Cuomo told reporters. “This is a very difficult situation to deal with.”

Read next: This Insane Time-Lapse Video Shows Snow Blanketing Buffalo

 

TIME Crime

At Least 3 Wounded in Shooting at Florida State University

Florida State Shooting
Students call their friends still locked down in Strozier Library after a shooting at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla., on Nov. 20, 2014 Steven Cannon—AP

The campus was put on lockdown as police conducted a sweep

Correction appended, Nov. 20

An unidentified gunman was shot and killed by police after opening fire at Florida State University’s Strozier Library just after midnight Thursday in an attack that left at least three people wounded.

“We are reaching out to campus administrators to ensure anyone who witnessed this is able to get counseling,” a police spokesman told reporters. “We don’t have any other concerns about other shooters or any other threats to the campus.”

Officials sent out emergency-alert text messages warning students of a “dangerous situation” and calling on them to “seek shelter.” As the situation unfolded, social media was rife with images and videos of students taking cover on the university’s campus as police warned over a loud speaker that there had been a shooting at the library.

At least two individuals were being treated at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare hospital for gunshot wounds, according to ABC news.

An official at Florida State University Police Department declined to comment on the incident when contacted by TIME but said a statement would be released soon.

“This is always stuff you hear about happening at other schools like there are other crazed gunman at colleges but not at Florida State,” student Blair Stokes, who was in the library during the incident, told CNN. “I think this is another issue about gun control and about how we can be doing more in America.”

— With reporting by Turner Cowles

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of people treated at a local hospital for gunshot wounds. It was two people.

TIME Ukraine

Russia Wants a ‘100% Guarantee’ That Ukraine Won’t Join NATO

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the All-Russia Popular Front in Moscow on Nov. 18, 2014 Alexei Druzhinin—AP

Comment's come as NATO's secretary-general accuses Kremlin of "destabilizing" Ukraine

A top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the Kremlin wants “a 100% guarantee” that Ukraine will be prevented from joining NATO.

Dmitri Peskov told the BBC that NATO’s eastward expansion continued to make Russia “nervous.” His comments echoed similar tough talk coming from President Putin, who promised a crowd attending a forum in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia would never be subdued by Washington.

“Throughout history no one has ever managed to do so toward Russia — and no one ever will,” RT quoted Putin as saying.

Putin’s remarks came as NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused the Russian leadership of “destabilizing” Ukraine and breaking a two-month-old truce by continuing to support separatist forces fighting in the country’s southeast.

“We see the movement of troops, of equipment, of tanks, of artillery, of advance air-defense systems, and this is in violation of the cease-fire agreements,” said Stoltenberg, after arriving at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. “We call on Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk Agreements.”

The alliance, along with independent monitors, has issued numerous reports during the past two weeks claiming that the Russian military is moving armored columns across the border into Ukraine, where rebel militias have been shelling strategic locations in the war-torn Donbass region on a daily basis.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned during a press conference that there was no end in sight to the conflict in Ukraine unless all parties to the Minsk accord stuck to the cease-fire.

“There are no grounds for optimism in the current situation,” Steinmeier told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel struck an even harsher tone — labeling Russia’s incursions into Ukraine as “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“The violations of sovereignty and international law that the Russians have perpetuated continue to require responses,” said Hagel, adding that the U.S. has begun working with NATO “in shifting our entire rotational rapid deployment focus.”

But as politicians verbally spar over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the humanitarian disaster inside the country continues unabated. Last week, the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that Europe was facing its largest displacement crisis in more than two decades as winter arrives.

“By October, UNHCR estimated that more than 800,000 people have been displaced, representing the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Balkan wars,” read a statement released by the U.N. “It is the latest refugee crisis in a year that has seen several, and is stretching resources thin.”

Read next: Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

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