TIME Egypt

Egypt to Open New Improved Suez Canal

Mideast Egypt Suez Canal
Nariman El-Mofty—AP A woman looks at a new section of the Suez Canal during a media tour in Ismailia, Egypt, on July 29, 2015.

Canal expected to double its capacity by 2023

Egypt has completed construction of a multibillion-dollar expansion of the Suez Canal that the government says will boost the country’s economy and aid world trade.

The expansion was a massive project completed in just one year after it was initially projected to take three. It adds 35 kilometers of new channels, in addition to 37 kilometers of existing waterways that were dredged to allow larger ships to pass. According to the Suez Canal Authority, 258 million cubic meters of earth were removed from the desert to cut the new channels.

The development will allow more ships to pass through the canal on a given day, reducing wait times for one of the world’s most important shipping channels. The government expects that the project, along with increases in world trade, will increase the daily number of ships from 49 at present to 97 a day by 2023. The project’s total cost is more than $8 billion, but the government claims it will more than double the annual revenue generated by the canal, which is currently around $3 billion.

The canal was completed in 1869 and it allowed ships to get from Europe to South Asia without sailing around Africa. Control of it was considered so important that Britain, France and Israel tried to wrest it away from Egypt in 1956

For Egypt’s military-backed government, the completion of the project at lighting speed offers a chance to project an image of competence, prosperity, and stability after years of unrest following the 2011 uprising that unseated president Hosni Mubarak. The new portions of the canal are set to be inaugurated next week in an elaborate ceremony in which the government is expected tout the new canal as glorious achievement.

The task of portraying Egypt as stable takes on a particular urgency since the Egyptian state is fighting an ongoing battle against insurgents based in the Sinai Peninsula. An upsurge in attacks began in July 2013 after Egypt’s armed forces deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi who had been elected a year earlier. Since June, militants have assassinated Egypt’s chief prosecutor, attacked military positions, and launched a missile at a naval vessel in the Mediterranean.

“If they’re able to carry it out without any compromising security incidents, they’re also going to use this as an opportunity to project a different image of Egypt, an image of Egypt as stable, able to carry out major public works, and defend competently against these jihadi enemies,” said Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation in New York.

The government’s message was clear on the banks of the canal on Wednesday, where officials had installed a billboard saying, “Welcome to safe Egypt and its secure canal.” At a news conference in the city of Ismailia, Suez Canal Authority chairman Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish repeteadly used the word “safe.”

“The whole world uses the Suez Canal. The world and the shipping lines are partners. We are sending them messages. We want to again assure everybody that the Suez Canal is very safe and secure, he said.

“The government is dealing with the whole thing in a very propagandistic manner,” says Amr Adly, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “The way the project was launched was to indicate that the new military-backed regime can do something, and they have proved their capacity to do something.”

Adly said that due to a lack of transparency it was difficult to assess the potential economic impact of the expanded canal. “There is definitely a political element in it,” he says. “It has a potential of course. There is a good chance that it will increase the revenue. But the way it is being dealt with, we don’t have enough information.”

TIME Crime

Zimbabwe Wants to Extradite Cecil the Lion’s Killer From the U.S.

Zimbabwe's wildlife minister wants American dentist to "be made accountable."

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s wildlife minister says extradition is being sought for the American dentist who killed a lion.

Oppah Muchinguri, environment, water and climate minister, told a news conference Friday: “We want him tried in Zimbabwe because he violated our laws. … Police should take the first step to approach the prosecutor general who will approach the Americans. The processes have already started.”

“Unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin,” Muchinguri said. “We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable.”

On Tuesday, American hunter Walter James Palmer issued a statement saying he relied on his guides to ensure the hunt was legal.

TIME olympics

It’s Beijing! The Winner Out of Two Insipid Choices to Host the 2022 Winter Olympics

Beijing Olympics 2022
Fred Dufour—AFP/Getty Images Volunteers react in front of journalists a few minutes before the announcement by the International Olympic Committee voting for Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on July 31, 2015.

The huge financial burden prompted most candidates to drop out

The final choice for the host city of the 2022 Winter Olympics was uninspiring. One candidate, Beijing, which co-bid with the lesser-known Chinese city of Zhangjiakou, spent months trying to convince International Olympic Committee (IOC) delegates that its famously bad air — not to mention lack of natural snow — shouldn’t scupper its chances.

The other contender, Almaty, boast lots of powdery stuff because of its positioning at the foothills of the Tian Shan range. (Almaty’s slogan, perhaps aimed at Beijing and its man-made snow, was Keeping It Real.) But Kazakhstan’s former capital had to overcome a serious obstacle: its obscurity, especially compared with a Chinese city of more than 20 million people.

The two candidates shared other weaknesses: neither has much in the way of global winter wonderland appeal. And both are tainted by the authoritarian governments that lead them. In recent months, China’s President Xi Jinping, who just hours before the Olympic decision appeared in a video pitching Beijing 2022, has presided over a crackdown on civil society, in which hundreds of people — such as lawyers, writers and women’s rights activists — have been detained. Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev claimed a 98% victory in this year’s polls but the long-serving leader has a habit of muzzling the media and jailing his opponents.

On July 31, at a secret vote by around 85 IOC members in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the 2022 Winter Olympics were awarded to the oddmakers’ favorite, Beijing. After all, the Chinese capital had successfully hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. No one doubts China’s ability to build needed infrastructure within seven years. “There can only be one winner,” said IOC President Thomas Bach, in a razzle-dazzle ceremony, complete with soaring music. Xi, in his video campaign, had already projected that Beijing 2022, the 24th Winter Olympics, would be “fantastic, extraordinary and excellent.”

The K.L. polling was marred by technical doubts in which the initial vote by electronic tablet was considered possibly lacking in “integrity,” forcing IOC members to vote again by written ballots. Previous IOC ballots, including one in which Beijing lost to Sydney by two votes for the right to host the 2000 Summer Games, were marred by vote-buying scandals. The IOC vowed to root out corruption within its ranks. Late last year, the powerful group also unveiled reforms designed to limit the budget overruns that have plagued recent host cities.

The IOC was left with Beijing/Zhangjiakou and Almaty by default, after cities such as Oslo and Stockholm pulled themselves out of the race because of financial concerns. (Lviv’s bid was derailed by war in Ukraine.) Olympics may bring global prestige but they have a habit of saddling host cities with huge bills and sporting facilities that rust away after the crowds disperse. The 2014 Sochi Olympics, for instance, cost Russia an estimated $50 billion.

For 2022, Beijing and Almaty gave estimates of $3-5 billion (including some infrastructure not specifically for the Games) but Olympic cities rarely stick to their budgets. Sochi overspent by $36 billion. Earlier this week, the U.S. Olympic Committee pulled the plug on Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Games, after local opposition to the potential financial burden.

In the run-up to the July 31 victory, Beijing brought out Chinese icons like towering basketball legend Yao Ming to promise that the Games would be “athlete-centered.” Other former Olympians gave assurances about Beijing’s air, which city officials said had improved by around 15% in the first half months of 2015, compared to the same period last year. “We will improve the air quality not only for the Games but also for the demand of our people,” said Shen Xue, a pairs figure-skating gold medalist, according to Chinese state newswire Xinhua. “No matter whether we win the bid or not, we will take efforts to improve the air quality.”

Chinese Olympic officials vowed that snow-making efforts would be “sustainable” in a chronically parched region. To speed the journey to the ski slopes of Zhangjiakou, which are around 200 km from downtown Beijing, city-planners have promised to build a high-speed rail system that will transport athletes in less than an hour — a third of the time it now takes. In other countries such a project might seem overwhelming. But this is a country that has already expanded its national rail network in record time.

Beijing’s 2022 bid slogan was translated in English as Joyful Rendezvous Upon Pure Ice and Snow. (It sounds better in Mandarin.) President Xi has enthused about the potential for winter sports development in his homeland — just imagine, 1.3 billion lugers, biathletes and curlers, if Xi’s estimate of future winter sports enthusiasts is to be believed. Still, sports are not integrated into daily life in China as they are in, say, Brazil or even India. Zhangjiakou, where Olympic snowboarding, biathlon and certain skiing events will take place, has developed resorts for aspiring Beijing skiers but it was traditionally better known for fur production.

The Beijing 2008 Olympics were expertly choreographed and allowed China to proclaim its rising super-power status. China won 51 gold medals, more than any other country. The medal haul was all the more impressive given that China won just five gold medals two decades before in Seoul. But the Beijing Olympics suffered from a fun deficit. Compared to other Games, there were fewer public venues where locals could gather to watch the competition on TV and rejoice in China’s sporting glory; some residents resorted to peering through a metal fence at the lavish venues. Even today, despite efforts by the government to encourage nationwide fitness, school sports remain underfunded for children who aren’t being cultivated as potential Olympians. (Chinese kids need to spend more time cramming for tests.)

The fact that China has already hosted an Olympics and made history may explain why the domestic reaction to the 2022 race was relatively muted. On Friday morning, a corruption investigation of a retired People’s Liberation Army general generated more cyberspace comment than the Winter Olympics vote. International human-rights campaigners, however, used the occasion to highlight human-rights violations in both candidate nations. “Whether China or Kazakhstan wins the honor of hosting the 2022 Winter Games, the IOC will face an extreme test of its new commitment to improve human rights protections,” said Minky Worden, Global Initiatives director at Human Rights Watch, before the final vote. “The International Olympic Committee should insist that the host country rigorously comply with the Olympic Charter and basic human rights rules — or risk losing the right to host the games.”

At least Beijing is a known quantity, even if co-host Zhangjiakou is less recognized. (Zhangjiakou progressively lost shared billing with the Chinese capital as the bid progressed.) Any guesses where the 2018 Winter Olympics will be held? That would be Pyeongchang, South Korea. Not exactly a world-famous winter retreat like Innsbruck (the 1964 Games), Sapporo (1972) or Vancouver (2010).

TIME Germany

German Journalists Investigated for Treason After Publishing Reports on Surveillance

Markus Beckedahl, founder of Netzpolitik.org, in his office in Berlin on 10 Oct., 2014.
Britta Pedersen—/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images Markus Beckedahl, founder of Netzpolitik.org, in his office in Berlin on 10 Oct., 2014.

The reports detailed official plans to expand snooping on online communications

A news website in Germany is being investigated by federal prosecutors for treason after it reported on the country’s apparent plans to expand domestic surveillance of online communications.

Prosecutors say they have launched the probe against two journalists of Netzpolitik.org, and an unidentified source, following a criminal complaint by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency over two articles that appeared on the website, reports Reuters.

Netzpolitik.org published an article in February last year saying that the spy agency — the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bfv) — was requesting more funding for increasing surveillance of online communications. In another report in April, it claimed the agency had plans to set up a special unit to monitor social media sites.

Bfv said the articles were based on leaked documents.

According to German media, the probe is the first time in 50 years that journalists have faced treason charges.

“This is an attack on the freedom of the press,” said journalist Andre Meister, who is one of those named in the investigation alongside editor-in-chief Markus Beckedahl.

[Reuters]

TIME Burma

Burma Releases Almost 7,000 Prisoners in Holiday Pardon

Chinese nationals, who were jailed for illegal logging, walk out of Myitkyina prison after being released during an amnesty in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, north of Burma, July 30, 2015.
Reuters Chinese nationals, who were jailed for illegal logging, walk out of Myitkyina prison after being released during an amnesty in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, north of Burma, July 30, 2015

Among them, Chinese loggers, former military officials, and dissident journalists

Almost 7,000 prisoners in Burma were given presidential pardons and released Thursday, in one of the largest amnesties in the military-dominated state in recent years.

The amnesty coincides with the celebration of a national Buddhist holiday and those released included 201 foreigners, Chinese loggers, dissident journalists and military officials associated with the former Junta, the Wall Street Journal reports.

More than 150 Chinese nationals, who had been sentenced to life in jail on charges of illegal logging, were among the 6,966 freed. Their lengthy sentences had strained relations between Burma, officially now known as Myanmar, and Beijing.

New Zealander Phil Blackwood and his two colleagues, who were sentenced to two and a half years in prison for insulting the Buddhist religion, were not part of the amnesty.

Four journalists and the publisher of the weekly journal Bi Mon Te Nay were freed after spending a year behind bars on defamation charges.

However, prisoner watchdog the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) expressed disappointment that only 13 prisoners of conscience were granted freedom.

Though Thein Sein had promised to free all political prisoners by the end of 2014, as part of a much-lauded process of reform after a half-century of brutal military dictatorship, AAPP estimate around 158 remain behind bars.

Former Brigadier General Than Tun and Tin Htut, the son-in-law of the notorious former prime minister and head of military intelligence, Khin Nyunt were also released.

The mass amnesty comes as Burma gears up for a landmark election in November.

[WSJ]

TIME Afghanistan

The Afghan Taliban Has Elected a New Leader After Mullah Omar’s Death

A long-time deputy of the Taliban co-founder and leader was elevated to the top position

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour has been chosen as the head of the Afghan Taliban, according to two commanders of the Islamic militant organization.

The commanders said the long-time deputy of the deceased Mullah Omar was elected at a shura or meeting of top Taliban representatives just outside the Pakistani city of Quetta where many of them are based, Reuters reports.

Siraj Haqqani, who leads the Haqqani militant faction within the Taliban, has been selected as Mansour’s deputy. Mansour is only the Taliban’s second-ever leader, with Omar having been at the helm since founding the Afghanistan-based militant organization in the 1990s.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed reports of Omar’s death, although he said it occurred more recently than April 2013—the date given by the Afghanistan government earlier this week.

“For some time, (Omar) has been suffering a kind of sickness and over the last two weeks it became more serious, and due to that illness he passed away,” Mujahid said. The Taliban founder has not been seen in public since 2001, leading to widespread speculation of his whereabouts and multiple reports of his death over the last decade.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the current Afghanistan government, due to be held in and mediated by neighboring Pakistan, have been postponed indefinitely in the meantime. Pakistan cited the reports of Omar’s death as the reason for delaying the talks, because of concerns that a battle for succession could further deepen discord between the Taliban’s numerous factions.

TIME United Kingdom

British Prime Minister David Cameron Holds Emergency Meeting Over Migrant Influx

Cameron has been criticized for saying the U.K. faced a "swarm" of migrants

British Prime Minister David Cameron is to chair an emergency meeting of his government’s Cobra security committee Friday to discuss how to address the migrant situation in the northern French port of Calais.

The meeting comes the morning after migrants made more than 1,000 attempts to breach fences and enter the Channel Tunnel Thursday night, reports Agence France-Presse.

Some 3,000 asylum seekers mainly from Africa and the Middle East are living in a makeshift camp near the port in Calais. Every night, many who have fled war, poverty and persecution risk serious injury as they attempt to enter the tunnel in search of a better life in the U.K.

France has sent in police reinforcements to guard the entrance of the tunnel and stop migrants climbing over the fences and blocking the roads.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense could be called in to make land available for the thousands of backlogged trucks waiting on the U.K. side of the tunnel, on the M20 highway in the county of Kent, reports the BBC.

Meanwhile, Cameron has come under fire from opposition leaders and the Refugee Council for saying there was a “swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean.”

“He should remember he’s talking about people and not insects,” acting Labour leader Harriet Harman told the BBC.

The U.N. Representative for Internal Migration said there had been a “xenophobic response” from British politicians to the crisis.

Kent social services are struggling to cope with the number of child asylum seekers; numbers have doubled over the past three months.

TIME India

Indian Police Arrest Airline Staff for Attempting to Traffic Nepal Quake Victims

Two employees of the national carrier Air India have been arrested in connection with the operation

Police in India have arrested two airline employees in connection with what is suspected to be a human trafficking operation centered on smuggling female victims of the Nepal earthquake to Gulf countries, the Agence France-Presse news agency reports.

The two ground staff members working for the national carrier Air India were arrested earlier this month after police at New Delhi’s international airport found seven Nepalese women heading to Dubai who had their travel documents stamped despite not having cleared immigration controls.

Under questioning, the airline employees said they had been paid to furnish forged documents for the seven women. In a subsequent raid on a local hotel, police found an additional 21 women who will now be returned to Nepal along with the seven stopped at the airport on 21 July.

Human trafficking has been a major problem in the region since before the April quake, with some 10,000-15,000 people from Nepal, most of them women and children, trafficked every year for manual and sex work, according to the U.N.

According to AFP, the women found in New Delhi had been smuggled into India via bus from areas in Nepal that had been devastated by the earthquake that shook the region in April, killing thousands across the poor Himalayan nation and also affecting parts of eastern India and China. The traffickers had apparently taken them on a circuitous route to Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat before flying them to the Indian capital, all in a bid to evade immigration controls. Haider said it wasn’t clear what fate awaited the women in the Gulf countries where the traffickers had attempted to send them.

TIME Aviation

An Expert Says Our Search Strategy Will Need Overhauling If the Réunion Debris Is From MH370

The discovery of possible MH370 debris on Réunion Island would mean that the existing search zone is wrong, a top oceanographer explains

On Friday, a group of French officials boarded a 12-hour flight to Paris from Réunion, a volcanic island and French territory in the southwest Indian Ocean. With them was a 9-ft.-by-3-ft. piece of flotsam many believe is a wing-flap from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.

It was the unremarkable final stretch on what may turn out to be the wing-flap’s remarkable journey—if indeed it is a wing-flap, and if it turns out to have actually come from MH370. Sources in Boeing have told CNN they are ”confident” the flotsam was part of a Boeing 777, and experts have little doubt the part came from the doomed jetliner. That would mean this debris could have been drifting on ocean currents for more than 500 days for some 2,500 miles, or the equivalent to driving Route 66 from New York to Los Angeles.

Yet what is more remarkable is what more it can tell us. It could, for example, nix ongoing search efforts, which are currently focused around 1,000 miles off the coast of Perth in Western Australia. Authorities have scoured 21,000 square miles of a 23,000 square mile search zone in an operation costing well over $100,000 million, and which has involved thousand of flights, dozens of ships and several submarines. They are now poised to head south and double the search zone’s size.

On Friday, Australian deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told a press conference that he was “confident” this zone was the right one “based on continuing refinement of the satalite data.” He added: “We will continue to concentrate on the southern end of that identified area.”

However, according to Erik van Sebille, a lecturer in oceanography at Imperial College London, the flotsam’s very appearance in Réunion—if it is proven to come from MH370—would mean that searchers have been looking in the wrong place.

“If you take into account the currents in the Indian Ocean, then you can trace the flow backwards from the northern part of the search zone,” he tells TIME. “It would exclude the southern part as anything that drifts from there would go eastward into the Pacific Ocean.”

Following the discovery of the supposed debris—spotted on a pebble beach by an eagle-eyed government worker named Johnny Bègue—helicopters have been scouring Réunion, which lies around 600 mi east of Madagascar, for more. Reports of luggage fragments are currently being investigated. However, van Sebille also believes such efforts are largely misplaced, factoring in the frenzied nature of the ocean’s currents.

“The ocean currents are not like highways. They are not really simple and predictable—they are actually quite chaotic. It’s a bit like the weather,” he says. “It’s just like how San Francisco is typically used to the westerly wind, but every so often it might come the other way—it’s the same for the ocean.”

Experiments with GPS-tracked objects, released 30ft apart in the ocean, have resulted in them drifting hundreds of miles apart within just a month. So while the broad strokes of the ocean’s currents can be mapped, conclusions are typically ambiguous. By tracing the currents from Réunion back to the search zone, “our best hope is that we can perhaps pin down the region to perhaps a few hundred miles, which will still be very large,” says van Sebille.

The barnacles clinging to the wing-flap can also tell a story. Very quickly, investigators will be able to tell from their size how long the object has been in the water, meaning that even if serial numbers cannot categorically prove the object came from MH370, identifying the plane model, combined with time adrift, could remove reasonable doubt.

As there are more than 1,000 species of barnacles in the ocean, with their provenance depending on myriad environmental factors, Benny K.K. Chan, associate professor of marine biology at National Taiwan University, says that it would also be possible to lead back to a specific crash site by identifying certain varieties.

“There are some species of barnacles that have very distinct distribution, and so if you get some of these then maybe you could get some hint from where this wing-flap has drifted,” he tells TIME. “But from the pictures I can only see the lepas genus, which are common to nearly all floating objects.”

Experts are due to examine the flotsam at a laboratory in Toulouse, with conclusions expected in the next day or so. But the value of the wing-flap—again, if MH370’s wing-flap is what it actually is—increases exponentially should more debris be found, especially, and perhaps surprisingly, if it is found far from the original discovery.

“If we find some debris somewhere else on a completely different part of the Indian Ocean, then what we can do is backtrack that too and then look at the overlap,” says van Sebille. “You can then look at the overlap of all the rough areas. It’s essentially triangulation.”

TIME India

India Says Four Nationals Have Been Kidnapped in Libya

The kidnappers are suspected to be ISIS militants

Four Indians were reportedly kidnapped in Libya on Friday, with Islamic militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) allegedly thought responsible.

The Indians were kidnapped from the town of Sirte near the Middle Eastern nation’s capital city Tripoli, the BBC reported.

They had been working as teachers at the University of Sirte, in the hometown of the country’s late former dictator Muammar Gaddafi where ISIS has a strong presence.

“We are in regular touch with their families,” Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said in a statement to the ANI news agency, adding that they were ascertaining further details through the Indian mission in Tripoli. Three of the abductees are faculty at the University of Sirte while the fourth works at the university, Swarup said. All four hail from the south of India: two from Hyderabad and two from Karnataka.

“No ransom demand has been made yet. We are trying to ascertain their whereabouts,” local news channel NDTV quoted Indian foreign ministry officials as saying.

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