TIME United Nations

Cell Phones Could Help Millions in Developing Countries To Read

About 774 million people cannot read or write worldwide, and illiteracy can often be traced to the lack of books. Now, cell phones are cheaply and conveniently putting electronic books in the hands of users across developing countries.

A UNESCO study released Wednesday says that hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries are using their mobile phones to read, suggesting that mobile technology could help tackle illiteracy and boost access to educational and reading material.

The report found a “revolution” in reading habits in developing countries, where books can be scarce but cellphones are not. The UN estimates that some 6 billion people have cell phones—more than the number of people with access to toilets—and technology that compresses data can help mobile phone users with even basic phones cheaply access books and stories.

The report—which touts itself as the first ever study of mobile readers in developing countries—was jointly conducted with Nokia and the nonprofit Worldreader, which works to distribute digital book content around the world. More than 4,000 Worldreader users in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe were surveyed on their reading habits.

Overall, 62 percent of respondents said they are reading more as a result of mobile reading. More than 10% of respondents said their primary reason for reading on their phone was because it was more affordable than reading in print and another 9% said it was because they don’t otherwise have access to books or stories.

The report heralded mobile reading as a potential way to empower women in countries where they may face cultural or social impediments to accessing books. While the majority of mobile readers are male, according to the survey, female respondents read nearly six times as much as men.

“How do we bring text to the unreached?” the report asks. “The answer – at least in the immediate term – is mobile devices, and more precisely mobile phones.”

TIME Palestine

Hamas and Fatah Sign Palestinian Unity Deal

From left: Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmed, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniya, Hamas deputy leader Musa Abu Marzuk, and secretary-general of the Palestinian Arab Front (PAF) Jameel Shehadeh in Gaza on April 23, 2014.
From left: Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti, Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmed, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniya, Hamas deputy leader Musa Abu Marzuk, and secretary-general of the Palestinian Arab Front (PAF) Jameel Shehadeh in Gaza on April 23, 2014. Said Khatib—AFP/Getty Images

Representatives from Fatah and Hamas have reached a reconciliation deal that would unite the rival factions into one government, but that could threaten the sputtering U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority

The rival Palestinian factions agreed Wednesday on a reconciliation deal that would unite Hamas and Fatah amid sputtering peace talks between Israel and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

The agreement calls for a unity government within weeks, the BBC reports, seven years after the two factions violently split, with Hamas retaining control of the Gaza Strip and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority ruling in the West Bank.

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he would have to choose between peace with Israel or with Hamas, an Islamist militant group that rejects peace with Israel, Reuters reports.

The U.S.-backed peace talks have stalled, with both sides defying terms of the negotiations ahead of the impending April 29 deadline that negotiators are trying to extend.

The agreement reached Wednesday calls for general elections within six months of a vote of confidence by the Palestinian parliament, according to BBC. But past deals have fallen through before being implemented, including an Egyptian-brokered deal that fell apart over power sharing and relations with Israel.

[BBC]

TIME europe

U.S. Plans Military Exercises Near Russia

Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walks past the barricades on Mykhailivska Square in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 22, 2014 Sergei Chuzavkov—AP

The U.S. will deploy about 600 troops for training exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to reassure NATO and regional allies adjacent to Russia

The U.S. will send hundreds of troops to East Europe for training exercises, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, as the Americans look to reassure nervous allies near Russia.

The U.S. will deploy roughly 600 troops already stationed in Europe to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Tuesday. The troops will be replaced with new units within about a month, and the U.S. expects to maintain a presence for at least the remainder of the year, he said.

“The message is to the people of Poland and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia that the United States takes seriously our obligations,” Kirby said.

The U.S. is aiming to reassure allies in the region amid tensions on Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russia has amassed thousands of troops since it annexed the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Vice President Joe Biden met with the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev on Tuesday, where he threatened new sanctions against Russia if it does not pull back its troops. He also said Russia should “stop talking and start acting,” days after international parties agreed on a joint roadmap to diffuse the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have occupied towns and cities. The separatists have so far defied the agreement’s stipulation that they disarm, and on Tuesday acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchinov called for police to resume “counterterrorism” operations in the region after the body of a recently abducted local politician with suspected torture marks was found.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Leader Orders Forces To Resume Operations in Restive East

A pro-Russian activist walks in front a barricade set up outside the regional administrative building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 21, 2014.
A pro-Russian activist walks in front a barricade set up outside the regional administrative building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 21, 2014. Anatoliy Stepanov—AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine's acting president Oleksander Turchinov ordered security forces to resume "counter-terrorism operations" after two bodies with suspected torture marks were found in eastern Ukraine, where separatists are occupying towns and cities

Ukraine’s acting president called Tuesday for security forces to resume “counter-terrorism” operations in eastern Ukraine after two bodies, including one of a local politician, were reportedly found in the region with signs of torture.

“The terrorists who effectively took the whole Donetsk region hostage have now gone too far, by starting to torture and murder Ukrainian patriots,” Oleksander Turchinov said in a statement.

The deceased politician, Volodymyr Ryback, was a member of a Turchinov’s party who had recently been kidnapped, BBC reports.

Ukraine had suspended the “active stage” of operations that began last week against pro-Russian separatists who have occupied towns and cities in the region, after international parties agreed Thursday to a joint roadmap to end the crisis near the Ukraine-Russia border. But the separatists have so far defied the agreement’s stipulation that they disarm. Vice President Joe Biden, on a visit to Kiev Tuesday, called on Russia to “stop talking and start acting,” Reuters reports.

[BBC]

TIME India

Alleged Anti-Muslim Comments Stir Controversy in Midst of Indian Parliamentary Elections

INDIA-POLITICS-RSS
Vishva Hindu Parishad president Pravin Togadia Sam Panthaky—AFP/Getty Images

A video clip appears to show Pravin Togadia, head of a right-wing Hindu organization, telling an audience that Muslims should be barred from buying property in Hindu areas. A lawyer for Togadia called reports of the incident "false"

A video purporting to show the head of a right-wing Hindu organization making anti-Muslim comments has sparked controversy in the midst of a highly contested national election.

The clip appears to show Pravin Togadia, head of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, telling an audience in the northwest state of Gujarat that Muslims should be blocked from buying property in Hindu areas.

The ruling Congress Party and other political parties quickly condemned Togadia, with the controversy coming more than halfway through the staggered parliamentary elections that began on April 7 and end on May 12. The Election Commission has directed local authorities to file a police report and sought a copy of the recording of the video before deciding on a course of action, the Times of India reports.

A lawyer for Togadia said in a legal notice sent to the media on Monday that “the report about a misinformed incident in Gujarat as appeared in an English newspaper … is false, malafide and mischievous.”

The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the leading opposition party, echoed his denial, according to the Times of India.

“I talked to Togadiaji. He said he did not make such a statement,” BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar told journalists on Monday.

The BJP, projected to win a narrow majority in this month’s elections behind prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, is riding high amid concerns about a slowdown in the economy. Modi has gained support by promising to revive growth, but critics worry about his record. They point to Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 that left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims, under his watch as chief minister. He continues to face questions about the riots, though Indian courts have never found him criminally culpable and have cleared him of any wrongdoing.

[Times of India]

TIME Iran

Execution, Interrupted: Killer’s Life Spared Moments Before Hanging

Hundreds of people are executed every year in Iran, but Balal will not be one of them, thanks to the actions of his victim's mother. Photographer Arash Khamooshi captured the unexpected moment in the northern Iranian city of Nowshahr

Correction: Appended, April 18.

Balal was standing on a chair, blindfolded and with a noose around his neck, when the mother of the man he stabbed to death seven years ago approached him, the Guardian reports. According to some interpretations of Shari‘a, the victim’s family participates in the punishment by pushing the chair from under the condemned man. But this time, the mother of the victim slapped Balal across the face and then helped the victim’s father remove the noose.

Photographer Arash Khamooshi captured the unexpected moment on April 15 in the northern Iranian city of Nowshahr. Khamooshi was following the public execution from the beginning, when Balal was dragged to the gallows in front of a crowd of onlookers that included Balal’s mother. And Khamooshi captured the aftermath, when the mothers of the murderer and the victim embraced.

But while Balal’s fortune is the story of forgiveness, hundreds of other condemned Iranians are not as lucky. An Amnesty International report released earlier this year found that Iran put to death at least 369 people and likely several hundreds of others — more people than any country in the world except China. Last week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rebuked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for failing to improve human rights, including its high level of executions.

The victim’s family had already received calls from across the country, including from the prominent sportscaster Adel Ferdosipour, to forgive Balal, and she said her son came to her in a dream days before the execution to tell her that he was in a good place and that she should not avenge his death. Her ultimate decision spares Balal the death penalty according to Iranian law but does not necessarily free him from prison.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to the victim’s parents.

TIME Economy

S&P Has Best Week Since Last Summer

Stocks bounced back from a poor stretch and ended Easter week ahead, with the S&P recording its best week since July.

Stocks bounced back from a poor start to the month and ended the shortened week ahead, with the S&P recording its best week since July.

The S&P rose .1 percent to 1,8645 Thursday and gained 2.7 percent on the week, which ends Thursday ahead of the Good Friday holiday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down slightly on the day, but both the Dow and the Nasdaq were up more than 2% for the week.

Stocks were buoyed by a series of strong earnings reports this week, including from GE and Morgan Stanley.

But a couple heavyweights bucked the trend. Google and IBM both reported poorer than expected results and saw their stocks tumble, with Google down 3.7% Thursday and IBM down 3.3%.

TIME Ukraine

Top Diplomats Agree on Path Out of Ukraine Crisis

From left: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at the start of a bilateral meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine on April 17, 2014 in Geneva.
From left: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at the start of a bilateral meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine on April 17, 2014 in Geneva. Jim Bourg—AFP/Getty Images

The President said the U.S. won't enter the crisis after the U.S., E.U., Ukraine and Russia agreed to a plan that includes disarming militias in the eastern region who are occupying government buildings, but the insurgents say they'll stay until Kiev's leadership resigns

Updated 7:12 a.m. ET Friday

Top diplomats meeting in Geneva, Switzerland Thursday agreed on a joint roadmap to ease tensions in eastern Ukraine.

Representatives from the U.S., the European Union, Ukraine and Russia agreed after seven hours of discussion to establish a national dialogue regarding Ukraine, while also calling for illegal militant groups to be disarmed and for all parties to refrain from intimidation or violence, the AP reports. The deal will include amnesty for pro-Russian protesters except those found guilty of capital crimes.

“Our most urgent task is to de-escalate the tension in Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference following the meeting. “The parties agreed that all sides must refrain from violence.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which counts Russia as one of its members, will help monitor compliance with the deal.

President Barack Obama expressed little optimism that Russia would abide by the agreement reached in Geneva, telling reporters at the White House on Thursday “my hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be, you know, efforts of interference by the Russians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.”

Obama added that “military options are not on the table in Ukraine.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said Thursday that “if the Russians want to show they are serious about de-escalation, they’ll leave Crimea.”

The arrangement could ease a global political showdown over Ukraine that has pitted Russia against the U.S. and the EU which escalated last month after Russia annexed the southern region of Crimea. It also may put on hold additional planned U.S. economic sanctions targeting Russia, though Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday the U.S. will have “no choice” but to impose the sanctions if the deal falls through.

Tensions have spiked recently amid clashes in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian protesters and the new pro-Western government. Russia has amassed troops along the border with Ukraine and pledged to protect the large Russian minority in the region from the new pro-Western government despite threats from the U.S. and the EU.

On April 18, a day after the roadmap was agreed to in Geneva, pro-Russian insurgents who have held government buildings in Ukraine’s eastern region said they would only vacate them if Kiev’s interim government resigns. AP reports that a spokesman for the self-appointed Donetsk People’s Republic told reporters they don’t recognize that leadership as legitimate.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier Thursday the U.S. would provide more nonlethal military aid to Ukraine amid concerns of a Russian incursion, though the White House has not offered lethal military aid to the country.

- Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

[Associated Press]

TIME 2016 Election

Beau Biden, VP’s Son, Says He’ll Run for Delaware Governor

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attends the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 6, 2012.
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attends the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 6, 2012. Chris Keane—Reuters

The eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, Beau, has announced plans to run for governor of Delaware in 2016, backtracking on running for a third term as the state's attorney general. The 45-year-old suffered a stroke in 2010 but was recently given a clean bill of health

Beau Biden, the eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, said he will run for governor of Delaware in 2016, the Associated Press reports.

Biden said he won’t seek a third term as attorney general. Instead, he’ll make a go for the top job in the state his father represented in the U.S. Senate for more than three decades.

The 45-year-old attorney general suffered a stroke in 2010 and underwent surgery last year at a Texas cancer center, where doctors removed what they described as a small lesion. A doctor at the Texas hospital gave him “a clean bill of health” in November, the AP reports.

[AP]

TIME South Korea

Captain of Ferry That Capsized Off South Korea ‘Really Sorry’

Coast guard members search for passengers near a South Korean ferry that capsized on its way to Jeju island from Incheon on April 16, 2014.
Coast guard members search for passengers near a South Korean ferry that capsized on its way to Jeju island from Incheon on April 16, 2014. Dong-A Ilbo—AFP/Getty Images

Lee Joon-seok apologizes to survivors and relatives after the Sewol capsized off South Korea Wednesday, leaving at least 14 dead and more than 280 unaccounted for. Divers are still searching for survivors that may be trapped inside the vessel

The captain of a ferry that capsized Wednesday off the southern South Korean coast apologized Thursday for his role in the incident that left at least 14 dead and 282 missing.

“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” Captain Lee Joon-seok said during a coast guard investigative interview that appeared on South Korean television Thursday, ABC News reports. “I don’t know what to say.”

Lee, who was reportedly one of the first people to evacuate the sinking ferry, faces possible criminal charges over the incident.

Fourteen people have been found dead while another 179 have been rescued from the vessel. Another 282 passengers — many of them students on a high school trip — are still missing, Reuters reports.

Divers are still searching for survivors as some hope that still-missing passengers may be alive in air-filled pockets inside the vessel.

[ABC News]

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