TIME India

See President Obama Attend India’s Republic Day Parade

President Barack Obama joined Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his country's Republic Day Parade in New Delhi. Obama is the first U.S. President to be a guest of honor at the annual festivity.

TIME Nigeria

Stable Elections in Nigeria Threatened by Boko Haram’s Latest Attacks

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss peaceful elections at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria on Jan. 25, 2015.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan to discuss peaceful elections at the State House in Lagos, Nigeria on Jan. 25, 2015. Akintunde Akinleye—AFP/Getty Images

Nigerian militants laid siege to military bases in the northern capital of Maiduguri on Sunday, raising questions about the army’s ability to combat the insurgency

As campaign season ramps up ahead of Nigerian general elections on February 14th, President Goodluck Jonathan has sought to downplay an insurgency in the country’s northeast that has been raging almost as long as he has been in power. The rise of Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based militant Islamist group best known for vicious attacks on military targets and its penchant for kidnapping women and girls and conscripting men and boys, has stymied Jonathan’s government since the former vice-president ascended to the presidency in 2010.

The insurgency has killed an estimated 11,000, according to the Council on Foreign Relation’s Nigeria Security Tracker. Unable to defeat it, the Jonathan campaign has chosen to all but ignore it as the president asks his people for an additional four-year term. But that strategy backfired on Saturday night, as militants swept into the strategic northern capital of Maiduguri just hours after Jonathan stumped for support from city residents.

The militants, who reportedly infiltrated the city of two million disguised as travelers on local buses, laid siege to key military installations and battled into Sunday. The Nigerian army eventually beat them back, but the fact that they were able to penetrate the city undetected raises questions about the military’s ability to defeat the movement, and, as the country’s Commander-in-Chief, Jonathan’s commitment to the fight.

Even as the insurgents retreated in Maiduguri, others looted, killed and abducted residents in a string of attacks on unguarded villages about 200 kilometers away, according to local authorities. As with previous attacks, such as an assault on a military base and several nearby villages that started Jan. 3 and killed scores, the government response has been muted.

Amnesty International, which has been closely documenting Boko Haram’s expansion, warned of a looming humanitarian crisis in a statement released Sunday, noting that the capital had already seen a massive influx of rural residents fleeing the violence over the past several months. “These ongoing attacks by Boko Haram are significant and grim news. We believe hundreds of thousands of civilians are now at grave risk,” said Africa Director Netsanet Belay. “People in and around Maiduguri need immediate protection. If the military doesn’t succeed in stopping Boko Haram’s advance they may be trapped with nowhere else to turn. The government’s failure to protect residents of Maiduguri at this time could lead to a disastrous humanitarian crisis.”

Boko Haram’s increasing boldness comes at a delicate time for Nigeria, which is just three weeks away from an election that promises to be the closest in the country’s short democratic history. Jonathan is up against former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, who has made security the main issue in his campaign platform. Elections in Nigeria are invariably accompanied by violence — the 2011 elections saw some 800 killed in post-polling fighting when Buhari lost to Jonathan — and fears are rife that Boko Haram could take advantage of the instability to sow further discord, or advance while the security services are distracted.

The United States has expressed concerns that the elections could usher in a new wave of violence, particularly if allegations of rigging by either side are widespread. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Lagos on Sunday to reiterate the U.S.’s desire to see clean elections. “This will be the largest democratic election on the continent,” Kerry said at a press conference following meetings with the two main candidates. “Given the stakes, it’s absolutely critical that these elections be conducted peacefully — that they are credible, transparent and accountable.” But obstacles are rife: some 25 million registered voters have yet to receive their biometric voter identity cards. There is not yet a system in place for an estimated one million internally displaced to cast their votes. And the ongoing violence in the northeast could prevent voters in what is traditionally a Buhari stronghold from coming to the polls.

On Jan. 22, Jonathan’s national security adviser Sambo Dasuki suggested at a meeting of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at London’s Chatham House that the elections be postponed, but such a delay risks prolonging the instability and prevents a unified response against Boko Haram. On the same day, government spokesman Mike Omeri announced that Nigeria was considering bringing home some 3,000 soldiers deployed in international peacekeeping missions elsewhere in Africa to help secure the elections and combat the insurgency. But the military’s inability to combat Boko Haram has less to do with numbers than a longstanding history of alleged corruption within the leadership ranks, a lack of adequate weaponry and logistical supplies, unpaid salaries and poor training, according to several military analysts and frustrated soldiers. Dasuki, in his Jan. 22 Chatham House comments, defended the military leadership and instead blamed cowardice among the troops for Boko Haram’s advance. “We have people who use every excuse in this world not to fight. We’ve had a lot of people who we believe joined because they wanted a job, not because they wanted a career in the military. And it’s most of them who are running away and telling stories,” he said.

While in Lagos, Kerry reiterated the U.S.’s continued backing for Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram. But that support comes with caveats: the Nigerian government must ensure that the upcoming elections will be fair and transparent. “Bottom line, we want to do more,” he said. “But our ability to do more will depend to some degree on the full measure of credibility, accountability, transparency, and peacefulness of this election.” But doing more won’t help if Nigeria’s current leadership, both miltary and civilian, don’t want to do more to help themselves.

TIME Syria

ISIS Nearly Pushed Out of Syrian Town

Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), on Jan. 16, 2015.
Smoke rises from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), on Jan. 16, 2015. Halil Fidan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

ISIS "is on the verge of defeat" in Kobani

(BEIRUT) — Kurdish fighters backed by intense U.S.-led airstrikes pushed the Islamic State group almost entirely out of the Syrian town of Kobani on Monday, marking a major loss for extremists whose hopes for easy victory dissolved into a bloody, costly siege that seems close to ending in defeat.

Fighters raised a Kurdish flag on a hill in the border town near Turkey that once flew the Islamic State group’s black banner. It represents a key conquest both for the embattled Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition, whose American coordinator had predicted that the Islamic State group would “impale itself” on Kobani.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and senior Kurdish official Idriss Nassan said the Islamic State group had been nearly expelled, with some sporadic fighting on the eastern edges of the town.

“The Islamic State is on the verge of defeat,” said Nassan, speaking from Turkey near the Syrian border. “Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled.”

In September, Islamic State fighters began capturing some 300 Kurdish villages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly half of it. Tens of thousands of refugees spilled across the border into Turkey.

By October, Islamic State control of Kobani was so widespread that it even made a propaganda video from the town featuring a captive British photojournalist, John Cantlie, to convey its message that Islamic State fighters had pushed deep inside despite U.S.-led airstrikes.

The town, whose capture would have given the jihadi group control of a border crossing with Turkey and open direct lines between its positions along the border, quickly became a centerpiece of the U.S.-led air campaign in Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared it would be “morally very difficult” not to help Kobani.

The U.S.-led air assault began Sept. 23, with Kobani the target of about a half-dozen airstrikes on average each day, and often more. More than 80 percent of all coalition airstrikes in Syria have been in or around the town. At one point in October, the U.S. air dropped bundles of weapons and medical supplies for Kurdish fighters — a first in the Syrian conflict.

Analysts, as well as Syrian and Kurdish activists, credit the air campaign and the arrival in October of heavily armed Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq, who neutralized the Islamic State group’s artillery advantage, for bringing key areas of Kobani under Kurdish control.

Nassan said U.S.-led coalition strikes became more intense in the past few days, helping Kurdish fighters in their final push toward Islamic State group positions on the southern and eastern edges of the town.

The U.S. Central Command said Monday that it had carried out 17 airstrikes near Kobani over the last 24 hours that struck Islamic State group infrastructure and fighting positions.

Nassan said he was preparing to head into Kobani on Tuesday and expected the town to be fully free by then.

Gharib Hassou, a representative of Syria’s powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, based in Southern Kurdistan, said fighting was still going in “two or three streets,” adding that most of the militants withdrew to the town of Tal Abyad to the east.

“There are a lot of dead bodies … and they left some of the weapons,” he said. Kurdish fighters also suffered high casualties, he said, adding that more reinforcements will be sent to reinforce control over the town.

Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Observatory, said the Kurdish force was led by Mohammed Barkhadan, theKobani commander of the main Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Barkhadan is a well-known militia leader among Kurds and in 2013 he led an offensive that ousted Islamic militants out of the northern Syrian town of Ras Ayn, Aburrahman said.

Since mid-September, the battle for Kobani has killed some 1,600 people, including 1,075 Islamic State group members, 459 Kurdish fighters and 32 civilians, the Observatory reported earlier this month. The Islamic State group, increasingly under pressure, has carried out more than 35 suicide attacks in Kobani in recent weeks, activists say.

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group militants, in November predicted Kobani would be a defeat for the extremists.

The Islamic State group “has, in so many ways, impaled itself on Kobani,” he said in an interview in Ankara with the Turkish daily Milliyet.

TIME Aviation

Airlines Cancel Thousands of Flights Due to East Coast Blizzard

APTOPIX Winter Weather Flights
A plane is de-iced at LaGuardia Airport in New York City on Jan. 26, 2015. Seth Wenig—AP

Nearly all of the major U.S. carriers have waived the change fee for customers

Major airlines are preemptively canceling thousands of flights scheduled to come into and out of the East Coast of the United States as a potentially historic blizzard is expected to dump as much as three feet of snow and snarl transportation for tens of millions of people.

Flight-tracking website FlightAware.com noted Monday morning that around 4,000 flights have been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday. The post also said that almost all New York City flights will be cancelled Tuesday.

Delta Air Lines said on Sunday it will cancel 600 flights because of the blizzard warning, while United Airlines said it will cancel all Tuesday flights at airports in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Beginning on Monday night, the carrier will limit operations at Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports in the New York area, a spokeswoman said.

Southwest Airlines said Sunday evening it would cancel more than 130 of 3,410 flights scheduled for Monday due to the storm, an increase from its earlier plan to cancel about 20 flights.

American Airlines said cancellation plans would not be finalized until Monday morning, but that the airline expected “quite a few” flights to be affected. Flightaware.com showed 637 flights canceled for Monday as of Sunday evening.

Nearly all of the major U.S. carriers have waived the change fee for customers flying from affected cities during the storm, reported USA Today.

Information from Reuters contributed to this report. This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME Security

Hackers Hit Malaysia Airlines Website

The airline says no customer data at risk

Malaysia Airlines said Monday that its website had been “compromised,” though it denied reports that hackers had actually infiltrated the site itself and said no customer information was at risk.

Beginning late Sunday night, users going on the airline’s website were directed to a page touting messages from a group claiming to be aligned with Islamist extremism. The browser window, reading “ISIS WILL PREVAIL,” stood over a page displaying the image of an aircraft along with the message “404- Plane Not Found.” Malaysia Airlines is still suffering from the fallout of two downed planes in the last year, one of which was shot down over Ukraine and the other that has yet to be recovered.

Others were shown similar messaging over the image of a reptile donning a monocle and top hat.

A hacker group called Lizard Squad, also going by Cyber Caliphate, has taken credit and boasted about the alleged hack on Twitter.

Malaysia Airlines released a public statement on its Facebook page assuring customers that although its site “has been compromised where users are re-directed to a hacker website… Malaysia Airlines assures customers and clients that its website was not hacked and this temporary glitch does not affect their bookings and that user data remains secured.”

Although Malaysiaairlines.com was down Monday morning, the company had created a separate site where customers could check into their flights.

Lizard Squad still claimed that data has been compromised.

 

TIME

Turkey Censors Facebook Pages That ‘Insult’ the Prophet Muhammad

Turkish islamists protest Charlie Hebdo in Istanbul
Turkish islamist protestors hold placards in front of Fatih Mosque during a rally against the French magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' over the publiction of a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in Istanbul, on Jan 25, 2015. Sedat Suna—EPA

The court also threatened to block access to Facebook as a whole

(ANKARA, Turkey) — Turkey’s state-run news agency says a court has ordered authorities to block access in the country to Facebook pages that “insult” the Prophet Muhammad, in the latest move to censor the Internet.

The Anadolu Agency says a court in Ankara issued the order late Sunday. The court also threatened to block access to Facebook as a whole, if its order isn’t implemented.

The decision comes days after another court ruling to ban access in Turkey to web pages featuring the controversial cover of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo depicting the prophet.

Last year, Turkey closed down access to YouTube and Twitter after a series of leaked recordings suggested corruption by people close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s highest court later overturned the ban.

TIME england

Church of England to Ordain First Female Bishop

Church of England's First female Bishop Named As The Reverend Libby Lane
Libby Lane smiles during a visit to St. Peter's Church, where she has been a vicar since 2007, in Hale, England, on Dec. 17, 2014 Nigel Roddis—Getty Images

The Reverend Libby Lane will be the first to wear the title

(LONDON) — Male domination in the leadership of the Church of England is coming to an end, as the 500-year-old institution consecrates its first female bishop.

The Rev. Libby Lane becomes the eighth Bishop of Stockport in a service Monday at York Minster. Her consecration comes after the church ended a long and divisive dispute by voting last year to allow women to serve as bishops.

Lane has dismissed criticism that her appointment is merely a symbolic gesture, saying that she may be “the first, but I won’t be the only.”

A saxophone player and soccer fan, Lane was one of the first women to become a Church of England priest. She was ordained in 1994. Her husband is also a priest.

TIME Greece

Greece’s Syriza to Form Government After Election Victory

Parliamentary elections in Greece
Alexis Tsipras, leader of radical leftist Syriza party, greets supporters after the initial election results for the Greece general elections in Athens, Greece, on Jan. 25, 2015. Orestis Panagioto—EPA

Suprise alliance between two staunchly anti-bailout parties

(ATHENS) — Left-wing Greek election winner Syriza gained key support from an anti-bailout party Monday, allowing it to form a new government.

The right-wing Independent Greeks party said it would back Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to be the next prime minister, after he fell just short of the majority needed to govern alone, following Sunday’s poll.

The suprise alliance between two staunchly anti-bailout parties, spooked markets and triggered a loss of nearly 4 percent on the Athens Stock Exchange as well as elsewhere in Europe.

Tsipras has promised to renegotiate Greece’s massive bailout agreements, but has promised not to take any unilateral action against lenders from other eurozone countries.

With 99.8 percent of the vote counted, Syriza had 149 seats in the 300-member parliament with 36.3 percent of the vote. The ruling conservative coalition was on 27.8 percent, and the extreme right Golden Dawn party in third place with 6.28 percent.

Tsipras’ choice to negotiate with the Independent Greeks rather than the centrist Potami caused concern that he could take a tough line in negotiations with rescue lenders.

Syriza’s financial planning official, Giorgos Stathakis, confirmed Monday that the new government had no plans to meet with negotiators from the “troika” of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund and would instead seek talks directly with governments.

Greek voters swung to the once-marginal left-wing party after five years of punishing austerity measures demanded under 240 billion euro ($268 billions) bailout deals threw hundreds of thousands of people out of work and left nearly a third of the country without state health insurance.

Thousands of supporters turned out to watch the 40-year-old Tsipras speak in central Athens after his opponents conceded.

“The Greek people have written history,” he said, to cheers. “Greece is leaving behind catastrophic austerity, fear and autocratic government.”

Outside the party’s campaign tent in central Athens, supporters hugged each other and danced in celebration.

“It’s like we’ve been born again and finally feel some hope,” said Litsa Zarkada, a fired government cleaning worker. “We were thrown into the street just before we could take our pension. We have been through so much.

The new government faces an immediate cash shortage, with a dwindling primary surplus, upcoming loan repayments, and limits on the money it can raise using treasury bill auctions.

Megan Greene, chief economist at Manulife Asset Management, said the government will be unable to afford to run its day-to-day operations and pay back debt that falls due in March in the absence of additional cash from international creditors.

“Syriza and its creditors are stuck in a Gordian Knot, and both sides will need to cave on something. Neither Greece nor its creditors want Greece to default or exit the eurozone, so a compromise will probably be found,” Greene told the AP.

“If Syriza forms a coalition with the Independent Greeks, that suggests the new government will engage in dangerous brinkmanship with Greece’s creditors as it tries to negotiate funding to stave off utter bankruptcy over the next few months.”

TIME Egypt

Officials Say 2 Sons of Egypt’s Mubarak Freed From Prison

Gamal Mubarak, Alaa Mubarak
Combination Jan. 6, 2011 file images show Gamal Mubarak, left, and Alaa Mubarak, right, attending a Christmas Eve Mass at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo AP

Brothers will still face a retrial on corruption charges, like their father, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

(CAIRO) — Egyptian security officials say two sons of ousted President Hosni Mubarak have been released from prison, nearly four years after they were first arrested along with their father.

The officials said the two, wealthy businessman Alaa and Mubarak’s one-time heir apparent Gamal, walked free from Torah Prison in a southern Cairo suburb shortly after daybreak on Monday and were believed to have headed to their respective homes in the capital.

The two along with their father still face a retrial on corruption charges. The two sons separately face trial on insider trading. They had been acquitted of other charges.

Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 in the face of a popular uprising. He and his two sons were arrested in April that year.

TIME India

India Pulls Out All the Stops for Obama at Republic Day Parade

INDIA-US-DIPLOMACY
Indian Border Security Force (BSF) motorcycle specialists perform during the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2015. PRAKASH SINGH—AFP/Getty Images

One of the South Asian nation's biggest occasions was made even more momentous by the choice of chief guest

Gloomy skies and a steady downpour were not enough to dampen New Delhi’s spirits on Monday, as thousands turned up to watch U.S. President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle and a sizable American delegation witness a display of India’s military might, economic achievements and diversity at the country’s 66th Republic Day parade.

Obama became the first U.S. President ever to attend the annual event, an invite for which is considered one of the greatest honors India bestows on foreign dignitaries. The President rolled up to the viewing platform in his armored limousine, known as The Beast, eschewing the tradition of riding in the Indian president’s vehicle over security concerns. He then took his place between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with whom he announced a “breakthrough” on a civil nuclear deal Sunday evening, and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee (whose choice of headgear caused a bit of a flutter on social media).

While the U.S. has become India’s biggest military supplier in recent times, the South Asian nation’s armed forces have traditionally been equipped with Soviet hardware, a fact Obama was reminded of as Russian-made T-90 and T-72 tanks rolled down the main stretch, along with a mobile launcher for the BrahMos missile jointly developed by India and Russia.

The parade-ending flyovers by the Indian Air Force did have American P-8 Poseidon naval planes, and although these too were flanked by Russian MIG-29 and SU-30 fighter jets, officials on both sides expressed hope and confidence in the 10-year bilateral defense agreement that Obama and Modi renewed on Sunday.

“None of these things should be considered small in terms of just what it means for working together as two defense industrial bases and what we can share with each other,” Phillip Reiner, Obama’s top South Asia advisor, told the New York Times.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Indian lawmaker Baijayant Panda agreed, even though other analysts remained skeptical but hopeful.

Between the displays of military might came a series of marches — including multiple all-female contingents and even a camel troop — followed by floats and dance performances representing various Indian states, as well as government initiatives like Modi’s “Make in India” and “Swacch Bharat” (Clean India) campaigns.

Finally, there were the motorcycles of the Border Security Force. Known as “Janbaz,” or Dare Devils, they showcased feats of amazing balance, focus and agility — all while tapping on laptops and dressed as peacocks and lotuses.

Judging by Obama’s reaction, one of his most animated during the course of the parade, they got the White House seal of approval.

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