TIME India

India’s Modi Exploits Oil Price Collapse to End Diesel Subsidies

India Fuel Reforms
A man fills diesel in a car at a fuel station in New Delhi, India, Oct. 19, 2014. India freed diesel prices from government control Sunday while raising natural gas tariffs in the biggest-yet reform by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, as it aims to boost the country's economy and overhaul its energy sector. Tsering Topgyal—AP

Move comes as victories in key state elections gives Modi’s government more freedom to make bold reforms

India’s government said it will stop fixing the price of diesel, in a move that will cut the bill for fuel subsidies and send a strong signal of its commitment to liberalize the economy and attract investment.

The move is one of the most radical to date by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and will mollify critics who say he has been too timid since taking power in Asia’s second-largest economy. It will also add substance to the barnstorming speeches he has made from Tokyo to Madison Square Gardens in recent weeks in an effort to drum up investment in his country.

“Henceforth—like petrol—the price of diesel will be linked to the market,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said after the cabinet approved the measure Saturday . “Whatever the cost involved, that is what consumer will have to pay.”

Two factors appeared to have influenced the timing of the move: firstly, the collapse in the price of crude oil to its lowest level in over three years means there will be no painful shock for the millions of consumers–most importantly, small-scale farmers–who depend on cheap fuel. Secondly, the politically bold move came as it became clear that Modi’s BJP party would win important regional elections in the states of Maharahstra and Haryana (home to the megacities of Mumbai and Delhi, respectively).

Indian commentators noted that the two elections had limited Modi’s freedom of action somewhat, but said that, with no more big votes due for a year, there is now a clear window to press ahead with the kind of reforms he promised. Under India’s constitution, central government has to share many powers with state government, so having his party in control of two of India’s most important state legislatures (albeit most likely in a coalition in Haryana) is an important advantage for Modi.

The diesel subsidy, which cost over $10 billion in the last fiscal year, had been one of the defining symbols of excessive government interference in the economy, discouraging both foreign and domestic investment in India’s fuel sector. That’s important because India is dependent on imported fuel, having few resources of its own. Energy security is one of Modi’s top priorities.

In the same vein, the government also raised the regulated price of natural gas at the weekend, hoping to encourage more interest in auctions for oil and gas exploration blocks that the government is aiming to hold.

Modi isn’t the only Asian leader who needs to wean his country off fuel subsidies. A similar challenge facesIndonesia’s new president Joko Widodo, who was finally sworn into office Monday after a contested election victory in the summer. Indonesia is lagging India in this area, as subsidies hold down prices not only for diesel but also for gasoline.

Widodo has the tougher challenge: unlike Modi, his opponents have majority control of parliament. And unlike India, gasoline prices are still fixed at below market levels, meaning that liberalization will hit middle-class urban voters.

TIME North Korea

A Former Doctor to North Korea’s Founder Thinks He Passed on Health Problems to Kim Jong Un

Kim Il Sung
North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, Oct. 10, 1980. AP

Kim Il Sung had an obsessive drive to live to the age of 100

A former physician to North Korea’s f0unding leader Kim Il Sung speculated in a new interview that the ailments which afflicted the elder Kim may explain the recent public absence of his grandson and the country’s current leader, Kim Jong Un.

Kim So-Yeon, a phyisician who defected to South Korea in 1992, told CNN that Kim Il Sung suffered from a range of maladies, including stress, obesity, diabetes and heart problems, as well as an obsessive drive to live to the age of 100. She observed the same symptoms in his son, Kim Jong Il.

Examining photographs of the youngest Kim to make claims that can’t be verified in the opaque country, the physician speculated that Kim Jong Un recent reappearance in public, limping with a cane after a prolonged absence for unspecified medical treatments, appeared to match the symptoms of his father and grandfather.

[CNN]

TIME Spain

Spain Says 60 Migrants Enter African Enclave

(MADRID) — The Spanish government says several hundred African migrants staged multiple attempts to scale the border fences separating enter Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla from Morocco, with some 60 managing to get across.

The Interior Ministry said the simultaneous border rushes started around 7 p.m. (0500 GMT) Monday at different points along the border fence that stretches around the city, thus foiling the ability of Moroccan and Spanish police to repel all the migrants.

The 60 migrants who managed to avoid police interception headed for city’s temporary migrant accommodation center. Police eventually repatriate the migrants or let them go.

Thousands of African immigrants living illegally in Morocco try to enter Spain’s enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta each year in a bid to reach Europe.

TIME Turkey

Turkey Will Help Iraqi Kurds Join Fight Against ISIS in Syria

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-CONFLICT
Kurdish people watch the Syrian town of Kobane from the Turkish border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 19, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

A shift in Ankara

Turkey said Monday that it will help Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross its border to fight militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) who have besieged a city in Syria.

“We are helping peshmerga forces cross into Kobani,” the BBC quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying in a news conference. He didn’t give any further details.

Turkey has come under pressure to increase its support for the international coalition fighting ISIS, and the announcement represents a significant shift from Ankara. Until now, Turkey has refused to allow Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria because of links between Syrian Kurds and Turkey’s own separatist rebels. The announcement came just hours after the U.S. made multiple airdrops of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish forces in Kobani, who now appear to be gaining the upper hand against ISIS.

[BBC]

TIME U.K.

British Royal Couple’s Second Child Due in April

Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge And Prince Harry Visit Tower Of London's Ceramic Poppy Field
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge walk through an installation entitled 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by artist Paul Cummins, made up of 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London, to commemorate the First World War on August 5, 2014 in London, England. Each ceramic poppy represents an allied victim of the First World War and the display is due to be completed by Armistice Day on November 11, 2014. After Armistice Day each poppy from the installation will be available to buy for 25 GBP. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images) Oli Scarff—Getty Images

(LONDON) — The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have confirmed that their second baby is due in April — the first time they’ve offered a month for the royal birth.

Kensington Palace also said in a statement Monday that the duchess, who has been sidelined by a prolonged bout of severe morning sickness, continues to improve.

The former Kate Middleton and Prince William are scheduled to welcome Singapore President Tony Tan when he arrives on a four-day state visit this week. She is also expected to attend the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 award ceremony.

The duchess canceled several engagements after her second pregnancy was announced in early September. She had acute morning sickness during the first trimester of her pregnancy with Prince George.

TIME Nepal

Death Toll in Nepal Blizzards Rises to 40 as Authorities Wind Down Search

The body of a victim is moved from an ambulance to the morgue after it was brought back from Annapurna Region in Kathmandu
The body of a victim is moved from an ambulance to the morgue after it was brought back from Annapurna Region in Kathmandu October 17, 2014. Navesh Chitrakar—Reuters

More than 600 people have been rescued, but a few locals are still reportedly missing

Nepalese authorities are being thwarted in their hunt for more survivors of the Himalayan snowstorms that have killed at least 40 people over the past week.

After minor avalanches hampered the search for stranded climbers Monday, Keshav Pandey, of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal, admitted, “After this we can only hope that those who are missing will establish contact with us or their families,” Reuters reports.

Some 600 people have been rescued so far by the Nepalese army and other groups. Pandey believes it unlikely any more tourists are missing but said that some local porters and guides had not yet been traced.

Casualties from the blizzards, which took place unexpectedly during peak trekking season and are said to have been triggered by a cyclone that hit eastern India the previous week, included trekkers from Israel, Japan, Canada, Poland and Slovakia along with several locals.

Baburam Bhandari, chief of Nepal’s Mustang district on the Annapurna mountain circuit where the blizzards hit, told Reuters that army rescuers dug out the body of another Israeli tourist on Monday.

This is the second major disaster this year in Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains. (Annapurna ranks in 10th place.) Sixteen local guides lost their lives this April in an avalanche on the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.

Nepalese Tourism Minister Dipak Amatya said he would do everything possible to ensure that the country never again encountered a tragedy of this nature. “There is no point blaming the hostile weather for the disaster,” Amatya said.

[Reuters]

TIME The Philippines

Philippine-U.S. Ties Tested After Visiting Marine Accused of Murder

CORRECTION Philippines US Killing
Julita Laude, mother of killed transgender Jennifer Laude, talks to reporters during a rally near the USS Peleliu, where U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton is said to be held, at the Subic Bay free port, Zambales province, northern Philippines. Oct. 18, 2014. Aaron Favila—AP

Protesters have been chanting 'U.S. troops out now'

The alleged murder of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude by a U.S. Marine has sparked outrage in the Philippines, with some calling into question the U.S. military’s presence in the country.

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the U.S. military is allowed to conduct drills in the Philippines. The accord also gives the Philippines the power to prosecute American service members if they fall foul of the law, but they can remain in U.S. custody until the end of judicial proceedings, the Associated Press reports.

Several small protests took place in the country’s capital, Manila, and the city of Olongapo, where the alleged murder took place, and in the former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay free port Saturday, where the suspect Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, is being kept on the U.S.S. Peleliu. He has been summoned by the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office to attend a hearing Tuesday.

Protesters have been chanting “U.S. troops out now” and calling for the Visiting Forces Agreement to be abolished.

But authorities say the case is isolated and not related to the treaty.

Read the full story here.

[Associated Press]

TIME sweden

Sweden’s Military Scours for Possible Russian Submarine in Its Waters

Swedish corvette HMS Visby patrols the Stockholm Archipelago October 19 2014, searching for what the military says is a foreign threat in the waters. Marko Savala—TT News Agency/Reuters

A man-made object has been spotted deep inside the Stockholm archipelago, and encrypted communication with Kaliningrad intercepted

A large military operation is under way in waters off Stockholm to sweep for a “foreign underwater activity” widely speculated to be a damaged Russian submarine, in what could be the gravest violation of Sweden’s maritime sovereignty since the Cold War.

The intelligence operation, involving helicopters, minesweepers, corvettes, fast-attack crafts, a submarine and 200 service personnel, started on Friday, after a “man-made device” was sighted deep inside the Stockholm archipelago and encrypted radio communication was intercepted between that position and Kaliningrad — the base of Russia’s Baltic Sea fleet.

Sweden’s military said Sunday it had made a total of three credible sightings within two days and released an image taken by a passerby showing a partially submerged object, but has yet to comment on whether it is a Russian submarine. A suspicious black-clad man was also photographed wading in the waters outside the island of Sandön. On Oct. 2, a navy ship collided with an object in the vicinity, which some believe could have been a submersible that has since fallen into distress.

Intelligence expert Joakim von Braun told the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter that the spotted object could be an advanced mini submarine of the model Triton-NN, and that the stranded crew could have hidden themselves on one of the many nearby islands while waiting to be picked up.

“It could very well be the case that a Swedish sleeper agent is activated since the embassy personnel is too monitored to carry out such a mission,” he said.

Russia has recently been increasingly bullish against its Baltic and Nordic neighbors, prompting some to speculate that they are trying to discourage these countries from deeper cooperation with NATO. In September, Russian fighter jets reportedly violated Swedish airspace, and Finland claims that the Russian navy harassed one of its environmental research ships in international waters last week.

However, maritime incursions have not been apparent since the 1980s, when Sweden’s military was frequently scrambled to investigate, and sometimes hunt, suspected Russian submarines in its waters. International law allows warships to cross maritime borders, while submarines may only do so while surfaced unless previous notification has been given.

Tomas Ries, a researcher at the Swedish National Defense College, says it would be a serious violation if a Russian submarine were located this far into Swedish waters.

“When the Russians violate airspace it’s a political signal, when they practice strategic bomb attacks it’s a political signal,” he told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.

“But if they are going on like this in Swedish waters it suggests that they are preparing something,” he adds, suggesting perhaps mines or reconnaissance equipment. Alternatively, says Ries, they may have “left something there during the Cold War that they want to update,” describing all explanations as “severe.”

An unnamed Kremlin military source apparently denied that the mystery craft was Russian when speaking to state-backed news agency RT. “No extraordinary, let alone emergency situations have happened to Russian military vessels,” said the source.

TIME South Korea

South Korea Must End the ‘Rampant Abuse’ of Migrant Farm Workers, Says Amnesty

Rice Harvest In South Korea Ahead Of Import And Export Price Indices
A South Korean farmer is silhouetted as he sits on a sack of rice on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. SeongJoon Cho—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Far from the glitz and glamour of Seoul, a migrant underclass endures horrific abuse

South Korea’s farming industry is rife with exploitation of migrant labor, according to a report by Amnesty International released Monday, which alleges violence, squalid housing, excessive working hours, no regular rest days and mandatory unpaid overtime.

Moreover, the rights group says that the Seoul government is directly complicit in ongoing abuses through its Employment Permit System (EPS), which involves some 20,000 migrant agricultural workers from poorer nations such as Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The exploitation of migrant farm workers in South Korea is a stain on the country,” said Norma Kang Muico, Asia-Pacific migrant-rights researcher at Amnesty International, in a statement, decrying a “shameful system that allows trafficking for exploitation and forced labor to flourish.”

Many migrant laborers build up enormous debts equivalent to two years’ salary in order to be included in the EPS scheme, according to Amnesty’s Bitter Harvest report, which is based on dozens of interviews with migrant workers in 10 different locations across South Korea.

While EPS employers have the right to sack migrants without justification, those employed under the scheme have no right to quit or change jobs without a release form, leaving gaping avenues for exploitation. Migrants who quit without permission are labeled “runaways” and are liable for arrest and summary deportation.

“My boss told me that he will never release me and will use me for three years and not allow me to extend my contract,” a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman, who claimed not to have been paid by her employer, told Amnesty.

Other migrants told of physical abuse. One Cambodian worker described being set upon after he sat down in a field due to a sore back. “The manager became furious and grabbed me by the collar,” he said. “The manager’s younger brother held me by the neck while the manager beat me.”

Many migrants spoke of only being paid for days worked during harvest-time despite signing three-year contracts, leaving them destitute and unable to find alternative employment during the harsh winters.

Amnesty International has urged the South Korean government to ensure reasonable work conditions and allow EPS workers to take up alternative employment while complaints are being investigated, among other reforms.

“If South Koreans were trapped in a similar cycle of abuse, there would rightly be outrage,” adds Muico.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Accuses ‘External Forces’ of Aiding Protests

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY-LEUNG
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying answers questions during a press conference in Hong Kong on October 16, 2014. PHILIPPE LOPEZ—AFP/Getty Images

The remarks, made to a local television channel in an interview on Sunday, have been rubbished by the pro-democracy protesters

Hong Kong’s embattled leader Leung Chun-ying has accused the city’s pro-democracy movement of being aided by foreign elements, echoing the Chinese government’s attitude toward the demonstrations that are now entering their fourth week.

Leung told a local TV channel in an interview Sunday that the protests are “not entirely a domestic movement, as external forces are involved,” according to the BBC. The chief executive (CE), as Hong Kong’s leader is officially known, did not elaborate on which foreign elements he suspected of interfering.

Hundreds of thousands have thronged Hong Kong’s streets since late September to demand a revision of Beijing’s insistence on pre-approving candidates for the city’s next CE election in 2017.

Student leaders have also been vocal in their demands for Leung, universally known by his initials C.Y., to resign, accusing the 60-year-old of putting fealty to Beijing above the city’s needs.

The Hong Kong government had earlier announced talks with the protest movement’s leadership, a week after negotiations had been canceled at the last moment. The meeting is due to be held on Tuesday.

“To make a statement that there are foreign powers infiltrating this movement right before the discussions is evidence that C.Y. [Leung] is hoping to crack down on the entire movement,” said Alex Chow, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of several groups spearheading the protests. He condemned Leung’s statement as “irresponsible” and urged him to provide evidence.

Lam Cheuk-ting, the head of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, called Leung’s latest comments “ridiculous,” as “we can see that the participants are all volunteers, they are not mobilized by any organization or any political party.”

“If C.Y. [Leung] has any concrete evidence, I hope he can provide it to the public and to the media,” Lam told TIME.

Lam said Leung’s statement seemed deliberate and tactical, since the CE may be seeking to foster Beijing’s support for a stronger crackdown on protesters. “I don’t think he is under pressure by Beijing, but this is his tactic to mislead the Beijing government,” Lam said.

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