TIME France

France Says Conditions Not Right to Deliver Warships to Russia

A Mistral-class amphibious assault ship is docked in the shipyard of Saint-Nazaire, Aug. 20, 2014, Saint-Nazaire, France.
A Mistral-class amphibious assault ship is docked in the shipyard of Saint-Nazaire, Aug. 20, 2014, Saint-Nazaire, France. Mehdi Chebil—Polaris

Minister says decision surrounds Russia's involvement in Ukraine's civil war

France said Thursday that it would not deliver either of the warships Russia has ordered because its conditions had not yet been met.

Russia ordered two Mistral class amphibious warfare ships in 2010. The first was due to be delivered this year, but President Francois Hollande said it would not happen because of Russia’s involvement in the civil war in Ukraine, Reuters reports.

“The conditions today are not met to deliver the Mistral,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told RTL radio. “What are these conditions? It is that in Ukraine we are in a situation that is becoming more normal, that allows for things to cool down.”

On Wednesday, Russian news agency RIA quoted Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying that Russia had been invited to take delivery of the first ship on Nov. 14. He also said the second ship would be floated on the same day.

[Reuters]

Read next: Russians Re-write History to Slur Ukraine Over War

TIME Burkina Faso

Protesters Break Into Burkina Faso Parliament

Protesters surged passed police lines Thursday and broke into Burkina Faso's parliament ahead of a vote to allow the president to seek another term next year

(OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso) — Protesters surged passed police lines Thursday and broke into Burkina Faso’s parliament ahead of a vote to allow the president to seek another term next year.

Smoke could be seen coming from the building. Earlier, police had pushed the crowds back with tear gas, but they regrouped in larger numbers and broke into the building.

Earlier thousands of protesters swarmed the streets of the capital of this West African country. Burkina Faso is typically known for relative stability and economic growth in a volatile region, but tensions have been rising ahead of a vote on a bill that would amend the constitution and allow President Blaise Compaore to run for election again next year.

The protesters say that 27 years in power is enough for Compaore. The measure had looked likely to pass, but the protesters vowed not to let lawmakers into the building on Thursday.

They initially failed, and many lawmakers appeared to be able to reach the chamber.

But the protesters mounted another push and eventually made it into the building. They are now saying they will march on other government buildings in the capital, Ouagadougou.

TIME China

11 Arrested in China for Digging Up and Selling Women’s Corpses as Brides

The bodies are sold to families of dead bachelors for as much as $3,000, as part of an age-old custom called a ghost marriage

The words “till death do us part” don’t really apply in this case. Quite the opposite, actually.

Chinese authorities have arrested 11 people in the eastern province of Shandong for digging up bodies of dead women to be sold as “ghost brides,” the South China Morning Post reports. The custom of ghost marriage, still practiced in many parts of rural China, involves burying a woman next to an unmarried man who has recently died so he may have a companion in the afterlife.

The arrested men in this case reportedly excavated a Shandong woman’s body from her grave in March, selling it to a middleman for the equivalent of nearly $3,000. The main suspect, surnamed Wang, said in an interview that the value of the bodies went up if they were exhumed and sold closer to death, using the example of a woman disinterred three months after her passing.

“Years-old carcasses are not worth a damn, while the ones that have just died, like this one, are valuable,” Wang said.

Stealing corpses is a criminal offense in China, which can result in up to three years in prison if convicted.

[SCMP]

TIME europe

NATO Accuses Russian Military Aircraft of Flagrantly Violating European Airspace

Military aircrafts are seen on the tarmac during a visit of new NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg of Norway at Lask air base
Military aircraft are seen on the tarmac during a visit by the new NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway at Lask Air Base, in Poland, on Oct. 6, 2014 Kacper Pempel—Reuters

The alliance claims the incursions pose a risk to civilian air traffic

NATO officials have announced that an increasingly large number of Russian military aircraft have been tracked flying unannounced into European airspace this month — behavior that threatens to escalate the already taut relations between Moscow and the West.

On Wednesday, NATO claimed to have monitored at least four groups of Russian military aircraft as they conducted “significant military maneuvers in European airspace” over the Baltic and Black Seas as well as the Atlantic Ocean this week.

According to the alliance, multiple sets of Russian strategic bombers and tanker aircraft failed to file flight plans or engage in radio contact with civilian air-traffic-control officials during their forays into European skies. The crafts also refrained from using their onboard transponders during the exercises.

“This poses a potential risk to civil aviation as civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft or ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic,” read a statement released by NATO this week. “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”

In response, NATO allies scrambled their own jets to intercept and identify the Russian planes. Washington, D.C.–based think tank the Atlantic Council says the alliance has conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year — a threefold increase in incursions since 2013.

Russia’s disregard for civilian procedures comes as relations with the West have hit new lows. In July, Washington accused Moscow of “creating the conditions” in eastern Ukraine that allowed separatist fighters to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with an alleged Kremlin-supplied weapons system.

Moscow has repeatedly denied having a direct hand in the felling of the flight and in turn blamed Kiev for igniting civil war in the country’s east.

TIME China

Chinese and South Korean SAT Students Face Nervous Wait After Scores Delayed

Though disappointed, students and teachers expressed confidence that the incident wouldn't hurt chances at schools

College hopefuls in China and South Korea are frustrated but bearing up after the company that runs the SAT announced it would withhold scores for all students in the two countries who took a recent test, amid an alleged cheating scandal. The delay could hold up scores until after the Nov. 1 deadline to apply for “early decision” at U.S. colleges and universities.

“A rat spoiled a pot of soup, Chinese’s reputation is ruined by these scum,” wrote one user of China’s Twitter-like microblog Weibo.

Others expressed incredulity with the need to cheat: “For most Chinese students the SAT is a piece of cake. Even you fail this time, you can try later. There are multiple opportunities in a year, there is no need to cheat.”

According to Grace Wong, executive director at the Princeton Review’s Hong Kong and Shanghai division, which runs SAT prep courses for students in both cities, her students are not too concerned at the moment.

“I think they only have to worry if they are actually implicated in the cheating scandal,” says Wong, who has fielded calls from students wondering if the delay will affect their admission chances. “Then there will be a problem.”

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, has said that it is not releasing exam results for all students living in China and South Korea who took the test on Oct. 11 until it concludes an investigation into “specific, reliable information” alleging cheating. The delay comes just days before the Nov. 1 deadline for “early decision” at U.S. schools.

Students writing on College Confidential, a message board for college hopefuls, on Tuesday night at first expressed confusion that their scores were marked as “available” yet no score was listed. The mood turned to alarm when one student posted an email from the College Board, which oversees the ETS, warning of “additional quality control steps before scores are released” that may take up to four weeks.

Wong says most students who are applying early decision to U.S. schools already have SAT scores from past tests, though they might have been hoping to get higher marks on the Oct. 11 test.

Indeed, for one student writing on the message board, three weeks was too long to wait — the application was due that night, and the student had been hoping to send in better scores than those on previous tests.

“My school in Korea is requiring me to send in my common app by tonight (midnight) but I am 100% sure that my score improved from my 2 previous tests and I want my best scores to be on my common app,” the student wrote. “But my counselor says waiting another day will be risky — what should I do???”

ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing told TIME on Wednesday that “universities generally do their best to accommodate late scores from students when there are extenuating circumstances.” He added that ETS “will make universities aware of the circumstances and can supply students with a letter to share with the schools to which they are applying.”

Jeremiah Quinlan, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale, also told TIME that “the administrative delay will not hurt the chance of admission for an individual applicant.”

Hamilton Gregg, a counselor at Harrow International School in Beijing, said he was working with students to evaluate their prospects at early admission to their favorite school with their current SAT score. He said many students would apply as normal on Nov. 1 but some might now apply regular decision, given unalleviated concerns that colleges might not accept the late scores, even if higher than older scores.

“It’s really up to the school if they’ll wait the three or four weeks,” says Gregg, who also runs a private college-admissions-counseling business in Beijing. “Some schools could just say, No, too bad, sorry for you. But I’m trying to be an optimist and say, O.K., this is such a big issue, the schools will understand and wait.”

Meanwhile, though Gregg’s students are upset, “they understand why someone would have cheated,” he says, adding that while he is confident none of his own students were involved, they know all too well why someone would have done so: the pressure to succeed can be unbearable.

“Students here feel like, If I don’t get into an Ivy League school, I’m basically useless,” he says. “American students and their parents of course go through the same thing, but it’s magnified in China. There are a billion and a half people here. SAT scores keep going up and up.”

This isn’t first time that South Korea and China have been blistered with an ETS cheating scandal. In May 2013, the company canceled an SAT exam for about 1,500 students in South Korea over allegations of skulduggery. In 2001, the ETS also won a lawsuit in China against test-prep juggernaut New Oriental over its publications of full copies of old tests.

Nevertheless, Gregg is incensed by the latest scandal. “Someone is so selfish that they put tens of thousands of students’ futures in jeopardy,” he says.

Some students on College Confidential held the College Board responsible. “Most of us are innocent,” wrote a “Chinese test taker” who “took the test in Nepal” on Oct. 11. “How could test materials be reached? Isn’t it because of [the College Board's] own leak in security?”

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME sweden

Sweden Becomes the First E.U. Member to Recognize a Palestinian State

The decision, which has drawn the ire of Israel, comes unexpectedly early

The Swedish government became the first E.U. member to officially recognize a Palestinian state on Thursday.

Newly elected Prime Minister Stefan Lofven first announced the move at his swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 3, but he was not expected to follow through so soon, Haaretz reports.

“Some will claim that today’s decision comes too early. I’m rather afraid it’s too late,” writes Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. “The past year, we’ve seen how the peace negotiations once again have halted, how decisions on new settlements on occupied Palestinian land have obstructed a two-state solution and how violence has returned to Gaza.”

Wallstrom writes that the recognition aims to support moderate forces among the Palestinians, make future negotiations more equal and give young Palestinians hope of a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Israel has publicly protested the move, which some believe is feeding unrealistic Palestinian expectations of working out a resolution with the international community but without involving Israel, writes the Jerusalem Post.

A total of 134 other countries recognized Palestine before Sweden. Hungary, Poland and Slovakia all did so before joining the E.U.

TIME China

The Chinese President’s Love Affair With Confucius Could Backfire on Him

China's Vice President Xi Jinping points at the bust of Confucius in China pavilion of Frankfurt book fair
Xi Jinping, now Chinese President, points at a bust of Confucius in the China pavilion of Frankfurt Book Fair he attended while still serving as Vice President on Oct. 13, 2009 Boris Roessler—Reuters

Xi Jinping is turning to China’s ancient philosopher to reshape the country’s political future. But that strategy is riskier than he seems to believe

Ever since China’s President, Xi Jinping, first began to claim the reins of power in Beijing nearly two years ago, China watchers have speculated on where he would take the budding superpower. Initially, it was widely held that Xi was more of a folksy, “man of the people” than his aloof and expressionless predecessor, Hu Jintao, and that he would be a bolder, more liberal reformer.

So far, though, those assumptions have proved off the mark. He has cracked down severely on social media and dissent, with the apparent aim of strengthening the Communist Party’s grip on society. On the economic front, he announced a sweeping program of liberalization, but hasn’t yet implemented it, and the hand of the state rests as heavily on business as before. That has left China analysts grasping at oracle bones to decipher Xi’s vision for China’s political future.

However, a picture of Xi’s agenda is beginning to emerge through the usual haze of secrecy surrounding communist leaders, and it features a man who lived 2,500 years ago: Confucius, the most influential of history’s Chinese philosophers. Simply, Xi is turning to China’s glorious past to provide an ideological foundation to his 21st century rule.

Though Xi has also invoked other figures from Chinese history — from philosophers of competing schools to more modern personalities like Mao Zedong — the President seems to take special interest in Confucianism. “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire,” he said in a September speech, quoting one of Confucius’s most-famous sayings. Earlier in the year, he extolled the wonders of benevolent rule in an address to party cadres with another, well-known passage from the Analects, the most authoritative text on Confucius’s teachings: “The rule of virtue can be compared to the polestar which commands the homage of the multitude of stars without leaving its place.” Last year, Xi, like so many Emperors of old, visited Qufu, Confucius’ hometown. During his tour, he pledged to read Confucian texts and praised the continuing value of Chinese traditional culture.

There is, of course, great irony here. For the first 30 years of communist rule in China, the party of Mao Zedong had tried to uproot Confucian influence from society, seeing the enduring legacy of Confucius as an impediment to socialism and modernization. During the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao in the mid-1960s, Red Guards rampaged through Qufu, smashing relics and defacing the old Confucian temple. In communist propaganda, Confucius was vilified as a feudal leftover responsible for the oppression of the common man.

Since the early days of reform in the 1980s, however, the party’s leaders have been (slowly) resurrecting Confucius and his ideas. Beijing’s successful program to introduce capitalism — or what it prefers to call “socialism with Chinese characteristics” — made the government’s Marxist rhetoric sound especially hollow, leaving the communists to return to Confucius instead.

The sage’s ideas about harmony and deference to authority, they believe, offer an authentic Chinese doctrine that can support the political status quo (and deflect Western ideals of liberal democracy). Much like the imperial emperors did for centuries on end, China’s new communist leaders are attempting to cloak themselves in Confucian principles to lend credibility to their tightfisted tendencies.

Xi seems to be taking this effort to a whole new level. He appears to be employing Confucius as part of a broader program to remake the Communist Party and realign the power structure within it.

For instance, Xi apparently believes a dose of Confucian morality will aid stamping out official graft. Over the past year, Xi has launched an aggressive campaign against government corruption, likely engineered to both eliminate political enemies and clean up an out-of-control bureaucracy that had lost the trust of the populace. A high-level Communist Party conference in October pledged to strengthen the independence of the judicial system to improve rule of law.

Confucius is part of Xi’s reform team. For 2,000 years, Confucius’s doctrine laid down the code of ethics for proper behavior in China — the way of the gentleman — and now Xi seems to be trying to recreate those Confucian standards through persistent exhortation.

Xi also apparently believes that Confucius can bolster his own standing in the country. Confucius’ ideal government was topped by a “sage-king” — a person who was so learned, benevolent and upright that his virtuous rule would bring peace and order to society and uplift the Chinese masses both spiritually and materially. Confucius made little progress in achieving this vision during his own lifetime. But Xi seems to be resurrecting the idea. Since becoming President, he has been whittling away at the government by committee that had prevailed for two decades, in the process centralizing more power in his hands than any communist leader since Mao. By combining one-man rule with the morality of Chinese antiquity, he appears to be painting himself up as some newfangled communist/Confucian sage-king — an all-commanding figure who will usher in a new epoch of prestige and prosperity.

But resurrecting Confucius remains a big risk. Confucius held his sage-king to the strictest principles of virtue and righteousness. The true sage-king was so benevolent that laws and jails would become unnecessary — the people would willingly follow his lead. By quoting and honoring Confucius, Xi is also potentially holding himself to the sage’s unobtainable moral precepts. Simply, the higher the Confucian pedestal on which Xi places himself, the farther he has to fall.

Nor does Xi seem willing to implement other aspects of Confucian government. Kings were not supposed to be autocrats in his teachings. Ministers and other officials were bound by duty to protest policies they considered misguided to keep the Emperor on the proper path. Government was not to tread heavily into the lives of ordinary people. Kings may have had ultimate authority, but not unlimited power. Xi, however, doesn’t appear interested in easing the repressive machinery of the state, nor accepting any challenges to or limitations on his authority.

It appears, then, that Xi really wants to create not sagely Confucian rule but “authoritarianism with Chinese characteristics.” Confucius, if he were alive today, would not approve.

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME Military

The Capabilities of the Afghan Military Are Suddenly a Secret

Enduring Freedom
Recruits get ready to become members of the Afghan National Police force in Kandahar province. DoD photo / TSgt Adrienne Brammer

Watchdog says U.S. taxpayers can’t know if investment is paying off

For years, American taxpayers have been able to chart how well the Afghanistan security forces they’re funding are faring, because “capability assessments” detailing their progress have been routinely released.

Not anymore.

As the U.S. military prepares to withdraw most of its 34,000 troops still in Afghanistan by the end of this year, the American-led command there has suddenly made such information secret.

Classifying the data “deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, says in Thursday’s quarterly report to Congress. “SIGAR and Congress can of course request classified briefings on this information, but its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion.”

A U.S. Army spokesman says the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan decided to classify the capability ratings as part of its “responsibility to protect data that could jeopardize the operational security of our Afghan partners” as they assume “full security responsibility” for their country’s defense.

U.S. taxpayers have spent more than $50 billion training and outfitting Afghan security forces. In the prior quarterly report, issued in July, the IG used the then-available-but-now-classified data to report that 92% of Afghan army units, and 67% of Afghan national police units, were “capable” or “fully capable” of carrying out their missions.

Capability ratings like these from July are now classified. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

“The Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF] capability assessments prepared by the [U.S. and NATO-led] International Security Assistance Force Joint Command have recently been classified, leaving the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction without a critical tool to publicly report on development of the ANSF,” the report says. “This is a significant change.”

The capabilities of Afghan forces become more important as the U.S. and its allies pull out, leaving local troops to battle the Taliban largely on their own. There are reports that Taliban forces are gaining ground in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, vacated earlier this week by U.S. Marines and British troops, and in the northern part of the country.

Past SIGAR reports have used summary data about major Afghan units’ readiness, sustainability and other measurements to trace their progress. More detailed reporting on smaller units has always been classified to keep the Taliban and other insurgents ignorant of Afghan military weaknesses. “It is not clear what security purpose is served by denying the American public even high-level information,” the report says.

“SIGAR has routinely reported on assessments of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police as indicators of the effectiveness of U.S. and Coalition efforts to build, train, equip, and sustain the ANSF,” the report says. “These assessments provide both U.S. and Afghan stakeholders—including the American taxpayers who pay the costs of recruiting, training, feeding, housing, equipping, and supplying Afghan soldiers—with updates on the status of these forces as transition continues and Afghanistan assumes responsibility for its own security.”

ISAF made the change an after August review “to address potential concerns about operational security,” Army Lieut. Colonel Chris Belcher said in an email from Afghanistan. He said that such information “could provide adversaries critical intelligence that could be exploited, endangering the lives of our Afghan partners and the coalition forces serving alongside them.” He added that ISAF “will continue to provide SIGAR access to the information necessary to enable the organization to carry out its Congressionally mandated duties.”

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