TIME Italy

Amanda Knox Conviction Overturned By Italy’s Top Court

File photo of Knox, the U.S. student convicted of murdering her British flatmate in Italy in November 2007, arriving at the court during her appeal trial session in Perugia
Alessandro Bianchi—Reuters Amanda Knox, the U.S. student convicted of murdering her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Italy in November 2007, arrives at the court during her appeal trial session in Perugia in this September 30, 2011 file photo.

American finally acquitted of the murder of Meredith Kercher

The Italian Supreme Court overturned Amanda Knox’s conviction Friday for the 2007 murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher.

Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted as co-conspirators in Kercher’s murder in the apartment they shared as exchange students in Perugia in 2009. But that conviction was overturned in 2011 and in 2014, after prosecutors argued that evidence had been omitted in the appeal, the original guilty verdict was reinstated. Knox was re-convicted in abstentia.

But Italy’s Supreme Court ruled Friday afternoon to finally acquit the 27-year old American of the long-hanging charges over her. She had faced extradition to Italy if the conviction had been upheld.

Knox released a statement saying she was “tremendously relieved and grateful” for the decision.

“The knowledge of my innocence has given me strength in the darkest times of this ordeal,” Knox says in the statement. “And throughout this ordeal, I have received invaluable support from family, friends, and strangers. To them, I say: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your kindness has sustained me. I only wish that I could thank each and every one of you in person.”

A man named Rudy Guede, whose fingerprints and DNA were found at the scene, has already been convicted for the murder and is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence, but prosecutors had argued that Knox and Sollecito were Guede’s accomplices.

This means the only standing conviction against Amanda Knox is a slander conviction for 2007 statements she made blaming bar owner Patrick Lumumba for Kercher’s murder. Lumumba was eventually cleared and sued Knox for slander. She was convicted and eventually received a 3-year prison sentence, which will now be counted as time served, since she has already spent almost four years in prison.

Since she moved back to the US after her 2011 acquittal, Knox has been leading a quiet life. She finished her degree at the University of Washington and got work as a freelance journalist for the West Seattle Herald. She was reportedly paid $4 million for her memoir about her experiences in Italy. And she’s engaged to a musician, Colin Sutherland.

 

 

TIME Germany

German Privacy Laws Let Pilot ‘Hide’ His Illness From Employers

Germany France Plane Crash
Frank Augstein—AP Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr addresses the media during a press conference near the Germanwings headquarters in Cologne, Germany, March 26, 2015.

Germanwings had no way to check even the basic details of Andreas Lubitz's medical history

For most of this week, Germanwings airlines has struggled to answer questions about the mental health of one of its co-pilots, Andreas Lubitz, who stands accused of crashing a plane full of passengers into the French Alps on Tuesday, killing everyone on board. But a stubborn set of legal barriers has hindered their search for information: Germany’s data protection and privacy laws.

Carsten Spohr, the head of Lufthansa airlines, the parent company of Germanwings, was not even able to answer basic questions about the co-pilot’s medical history during a press conference held on Thursday. He could not say, for instance, whether Lubitz had taken a break from his flight training due to illness. “In the event that there was a medical reason for the interruption of the training, medical confidentiality in Germany applies to that, even after death,” Spohr explained. “The prosecution can look into the relevant documents, but we as a company cannot.”

That is because privacy protections in Germany are among the most stringent in the world. Under their provisions, an airline has to rely on the truthfulness of its pilots in learning about their medical histories, and it has no legal means of checking the information the pilots provide.

“There is no general rule that obliges doctors of pilots to report medical conditions relevant to their ability to fly to the authorities,” says Ulrich Wuermeling, a Frankfurt-based lawyer who works on privacy law. On the contrary, a German doctor who reports such information could face criminal charges for violating his patients’ privacy.

The flaws in that system came into focus on Friday, when prosecutors accused the Germanwings co-pilot of hiding his mental illness from his employers. In his home in the city of Dusseldorf, prosecutors claim to have found a sick note excusing Lubitz from work on the day of the catastrophe. But the note had been torn up.

The identity of the doctor who wrote the note is still unclear. But under German law, only Lubitz – and not his doctor – would have had the legal right to disclose the details of his health to his employers at Germanwings.

“In practice, if you are sick and your doctor finds you unfit for work, he gives you an illness-based work exemption,” says Christian Runte, a German lawyer and expert on data protection. “It doesn’t say what the illness is. It just says you are unfit for work. And it is up to the patient whether they want to tell that to the employer or not.”

Based on the German prosecutors’ findings so far, it seems Lubitz decided not to use the work exemption on the day of the disaster and instead took his seat inside the cockpit of Germanwings Flight 9525. French prosecutors investigating the crash of that plane have since accused him of deliberately crashing the aircraft after the flight captain left him alone at the controls.

The incident has raised some troubling questions about lack of communication between Lubitz’s doctors and his employers at Germanwings. On Friday, the university clinic in Dusseldorf, where Lubitz was receiving care for an undisclosed condition, denied media reports that he was being treated for depression. But in describing their “preliminary assessment” of the evidence, the city’s prosecutor said earlier in the day that Lubitz “hid his illness from his employer and colleagues.”

In order to provide Germanwings with any details about Lubitz’s mental health, his doctors would likely have needed his express permission. “Therefore the doctor would not be in a position to inform the company directly even if he knows that this person is a pilot,” says Wuermeling, the lawyer in Frankfurt.

In some rare cases, doctors have been able to invoke the interests of public safety in trying to circumvent German privacy law. The Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt, for instance, even ruled in 1999 that a doctor was legally obligated to breach a patient’s confidentiality, because that patient refused to inform close relatives that he was HIV-positive.

But as a rule, when the German legal system is compared to those in the U.S. and other European states, Germany gives more weight to personal privacy than to public safety, legal experts say. Employers are even restricted in checking the criminal records of the people they are seeking to hire, as under German law, the employer must usually rely on the applicants themselves to provide such information voluntarily.

Part of the reason for this approach to privacy is rooted in Germany history. “In the end it probably goes back to the Nazi regime,” says Wuermeling. “The Nazis basically justified enormous infiltration into personal privacy with national security reasons.”

In communist East Germany, the secret police force known as the Stasi also practiced wholesale surveillance of its citizens. So as early as 1971, democratic West Germany enacted strict privacy protections, well before any such guidelines became the norm in other parts of Europe. The reunification of Germany in 1990 extended those protections to all German citizens.

In the wake of Tuesday’s air disaster, however, Germany may have to reconsider the way it balances privacy against security, at least in allowing airlines the ability to screen their pilots more thoroughly. Even a week ago, data protection authorities in Germany would likely have objected to a request from Germanwings asking doctors to reveal the details of their pilots’ mental health, says Runte. “But if you ask the same question today, I think the answer could be different.”

TIME Iran

These 5 Facts Explain the State of Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Brendan Smialowski—Reuters Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Sanctions, demographics, oil and cyberwarfare

As leaders in the United States and Iran maintain laser focus on the ongoing nuclear negotiations, it’s valuable to take a broader look at Iran’s politics, its economy, and its relations with the United States. Here are five stats that explain everything from Iran’s goals in cyberspace to its views of Western powers.

1. Sanctions and their discontents

Sanctions have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian economy. According to the Congressional Research Service, Iran’s economy is 15 to 20% smaller than it would have been without the sanctions that have been enacted since 2010. They leave Iran unable to access nearly four-fifths of the $100 billion in reserves the country holds in international accounts. Iran’s oil output has fallen off a cliff. Four years ago, Iran sold some 2.5 million barrels of oil and condensates a day. Over the last year, the country has averaged just over a million barrels a day. Even as the exports have fallen and the price has plummeted, oil still accounts for 42% of government revenues. Iran’s latest budget will slash spending by 11% after accounting for inflation.

(Bloomberg, The Economist)

2. Cyber-spending spree

But despite the belt-tightening, Tehran has been willing to splurge in one area. Funding for cyber security in the 2015/16 budget is 1200% higher than the $3.4 million allotted in 2013/14. Up until 2010, Iran’s chief focus in cyberspace was managing internal dissidents. But after news of the Stuxnet virus—a U.S.-led cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program—went public in 2010, Iran’s leaders shifted gears. According to one estimate, Iran spent over $1 billion on its cyber capabilities in 2012 alone. That year, it conducted the Shamoon attack, wiping data from about 30,000 machines belonging to Saudi oil company Aramco. In 2013, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard publicly declared that Iran was “the fourth biggest cyber power among the world’s cyber armies.”

(Global Voices, Wired, Strategic Studies Institute, Wall Street Journal)

3. New generation and old leadership

The median age in Iran is 28, and youth unemployment in the country hovers around 25%. Nearly seven out of ten Iranians are under 35 years old, too young to remember the Iranian revolution of 1979. But the country is controlled by older men, many of whom had an instrumental role in the revolution. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 75 years old; there have been concerns about his health and Iran’s eventual succession plan. Iran’s Assembly of Experts is an opaque institution with huge symbolic importance: it is tasked with selecting and overseeing Iran’s Supreme Leader. The Assembly’s Chairman passed away in October at the age of 83. His replacement? Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who is…83 years old.

(New York Times, CIA World Factbook, BBC)

4. The feeling is mutual

Over 70% of Iranians view the United States unfavorably—and 58% have “very unfavorable” views. On the flip side, more than three-quarters of surveyed Americans have unfavorable views of Iran. But that’s a more modest stance than some other European powers: 80% of French and 85% of Germans have unfavorable views of Iran. According to recent polls, Iran is no longer considered “the United States’ greatest enemy today.” In 2012, 32% of those polled chose Iran, good for first place. In 2015, just 9% selected Iran, placing it fourth behind China, North Korea and Russia, respectively.

(Center for International & Security Studies, Pew Research Center, Vox)

5. Support for a deal?

Negative views of Iran haven’t undermined Americans’ desire to try and cut a deal: 68% of Americans favor diplomacy with Iran. It’s a bipartisan majority: 77% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans are in favor of talks. Iranians have mixed expectations: only 48% think that President Rouhani will be successful in reaching an agreement. But if we do see a final deal, a lot more than Iranian oil could open up. Western businesses would love to break into a country that is more populous than Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Israel, Bahrain, Lebanon and Jordan combined.

(Center for International & Security Studies, CNN survey, CIA World Factbook)

TIME conflict

Al-Shabab Attack on Somalia Hotel Kills at Least 9

Guests make their ways to the roof as they escape from Maka Al-Mukarama hotel during an attack by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in Mogadishu, March 27, 2015.
Feisal Omar—Reuters Guests make their ways to the roof as they escape from Maka Al-Mukarama hotel during an attack by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab in Mogadishu, March 27, 2015.

At least four gunmen had trapped an unknown number of people inside the building

(MOGADISHU, Somalia) — Al-Shabab militants blasted their way into a Mogadishu hotel and took positions inside, exchanging fire with security forces seeking to regain control of the facility late Friday, a Somali police official said.

At least four gunmen had trapped an unknown number of people inside the building, Capt. Mohamed Hussein told The Associated Press.

Al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group that has carried out many attacks here, claimed responsibility for the assault on the Maka Al-Mukarramah hotel, which is popular with Somali government officials and foreigners.

The attack started when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car at the gate of the hotel. Gunmen then quickly moved in, according to Hussein, who said he had counted at least nine bodies at the scene.

The death toll is likely to rise as the security forces attempt to regain control of the hotel.

It remained unclear who was being targeted by the militants and how many civilians were inside the hotel when the attack was launched.

Al-Shabab routinely carries out suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and other attacks in Mogadishu, the seat of Somalia’s Western-backed government — often targeting government troops, lawmakers and foreigners.

Al-Shabab controlled much of Mogadishu between 2007 and 2011, but was pushed out of Somalia’s capital and other major cities by African Union forces. Despite major setbacks in 2014, al-Shabab continues to wage a deadly insurgency against Somalia’s government and remains a threat in the East African region.

The group has carried out attacks in neighboring countries, including Kenya, whose military is part of the African Union troops bolstering Somalia’s weak government.

At least 67 people were killed in a September 2013 attack by al-Shabab on a mall in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

TIME World

Here’s How a Germanwings Pilot Reassured Scared Passengers the Day After the Crash

A Germanwings Airbus A320 is seen at the Berlin airport, March 29, 2014. An Airbus plane of the same model crashed in southern France en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, on March 24, 2015 police and aviation officials said.
Jan Seba—Reuters A Germanwings Airbus A320 is seen at the Berlin airport, March 29, 2014. An Airbus plane of the same model crashed in southern France en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, on March 24, 2015 police and aviation officials said.

A woman on board explains a pilot's heartfelt message

The morning after Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into the French Alps—before any real details were known about the state of the plane or co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’ mental state—Britta Englisch hesitantly stepped onto a Germanwings flight from Hamburg to Cologne.

As soon as she walked onto the plane, she and the other passengers were personally welcomed by the pilot, who assured them that he’d get them to their destination safely. Englisch praised the dedicated pilot and crew on Germanwings’ Facebook page Wednesday night, and her heartfelt post has since gone viral—accumulating some 300,000 likes in less than two days.

“This flight was the morning after the crash—at this time no details were known and everything was mere speculation,” Englisch, who lives in Hamburg, tells TIME via email. “Logically it was pretty clear to me, that Germanwings might have been the safest airline at that morning—they doublechecked every plane and pilots and crew were free to choose if they were feeling able to fly or not. Nevertheless I had this feeling in my stomach. Feelings are not logical, are they?”

But her worry subsided after the pilot personally welcomed people as they boarded the plane. “If someone made an uneasy impression, he talked to them,” says Englisch, a PR manager at Stage Entertainment.

After boarding was complete, rather than going into the cockpit, the pilot took a microphone and began to address his passengers.

“He introduced himself and his crew, talked about how he felt—that some of the crew knew someone on the plane, that he also had a slight uneasy feeling not knowing what happened,” Englisch recollects. “[The pilot continued that] he and the crew are there voluntarily, that the company didn’t force anyone to be on duty that day, that he double-checked the plane this morning. [He said that] he has family, kids and a wife who he loves, that the crew has loved ones and [that] he’ll do everything to return safely to them every evening.”

For a moment everyone was silent.

“No one was checking his phone for the last time or reading the papers,” Englisch says, noting that that is unusual for a commuter flight full of businesspeople. “And then everyone applauded.”

Englisch didn’t intend for her post, supporting the grieving airline, to gain so much attention.

“It was just one post amongst thousand others and it was meant to say thank you to the pilot for not hiding in the cockpit but letting us be part of his feelings.”

Here is her post:

Read next: Here’s What We Know About the Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME isis

Meet the Americans Who Have Joined an Iraqi Militia to Fight ISIS

Louis in the living room where the foreign recruits sleep in Dwekh Nawsha headquarters in Dohuk, northern Iraq.
Rebecca Collard Louis in the living room where the foreign recruits sleep in Dwekh Nawsha headquarters in Dohuk, northern Iraq.

Many Westerners have joined Iraqi militias in the hope of fighting ISIS but are kept away from the frontline

Just months after Louis finished his four-year service with the U.S. Marine Corps, he was on a plane to Iraq. He served in Afghanistan with American forces, but he spent the end of his service sitting on a base at home after the U.S. pulled its troops out of the country.

“Since Afghanistan, I kind of missed the action and everything,” says Louis, 24, who didn’t want his last name used, worrying about security. “Here they just call me Tex.”

Like most Westerners who want to come to the region to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Texas native went looking online for a militia he could join. “I used Facebook,” says Louis.

He’s now one of eight foreign recruits with Dwekh Nawsha, an Iraqi-Christian paramilitary force based in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

“The Marine Corps wasn’t going to be coming out here anymore, you know, we are going into peace time,” says Louis, sitting on the couch where he now sleeps in Dwekh Nawsha’s headquarters in Dohuk, a city in northern Iraq. “In fact, I’d probably stay in the military if we were headed back here.”

So instead Louis bought his own ticket to Iraq. He spent the $3,500 he had saved while with the military on flights, ammunition and a used Kalashnikov. His weapon sits on the floor next to a jar of white nail polish he’s using to camouflage the butt of his gun. Assault rifles and military equipment are scattered around the room. A copy of American Sniper lies on the coffee table.

Louis says his Kalashnikov can’t reach ISIS positions. “The only weapon that will hit [ISIS] where they’re at….is maybe a PKC,” he says, pulling-up a photo on his phone of the Soviet-made machine gun. “I’m getting one.”

But weapons aren’t cheap and militias like Dwekh Nawsha are low on funds. Many of the foreigners volunteering here are raising money online to arm and outfit themselves and their host militias, which complain of being poorly equipped.

Louis is crowdfunding for more cash to buy the PKC machine gun, which costs about $3,000, asking for money on Facebook. “I told my donors ‘hey, we need this’,” he says. “I have friends and family who will give me money just for being out here.”

For Louis, the U.S. government isn’t doing enough to defeat ISIS, to assist these local forces and protect the civilians that have been displaced, enslaved and killed in ISIS’s onslaught. Despite months of coalition airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have retaken only small amounts of territory back from the militants that reign over an area stretching across Syria and Iraq.

“So I’m like, I have the ability to go help these people. I might as well go do that,” says Louis. “I felt almost called to it. This is the answer to my prayers and the problems I was having.”

Louis says because he suffers from PTSD, it was unlikely he’d be deployed abroad again with the Marine Corps. This is his only option to get back into active battle.

Hundreds more foreigners have contacted Dwekh Nawsha online asking to join the militia, says Albert Kisso, a spokesman for the group. He adds that they screen the applicants.

“We take the ones that have military experience,” says Kisso.

However, many of the Americans and Europeans joining militias in Iraq and Syria have no military experience, but have been allowed to fight.

“They’re a liability,” says Allan Duncan, a veteran who first came to Iraq with the British military in 1991 and is now back on his own. “Basically we’re babysitting them.”

Duncan, who was with a Kurdish militia in Syria last year, says he’s sick of what he calls “X-Box kids” showing up in combat zones in Iraq and Syria.

“They’ve seen too many reality TV shows,” says Duncan. “They want their five minutes of fame. They want their Facebook likes. They don’t know what they’ve come into. They don’t know what war is.”

And while it’s relatively easy to join Iraqi and Syrian militias these days, the dangers are real. At least three Westerners have died while fighting with Syrian-Kurdish forces, most recently a 19-year-old German woman.

The Syrian-Kurdish forces’ struggle to defend the border town of Kobani from ISIS last year attracted international attention. The number of Westerners looking to join the fight surged.

Rebecca CollardScott eats lunch in the Dwekh Nawsha headquarters in Dohuk, northern Iraq.

“I thought I would come here and help the Kurds form a defensive line,” says Scott, a 44-year-old veteran from North Carolina, also declining to give his last name. Like other American volunteers, in the end Scott decided against joining the Syrian-Kurdish forces whose communist doctrine sits uncomfortably with many of the gung-ho Americans.

However, while the Christian protection mandate of Dwekh Nawsha might be more appealing, the recruits here haven’t been allowed to hold their guns on the frontline.

“There, it was sitting on my butt,” says Scott of his job as software engineer in the U.S. “Here, it’s sitting on my butt, just not quite as much.”

Rebecca CollardScott holds his gun in the Dwekh Nawsha headquarters in Dohuk, northern Iraq.

Instead of the battlefield, they spend most of their time in the militia’s headquarters in Dohuk, sitting around in crisp new military fatigues cleaning their weapons and posting updates for friends and family online. They take occasional field trips to the front, but Kurdish authorities have stopped them from fighting fearing they could be targets. While the militias appreciate the moral support of these foreigners, they’ve been clear what they really want is weapons and ammunition, not more fighters.

“At the minute I’m so frustrated. I’m not here to sit about. I’m here to fight [ISIS],” says Duncan, sitting on plastic chair in the kitchen of Dwekh Nawsha’s headquarters. “I’m here to fight. That’s the bottom line.”

TIME energy

Who Benefits Most From Cheap Oil?

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) makes a statement before the media as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) watches after signing agreements in New Delhi, India on Sept. 18, 2014.
Manish Swarup—AP Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) makes a statement before the media as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) watches after signing agreements in New Delhi, India on Sept. 18, 2014.

The answer is not one but the two Asian Giants

We are living in a world obsessed with oil and its price movements. Some time back, when all the trade pundits were predicting a stable 100$ benchmark, the prices fell… and how! The current fall in the oil price has been particularly harsh and excruciating for some of the prominent players such as Russia and Venezuela. To add fuel to the fire, on March 16, 2015, the oil price plummeted to a 6-year low level of 42.98 dollar per barrel. With the possible addition of Iranian oil to the global oil supply, the refusal of OPEC to cut down its production levels, rising US crude inventory and weak global demand, one can easily predict that cheap oil is here to stay. These are testing times for global economy where a simple question arises: Who benefits the most from cheap oil?

The answer is not one but the two Asian Giants: India and China, who are among the biggest global importers of oil.

India

With a projected growth rate of more than 7.8% in 2015, India is all set to grow more than China according to the IMF and World Bank. With a consumption of more than 3 million barrels of oil per day, India is the fourth largest global consumer of oil in the world. Since the country imports around 80% of its total crude oil requirement, cheap oil has drastically reduced India’s import bill and current account deficit from the previous years. As per India’s current finance minister, the country might even achieve a current account surplus in the fourth quarter of 2015. Moreover, India has recently de-regulated the price of diesel and petrol and brought it in line with the international rates. The deregulation of fuel has reduced its retail cost which has resulted in reduction of the overall inflation rate.

Read more: Lifting The U.S. Oil Export Ban Is No Solution To Low Oil Prices

Most the major refiners in India are taking advantage of cheap oil and have been ramping up their production levels. Several public and private sector refiners have postponed or rescheduled their annual maintenance shutdowns and have decided to buy and refine more oil than before. India has a total refining capacity of around 220 million metric tons per annum. As the public sector refineries (government owned) in India are not allowed to hedge their crude prices, they have to buy the crude oil at the current international price, which falls in their favor at the moment. It is interesting to note that although India is a net importer of crude oil, it is a net exporter of refined products.

Improving and building new storage facilities

As per the Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Limited (ISPRL), India is building 5 million metric tons of crude storage facility in Vishakhapatnam, Mangalore and Padur (all located in southern India) to be commissioned by 2015. Building new storage facilities would ensure that the nation can buy and store sufficient cheap oil that can last for at least three months and safeguard itself from any unforeseen global events.

On one hand, where most of the global oil and gas companies have decided to drastically reduce their capex spending in 2015, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited , India’s biggest public sector undertaking, has decided to increase its capex by 5 billion USD for 2015 ( Source : Press Trust of India, March 2015). Even oil marketing companies such as Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited have decided to increase their capex investment for 2015. Reliance Industries Limited, India’s largest company, is currently expanding its Jamnagar petrochemical refinery which is also the world’s biggest refinery. Its expansion project, known as ‘J3’, is currently underway and it would enable the refinery to produce ethylene and other petrochemicals. India mostly imports ‘Oman- Dubai’ sour crude followed by Brent and Bonny Light.

Read more: Oil Markets Blow Yemen Crisis Out Of Proportion

China

Being the world’s largest importer of oil, China is poised to grow at a rate of 7.2 percent in 2015 and 7 % in 2016 according to the Asian Development Bank. A huge domestic demand and a robust growth rate have made the Chinese Dragon thirstier. China buys oil mostly from Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, UAE as well as other countries like Russia and Venezuela.

China’s Insatiable Appetite For Oil

As per the EIA, China is currently the biggest consumer of crude oil after the US and its consumption rate is about one third of the world’s consumption growth rate. In 2014, its crude imports averaged at around 6.2 million barrels per day .This means that cheap oil would hugely benefit the Asian giant as it would drastically reduce its overall import bill.

Read more: Driverless Cars Poised To Transform Automotive Industry

Strategic Planning

China has ensured that it protects itself from any potential oil shocks in the near future by creating an elaborate Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) Plan. The country has more than 12 SPR sites with a capacity of more than 250 million barrels and has plans to expand it to 500 million barrels by 2020. It is interesting to note that China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) had bought close to 20 million barrels of crude oil towards the end of 2014 mostly from Middle East through its trading company. This shows that the Chinese are smart enough to cash in on cheap oil and build their strategic reserves to store it. Their internal consumption requirements would ensure that their strategy does not backfire.

Cash and Burn!

Much like India, even China exports much of its refined products to the global market. These exports are based on ‘quotas’ that are set by the Chinese government. The export quotas have increased in the last few years, which have ensured that refiners buy more cheap Oil and increase their outputs. It is therefore quite evident that both China and India are cashing in on cheap oil and burning it at a faster rate than anyone else in the world. Now, the million dollar question is: When does the party end?

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME conflict

Israel Acts to Ease Tensions With Palestinians With Tax Move

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech after he was formally given the task, by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, to form the next government, at the president's residence in Jerusalem on March 25, 2015.
Menahem Kahana—AFP/Getty Images Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech after he was formally given the task, by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, to form the next government, at the president's residence in Jerusalem on March 25, 2015.

Israel has been under international pressure to release frozen tax funds

(JERUSALEM) — Israel said Friday that it will transfer Palestinian tax revenues it has been withholding as punishment for the Palestinians’ application to join the International Criminal Court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the decision was made following the recommendation of Israel’s security establishment and because of humanitarian considerations. Israel has been under international pressure to release the frozen funds and Israeli security officials had warned that continuing to hold back the revenue could spark violence.

Under existing agreements, Israel collects taxes and customs on behalf of the Palestinians and then transfers the sums to them. It has withheld funds before as retaliation for unilateral Palestinian actions. Over the past three months it has collected hundreds of millions of dollars without transferring the funds.

Israel withheld the tax transfers it collects for the cash-strapped government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after he applied to join the ICC — a move potentially paving the way for a war crimes investigation of Israel.

That and other moves prompted Abbas to complain that Israel had eroded the authority of his self-rule government in the West Bank to the point where it has “no real power here over anything.”

Abbas’ Palestinian Authority hasn’t been able to pay its civil servants and has warned that it is nearing collapse.

Netanyahu said in a statement that it was in Israel’s interest to transfer the money.

“Given the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, one must act responsibly and with due consideration alongside a determined struggle against extremist elements,” he said.

The move may be part of Netanyahu’s attempt to contain the international fallout from remarks he made ahead of elections earlier this month, when he said the current regional climate made it impossible to create a Palestinian state.

The remarks helped him to rally his right-wing base, and his subsequent victory virtually ensured he would serve another term. But the statements enraged Washington, which has pressed for a return to negotiations on a two-state solution to the conflict.

TIME Nigeria

Nigerian Army Takes Boko Haram Capital and Boosts Goodluck Jonathan’s Election Chances

Goodluck Jonathan
Ben Curtis—AP President Goodluck Jonathan gets into his vehicle after signing a joint renewal with opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of their pledge to hold peaceful "free, fair, and credible" elections, at a hotel in the capital Abuja, March 26, 2015.

President Goodluck Jonathan is finally leading a strong campaign against insurgents but battlefield victories may not be enough at the ballot box

The Nigerian army said on Friday that it re-taken the town of Gwoza where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram had maintained its headquarters.

“These successful operations have culminated in the dislodgment of terrorists from towns and communities in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states,” military spokesman Chris Olukolade told the BBC. He said that Boko Haram fighters were seen fleeing to areas near the border with Camerooon.

The perception of military success might give President Goodluck Jonathan a better chance of beating his rival Buhari who has criticized Jonathan’s failure to take action against Boko Haram in the last six years.

When Nigeria’s presidential elections were postponed by six weeks in February for security reasons, many saw it as a thinly veiled attempt by Jonathan to gain time in a race that was turning in his rival’s favor. Had elections been held on schedule, Buhari might have had a very good chance of knocking the incumbent out of power in a first for Nigeria’s electoral history; the two candidates were equal at the polls.

Despite Jonathan’s best efforts to downplay an Islamist insurgency that had plagued the country’s northeast with massacres, mass kidnappings and a spate of terror attacks that has seen more than 11,000 killed during his time in power, his detractors successfully used the issue to raise wider questions about his abilities as leader of a country that is Africa’s economic fulcrum. So when Jonathan pledged to launch a military operation that would wipe Boko Haram from the map, it was widely interpreted as an effort to buff up his defense credentials in the face of a former military dictator who had made security the cornerstone of his campaign. Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party was “aware that after an underwhelming electoral campaign, it needed to recover ground,” says Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a U.K.-based political risk consultancy. “The military offensive was considered necessary to restrict Boko Haram’s ability to destabilize the country in what was set to be a turbulent election. But it was also seen as a way to boost the PDP’s propaganda campaign, showing that it can manage national security.”


It was a risky tactic; failure, after all, would have made for a potent weapons in the hands of his opponents. But now that the Nigerian army, with the help of foreign mercenaries and a coalition of military forces from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, has managed to push Boko Haram out of all but three of the 20 districts the radical Islamists once held, many are starting to wonder if success on the battlefield will lead to Jonathan’s victory at the ballot box.

That question will be put to the test when Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday March 28. In the closest presidential race since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigerians will be voting on several different issues. Chief among them will be the bread and butter basics that any voter around the world can relate to: jobs and the economy, or, in Nigerian parlance, eba and soup, the national dish of pounded cassava with stewed meat. Jonathan’s record is spotty on both: while Nigeria edged out South Africa last year as the continent’s biggest economy, the country’s vast oil wealth has not trickled down to the general populace. And the global decline in oil prices has hampered investment in a country where at least 70% of government revenue comes from petroleum exports. In addition to security, Buhari has campaigned hard on the issue of corruption, another Jonathan weakness.

So, when it comes to issues, Jonathan may have just succeeded in supplanting Buhari’s security credentials. On Wednesday March 25 Jonathan told the BBC that Boko Haram was “getting weaker and weaker every day…I’m very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover old territories that hitherto have been in their hands.” It later emerged that Nigeria’s anemic army required the assistance of some 100 South African, Ukrainian and British mercenaries, (The Nigerian government acknowledged they are receiving “technical and logistical support” from “foreign contractors”) but what matters in the end is that Nigeria, with the help of its neighbors, now appears to have the upper hand over Boko Haram.

The military offensive has reset the balance of power in the northeast and dented Boko Haram’s confidence while boosting military morale in the lead-up to the elections. That will help government standing in the elections, but it will not be the main factor determining how people vote, says Barclay. While some voters may not want to go against the government just as it is gaining ground, others remain skeptical. After all, Jonathan had six years to do something about Boko Haram, only to act decisively when his reelection prospects were under threat.

In some ways, the fact that Jonathan has not been 100% successful against Boko Haram may also work in his favor. The insurgent group is still active in some areas, and it has promised to disrupt the elections. People in the north, a Buhari stronghold, may be scared to vote; depriving Jonathan’s rival a key vote block.

But the bigger issue is that Nigerians, particularly in the rural areas, still vote along ethnic, regional and religious lines, and in that context, Buhari and Jonathan are evenly matched. Buhari is also avidly courting the relatively small number of swing voters that may be persuaded to vote for Jonathan because of his successes against Boko Haram. Jonathan’s military defeats of Boko Haram “may make a difference to the intelligentsia, but to the grass roots voters it doesn’t make a difference,” says Adunola Abiola, a Nigerian political analyst who founded the UK-based Think Security Africa policy group. “There are many who don’t understand or care about the insurgency, and by and large they are the ones who turn out to vote.”

In the early days of the election, a Jonathan campaign strategist dismissed the insurgency as a significant campaign issue, noting that the majority of Nigerians were more concerned about eba and soup,” and that only those directly impacted by terror attacks would vote on security issues. Now that Jonathan has proved his security bona fides, his strategists may be wishing that Nigerians cared a little bit more about defeating Boko Haram, and less about the economy.

TIME energy

Can China Promise Blue Skies for 2022 Winter Olympics?

chinese-flag-roof
F. Lukasseck—Corbis

Shutting down four coal-fired power plants by next year may not be enough

With the 2022 Winter Olympics looming, there are only two significant impediments to China’s efforts to host the Games in Beijing: Almaty, Kazakhstan, and the notorious smog that chokes the Chinese capital.

This isn’t the first time China has had to struggle against itself to make sure that an international event isn’t overshadowed – literally and figuratively – by nearly impenetrable air pollution. Smog was a significant factor in whether the International Olympic Committee would award the Summer Games to Beijing in 2008, a prize that China eventually won.

And last November Beijing hosted the 26th annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC), providing the group’s leaders with what became known as “APEC blue” – clear skies instead of the usual gray pall that congests the air around the Chinese capital. The term, coined in earnest, is now used sarcastically to describe any brief experience of something unusually pleasant.

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Clearing the air was relatively easy for the 2008 Summer Games – banning auto traffic on roads in the area and shutting down factories – and similar remedies were applied for the APEC summit. But the Winter Games will be held in bitter February, when generators are working overtime to keep homes and office buildings warm. You can’t just turn off these generators during a Beijing February.

Nevertheless, the odds look good for Beijing to hold its second Olympic Games in 14 years. Already four candidates have dropped out of the running – Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; Oslo, Norway; and Stockholm, Sweden. It’s not clear how strong Almaty’s bid is, but China recognizes that its biggest hurdle is smog.

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“I think this is a fact – Beijing’s air at the moment has a problem. We all know it. This is a problem that we have great determination to resolve,” Wang Hui, spokeswoman for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee, told a news a news conference on March 21. “The measures we have taken are the toughest.”

Wang said the government is spending $7.6 billion to fight smog but didn’t associate that effort directly with China’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Evidently one element of that effort is China’s decision to shut down by next year four coal-fired power plants in Beijing that now provide electric power and heat to the capital and its environs. These generators will be replaced with cleaner-burning gas-fired plants with a goal of reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by 10,000 tons, nitric oxide by 19,000 tons and eliminating 3,000 tons of dust each year.

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But closing these power plants alone won’t make skies blue over Beijing. The former director of the China Meteorological Administration, Qin Dahe, says the effort will require China to transform its energy and industrial infrastructure, and the public must contribute with personal conservation efforts.

The question, though, is whether even those efforts will be enough to clear the air by 2022.

Liu Xinhua, a spokesman for the Chinese Political Consultative Conference, said the Games offer a strong incentive not only for reducing smog by 2022, but also in helping the country reach its longer-term goal of blue skies over its major cities by 2030.

According to Li Ting of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, blue skies are in China’s future. “If the region takes the opportunity of the games and steps up their industrial restructuring process … then Winter Olympics Blue is still possible.” he said.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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