TIME Middle East

Watchdog: Israel Moving Forward with East Jerusalem Construction

Anti-settlement watchdog fears the move will be a further setback to the already foundering peace talks

Israel is set to build more than 700 homes in a Jewish area of east Jerusalem, a watchdog group said Wednesday, potentially complicating peace talks with Palestinians leaders that are already on life support.

The group Peace Now said Israel renwed a call for contractor bids in the area of Gilo, the Associated Press reports. A spokesman for Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel said the timing was unrelated to the ongoing talks with the Palestinians. But the negotiations are currently at an extremely sensitive point, with the latest settlement news prompting fears the talks will veer off course. The report also came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Tuesday that he would pursue a campaign for greater recognition of a Palestinian state, despite earlier promises that he would not do so.

Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now spokeswoman, said the Israeli government’s move was designed to “make problems” in the negotiations.

[AP]

TIME North Korea

Crashed Drone Found On South Korean Island

Seoul is investigating the unmanned aircraft as a possible spy drone from North Korea

An unidentified drone was discovered Monday on the South Korean island of Baengnyeong, prompting Seoul to launch an investigation into whether it was a North Korean spy aircraft.

The drone is thought to have landed on Monday at the same time North Korea fired rounds of artillery into seas near to the disputed border. It was reported to be 2 to 3 metres long and comprised of Chinese and Japanese parts, as well as a small camera.

Its discovery spurred an investigation into whether the drone came from North Korea, as the island is near a disputed maritime border between the two countries, reports Reuters. The South Korean military has tried to confirm whether the drone definitely came from the North and if it was linked to any espionage attempts.

The South Korean military has tried to confirm whether the drone definitely came from the North and if it was linked to any espionage attempts.

Although the rounds of artillery fired off by the North prompted Seoul to retaliate by firing back, the skirmish is thought to be little more than muscle-flexing from both sides rather than the beginnings of a military standoff.

[Reuters]

TIME Germany

Germany Returns Stolen Polish Art from 1939

Berlin hopes that the return of ‘Palace Stairs,’ an 18th Century picture by Venetian artist Francesco Guardi, will encourage Warsaw to return German books and manuscripts held in Poland

The German government has returned a painting stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War.

‘Palace Stairs,’ an 18th Century picture by Venetian artist Francesco Guardi, was taken from Poland’s National Museum just after Germany invaded in 1939. The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave the work to his Polish equivalent Radoslaw Sikorski on Monday, reports the BBC.

The picture, which shows noblemen talking on the stairs of the Doge Palace in Venice, ended up at the University of Heidelberg after the war before going to the State Gallery of Baden-Wuerttemberg. It wasn’t recognized as belonging to Poland until the 1990s.

The German government hopes eventually that the Berlinka collection – a set of 300,000 manuscripts, books and drawings – will be returned to them from Poland. The items were stored in Poland during the war by the Nazis to protect them from damage, and now currently reside in Krakow. Differences of opinion between Berlin and Warsaw had prevented any deals from being reached sooner, and German officials hope the return of ‘Palace Stairs’ will reignite dialogue with Poland.

“The painting has been on a long odyssey,” said Mr. Steinmeier. “[It represents] the difficult history between our two countries.”

[BBC]

TIME europe

Russia Dismisses U.N. Resolution on Crimea as ‘Counterproductive’

Moscow says it won't change course of United Nations vote

Russia on Friday dismissed as “counterproductive” the United Nations resolution calling Moscow’s annexation of the breakaway Crimea region from Ukraine illegal.

“The counterproductive initiative with the General Assembly’s resolution only complicates efforts to stabilize the internal political crisis in Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website.

The U.N. vote a day earlier had declared Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal and invalid, but Russia said that won’t make it change course. The annexation has been widely criticized by western countries, and has prompted growing concerns that Russia may try to seize a larger part of Ukraine. American officials are watching Russian troops massed along the Ukraine border with an increasingly wary eye.

TIME Capital Punishment

Global Executions Rise With Help From Iran and Iraq

China is still the world leader in executions

A steep rise in the number of people executed in Iran and Iraq caused the total number of executions worldwide to rise 15 percent last year, Amnesty International said Thursday.

Almost 80 percent of all known executions were recorded in only three countries: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In 2013, the number of executions in Iraq went up to 169, while Iran saw them rise to 369. At least 778 people were put to death in 2013, the rights group said, compared to 682 in 2012.

China is still thought to execute the most people, though exact numbers are kept secret.

Kuwait, Nigeria, Indonesia and Vietnam last year all resumed their use of capital punishment. But there has been a general decline in the total number of countries using capital punishment in the last 20 years. Many countries who executed people in 2012 did not do so in 2013, including Gambia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Salil Shetty, the Secretary-General for Amnesty International, described the statistics as “shameful,” but also said the small number of countries that carried out mass killings shows “the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past.”

TIME Asia

China Looks to Strengthen Internet Security After Spying Reports

Tensions increase amid reports that U.S. hacked into top telecommunications firm

China announced Thursday that it will boost its Internet security in the wake of reports that the United States spied on the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng stated that reports of the National Security Agency hacking into Huawei servers exposed “the United States’ hypocrisy and despotic rule,” Reuters reports.

The White House says the NSA does not spy for commercial advantage, but accusations of espionage against both sides have soured relations between the two countries. The New York Times and the German magazine Der Speigel, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reported on the NSA hacking of Huawei servers on Saturday.

The Defence Ministry did not say exactly what it would do to strengthen cyber security.

[Reuters]

TIME Asia

Southeast Asia Declared Free of Polio

The world's second most-populous nation, as well as the whole of southeast Asia, has been officially certified as free of the disease

The World Health Organization will certify India as free of polio on Thursday, after the country went three years without an endemic case of the disease.

The WHO’s Regional Certification Commission is also certifying southeast Asia as polio-free, the commission said Thursday. The commission praised India and southeast Asian countries for their public health efforts.

“South-East Asia’s remarkable achievement in ending polio was made possible by unprecedented commitment from governments to hold high-quality vaccination campaigns that reached a cumulative total of 7.5 billion children over 17 years, in every home from the busiest city street to the remotest rural corner, with the dedication of millions of community health workers and volunteers,” the commission said in a statement.

As recently as 2009, India was home to almost 50 percent of the world’s polio cases. The disease, which can lead to paralysis of the limbs and eventual death and has no cure, was considered particularly hard to eradicate from India due to the country’s high-density population and poor sanitation in many areas. But health workers were able to home in on groups particularly vulnerable to the disease, such as the children of migrants, and make sure they were vaccinated. The Indian government, United Nations organizations, celebrities and religious leaders also helped to launch outreach efforts and combat misconceptions about the disease. As a result, India’s last polio case was reported in a two-year-old girl in west Bengal in 2011.

“Ending polio in these countries forged strong systems that are now being used to advance other health priorities,” the commission said.

TIME Turkey

Turkish Court Overturns Twitter Ban

Two Turkish women try to get on Twitter website on their laptops at a cafe in Istanbul, March 21, 2014.
Two Turkish women try to get on Twitter website on their laptops at a cafe in Istanbul, March 21, 2014. Tolga Bozoglu—EPA

The temporary injunction demands the government-controlled telecommunications authority allow citizens access again to the microblogging site, as Twitter files its own petitions for lawsuits challenging the ban

Updated 11:15 a.m. ET

A Turkish court declared a temporary injunction Wednesday demanding the government-controlled telecoms authority lift the ban on Twitter imposed by the Turkish government five days ago, according to a news agency there.

Lawyers and opposition politicians in Turkey have asked the court to overturn the moratorium on the social network, claiming it was unconstitutional and not legal, reports AP.

Twitter also filed petitions for lawsuits that would challenge the ban on its website in Turkey, the company said in blog post Wednesday. “The millions of people in Turkey who turn to Twitter to make their voices heard are being kept from doing just that,” Twitter said.

Turkey’s telecoms authority had accused Twitter of defying court orders that certain content be removed. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “rip out the roots” of Twitter last week after it hosted content posted by users showing evidence of possible government corruption. However many online users in Turkey swiftly found ways around the ban.

[AP]

With additional reporting by Sam Frizell

TIME

Pakistan Begins Peace Talks With Taliban

The meeting will be the first direct contact between the militants and government since they began inching toward negotiations in February; the government is aiming for a ceasefire but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has indicated military action may be used if talks fail

Pakistani government representatives arrived in the volatile area of North Waziristan on Wednesday to begin peace talks with the Taliban.

The meeting will be the first direct contact the two sides have had since a move toward peace negotiations began in February, reports the BBC. The government team arrived by helicopter and are set to meet with representatives from the Taliban in an unidentified location.

The talks were announced earlier this year by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after a series of violent attacks in North Waziristan. Militant rebels from the group Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTP) have been conducting a violent insurgency in the area since 2007, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.

The group’s aim is to extend their deeply conservative interpretation of Sharia law across the country. Although the government has said it aims to negotiate a one-month ceasefire, outside observers predict they will be unsuccessful. Sharif has indicated that military action might be used if the talks fail.

[BBC]

TIME Africa

Pistorius Trial Adjourned as Prosecution Rests

The man known as Blade Runner could testify later this week

Prosecutors in the trial of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius rested their case Tuesday after 15 days of testimony, setting the stage for the accused murderer to take the witness stand himself when his defense begins.

The trial of Pistorius, who is accused of murder after fatally shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14 last year, was adjourned for two days as defense lawyers prepared the athlete’s case. He is expected to testify in his defense, possibly as early as Friday.

The final day of prosecution ended with Pistorius’ lawyer suggesting the double-amputee known as Blade runner and his girlfriend had been a loving and happy couple. The claim came after evidence was presented Monday of text messages Steenkamp had sent Pistorius, in which she admitted she was “scared” of him sometimes.

But attorney Barry Roux said only four messages out of hundreds showed evidence of any arguments, Sky Sports reports.

Pistorius has denied intentionally killing his girlfriend, maintaining that when he shot her several times through a locked bathroom door it was because he thought she was an intruder. The trial is in its fourth week and is not expected to conclude until May. If found guilty of murder, Pistorius could face life in prison.

[Sky Sports]

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