TIME Japan

Japan’s PM Abe to Express Remorse on 70th Anniversary of WWII Surrender

Jiji Press—AFP/Getty Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and his Cabinet members visit the Ise shrine in Ise, in central Japan, on Jan. 5, 2015

The 60-year-old vowed to emphasize Japan's efforts toward future world peace

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will express remorse for his country’s role in World War II in a statement on the 70th anniversary of his nation’s surrender in August.

“I would like to write of Japan’s remorse over the war, its postwar history as a pacifist nation and how it will contribute to the Asia-Pacific region and the world,” Abe said at a press conference on Monday, reports Kyodo news agency.

Japan’s relations with South Korea and China have long been deeply impacted by the country’s attitude toward its wartime actions. The East Asian neighbors will pay particularly close attention to whether Abe will uphold his predecessor Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 apology for the “tremendous damage and suffering” Japan caused to people across Asia during the Pacific war.

Asked about Murayama’s statement, Abe said that he “has and will uphold statements issued by past administrations.”

[Kyodo]

TIME Japan

Japan Orders Chicken Cull Amid Another Bird-Flu Outbreak

It's the second time in two weeks

Local authorities in Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture have begun slaughtering 42,000 chickens after dead fowl at a poultry farm tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5 strain of the bird-flu virus.

The case comes less than two weeks after the virus was confirmed at another farm in the same prefecture, prompting the cull of 4,000 birds, Kyodo news agency reports.

Sterilization points have been set up on roads around the newly affected farm. Poultry within a radius of 3 km of the farm cannot be transported and shipments of another 1.93 million birds to areas lying within 10 km of the property have been halted.

“Unlike the first case, the bird flu this time will involve far bigger numbers of chickens and farms. We need to move quickly,” Miyazaki Governor Shunji Kono said on Sunday.

Miyazaki prefecture experienced a mass bird-flu outbreak in 2011, leading to the cull of more than a million chickens.

A prefectural official said it is not clear whether the two recent cases are connected.

[Kyodo]

TIME Greece

Greek Parliamentary Vote May Lead to Snap Elections and a Derailed Bailout

GREECE-POLITICS-ECONOMY-PARLIAMENT-VOTE
Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images People walk past the Greek Parliament in Athens on Dec. 17, 2014. Greece is a step away from early elections that could repudiate its international bailout and rekindle a euro-zone crisis after lawmakers failed to elect a President

Antiausterity left-wing party rides high in polls

The Greek Parliament is holding a vote Monday that will decide whether the country will go to snap elections, possibly bringing to power the left-wing Syriza party that has vowed to renegotiate the battered country’s international bailout.

The vote is the third and final round to elect a new President. Failure to do so will trigger polls by early February, reports Reuters.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ nominee Stavros Dimas runs unopposed, but needs 12 more votes to secure the necessary supermajority.

Syriza is leading the opinion polls, buoyed by its objections to the present terms of the joint E.U.-IMF rescue package and a promise to review austerity measures taken in the country since the financial crisis of 2009.

“In Europe, sentiment is changing,” Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras wrote in his party newspaper Sunday. “Everyone is getting used to the idea that Syriza will be the government and that new negotiations will begin.”

[Reuters]

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Police: Coalition Airstrikes Kill ISIS Governor of Mosul

Hassan Saeed Al-Jabouri is the second ISIS-appointed governor to be killed in the extremist stronghold in December

Coalition airstrikes killed the latest Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)-appointed governor of Mosul on Thursday, according to Iraqi police.

Hassan Saeed Al-Jabouri, known as Abu Taluut, is the second ISIS governor of Mosul to be killed in December, CNN reports.

According to Maj. Gen. Watheq Al-Hamdani, the Iraqi police commander leading the government’s efforts to retake Mosul, Jabouri was killed 29 km south of the city in the village of Qayyara. He had been in office less than 25 days.

Mosul has been a stronghold for ISIS fighters since they took the city from Iraqi forces earlier this year. The Pentagon says they will move to retake the city beginning in January.

[CNN]

TIME Television

Jenna Coleman Stays for One More Season of Doctor Who

Doctor Who Stars Visit Sydney As Part Of Their World Tour
Don Arnold—WireImage/Getty Jenna Coleman poses on a world tour to promote the new series of Doctor Who at Dendy Opera Quays on August 12, 2014 in Sydney, Australia.

Actress puts fans at ease as she announces she'll stick around as Clara Oswald for season 9

Jenna Coleman has announced that she will stick around for another season of Doctor Who, as the lead character’s companion Clara Oswald.

Doctor Who fans have been at the edge of their seats since the actress, who joined the cast in 2012, expressed uncertainty over whether she would continue through season 9, reports the New York Daily News.

“It’s wonderful,” Coleman said. “I get a whole other series of stories with the Doctor and I couldn’t walk away with the story being unresolved. There is so much more to do. I think they’ve finally just reached a point where they really understand each other.”

Peter Capaldi, who plays Doctor Who, also voiced his excitement over Coleman’s decision.

“I’m thrilled,” he said. “Jenna has just been fantastic and such a pleasure to work with.”

[NY Daily News]

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TIME Infectious Disease

Christmas Aside, Sierra Leone Declares Five-Day Lockdown in Ebola-Hit North

Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone
Mohammed Elshamy—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images A soldier inspects a woman with an infrared thermometer for signs of fever, one of the symptoms of Ebola, at a check point in Nikabo, a village in Kenema, Sierra Leone on August 27, 2014.

Christmas celebrations are excepted

The northern parts of Sierra Leone will be locked down for five days as a measure to contain the Ebola epidemic, with Christmas celebrations being the only exception.

“Muslims and Christians are not allowed to hold services in mosques and churches throughout the lockdown except for Christians on Christmas Day (Thursday),” Alie Kamara, resident minister for the Northern Region, told Agence France-Presse.

Shops and markets will be closed and “no unauthorised vehicles or motorcycle taxis” will be allowed to circulate “except those officially assigned to Ebola-related assignment,” said Kamara.

Sierra Leone recently overtook Liberia as the country with the highest number of Ebola infections, in an epidemic that has killed more than 7,500 people, mainly in west Africa.

Sierra Leone Deputy Communication Minister Theo Nicol said that the lockdown “is meant for us to get an accurate picture of the situation,” adding: “Other districts will carry on with their own individual lockdown after this if they deemed it necessary.”

Six of the country’s 14 departments have restrictions on the movement of people, and the government has announced a restriction on large Christmas and New Year gatherings.

[AFP]

TIME Biology

Smartphone Use Makes Your Brain More Sensitive to Touch

Apple Launches iPhone 5s And 5c In China
Lintao Zhang—Getty A customer inspects the new iPhone at the Wangfujing flagship store on September 20, 2013 in Beijing, China.

New study finds that brain activity is enhanced the more we thumb our devices

Swiping fingers across a smartphone screen can make the brain more sensitive to the touch of the finger tips, a new study suggests.

The study, published in Current Biology this week, shows that brain response to thumb stimulation is partly explained by how often people use their smartphones, reports the Washington Post.

“I was really surprised by the scale of the changes introduced by the use of smartphones,” said Arko Ghosh, one of the study’s authors from the Institute of Neuroinformatics at the University of Zurich.

Researchers recorded brain activity when people touched their thumbs, index and middle fingers to a mechanical object. Smartphone users broadcasted increased activity compared to non-smartphone users, and the activity was boosted the more people used their devices.

[Washington Post]

TIME indonesia

What the Waves Did to Aceh

Per Liljas Fishermen at work on a beach outside Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on Nov. 17, 2014

The 2004 Asian tsunami destroyed much of the Indonesian province of Aceh. But it also paved the way for its resurgence and autonomy. Now, as it embraces hard-line Islam, Aceh's people are asking "What next?"

A few minutes after the catastrophic Indian Ocean earthquake of Dec. 26, 2004, two massive explosions tore through Lampuuk, a small seaside village in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

“I thought they must be crazy,” says Lampuuk resident Sofyan. “The guerrillas and the military are bombing each other — even at a time like this?”

It wasn’t as though you could blame him. Acehnese separatists had been battling the Indonesian army for almost three decades. (For much of the 20th century, they had been fighting the Dutch.) This time, though, the noise didn’t come from artillery. It came from a 20-m-high tsunami wave crashing into the beach — and as the deluge devoured the province, it brought more devastation than all of its previous conflicts combined. At least 130,000 Acehnese perished, and 1 in every 9 lost their homes, in what became known as the Asian tsunami.

But the destruction also trained the world’s eyes on a region previously little known outside of Southeast Asia, and pushed Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (known by its Indonesian initials of GAM) into reaching a peace deal in September 2005, granting Aceh considerable autonomy.

In the decade since, Aceh has been hailed as an international model both for disaster reconstruction and for peacemaking. The wide, clean and safe streets in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, are the envy for many other Indonesian cities. The provincial government has introduced a popular social-safety net and the Philippine government has taken a leaf from Aceh’s book in its negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippine archipelago’s restive south.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been issues with the transition. Jakarta has been painfully slow on delivering some of the promises enshrined in the agreement. For instance, the Acehnese still don’t control their own fossil-fuel reserves and they can’t use their own flag.

“It’s almost been nine years,” Aceh’s Governor Zaini Abdullah tells TIME. “People wait and wait and wait. When will it happen? This is the big question of all the Acehnese people.”

Another issue is the province’s spiritual identity. Located on the westernmost tip of Sumatra, Aceh was among the first Southeast Asian regions to be Islamized, and has long been known for its devoutness. In recent years, however, a conservative brand of Islam has found its way into politics, restricting dress and the mixing of genders, and enforcing religious observance in general, with harsh punishments like flogging.

“There’s been a fundamental change in what it means to be Muslim in Aceh today,” says Damien Kingsbury, professor of Southeast Asian politics and security at Deakin University in Australia. “The interpretation of Shari‘a that is increasingly being adopted is Hanbali, the most conservative one that is dominating in the Middle East.”

Per LiljasRomy Syahputera plays the ukulele and sings together with his punk-rock friends at the beach of Ulee Lheue in Aceh province, Indonesia, on Nov. 18, 2014.

Romy Syahputera and his friends know all about that. The four young men walk along the Ulee Lheue beachfront in Banda Aceh, singing old Acehnese resistance songs to the accompaniment of a ukulele and a homemade drum. People sit in plastic chairs along the pavement, buying barbecued corn and chicken satay from curbside stalls and enjoying the sunset. Romy’s friend collects money from the crowd in a bag that once held chips. A few passersby look dubiously at the group’s torn jeans, unkempt hair, tattoos and earrings. Romy keeps a lookout for the Shari‘a police.

Two years ago, a group of their punk-rock friends had their mohawks shaved and were put through a military-style re-education camp.

“Society treats us like garbage, they think we’re bad because of the way we look,” he says. “People are such hypocrites: they cover their hair and look very Islamic, but behind closed doors they break the Shari‘a laws too.”

Patrols by the religious police are notably less frequent in the capital, and most offenders are let off with a reprimand. Syahrizal Abbas, head of the province’s Shari‘a agency, stresses that Aceh is pursuing a softer form of the Islamic law, and that foreign investors should not be discouraged.

“This is not Saudi Arabia or Nigeria,” he tells TIME.

However, repeat offenders and those committing what are considered to be grave violations, such as drinking and gambling, are publicly caned. Amnesty International reports that at least 156 people were punished in this way between 2010 and 2013. Azriana, director at Woman Volunteer Team for Humanity in Banda Aceh, says that the laws have been particularly oppressive for women — with, for example, local bans on wearing pants, or being seated astride a motorbike or moped, which are the most common forms of transport.

“Women have always played an important role in society,” she says, mentioning Aceh’s ruling queens and freedom fighters, some of whom are now regarded as Indonesian independence heroes. “But today, women are mainly viewed as upholders of morality. It makes people feel justified in chastising women for [any perceived] misbehavior.”

Azriana also sees the law being selectively applied, or used as excuse to mete out violence to women. In May, a group of men raped a married woman who was found having an affair. At the same time, high officials that have committed adultery have not been prosecuted.

“I don’t have a problem with these laws if they’re transparent and fair,” she says. “As it is now, Shari‘a has turned into a convenient political tool to cover up bigger problems like corruption.”

Part of Aceh’s struggle has always been to rule its territory in accordance with its long-held religious values. For centuries, it was a powerful Islamic sultanate that held sway over much of the Malacca Strait. When Indonesia gained independence, the province rose up against President Sukarno after he did an about-face regarding Acehnese religious self-determination. At the same time, the imposition of hard-line Shari‘a law was never a goal for GAM at the beginning of the millennium — and yet that was what Jakarta granted in 2001.

“After President Suharto fell, ramping up Shari‘a laws was Jakarta’s strategy to undermine the insurgency,” says Edward Aspinall, professor in Southeast Asian studies at Australian National University. “Some Acehnese were enthusiastically swept up in it, others rather reluctantly.”

After autonomy, the rebel leadership transformed into a political elite, and which promptly split into factions, competing for power. In that struggle, the tsunami was cited by hard-liners as proof of the justness of their cause, with images of the Lampuuk mosque — a lone building standing in a sea of debris — becoming an affirmation that the disaster was Allah’s punishment, and that the population needed to repent. The previous Aceh administration tried to dial back the laws, but they lost power in 2012 to Zaini’s Partai Aceh (Aceh Party), which has since moved toward a stricter enforcement, claiming jurisdiction over non-Muslims and imposing harsher sanctions for homosexuality, adultery and alcohol consumption, the latter punishable by 40 strokes of the cane.

“It’s become nearly impossible to claim devoutness without subscribing to this conservative interpretation of Shari‘a,” says Kingsbury. “It’s a win-win situation for Partai Aceh, since they know that the stricter implementation will not only win them votes, but those who argue against them risk losing credibility.”

Some feel that the laws hamper further development in Aceh in the form of foreign investment and tourism. Joel Fitri runs the only guesthouse on Lampuuk beach, scene of so much devastation a decade ago. A gentle surf breaks against a limestone outcrop, and smells of pizza waft from his wood-fired oven. The number of domestic tourists has steadily increased in recent years, but Fitri says that foreigners only come reluctantly.

“People outside only see the media reports of conflict and Shari‘a punishment, and they are afraid to come,” he says. “This is paradise, but the government don’t want to invest on promotion. Some people are afraid that tourists will bring sex and drugs — for them Shari‘a is good politics. But for me, politics and religion shouldn’t mix.”

Conservative religion is far from the only challenge Aceh is grappling with. The powerful guerrilla network that is still in place also constitutes a hindrance.

“The bigger problem for the big money, like mining, is a general problem of security,” says Aspinall. “There are still issues in the rural areas of potential extortion by former combatants.”

Kingsbury points out that the newfound civilian power among the leading cadres has also led to a system of patronage and corruption that makes Aceh more like other Indonesian provinces.

“This development is to be expected of a postindependence movement,” he says, citing the far-reaching alliances made between the new political elite and Jakarta as a factor in its emergence. “Aligning themselves with political parties in Jakarta gives them access to logistics, patronage networks and opportunities of support, mainly for their own campaigning,” he says. “It’s surprising, since these are the very same people who have spent three decades saying that Jakarta couldn’t be trusted.”

Aspinall warns: “Bubbling away not far from the surface is still an alternative idea of Aceh’s identity, linking Acehnese to a noble people predating Indonesia, that have been inflicted with a foreign way of life. The potential in the future for Aceh to go back into conflict is very possible.”

TIME India

Dozens Killed in Suspected Guerrilla Attack in India’s Assam State

STRDEL—AFP/Getty Activists of the Assam Tea Tribes Student Association (ATTSA) shout slogans as they block the road with burning tyres during a protest against attacks on villagers by militants in four different locations, at Biswanath Chariali in the Sonitpur district of northeastern Assam state on December 24, 2014

Police blame the deaths, including women and children, on separatist rebels

At least 52 people have been killed in armed attacks in the Indian state of Assam.

Fears are the death toll, which allegedly includes women and children, could rise, reports the BBC.

Police blame the late Tuesday attacks on the separatist guerrilla National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which is fighting for an independent homeland for the Bodo people.

The killings took place in remote villages in Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts. Reports said assailants forced their way into huts of non-Bodo tribespeople working in the local tea gardens and opened fire. Authorities have now imposed an indefinite curfew in Sonitpur.

Assam has been plagued by ethnic clashes involving a number of rebel groups in recent years. In May, 32 people belonging to the minority Muslim community were killed.

[BBC]

TIME ebola

Expert: Ebola Outbreak Will Probably Last All of Next Year

Baz Ratner—Reuters Professor Peter Piot still says he is encouraged by the progress made in Sierra Leone, where he believes the epidemic will soon peak

Professor Peter Piot still says he is encouraged by the progress made in Sierra Leone

Correction appended: Dec. 24, 2014, 7:00 a.m. E.T.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is likely to continue through 2015, says Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“We need to be ready for a long effort, a sustained effort [for] probably the rest of 2015,” he told the BBC after returning from Sierra Leone.

Piot, who was one of the scientists who discovered Ebola in 1976, said he was impressed by the progress he had seen in the country, where mortality rates have fallen to as low as one in three.

“You don’t see any longer the scenes where people are dying in the streets,” he said.

But although the outbreak has peaked in Liberia and probably will do so in Sierra Leone too in the coming few weeks, the epidemic could have a “very long tail and a bumpy tail.”

“The Ebola epidemic is still very much there,” he said. “People are still dying, new cases are being detected.”

[BBC]

The previous version of this article identified Peter Piot as the director of the World Health Organization. He is the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

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