TIME Afghanistan

Taliban Suicide Bombers Kill 7 in Kabul, Wound 21

Afghanistan
Afghan security forces guard the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on Oct. 1, 2014 Massoud Hossaini—AP

Wednesday's attacks involved two suicide bombers targeting buses carrying Afghan troops in the country's capital

(KABUL, AFGHANISTAN) — Taliban suicide bombers struck two buses carrying Afghan soldiers in Kabul early Wednesday, killing seven people and wounding 21, just a day after the signing of a key U.S.-Afghan security pact.

The long-awaited deal allows U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of 2014, ending the uncertainty over the fate of foreign troops supporting Afghans as they take over the fight against the Taliban insurgency.

Wednesday’s attacks involved two suicide bombers targeting buses carrying Afghan troops in the country’s capital.

The first attacker hit a bus with Afghan National Army officers in west Kabul, killing seven and wounding 15, said the city’s criminal investigation police chief Mohammad Farid Afzali.

The second attacker, who was also on foot, blew himself up in front of a bus in northeastern Kabul, wounding at least six army personnel, Afzali said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying the security pact with America has only motivated the group and given the Taliban “more morale” to fight the enemy.

“They need to give more sacrifices to make their homeland free,” Mujahid said, referring to Taliban fighters.

In a separate statement to media, the Taliban denounced the Bilateral Security Agreement as an “American plot” and said that “such fake documents will never hold back the lawful jihad,” or holy war.

In Kabul, dozens of Afghan security forces sealed off the attack sites, littered with broken glass, as military ambulances took the victims to hospital. Worried Afghans passed by, on their way to work.

Under the security pact, along with a separate deal signed with NATO, about 10,000 American troops and several thousand more from other NATO countries will stay to train and advise Afghan forces after the international combat mission ends on Dec. 31.

More than a decade after U.S. forces helped topple the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghanistan is still at war with the Islamic militant group, which regularly carries out attacks, mainly targeting security forces.

There are also serious questions about the ability of the Afghan security forces to take on the militants, even with a residual U.S. force remaining in the country.

In other violence, two police officers were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a police vehicle late Tuesday in Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province. Five policemen were also wounded in the attack, Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor said Wednesday.

The U.S.-Afghan pact was long in the making. U.S. officials had first warned their Afghan counterparts that if the security accord was not signed by the end of 2013, the Pentagon would have to start planning for a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

But when the year ended, the White House moved back the deadline, saying then-President Hamid Karzai needed to sign off within weeks. Karzai surprised U.S. officials by ultimately saying he would not sign the accord and would instead leave that task for his successor.

But the results of the race to replace Karzai took months resolve, finally coming to a conclusion on Monday with the swearing in of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as Afghanistan’s second elected president.

Ghani Ahmadzai signed the security agreement Tuesday, nearly one year after the White House’s initial deadline.

TIME Hong Kong

Watch What It’s Like to Be at the Hong Kong Protests

Tens of thousands of people descended onto the streets of Hong Kong to demand change in the electoral system. Support for the "Occupy Central" movement grew after police used tear gas on protesters on Sunday

TIME Foreign Policy

Washington Issues Statement Backing Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protesters

Student protesters gesture outside the Golden Bauhinia Square, venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong
Student protesters gesture outside the Golden Bauhinia Square, venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong Oct. 1, 2014. Tyrone Siu—Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to discuss the ongoing protests with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday

The White House issued a statement of support for “the aspirations of the Hong Kong people” on Tuesday, in response to a petition urging the U.S. government to put pressure on the Chinese government.

The Obama Administration’s comments reflect a gradual toughening of its response to Beijing, as the Chinese Communist Party refuses to heed Hong Kong protesters’ loudening call for free and fair elections amid swelling demonstrations in the financial powerhouse.

“The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law,” the statement said. It continued that Hong Kong residents should have “a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters’ will.”

U.S. officials also said Tuesday that Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss the protests racking Hong Kong with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, the U.K. also solidified its position on the side of the protesters; Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg summoned the Chinese ambassador in order to convey the British government’s alarm at Beijing’s hardened dismissal of universal suffrage in Hong Kong. The territory was a British colony until 1997.

“It is essential that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice of chief executive in 2017, through universal suffrage,” Clegg said, according to Sky News. Clegg also said he would “reiterate our position and seek reassurances from the Chinese government.”

Tens of thousands of people have flooded several of Hong Kong’s busiest districts, pledging to continue bringing traffic and commerce to a standstill until the Hong Kong and central governments meet two demands: Hong Kong’s top leader resigns, and Beijing grants the Special Administrative Region the right to freely elect a new one in 2017, as opposed to choosing from a list of candidates handpicked by a pro-Beijing committee.

The Chinese government has repeatedly accused the U.S. and British governments of meddling in its affairs and stirring up the protests; both countries’ officials have denied any involvement.

The original petition had asked the White House “to support Hong Kong democracy and prevent a second Tiananmen Square [massacre] in Hong Kong.” If a petition on the White House website collects more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days, it necessitates a response from the U.S. government. The petition boasted 196,942 signatures before it closed.

“We believe that an open society, with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law, is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” read the response.

The statement also reiterated White House comments made on Monday, urging “Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint, and for protesters to express their views peacefully.”

Since police lobbed 87 tear-gas canisters at protesters bearing nothing but umbrellas on Sunday evening, the number of officers on the streets has been drastically scaled back, while the number of protesters, galvanized by the disproportionate response, has burgeoned.

At demonstrations outside a flag-raising ceremony on Wednesday to celebrate China’s National Day, protesters said they were intent on remaining peaceful, while also staying put until their demands are met.

“We will not stop them from celebrating,” said T. Wong, 35, a protester standing under a swarm of umbrellas near the ceremony. “But as they celebrate, we want them to listen to our voices.”

TIME Philippines

Imelda Marcos Has Had Part of Her Art Collection Seized

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Lifestyle-Philippi
Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos is seen in her apartment in Manila on June 27, 2007. Romeo Gacad—AFP/Getty Images

Authorities claim artworks were bought with embezzled state funds

A number of art works belonging to Imelda Marcos, wife of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, have been seized by authorities, who claim they were bought with embezzled state funds.

Works by Picasso and Gauguin are believed to be among the pieces still in the former First Lady’s possession, reports the BBC, as is Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Authorities are keen to trace the other artworks.

The 85-year-old Marcos, who was elected to the Philippine congress in 2010, has repeatedly denied her estimated $10 billion fortune was acquired illicitly.

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 until his ouster in 1986. He died three years later.

[BBC]

TIME

Panama Opens a Frank Gehry–Designed Biodiversity Museum

Panama Gehry Museum
In this Sept. 27, 2014, photo, two men stand in the atrium of the Biomuseo, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, in Panama City Arnulfo Franco—AP

The project has been a long time coming, construction having started in 1999

Panama has opened a biodiversity museum designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, his first project in Latin America.

The Biomuseo — a hodgepodge of bright-colored metal canopies swopping over the eight galleries inside — presents a tour of the Central American nation’s rich, diverse ecosystems, the BBC reports.

The building itself “was designed to tell the story of how the isthmus of Panama rose from the sea, uniting two continents, separating a vast ocean in two, and changing the planet’s biodiversity forever,” the museum’s website says.

Gehry’s other high-profile works include the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

The BBC reports that the project has been beset by budget overruns and delays since work began on it in 1999.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Democracy Protesters Are Being Targeted by Malicious Spyware

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY
A father and son take a selfie with a mobile phone in front of a barricade in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Sept. 30, 2014 Xaume Olleros—AFP/Getty Images

The culprit is "a very large organization or nation state," experts say

A computer virus that spies on Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system is targeting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, according to tech experts.

Known as Xsser, the malicious software is capable of harvesting data including text messages, photos, data logs and passwords from mobile devices, Lacoon Mobile Security said Tuesday.

The spyware is hosted on the same Command and Control domain as an existing fake program for the Android operating system that was disguised as a protest-organizing app and distributed around Hong Kong last week.

“Cross-platform attacks that target both iOS and Android devices are rare, and indicate that this may be conducted by a very large organization or nation state,” said Lacoon in a statement.

Tens of thousands of people have paralyzed key areas of the city over the past few days in support of greater electoral freedom, much to the chagrin of the central government in Beijing.

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Marks Chinese National Day With Demands for Political Reform

A protester holds up a placard which reads "Peace is our greatest weapon", outside the venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day, in Hong Kong
A protester holds up a placard that reads "Peace Is Our Greatest Weapon," outside the venue of the official flag-raising ceremony for celebrations of China's National Day in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, 2014 Tyrone Siu—Reuters

Ceremonial venue is besieged by democracy activists as city enters its fourth day of massive protests

Chaotic scenes stole the show from the pomp and spectacle of Chinese National Day celebrations in Hong Kong on Wednesday, as thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators harangued dignitaries and set up camp on the fringes of the city’s politically sacrosanct Golden Bauhinia Square.

Protesters in jeans and sneakers, many of whom had been on the streets all night, heckled a parade of the city’s oligarchs and tycoons as they attempted to enter the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center for ceremonial speeches.

At one point, the crowd, some wearing gas masks, linked arms and bellowed “Down with the Chinese Communist Party!” and “We want universal suffrage!”

“It’s China’s National Day, not Hong Kong’s,” protester Ivan Chau, 26, told TIME.

Simon Lee, 28, an IT worker, said he felt no love for China’s ruling party and felt more Hong Kong than Chinese. “Everyone agrees we are from Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong has been given a broad degree of autonomy since the end of British colonial rule in 1997. But this sophisticated, freewheeling city of 7 million is deeply suspicious of Beijing and unable to freely choose its own leader.

Calls for democratic reform have built to a crescendo over the last five days, with tens of thousands of protestors bringing several downtown locations to a standstill.

Demonstrators aim to force Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to resign, and are calling for the Chief Executive to be elected by a popular vote in 2017.

Beijing has agreed to elections but only if the candidates (a maximum of three has been set) are first vetted by a 1,200-strong committee largely perceived as loyal to the mainland.

Such a caveat undermines the entire principle of the vote, say democracy activists, who have vowed to paralyze the city through a campaign of civil disobedience in order to foment change, braving police batons, tear gas and pepper spray.

Their movement has been dubbed the Umbrella Revolution after the umbrellas that demonstrators use to shield themselves from pepper spray.

“The Umbrella Revolution only has one ultimate goal: to have true democracy in Hong Kong,” said one protester.

Back inside the ceremony, one guest, district councilor Paul Zimmerman, made a bold display by unfurling a yellow umbrella in support of the protestors. Another guest, district councilor and former radio personality Pamela Peck, was entirely clad in yellow — the Umbrella Revolution’s symbolic color.

Other attendees toasted the “security and stability of Hong Kong,” while a patriotic song celebrating “Hong Kong’s close ties with the motherland,” in the words of the MC, was played in the lavish hall without irony.

The theme of this year’s celebrations was declared to be “Chinese Dreams.”

Outside, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers rouse from their slumber, ready for another day’s protest in pursuit of dreams of a very different kind.

— With reporting by Elizabeth Barber, David Stout, Helen Regan, Rishi Iyengar and Emily Rauhala / Hong Kong

TIME Infectious Disease

How to Get to Monrovia and Back

A Brussels Airlines plane bound for Monrovia at Brussels Airport in Brussels on Aug. 28, 2014.
A Brussels Airlines plane bound for Monrovia at Brussels Airport in Brussels on Aug. 28, 2014. Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

People, and viruses like Ebola, can go anywhere these days

None of the passengers who flew with Ebola Patient Zero from Monrovia, Liberia to Dallas, Texas will have to worry about catching the deadly virus. The patient wasn’t contagious in-flight. Airlines may be called carriers, but airplanes themselves are not particularly good at spreading viral diseases such as Ebola.

What they are good at is transporting people infected with viral diseases from a seemingly far off and remote city such as Monrovia to a big American town such as Dallas. But the global economy has brought cities a lot closer together, and changed disease vectors accordingly.

Need to get to Monrovia? Easy. We can book a trip for you immediately if your passport is handy and you have the visa. There’s a flight leaving JFK in New York City at 5:55 p.m. on Thursday that gets you into Monrovia 21 hours and 25 minutes later. (Relax, Delta passengers; the airline serves Monrovia through Accra from New York, but suspended that connecting service on August 30.) The current itinerary is JFK to BRU to DKR to ROB, airline code for New York to Brussels, where you’ll change planes, then a stop at Dakar, Senegal, before heading to Monrovia’s Roberts International Airport. All that travel takes place aboard Brussels Airlines on wide body Airbus 330s. Indeed, the worst part of the trip may be flying to New York on a commuter jet from Dallas.

You have other options, too: the airline-listing site Kayak offers 1,673 combinations that will get you to Monrovia from New York. Or you can make 574 connections through Chicago. And Open Skies agreements that freed global airlines to fly point-to-point across continents have, as the State Department puts it, “vastly expanded international passenger and cargo flights to and from the United States.”

You can hop an A380 on Emirates Airlines from Dallas to Dubai, change there for a Qatar Air flight to Casablanca and then find a Royal Maroc 737-800 to Monrovia via Freetown. Or fly non-stop to London and then connect via Casablanca or Brussels to Monrovia.

The point is, you can get anywhere from here. And so can the germs.

TIME Military

Air Force Keeps Pilots Alive with iPlane Upgrade

AFG-121116-001
This graphic shows how the Air Force's new Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System is supposed to work. Jet Fabara / Air Force

New software roboflies F-16s out of trouble

You may have downloaded the newest iOS 8 operating system to your iPhone recently, giving you lots of additional options. The Air Force is doing the same to its F-16 fighters. In fact, its new M6.2+ Operational Flight Program gives those fighter pilots an especially nifty new feature: it keeps them from flying into the ground and killing themselves.

The Air Force has long expressed concern over the fact that the leading cause of fighter-pilot deaths is when perfectly-operating aircraft simply fly into the ground because of poor weather, pilot distraction, or unconsciousness due to extreme maneuvers that can drain the blood from a pilot’s brain. This tendency even has its own grim acronym: CFIT (pronounced see-fit), for “controlled flight into terrain.”

Too often, Air Force accident-investigation boards have ended like this one (“MP” refers to the “mishap pilot”) last year in Afghanistan:

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 2.10.22 PMThe Air Force estimates that CFIT has killed 75% of the 123 F-16s pilots—92—lost since the first fatal F-16 crash in 1981. But the software upgrade should sharply reduce such accidents. “This is a significant development and will save lives,” says retired Air Force lieutenant general David Deptula, a fighter pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours, including 400 in combat. The system is likely to be added to the service’s F-22 and F-35 warplanes.

The Air Force began grappling with the problem 25 years ago, but crashes persisted. “By the early 1990s, several F-16 mishap boards had made strong recommendations that such systems be installed,” says Alan Diehl, a longtime Air Force safety expert, now retired. “But these recommendations were always rejected by senior Air Force leaders.”

The push to do something finally kicked into high gear in 2003, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld challenged the military to cut its accident rate in half. “World-class organizations,” he told the Air Force and the other services, “do not tolerate preventable accidents.”

But more training could only accomplish so much. “Reductions in the [CFIT] rates have long been stagnant and no large improvements from training are envisioned for the future,” an Air Force report said in 2006. “The human being is now the limiting factor because he or she cannot always recognize a warning or respond appropriately to prevent a mishap.”

 

For years, the service has used posters like this to impress upon pilots the dangers posed by “Controlled Flight into Terrain,” or “CFIT.” Air Force

That’s when the Air Force, with help from NASA and F-16-builder Lockheed Martin, got to work on the robo-pilot now being installed on F-16s (109 already have them, and all 631 are slated to by next summer, according to Air Force spokesman Daryl Mayer. The fix is not planned for the 338 F-16s built before 1989 that lack digital flight-control systems).

Here’s how it works: when an F-16’s sensors and digital map detect that the plane is getting too close to the ground, an alarm sounds. It is triggered by a complex formula involving speed, trajectory—and what might be just ahead. The alarm goes off when the plane is in a place where a 5 G escape maneuver would be needed to avoiding crashing into the ground (the F-16 can maneuver at up to 9 Gs, or nine times the force of gravity. That can make a 20-pound head feel like 180 pounds, and makes for a very stiff neck for passengers flying in the back seat of a two-seat F-16 trainer).

Shortly after the alarm sounds—the duration depends on the flight’s specifics—the plane’s “Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System” takes over. It quickly rolls the plane upright and pulls it upward, away from the ground. The pilot can reassert control of the plane at any time; the software is designed not to interfere with low-level bombing or strafing runs.

In the past, such alarms would sound—but it was up to the pilot to respond to the warning. At high speeds close to the ground, a delayed response can be deadly, as apparently was the case in that 2013 crash in Afghanistan. “Prior to impact, the mishap aircraft provided low-altitude warnings,” the probe said. “However the mishap pilot did not take timely corrective action.”

Too often, the pilot’s attention has been “channelized”—so focused on completing a demanding maneuver—that while the alarm may be heard, it is unlistened-to. Combined with frequent false alarms, the alarm-only setup hasn’t made a major dent in CFIT accidents.

The Air Force believes the new software will reduce the number of perfectly-fine F-16s flying into the ground by 90%. The service has estimated that could save 14 jets, 10 pilots, and more than a half-billion dollars in hardware.

But it’s also going to save something impossible to calculate. “From the human standpoint, nothing destroys morale like losing a squadron mate and friend,” Lieut. Colonel Robert Ungerman said two years ago, during development of the software upgrade at California’s Edwards Air Force Base. “The prevention of CFIT mishaps will avoid that anguish for dozens of spouses, parents, and children of lost pilots.”

TIME Hong Kong

U.S. Students to Don Yellow in Support of Hong Kong’s Democracy Movement

Secondary school student wears a yellow ribbon pinned to her T-shirt during a rally against Beijing's election framework for Hong Kong, outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong
A secondary school student wears a yellow ribbon pinned to her T-shirt during a rally against Beijing's election framework for Hong Kong, outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept. 26, 2014. Tyrone Siu—Reuters

Campaign supports the tens of thousands who have taken to the street in the Chinese Special Administrative Region to demand universal suffrage

On Wednesday, as the People’s Republic of China celebrates its 65th anniversary, tens of thousands of American undergraduates from universities across the country will dress in yellow, the identifying color of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

The fight for unfettered elections in the former British colony has reached unprecedented levels over the past four days. Tens of thousands of demonstrators continue to besiege the city’s central business and government districts — braving police batons, tear gas and pepper spray — to demand democratic concessions from Beijing.

In a demonstration of solidarity, the Wear Yellow for Hong Kong campaign was launched by Heather Pickerell, who spent the majority of her childhood living in Hong Kong with her American father and Taiwanese mother before moving to New England three years ago as a freshman at Harvard.

The 21-year-old wasn’t “necessarily supportive” of the push for political reform at home, she says, until Beijing issued a White Paper in early June — a sprawling, 14,500-word tract — that effectively left Hong Kong with little doubt about who was in charge.

“Growing up, we had this innate hope that we’d someday have democracy in Hong Kong,” Pickerell told TIME late Monday night. “Now, I’m realistic. Whatever China wants to do, there’s nothing Hong Kong can do about it. The only real tool we have is international pressure and scrutiny.”

Wearing yellow, in other words, is secondary to the conversation she hopes it engenders. She is among the many who believe — or, at least, gravely hope — that the current groundswell of discontent in Hong Kong could encourage a new culture of domestic politics in China if the international response is loud and coherent enough to compel a change.

And so Pickerell created the Facebook event group on Thursday after delivering a dinner speech on the current situation in Hong Kong to several hundred of her peers in Mather House, her residence hall at Harvard. The page had around 300 members on Sunday — and then nearly 30,000 less than two days later.

A friend from Hong Kong at Yale then brought the solidarity practice to New Haven. It was swiftly embraced at Brown, where the Hong Kong Students’ Association had organized a national conference earlier in the spring to discuss the matter of political reform. Then to Pitzer and Wellesley and the University of Toronto, and now at around 50 other universities and counting.

“I saw the pictures of the protests on Facebook and read my friends’ tweets, and I really needed to do something,” Myron Lam, the Hong Konger who brought the campaign to Brown, where he is a senior, told TIME. “The last few days have shown that there is hope in Hong Kong, but we need to act, and show Beijing that the issue is on the international radar.”

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