TIME Syria

Syria Loses Internet, Again

Syria was cut off from the Internet, marking the second time in a month that the war-torn country has gone dark, according to monitoring groups. Internet blackouts have in the past coincided with Syrian military operations

Multiple monitoring groups reported Thursday that Syria was cut off from the Internet, marking the second time in a month that the war-torn country has gone dark.

The Internet monitor Renesys said 95% of Syria’s networks went down beginning at 8:26 ET. Google also shows traffic from the country dropping around that time and picking up only around 3:30 p.m.

Internet blackouts occur with some frequency in Syria—the last reported instance was Feb. 20, according to Mashable—and have in the past coincided with Syrian military operations, though the government typically blames technical problems.

A Renesys researcher, Doug Madory, told Mashable that the link from Aleppo to Turkey was the only working connection, which “is consistent with outages over the past few months.”

TIME Afghanistan

Gunmen Storm Luxury Hotel in Kabul

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-HOTEL
An Afghan policeman stands guard near the security perimeter setup around the Serena hotel in Kabul late on March 21, 2014. Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images

Authorities say four assailants were killed and there were no known other deaths. The Kabul hotel, which regularly houses foreign delegations, is hosting United Nations staffers in the country to monitor upcoming elections

Gunmen stormed a luxury hotel in Kabul on Thursday in the most recent attack on foreigners, but authorities say four assailants were killed and there were no known other deaths.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters that two guards were injured at the Serena hotel, in the center of the capital. He said the attackers, who appeared younger than 18, entered with pistols in their socks and waited three hours before firing their weapons.

The hotel regularly houses foreign delegations and is currently hosting United Nations staffers in the country to monitor upcoming elections, according to BBC.

In January, a bomb killed 21 people at a restaurant popular among foreigners, shattering a sense of relative security for foreigners in the Afghan capital. Earlier this month, a British-Swedish journalist was shot dead in broad daylight in Kabul.

[Reuters]

TIME

Gallup: Houston Has the Country’s Best Job Environment

A new Gallup Economy survey of job environments in the U.S. top 50 metropolitan areas finds that businesses are overall hiring more people than they are firing. Here are the five best—and worst—locations to work

Houston has the best job environment of any of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to a survey released Thursday by Gallup Economy.

The report found that businesses in cities across America are hiring more than they are firing, the latest marker that companies are recovering from the recession. The national unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 6.6% in January, before ticking up slightly amid the winter chill in February.

Cities in the South demonstrated the healthiest job environments, with Texas claiming three of the top ten cites: Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Charlotte, North Carolina, saw the greatest improvement from Gallup’s 2011 report, followed by Houston.

On the bottom end, California and the Northeast were most represented. The ten cities with the bleakest job environments comprised four cities in California, including fiftieth-ranked San Diego, but even in those cities more respondents said their company was hiring than firing.

The New York metropolitan area, the largest in the country, ranked No. 49 on the list of fifty cities.

Here are the metropolitan areas with the top five job environments:

  1. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas
  2. Columbus, Ohio
  3. Salt Lake City, Utah
  4. Orlando-Kissimmee, Fla.
  5. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.

And the bottom five:

  1. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade—Roseville, Calif.
  2. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontariao, Calif.
  3. Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, R.I.-Mass.
  4. New York-North New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.
  5. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.

The survey asked at least 1,000 people in each city if their company or employer was adding jobs or letting people go. See the poll here.

TIME Turkey

Turkey’s Erdogan Now Says He’ll Shut Down Twitter, Too

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the crowd during an opening ceremony of a new metro line in Ankara on March 13, 2014.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses the crowd during an opening ceremony of a new metro line in Ankara on March 13, 2014. Umit Bektas—Reuters

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday he’ll shut down Twitter in the country, after audio recordings surfaced that implicated him in a corruption scandal. “I don’t care what the international community says," he added

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted Thursday as saying he’ll shut down Twitter in the country, two weeks after he backpedaled on threats to ban Facebook and YouTube.

“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter, “ he said at a campaign rally in the western city of Bursa ahead of local elections, Hurriyet Daily News reports. “I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.”

The prime minister’s feud with the popular social media sites was sparked earlier this month after audio recordings that purportedly implicated him in a recent corruption scandal surfaced online. Erdogan has denied involvement and said the recordings were fabricated.

[Hurriyet Daily News]

TIME Religion

Westboro Baptist Church Founder Fred Phelps Sr. Dead at 84

The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, on Sept. 12, 2012.
The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church, on Sept. 12, 2012. Michael S. Williamson—Washington Post/Getty Images

Rev. Fred Phelps, Sr., notorious for arguing that the deaths of U.S. soldiers were punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality and abortion, died Thursday at 84. He was reportedly sick with an unknown illness

Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of the provocative Westboro Baptist Church, died Thursday at 84, the Associated Press reports.

Phelps’ daughter, Margie Phelps, confirmed he died early Thursday morning but did not provide a cause of death, according to the AP. A Westboro spokesman told the AP Sunday that Phelps had been moved to a care facility in Shawnee County, Kan.

The Westboro Baptist Church, which is primarily made up of Phelps’s extended family members, became notorious for holding protests outside U.S. soldiers’ funerals, claiming the deaths were punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

The demonstrations prompted a suite demanding compensation for the pain inflicted on grieving families. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected that suit, upholding the group’s right to picket funerals.

[AP]

TIME Courts

Court Tosses $1.2B Ruling Against Johnson & Johnson

An Arkansas jury previous found the pharmaceutical company liable for downplaying the risks of the antipsychotic drug Ripserdal.

The Arkansas Supreme Court threw out a $1.2 billion judgment against the pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson in a case over its marketing of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

The court ruled that the state improperly sued Johnson & Johnson under a law that applies to health care facilities—not pharmaceutical companies—when it won a 2012 case by arguing that company subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals downplayed the risks of Risperdal and lied to doctors about its side effects, the Associated Press reports.

The case was one of several across the country challenging the drugmakers’ marketing of Risperdal, the AP reports. The companies have appealed a $327 million judgement in a similar case in South Carolina and had another ruling overturned in Louisiana in January.

Risperdal made billions of dollars for Johnson & Johnson after it was released in 1994, netting $4.5 billion in global sales in 2007 alone. The drug has been linked to increased risk of stroke and death in elderly patients, as well as seizures, weight gain and diabetes.

The companies argued in Arkansas that there was no fraud related to Risperdal and the state’s Medicaid program was not harmed, the AP reports.

[AP]

TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius Is Selling The House Where Steenkamp Was Killed

South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is seen during his ongoing murder trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, March 14, 2014.
South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is seen during his ongoing murder trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, March 14, 2014. Phill Magakoe—EPA

The attorney for Oscar Pistorius says the double-amputee sprinter is selling the house in South Africa where he fatally shot Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013 in order to cover legal fees for his murder trial

Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympic athlete on trial for allegedly murdering his girlfriend, is selling the house where she was killed to raise money for his legal fees, his lawyer said Thursday.

Pistorius is selling the gated community villa because the trial that began March 3 will go beyond the expected three-week duration, his lawyer, Brian Webber, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

The double-amputee sprinter has not returned to the house since he shot Reeva Steenkamp in an upstairs bathroom last year, Webber said. He added that the athlete “cannot contemplate ever returning to live there again.” The house was handed over to police after the shooting.

Pistorius has said he believed Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot at the bathroom door, killing Steenkamp.

[AP]

TIME europe

Ukraine Says It Won’t Surrender in Crimea

Ukrainian naval officers passed by Russian military personnel as they left the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol on Wednesday after Russian forces and local militiamen seized control of the facility, March 19, 2014.
Ukrainian naval officers passed by Russian military personnel as they left the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Sevastopol on Wednesday after Russian forces and local militiamen seized control of the facility, March 19, 2014. Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME

Lawmakers defiantly say Ukraine won't give up the autonomous peninsula being annexed by Russia even as its military prepares to pull back

The Ukrainian Parliament said Thursday that it won’t give up on Crimea, even as its military acknowledged it’s preparing to pull out of the breakaway region and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty annexing the peninsula.

“Crimea was, is and will be part of Ukraine,” the parliament said in a statement, CNN reports. “The Ukrainian people will never, under no circumstances, stop fighting for the liberation of Crimea from the occupants, no matter how hard and long it is.”

Russian and pro-Russian forces took control of the peninsula in late February and have overwhelmed, mostly peacefully, Ukrainian forces in the region.

Ukraine’s naval commander, detained when armed men stormed the naval base in Sevastopol on Wednesday, was released during the night, according to a statement posted Thursday to the website of the presidency.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov had set a 9 p.m. (3 p.m. EST) deadline on Wednesday for pro-Russian forces to release hostages and stop provocations, threatening action of “technical and technological character,” which was interpreted to mean shutting off utilities, according to CNN.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry authorized its forces to open fire in self defense after a Ukrainian soldier was killed during a raid on their base outside the regional capital of Simferopol. But on Wednesday, a defense official said in a televised statement that Ukraine was prepared to evacuate its military personnel if the United Nations designates Crimea a “demilitarized zone.”

[CNN]

TIME Crime

New Jersey Employee Stole Almost Half-a-Million Dollars… in Quarters

Thomas Rica, a former Ridgewood borough employee, stands with his attorney Robert Galantucci, during a hearing at the Bergen County Courthouse Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Hackensack, N.J.
Thomas Rica, a former Ridgewood borough employee, stands with his attorney Robert Galantucci, during a hearing at the Bergen County Courthouse Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Hackensack, N.J. Mitsu Yasukawa—he Record of Bergen County/AP

A Bergen County public works inspector who admitted to swiping about 1.8 million quarters—roughly 11.25 tons—over 25 months won't go to prison, but he will begin paying back the stolen money

A public works inspector in New Jersey admitted Wednesday to stealing more than $460,000 in quarters over a span of 25 months.

Thomas Rica, 43, was arrested last year and fired for taking $500 in coins. A Bergen County investigation found that his coin collection was, in fact, much larger. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of third-degree theft from the village of Ridgewood, The Record newspaper reports.

Officials say Rica gained access to a room in the Village Hall with his master key, where he regularly took handfuls of coins, sometimes several times a week. Four separate times, he took more than $500, his lawyer Robert Galantucci, said at Wednesday’s hearing.

Rica deposited his illicit earnings at coin machines in multiple different bank branches, eluding authorities even though the coins he took over two years amounted to more than half of Ridgewood’s total annual collection from parking meters.

The 1.8 million quarters—roughly 11.25 tons—helped complement Rica’s $86,000 salary, The Record reports. Rica’s plea deal means that he won’t go to prison but will instead have to pay back the stolen money, beginning with an initial lump sump of $69,000 followed by at least $2,000 a month.

It needn’t be in coins.

[The Record]

TIME europe

Train Slams Into Minibus in Turkey, Killing at Least 9

Nine are dead and three people are seriously injured

A commuter train crashed into a minibus in southern Turkey on Thursday, killing nine people and injuring several others.

The shuttle bus was hit on a railway crossing as it carried workers to an industrial zone in the province of Mersin, the Associated Press reports. All of the dead were on the minibus, and no one on the train was hurt.

The local governor, Basri Guzeloglu, said the cause of the accident is under investigation, though local media reports say the barrier arms at the crossing were up as a result of a signaling failure.

[AP]

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