TIME Syria

US Airdrop to Kurdish Fighters Seized by ISIS

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani
Smoke rises through the air after an explosion rocks Syrian city of Kobane on October 20, 2014. Gokhan Sahin—Getty Images

ISIS-affiliated social media accounts posted sarcastic "thank you" notes to social media

A U.S. airdrop intended to arm Kurdish fighters in northern Syria ended up in the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) fighters, local activists said Tuesday, underscoring the challenge of arming Kurdish fighters along fluid and ill-defined battle lines.

ISIS-affiliated social media accounts filled with images of what appeared to be the intercepted weapons cache, which included ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, along with sarcastic thank you notes to “Team USA.” Activists for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Associated Press that ISIS fighters had seized at least one package.

The U.S. deployed three C-130 cargo planes on Monday to airdrop supplies to the embattled bordertown of Kobani, as Kurdish forces struggled to repel an onslaught of IS fighters near the Turkish border.

[AP]

TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Troop Death Toll Hits Record High

Afghan Army handover
Afghan Army soldiers carry their comrade in a wheel-barrow after he was shot during a firefight on Tuesday April 2, 2013 in Wardak Province. Michel du Cille—The Washington Post / Getty Images

2014 marked the deadliest year for Afghan forces struggling to take control of the country

More than 4,000 Afghan troops died in combat in 2014, a record high since the U.S.-led invasion began in 2001, according to new casualty figures released by the Afghan defense ministry.

The new figure marks the first update to the death toll since 2013, when a mounting number of casualties prompted officials to suspend the count rather than risk doing harm to troop morale, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The updated tally counts roughly 4,380 casualties suffered by Afghanistan soldiers and police since the beginning of 2014, underscoring an escalating battle between Taliban rebels and Afghanistan’s fledgeling administration, which is racing to gain control of the country before the last remaining US combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

[WSJ]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Releases One of Three U.S. Detainees

Jeffrey Fowle
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wong Maye-E—AP

Jeffrey Fowle is on his way home, officials say

North Korea has released Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans who have been detained by the reclusive country, the White House confirmed Tuesday.

“I am in a position to confirm that Jeffrey Fowle has been allowed to depart the DPRK and is on his way home to his family as we speak,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a briefing.

The U.S. negotiated Fowle’s release through the government of Sweden, which handles consular cases for American citizens in North Korea.

Fowle, who was visiting the country as a tourist, was arrested earlier this year for leaving a bible in the restroom of a club. Two other Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, continue to be held.

North Korea requested that the U.S. provide transportation for Fowle out of the country, and Earnest said the Department of Defense arranged transport for his trip back to the U.S.

TIME Hong Kong

TV Face-Off Dramatizes Gulf Between Hong Kong Protesters and Officials

Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters watch a live broadcast of a meeting between student leaders and government officials on a road blocked by them at Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong
Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters watch a live broadcast of a meeting between student leaders and government officials on a road blocked by them at Mong Kok shopping district in Hong Kong Oct. 21, 2014. Bobby Yip—Reuters

In perhaps the first TV debate of its kind on Chinese soil, young trumps old

Huge numbers of Hong Kong people were transfixed by their screens and devices Tuesday night local time, as they followed the live broadcast of a historic, two-hour meeting between black-clad rebel students and suited officials.

More than any other event in the three weeks of pro-democracy protests that have rocked China’s most international city, the dialog—the government hesitated to call it a negotiation—dramatized the gulf between the generations. It was also a microcosm of the political tension at work within all of China, between a rising, educated generation groping after its political rights, and an older one insistent on withholding them.

On screens and live audio streams, five representatives from the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) represented the sort of young people any nation would be proud to call its own: intelligent, informed and impassioned.

In talks with them were five senior government officials. Two officials remained mute throughout the 120 minutes and were widely mocked on social media for their silence. The others—headed by the government’s number two Carrie Lam—spoke mostly to utter legal sophistries and to tell the students what they have been saying for months: give up your fight and do as Beijing asks, because the decisions that have been made about Hong Kong’s political future cannot be changed.

To the thousands that had gathered at protest sites across the city to watch the talks on big screens, the government looked hopelessly out of touch. While the students addressed the officials formally, the officials called the students by their first names—in a move that Lam defended as friendliness, but which the Twitterverse found highly condescending.

It also didn’t help that the officials were speaking the day after Hong Kong’s patrician leader, Leung Chun-ying, made an appalling gaffe in front of foreign media, when he said that free elections in Hong Kong would allow those from lower-income groups to dominate the polls. (He later released a statement attempting to qualify his comments as springing from concern for social minorities, which probably made things worse.)

The central government says that it will allow Hong Kong’s 3.5 million voters to elect Leung’s successor in 2017 but insists that voters choose from a field of no more than three candidates, all screened by a pro-establishment committee. To the students, this is a nonstarter and it is the reason that thousands of them and their supporters have been occupying key areas of downtown Hong Kong for the past 24 days. Their protest has seen dozens injured, perhaps hundreds, in clashes with police and shady groups of thugs, and has become the most politically consequential movement on Chinese soil since the 1989 occupation of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“What do we want?” asked HKFS deputy Lester Shum during the talks. “The right to vote, the right to be voted and voter equally. Now the government is only telling us to pack up and go home.”

The officials, visibly uncomfortable at being brought to the table by a group of articulate twenty-somethings fresh from the barricades, offered modest concessions—more time to work out nomination procedures, more time to take soundings on Hong Kong’s long term constitutional development. Perhaps the submission of another report to Beijing.

“The 2017 [election] is not the destination,” said Chief Secretary Lam in conciliatory fashion. “We can still improve the system for [the next election in] 2022. If all the pubic opinion being expressed can be recorded and reflected to the central government, it will be good for democratic development.”

But it sounded like the administration was buying time and they were called on it at several points. “It is the Hong Kong government who is giving up its responsibility,” said HKFS delegate Yvonne Leung. “It has the constitutional duty to fight for a democratic reform proposal for Hong Kong.”

Large numbers of police officers were deployed on the streets in case trouble flared following the debate. But while the rest of the night appeared to pass peacefully, there is a fear that greater unrest in the coming weeks is all but a certainty, now that the chasm between the protesters’ position and the government’s is so woefully apparent. Lam’s concluding remarks bore the faint augury of difficult times ahead.

“I hope you have the courage and wisdom to think of a way out of the current situation,” she said, sounding unintentionally ominous. “I hope you share the responsibility with us.”

Out on the street, Ivan Tsang, 23, an office assistant, spoke for many when he urged protesters to ramp up their campaign. “Overall [the students] represented me and I respect that,” he said. “But I believe we need to make our actions more aggressive so the government will listen.”

Nick Lee, 24, a cook living in the blue-collar district of Mong Kok, where some of the worst clashes have taken place, said: “[Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying] thinks he cannot give more power to the people, but I should have the power, not him.”

Michael Davis, professor of law at Hong Kong University, said that the government had given the protesters no reason to leave the streets. “The government doesn’t seem committed to do anything,” he said. “They only hinted they might file this supplementary report.”

What is certain is that the students came out best from the talks, shoring up their popularity before a large television audience that doubtless, until tonight, contained many undecided viewers.

“I don’t know what the next plan is” said Dora Ngan, 19, who watched the debate on a large screen at the teeming Causeway Bay shopping district. “But I will follow the student leaders.”

—With reporting by Charlie Campbell, Elizabeth Barber, Per Liljas and David Stout / Hong Kong

TIME isis

IS Fighters Seize Weapons Airdrop Meant for Kurds

(BEIRUT) — Islamic State group fighters seized at least one cache of weapons airdropped by U.S.-led coalition forces that were meant to suppy Kurdish militiamen battling the extremist group in a border town, activists said Tuesday.

The cache of weapons included hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to a video uploaded by a media group loyal to the Islamic State. The video appeared authentic and corresponded to The Associated Press’ reporting of the event. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants had seized at least once cache, but may have seized more.

The Observatory, which bases its information on a network of activists on the ground, said the caches were airdropped early Monday to Kurds in the embattled Syrian town of Kobani that lies near the Turkish border. The militant group has been trying to seize the town for over a month now, causing the exodus of some 200,000 people from the area into Turkey. While Kurds are battling on the ground, a U.S.-led coalition is also targeting the militants from the air.

On Tuesday, Islamic State loyalists on social media posted sarcastic thank you notes to the United States, including one image that said, “Team USA.”

But the badly-aimed weapons drop was more an embarrassment than a great strategic loss. The Islamic State militants already possess millions of dollars-worth of U.S. weaponry that they captured from fleeing Iraqi soldiers when the group seized swaths of Iraq in a sudden sweep in June.

Also Tuesday, Syrian government airstrikes hit a rebel-held town along the country’s southern border with Jordan, killing at least eight people on Tuesday.

Activists with the Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Observatory said the number of those killed was likely to rise as there are more victims under the rubble.

The LCC said Syrian government planes dropped crude explosives-laden canisters on the town of Nasib on the Syria-Jordan border.

The airstrikes are part of battles between Syrian government forces and Islamic rebel groups for control of the area.

Syrian government forces have been heavily bombing rebel areas in recent weeks, while the U.S-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against Islamic State militants elsewhere in Syria.

TIME Rwanda

Rwanda Now Screening Travelers From The U.S. And Spain for Ebola

A New Jersey elementary school recently barred entry to two transfer students from the Ebola-free country

As mass panic over Ebola sweeps over the globe, resulting in widespread stigmatization of travelers to and from Africa, one Ebola-free East African nation is stepping up its precautionary approach toward people traveling to or from America and Europe.

Rwanda Tuesday began screening people who have been in the U.S. or Spain in the last two weeks. A handful of patients have been diagnosed with Ebola in both countries. Rwanda is already denying entry to visitors who have been in Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, or Sierra Leone in the last 22 days.

Coincidence or not, Rwanda’s new policy clips on the heels of a New Jersey elementary school that barred entry to two transfer students from Rwanda, even though the country is 2,600 miles from the closest Ebola-afflicted country.

Rwanda’s protocol is laid out on the U.S. Embassy’s website.

TIME France

Oil Exec Who Charmed Kings and Dictators Killed in Plane Crash

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie Dies in Plane Crash
Christophe de Margerie, chief executive officer of Total SA, reacts during a Bloomberg Television interview on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tributes For Total CEO Killed When His Jet Hit a Snowplow On Russian Runway

Christophe de Margerie, the CEO and chairman of the French energy giant Total who was killed in a private plane accident in Moscow on Monday night, was fond of saying that one couldn’t drill for oil in pleasant, peaceful places — a riposte to environmentalists and human-right activists who have railed against oil companies for cutting lucrative deals with repressive leaders. “I’d be more than delighted to go find energy in Club Med,” he told TIME back in December 2009, seated on a private plane during an overnight flight from Paris to the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain. “But we’ve tried, and did not find it.”

It was a characteristically blunt statement in an industry that is famous for its opaque leadership rather than plain-talking executives. Unlike his peers, De Margerie, 63, seemed unconcerned about what he said publicly. Rather, he appeared to relish his image as an outsized personality whose common touch — despite his wealthy family background — won him friends, as well as some detractors, in difficult, even hostile, places. Explaining his personality, he told TIME that his lifelong shyness (“I hate going on stage, I’m really scared,” he said) had compelled him from childhood to become a keen observer of people, and that he had learned to “listen to people, from the hotel doorman to the King of Saudi Arabia.”

Tributes flooded in on Tuesday after news broke that De Margerie had died on his way back from Moscow where he had attended a gathering of foreign investors and met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at Medvedev’s country residence near the capital. The private plane in which De Margerie was traveling collided with a snowplow at Moscow’s Vnukovo International airport shortly before midnight, killing him and three French crew members on board. Russian investigators quickly blamed the operator of the plow (who survived unscathed), saying that the man was drunk, and adding that air traffic controllers might also have made errors. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov voiced President Vladimir Putin’s condolences, saying that the Russian leader “has long known De Margerie [and] had a close working relationship with him.” In Paris, President François Hollande said De Margerie had “brilliantly defended the level of excellence and success of French technology,” and praised his “independent character” and “originality.”

Indeed, it seemed hundreds of people across the world knew De Margerie — if only as the man with the abundant gray whiskers framing his corpulent cheeks, which had earned him the nickname of “Monsieur Moustache” among his employees.

De Margerie joined the company in 1974 fresh out of university, largely, he told TIME, because it was a 10-minute walk from his family home in western Paris, and because his youthful dream of becoming a motorcycle policeman had come to naught. He rose to head its crucial exploration and production department, helping to expand hugely Total’s operations across the world. He became CEO in 2007 and chairman in 2010. During his career the company faced several serious accusations of wrongdoing. He and other Total executives faced charges in France of helping then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein skirt the U.N.’s oil-for-food sanctions during the 1990s and although they were cleared, the company paid a fine in the U.S. And after an oil tanker broke apart and sank off the Brittany coast in 1999, spewing thousands of tons of oil into the sea and killing an estimated 150,000 sea birds, a Paris court ordered Total to pay more than $250 million in damages.

Apparently unaffected by these controversies, De Margerie steadily built Total into a giant company, opening new fields across the world — including in places from which other energy companies steered clear, like Burma and Yemen. Total is now the fourth biggest Western oil company, after ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, with nearly 100,000 employees in 130 countries and revenues of nearly $240 billion last year.

But De Margerie will likely be remembered most of all for his insistence that governments should as much as possible leave it to oil companies to decide where to operate. And it is that insistence that led him most regularly into fiery debates with activists, who accused Total of cozying up to dictators in order to win concessions that were worth billions.

De Margerie, unlike other oil executives, never shied away from the argument, telling journalists that the world could face a serious oil shortage — an argument that seems less urgent these days, with declining growth in demand for oil and sinking prices on the world oil markets. “Where is electricity coming from? Flowers?” he told TIME during the flight from Paris to Bahrain in late 2009. “Maybe some day. But what’s available now is from oil and gas,” he said.

De Margerie defended his decision to extract natural gas in Burma and pipe it across the country at a time when U.S. sanctions prevented most American business links with the military government, telling an audience of Columbia University students in 2009, “Who is telling us who are the cowboys and who are the Indians? People who have never been in those countries.” As such, De Margerie nurtured relationships even under sanctions — including in Russia, where Total has a $27-billion deal to produce liquefied natural gas in Siberia.

Gregarious, with a love of fine dining — his grandfather Pierre Taittinger founded the famed Champagne house of that name — De Margerie was known to be excellent company, no matter one’s views. During the all-night flight on the rented private plane he slept little, preferring to talk for hours about everything from politics to the latest celebrity gossip, and to debate which Bordeaux wine on offer in the plane was best. Back then, Total executive Jacques de Boisseson, who heads the company’s exploration and production operations in Russia, told TIME that his boss had a knack for breaking the ice even in formal meetings with heads of state — and even after arriving late, as he frequently did. “He changes a meeting with his personal touch,” de Boisseson said. “He can get very close to very different people.”

TIME ebola

Why Ebola Isn’t Really a Threat to the U.S.

Ebola will not likely spread within the United States

Give us this—when Americans overreact, we do it all the way. Over the past week, in response to fears of Ebola, parents in Mississippi pulled their children out of a middle school after finding out that its principal had traveled to Zambia—a nation that is in Africa, but one that hasn’t recorded a single Ebola case. A college sent rejection notices to some applicants from Nigeria because the school wouldn’t accept “international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases”—even though Nigeria has had less than 20 confirmed cases and the outbreak is effectively over.

The American public is following its leaders, who’ve come down with a bad case of Ebola hysteria. That’s how you get even-tempered politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo musing that the U.S. should “seriously consider” a travel ban on West African countries hit by Ebola, while some of his less restrained colleagues raise the incredibly far-fetched possibility of a terrorist group intentionally sending Ebola-infected refugees into the U.S. It’s little surprise that a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans are concerned about an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

They shouldn’t be—and two events that happened on Monday show why. WHO officials declared Nigeria officially “Ebola-free.” And in Dallas, the first wave of people being monitored because they had direct contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., were declared free of the diseases.

Nigeria matters because the nation’s is Africa’s most populous, with 160 million people. Its main city, Lagos, is a sprawling, densely populated metropolis of more than 20 million. Nigeria’s public health system is far from the best in the world. Epidemiologists have nightmares about Ebola spreading unchecked in a city like Lagos, where there’s enough human tinder to burn indefinitely.

Yet after a few cases connected to Sawyer, Nigeria managed to stop Ebola’s spread thanks to solid preparation before the first case, a quick move to declare an emergency, and good management of public anxiety. A country with a per-capita GDP of $2,700—19 times less than the U.S.—proved it could handle Ebola. As Dr. Faisal Shuaib of Nigeria’s Ebola Emergency Operation Center told TIME: “There is no alternative to preparedness.”

But Nigeria’s success was also a reminder of this basic fact: If caught in time, Ebola is not that difficult to control, largely because it remains very difficult to transmit outside a hospital. For all the panic in the U.S. over Ebola, there has yet to be a case transmitted in the community. The fact that two health workers who cared for Duncan contracted the disease demonstrates that something was wrong with the treatment protocol put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—something CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has essentially admitted—and may indicate that the way an Ebola patient is cared for in a developed world hospital may actually put doctors and nurses at greater risk.

“You do things that are much more aggressive with patients: intubation, hemodialysis,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “The exposure level is a bit different, particularly because you’re keeping patients alive longer.” But now that U.S. health officials understand that additional threat, there should be less risk of further infection from the two nurses who contracted Ebola from Duncan—both of whom are being treated in specialized hospitals.

Even the risk of another Duncan doesn’t seem high. For all the demand to ban commercial travel to and from Ebola-hit West Africa, this region is barely connected to the U.S. in any case. Only about 150 people from that area of Africa come to the U.S. every day—less than a single full Boeing 757—and many airlines have already stopped flying. But there have been relatively few spillover cases even in African countries that are much more closer and more connected to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Besides Nigeria, only Senegal has had cases connected to the West African outbreak—and that nation was declared Ebola-free today as well. (There have been cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that’s considered a separate outbreak.) The worst Ebola outbreak ever is raging in three very poor nations—but it seems unable to establish itself anywhere else.

None of this is to deny the scale of the challenge facing Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the Ebola has fully taken hold and the disease is still outpacing our efforts to stop it. But West Africa is where our fear and our efforts should be focused—not at home, where Ebola is one thing most of us really don’t have to worry about.

TIME South Africa

Heated Reaction in South Africa to Pistorius Sentence

Oscar Pistorius after he is sentenced at the Pretoria High Court on October 21, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa.
Oscar Pistorius after he is sentenced at the Pretoria High Court on October 21, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Herman Verwey—Getty Images

The six-time Paralympic medal-winning athlete is sentenced to five years in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, eliciting charges of injustice in his native South Africa

When the judge sentenced Oscar Pistorius to five years in jail for killing his girlfriend, his reaction was muted. The response elsewhere in South Africa was not. “Five years for murder?” screeched one angry caller to a local radio talkshow. Twitter lit up with angry condemnations of the judge, some commentators going so far as to suggest that all murderers would be so lucky to have her presiding over their case.

After all the drama of a trial that evoked Hollywood theatrics and a blockbuster viewership over the course of its seven-month-run, Judge Thokozile Masipa finally delivered her sentence Tuesday morning in the courtroom in Pretoria, condemning Pistorius to five years in prison for killing his girlfriend, 29-year-old law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp in what he described as a tragic mistake. Pistorius wiped his eyes upon hearing his sentence and reached for the hands of family members gathered behind him.

Pistorius, 27, killed Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, shooting her four times through a closed bathroom door in his home. He testified that he had mistaken her for a nighttime intruder. Immediately following his sentencing he was escorted out of the packed court, down a flight of stairs and into the court’s detention center to await transport to the prison.

On Sept. 12 Masipa convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide, a crime similar to manslaughter, but acquitted him of murder at the conclusion of a trial that had become an international spectacle. Pistorius, a double amputee dubbed the “Bladerunner” for his athletic prowess on blade-shaped prosthetic limbs, alternately wept, vomited and collapsed at various points of the trial as the prosecutor presented graphic evidence taken from the scene of the crime and asked Pistorius to recount, in agonizing detail, the events of the night his girlfriend was shot. The prosecution accused Pistorius of murdering Steenkamp in a fit of rage.

In sentencing Pistorius to five years imprisonment, Masipa split the difference between the prosecution’s argument for 10 years and the defense’s case that any jail term would be an unjust punishment for a double-amputee in a violent prison system where Pistorius could be subjected to abuse because of his disability. His lawyers had argued for a three-year probation period of house arrest and community service.

The Steenkamp family appeared to be satisfied, with family lawyer Dup De Bruyn saying that it was “the right sentence,” and that “justice was served,” according to Reuters, suggesting that an appeal is unlikely. Public reaction has been much more heated. Radio talk shows were inundated with angry callers lambasting the judge. “Lady justice just had her legs amputated,” shouted one irate caller. Another cursed Masipa on air, prompting a flurry of Twitter comments over the inappropriateness of denigrating a judge, no matter the reason.

It is likely that Pistorius will be paroled after serving at least one sixth of his sentence — 10 months — according to legal analysts, prompting sarcasm from one math-impaired Twitter commentator: “Three women are killed by their partners every day in [South Africa]. I guess an 8-month sentence will help fight this,” tweeted@ justicemalala.

Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee, which has awarded Pistorius six medals throughout his career, says that he will be banned from competing for five years, even if he is paroled early. Given the high profile nature of both Pistorius and Steenkamp, it was a given that no matter the sentence, people would be angry. Twitter commentator @ZuBeFly summed it up best: “Only way I’d feel 100% satisfied is if any type of sentence the judge passed would bring Reeva back. No winners here either way.”

Read next: Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 Years for the Culpable Homicide of Reeva Steenkamp

TIME Companies

Total CEO Dead in Runway Crash; Plow Driver Drunk

(MOSCOW) — Christophe de Margerie, the charismatic CEO of Total SA who dedicated his career to the multinational oil company, was killed at a Moscow airport when his private jet collided with a snowplow whose driver was drunk, Russian investigators said Tuesday.

Three French crew members also died when the French-made Dassault Falcon 50 burst into flames after it hit the snowplow during takeoff from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport at 11:57 p.m. Monday local time.

Tatyana Morozova, an official with the Investigative Committee, Russia’s main investigative agency, said investigators are questioning the snowplow driver, who was not hurt, as well as air traffic controllers and witnesses.

“At the current time, it has been established that the driver of the snowplow was in a state of alcoholic intoxication,” Morozova said.

De Margerie, 63, was a regular fixture at international economic gatherings and one of the French business community’s most outspoken and recognizable figures. His trademark silver handlebar earned him the nickname “Big Mustache.”

A critic of sanctions against Russia, he argued that isolating Russia was bad for the global economy. He traveled regularly to Russia and recently dined in Paris with a Putin ally who is facing EU sanctions over Russia’s involvement in the crisis in Ukraine.

According to the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to his French counterpart Francois Hollande, lauding de Margerie for being at the “origins of the many major joint projects that have laid the basis for the fruitful cooperation between Russia and France in the energy sphere for many years.”

Hollande expressed his “stupor and sadness” at the news. In a statement, he praised de Margerie for defending French industry on the global stage, and for his “independent character and original personality.”

De Margerie started working for Total in 1974 after receiving his degree because it was close to home. It was a difficult time to join the firm as the oil embargo, which led to a fourfold increase in prices, was coming to an end.

“I was told ‘You have made the absolute worst choice. Total will disappear in a few months,'” he said in a 2007 interview with Le Monde newspaper.

De Margerie rose through the ranks, serving in several positions in the finance department and the exploration and production division before becoming president of Total’s Middle East operations in 1995. He became a member of Total’s policy-making executive committee in 1999, CEO in 2007, before adding the post of chairman in 2010.

He was a central figure in Total’s role in the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq in the 1990s. Total paid a fine in the U.S., though de Margerie was acquitted in France of corruption charges.

Under his leadership, Paris-based Total claims it became the fifth-largest publicly traded integrated international oil and gas company in the world, with exploration and production operations in more than 50 countries.

On Monday, de Margerie took part in a meeting of Russia’s Foreign Investment Advisory Council with members of Russia’s government and other international business executives.

Jean-Jacques Guilbaud, Total’s secretary general, said the group would continue on its current path and that the board would meet in coming days to discuss who will succeed de Margerie. Total planned a minute of silence in its offices worldwide at 2 p.m. Paris time.

After dipping slightly early Tuesday, Total’s share price was trading 2 percent higher, in line with the broader rally in French stocks.

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