TIME Guatemala

Immunity Lifted, Prosecutors Close In on Guatemala President

Guatemala Political Crisis
Moises Castillo—AP Demonstrators react in jubilation in front of the Guatemalan Congress building as they hear the news that Congress has voted to withdraw President Otto Perez Molina's immunity from prosecution, in Guatemala City, on Sept. 1, 2015

"Guatemala is showing that nobody is above the law"

(GUATEMALA CITY) — Guatemalan prosecutors wasted no time in pressing their corruption investigation of President Otto Perez Molina, persuading a judge to bar him from leaving the country just hours after a historic congressional vote to strip his immunity from prosecution.

Prosecutor Thelma Aldana called the travel ban a “precautionary” measure and said the president is suspected of illicit association, bribery and customs fraud in a corruption scandal that has already toppled his vice president and various Cabinet ministers. The next steps could include summoning Perez Molina to appear before a court or seeking a warrant for his detention.

Earlier Tuesday, all 132 lawmakers present in the 158-seat parliament voted to lift Perez Molina’s constitutional immunity, easily clearing a two-thirds majority requirement in what is widely seen as an unprecedented blow against entrenched corruption and impunity in this Central American nation.

“Guatemala is showing that nobody is above the law, and as a result this is a message for all current and future public servants that our behavior must be subject to the constitution,” Aldana told a news conference Tuesday night.

Perez Molina, 64, has maintained his innocence and vows to face the legal process.

“The president is aware of the new scenario, which was not the most desirable but was very probable,” his spokesman, Jorge Ortega, told The Associated Press. “He has said he will be very respectful and submit himself to the rule of law.”

The congressional vote did not remove Perez Molina from office, though constitutional law expert Alejandro Balsells said it would be within a judge’s power to suspend the president if he is ordered to jail as the case moves forward. No charges have yet been filed.

Uncovered by prosecutors and a U.N. commission probing criminal networks in Guatemala, the corruption scandal involved a scheme known as “La Linea,” or “The Line,” in which businesspeople paid bribes to avoid import duties through the customs agency. The ring is believed to have defrauded the state of millions of dollars.

The scandal has already claimed the job of former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, whose ex-personal secretary was named as the alleged ringleader. Baldetti resigned May 8 and is currently in jail awaiting trial on accusations she took millions of dollars in bribes.

An earlier move to strip Perez Molina’s immunity that was brought by an opposition lawmaker died in Congress. This latest motion was presented by prosecutors and the U.N. commission.

About 200 people outside the capitol hugged each other, cheered, waved Guatemalan flags and set off firecrackers as news of the vote emerged, echoing the weeks of massive protests calling for the president’s resignation. Drivers honked horns, and people recorded the moment with selfies.

“His insistence on not resigning frustrated me. I thought they would never take away his immunity,” said Marcela Fernandez, a first-grade teacher. “This is just one step and hopefully we will continue to protest when there are other injustices.”

Adriana Beltran, a Guatemala analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the investigations and congressional vote send a “remarkable” message to Guatemalans about political reform and the rule of law: “That you can make it work following due process and respecting human rights, and that those that at one point were considered untouchable can be brought to justice.”

Protesters have demanded not only that Perez Molina step down but that next Sunday’s presidential elections be postponed. He says delaying the vote would be against the law.

Perez Molina is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election, and whoever becomes his successor would take office in January.

Those voting against Perez Molina in Congress included members of his own ruling party.

“The party gave us permission to vote and withdraw the president’s immunity,” lawmaker Luis Fernandez Chenal said. “He who owes nothing, fears nothing.”

Business leaders, Guatemala’s National Council of Bishops and even the government comptrollers’ office have all urged Perez Molina to step down.

“This is just the beginning,” said activist Byron Garon. “Now we want him and his vice president to be tried and convicted, and for them to give back to Guatemala all that they stole.”

TIME Thailand

Fingerprints on Bombmaking Material Match Suspect’s in Bangkok Attack

Thailand Explosion
AP Thai authorities arrest a man they believe is part of a group responsible for a deadly bombing at a shrine in central Bangkok on Aug. 17, 2015

The bombing killed 20 people and wounded more than 120

Thai police say the fingerprints of a foreign man arrested at Thailand’s border with Cambodia match those they found on a bottle containing bomb-making material.

The bottle was among many items seized during a raid Saturday of an apartment on the outskirts of Bangkok where another suspect was arrested as part of the investigation into the deadly Aug. 17 bombing at the Erawan shrine.

Both suspects are being interrogated by the military and have not yet been charged.

National police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said Wednesday that the man arrested at the border on Tuesday “is important and is related to or conspired with people” behind the bombing that killed 20 people and wounded more than 120.

TIME azerbaijan

Azerbaijan Jails Prominent Investigative Journalist for ‘Economic Crimes’

International Women's Media Foundation's 2012 Courage in Journalism Awards - Arrivals
Allen Berezovsky—WireImage/Getty Images Khadija Ismayilova arrives at the 2012 Courage in Journalism Awards hosted by the International Women's Media Foundation held at the Beverly Hills Hotel on October 29, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.

Khadija Ismayilova claims the jail sentence is a political ploy to silence her reporting

Azerbaijan sentenced its top investigative journalist to seven and a half years in prison Tuesday on a cocktail of charges that she says are politically motivated and aimed at obstructing her reporting on the country’s government.

Khadija Ismayilova was found guilty by the Eurasian nation’s Court of Serious Crimes for alleged “economic crimes, including illegal entrepreneurship and tax evasion,” her lawyer Fariz Namazly told Agence France-Presse.

“We will appeal the illegal verdict,” he said.

Ismayilova has doggedly reported on the massive funds appropriated by the family of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, who described her as an “enemy of the government” in a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks in 2009. The cable also reveals that he asked the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan to have the 39-year-old journalist sacked from the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty network where she worked as a local bureau chief from 2008 to 2010. Authorities raided and shut down the offices of Radio Liberty in the country’s capital Baku in December 2014, prompting Washington to express deep concern about the treatment of the country’s nonstate media.

Ismayilova also claimed she was targeted in 2012 when a secretly filmed sex tape of a woman purported to be her was posted online and allegedly used to blackmail her.

International advocacy organizations denounced Tuesday’s verdict, with Human Rights Watch calling it “outrageous” and Amnesty International terming it “yet another unfair trial relying on fabricated charges.”

Ismayilova, for her part, remained defiant on Monday in her final statement before the sentencing.

“[The authorities] won’t be able to force me to stay silent, even if they sentence me to 15 or 25 years,” she said.

[AFP]

TIME India

India’s Massive Kumbh Mela Festival Bans Selfies to Keep People Moving

INDIA-RELIGION-FESTIVAL-KUMBH
STR—AFP/Getty Images Hindu Indian pilgrims take a dip at the start of the holy Kumbh Mela in Nashik, India, on July 14, 2015

Potentially dangerous bottlenecks form behind pilgrims stopping to take pictures of themselves

One of India’s largest Hindu festivals has set up “no-selfie zones,” in an effort to manage the immense crowds that are expected to attend over the course of this month.

The selfie embargo at the Kumbh Mela — a biennial Hindu pilgrimage and one of the world’s largest gatherings — was instituted after tests using a real crowd, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

The tests found that when people stop to take pictures of themselves at the festival, it slows down the flow of people and bottlenecks form quickly. “They also climb to dangerous spots to take selfies,” Sandip Shinde, CEO of a firm that is helping authorities monitor the festival, told the Express.

Crushes and stampedes are sadly all too common at Indian mass gatherings, with enormous crowds overwhelming buildings and spaces that were never designed to hold them. At least 27 people were trampled to death on July 14 at another religious gathering in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, coincidentally on the same day the Kumbh Mela began.

At Kumbh Mela, attendees will be prohibited from taking selfies in certain areas and on certain days — particularly during the Shahi Snan ritual that involves tens of thousands of people taking a dip in the holy Godavari River. Authorities estimate that nearly 3 million people have already visited the festival grounds in the western city of Nashik and millions more are expected.

[Indian Express]

TIME Nepal

Five Protesters Killed in Nepal as Violence Over Constitutional Reform Continues

Nepalese police stop Hindu activists as they try to break through to a cordoned-off area near parliament during a protest demanding Nepal be declared a Hindu state in Kathmandu on September 1, 2015.
Prakash Mathema—AFP/Getty Images Nepalese police stop Hindu activists as they try to break through to a cordoned-off area near parliament during a protest demanding Nepal be declared a Hindu state in Kathmandu on Sept. 1, 2015

Some fear the changes would marginalize their communities

Nepalese police killed five protesters in the south of the country Tuesday as demonstrators, angry at the government’s plan to change the constitution, clashed with authorities.

Police said four people were shot dead in the town of Birjung (40 miles south of the capital Kathmandu), when protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at a police post. A fifth person was killed in a separate clash in a neighboring town of Kalaiya, reports Reuters.

A new constitution has been under review since the monarchy was abolished during a Maoist insurgency in 2008. The proposed changes would federalize the Himalayan nation, dividing it into seven states.

Supporters hope the charter will bring political stability and boost economic development in the country, which is still recovering from two devastating earthquakes earlier this year.

But the Tharu and Medhesi minorities who live in the country’s southern plains, say the proposed demarcations would marginalize their communities. In a series of protests in recent weeks, several ethnic groups have demanded statehood in the new charter.

At least 20 people have been killed in violence since the draft constitution was announced two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Hindu protesters clashed with police in front of the assembly building in Kathmandu Tuesday. They are demanding that Nepal be declared a Hindu state in the new constitution, reports the Associated Press.

[Reuters]

TIME Sierra Leone

Experts to Investigate New Ebola Case in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Ebola
Alie Turay—AP Adama Sankoh, who contracted Ebola after her son died from the disease late last month, stands with health officials after she was discharge in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Aug. 24, 2015

Samples from a 67-year-old woman's corpse tested positive for Ebola

(FREETOWN, Sierra Leone) — Ebola experts are in Sierra Leone’s Kambia district investigating a case that emerged less than a week after the country’s last known patient was discharged from a hospital, a World Health Organization spokeswoman said Monday.

Once the source of transmission is found and contacts are traced, a vaccination trial will also begin in the northern Sierra Leone area, WHO spokeswoman Dr. Margaret Harris said.

“It’s a step back and a disappointment, but it wasn’t a surprise as it’s near the border with Guinea,” where cases remain, said Harris, adding that further transmission can be stopped.

Samples from a 67-year-old woman’s corpse tested positive for Ebola, WHO technical coordinator Margarette Lamunu said. The woman, who died and was safely buried Aug. 29, was treated at home in Kafta village, so more Ebola cases are expected, Lamunu said.

Liberia had a similar situation. A sample from a corpse tested positive in late June after the country had been declared Ebola-free in May. It was quickly contained and Liberia may again declare itself free from Ebola transmissions this week, Harris said.

Authorities decided weeks ago to extend a vaccine trial from Guinea to Sierra Leone, Harris said.

The trial for the VSV-EBOV — developed by Canada and licensed to Merck — is done where there is Ebola, she said. Experts target contacts of the infected, and contacts of those contacts to create a buffer zone around a case to prevent its spread. Now that there is a case, and once contacts are traced, they will seek participants and the trial will begin in the area, Harris said.

The worst Ebola outbreak in history has killed nearly 4,000 people in Sierra Leone and more than 11,300 overall.

TIME Military

The Pentagon’s Dubious Dogfight

USAF The Pentagon plans to test the A-10, left, against the F-35 in 2018.

Test pitting new F-35 against venerable A-10 comes too late to matter

The good news is the Pentagon is finally pitting its tried-and-true A-10 Warthog against its brand-new F-35 Lightning II to see which one is better when it comes to helping out troops on the ground. The bad news is such testing won’t start for another three years, when the military will be too invested in the F-35 to do much about it.

In other words, the test will come too late to make much difference—for either the grunts on the ground, or the taxpayers footing the $400 billion bill for 2,457 of the planes Lockheed Martin is building for the Air Force, Marines and Navy.

“This is the endgame of a premeditated strategy that has led to this totally absurd situation,” says Chuck Spinney, a retired Pentagon warplane analyst. “It brings into sharp relief the whole way we buy our weapons.”

While some are cheering the aerial duel as a necessary sizing up of the two warplanes the Pentagon is counting on to keep American troops safe on 21st century battlefields, that misses a key point by a mile: the tardy testing highlights the second half of a two-act Pentagon play designed to make the F-35 a fait accompli:

• The opening act began with what’s known in the weapons-building trade as “concurrency”—letting something be designed and produced at the same time. Over the past decade, concurrency allowed production contracts to be spread around the country (45 of 50 states are building parts of the F-35) and, indeed, the world (11 nations are helping the U.S. build the plane). That has given it momentum on Capitol Hill.

• In the closing act, concurrency has delayed testing of the aircraft for years—including against the A-10—ensuring its production no matter what the belated testing might uncover.

Or, as they sometimes say at the Pentagon: too early to tell, too late to stop.

Concurrency’s cost could be seen late Tuesday, when the Pentagon announced a $311 million contract award to Lockheed for “retrofit modification hardware,” a common result of trying to build weapons when their blueprints remain in flux.

The A-10, with its single mission of protecting the grunts on the ground with its fierce 30mm cannon, has long been the favorite of soldiers and Marines who find themselves pinned down by enemy forces. But it’s that very attribute—that the heavily-armored A-10 is dedicated to a single mission—that has made the `hog vulnerable in an increasingly tight budgetary environment. Scrapping it, as the Air Force proposes, would save $4 billion over five years, the service estimates.

The F-35, on the other hand, is a Swiss-army-knife kind of warplane. The Air Force, Marines and Navy all had to compromise to come up with a design they could share. Outfitted to perform several missions—it can fly off aircraft carriers, drop bombs and shoot at other airplanes—it can’t excel at any of them. “The idea that we could produce a committee design that is good for everybody is fundamentally wrong,” declares retired general Merrill McPeak, a fighter pilot who served as Air Force chief of staff as the F-35’s development got underway in the early 1990s.

The Pentagon’s operational testing office issued a grim assessment of the most-costly weapons system in history in its latest annual report earlier this year. “Overall suitability continues to be less than desired by the Services, and relies heavily on contractor support and unacceptable workarounds,” it said, “but has shown some improvement.”

Michael Gilmore, director of the testing office, said last week that his office will send out separate formations of each plane to conduct what the military calls “close air support” missions. Such testing will highlight “capability gaps” between the F-35 and A-10. “It’s really not wise to guess,” he said. “You have to go out and get data and do a thorough and rigorous evaluation.”

That’s the only way, Air Force officials say, to know where to spend more money on the F-35 to make up for any shortcomings it might have compared to the 40-year-old A-10.

TIME Gaza

Gaza Could Become ‘Uninhabitable’ by 2020, U.N. Report Warns

gaza strip unlivable
Mohammed Salem—Reuters Palestinians ride a horse cart past a house, that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, in Beit Lahiya town in the northern Gaza Strip on Aug. 25, 2015.

"Reconstruction efforts are extremely slow relative to the magnitude of devastation," the report said

The Gaza Strip could become “uninhabitable” within five years, a United Nations report released Tuesday warns, as a result of Israeli military operations and a nearly decade-long blockade that have crippled its economy and infrastructure.

Gaza, a small territory that’s home to about 1.8 million Palestinians, had “no time for meaningful reconstruction or economic recovery” after eight years of a devastating Israeli economic blockade, wrote the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in its annual report. The agency, which has provided assistance to displaced Palestinians, also attributed the impoverished conditions to three successive Israeli military operations over the past six years.

“The social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza unliveable by 2020, if present trends continue,” the U.N. report said. “Reconstruction efforts are extremely slow relative to the magnitude of devastation, and Gaza’s local economy did not have a chance to recover.”

Since the most recent Israeli military operation in 2014, more than 20,000 Palestinian homes, 148 schools and 60 healthcare centers in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, according to the U.N.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Will Travel Through Central Park On NYC Visit

Pope Francis waves as he arrives in the popemobile to deliver a mass at Nu Guazu field in the outskirts of Asuncion, Paraguay on July 12, 2015.
JUAN MABROMATA—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis waves as he arrives in the popemobile to deliver a mass at Nu Guazu field in the outskirts of Asuncion, Paraguay on July 12, 2015.

The historic procession will take place on September 25.

Pope Francis will travel through Central Park when he visits New York City on September 24-26.

Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the news in a tweet.

The historic procession is set to take place on September 25.

Tickets will be required and will be randomly distributed online here to residents of New York state. The complete schedule of the papal visit can be found here.

Read next: Inside Preparations for the Pope’s Visit

TIME Pope Francis

What Pope Francis’ Abortion Announcement Really Means

It fits his pastoral approach to the papacy

Pope Francis announced Tuesday that all priests will have the authority to absolve the Catholic sin of abortion during the upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will begin Dec. 8.

It is a bold move, and a spiritual one. Pope Francis is not addressing politicians. He is providing guidance to his Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization as he prepares the Catholic Church for a year of intentional mercy designed to foster spiritual renewal.

Pope Francis’ offer is also not new — it widens a common Catholic practice. Traditionally bishops are the ones who have the authority to grant forgiveness for certain grave sins like abortion, and they have in the past also shared that power with priests. As the top bishop, the Bishop of Rome, Francis is making that practice as wide as possible during the Jubilee Year.

Forgiving abortion is not the same as saying abortion is now acceptable: forgiveness implies a turning of heart, with the goal of change. Pope Francis made this clear in his papal bull announcing the Jubilee Year in April. “This is the opportune moment to change our lives! This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched! When faced with evil deeds, even in the face of serious crimes, it is the time to listen to the cry of innocent people who are deprived of their property, their dignity, their feelings, and even their very lives,” he wrote. “To stick to the way of evil will only leave one deluded and sad. True life is something entirely different. God never tires of reaching out to us. He is always ready to listen, as I am too, along with my brother bishops and priests.”

The Vatican made this clear again Tuesday after the Pope’s letter was announced. “Forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects,” Father Thomas Rosica, the Vatican’s English-language press assistant, explained to reporters in an email. “The fact that this statement is coming from the Pope and in such a moving, pastoral way, is more evidence of the great pastoral approach and concern of Pope Francis.”

While the news spread quickly Tuesday, focusing solely on abortion misses the bigger picture of what Pope Francis is trying to do. Before he even mentioned indulgences for abortion in his letter, Pope Francis specifically addressed groups of people that can be easy to overlook — the sick, the elderly, the deceased, and the incarcerated — and directed special care be given to them during the Jubilee Year. His attention to those in prison is particularly noteworthy, as he imagines ways for them experience entering a church symbolically. “May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom,” Pope Francis writes.

The move is also about the importance of the act of confession itself, and creating an environment of openness and safety in the church for people to confess. Abortion divides — it divides families, partners, communities, politics. In the Catholic Church, it also keeps people from experiencing the full communion of the church and being able to participate with others in church life. Confession for Catholics can be an opportunity for healing in a way that mere punishment prevents. The Pope’s goal is to bring people together, and confession is a way to experience reunion.

Confession itself is an act of utmost spiritual importance for Pope Francis. Francis has made confession central to his personal pastoral style from a young age, and even not in church contexts. Austen Ivereigh, one of Pope Francis’ biographers, tells the story in his book The Great Reformer about how Francis, then Jorge Bergoglio, disciplined one of his students when he taught secondary school decades ago. The student, Roberto Poggio, had slapped a younger boy during a sports game. “Bergoglio asked him to come to a classroom at a particular time,” Ivereigh recounts. “When he got there, he saw ten of the his friends sitting in a circle and Bergoglio sitting off to one side. ‘He told me I should tell my friends in detail what happened, and it became something that stuck with me for life. They were understanding, they gave advice, and somehow I felt as if a load been lifted from me — I felt no reproach or criticism from them,’ Poggio recounted.”

It is another reminder that Francis is a Pope with a purpose. He is structuring his mission to be pastoral and healing for all people, and especially those that the Church and society marginalize.

Read next: The Top 4 Misconceptions About Pope Francis

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