TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Protesters Greet Court Officials With Indifference

Farcical scenes as bailiffs take down some barricades then retreat leaving other barriers untouched

Hong Kong officials began enforcing the first of several court injunctions and started removing barricades in part of the downtown Admiralty district on Tuesday morning, in the first attempt to clear the streets through judicial means since the Umbrella Revolution began almost two months ago.

But if the action was meant as a show of strength by the unpopular administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying against protesters who are demanding free elections, it was a failure and at times degenerated into farce.

The injunction had been obtained by the owners of an office building, CITIC Tower, against demonstrators who had erected barricades partially blocking vehicular access to the property, which looms over Tim Mei Avenue on the fringe of Hong Kong’s largest protest area.

However, bailiffs were only able to hastily remove a few barricades because the locations of those targeted for removal were only vaguely marked on maps relating to the injunction, allowing protesters to dispute the precise terms of the court order.

Nervous looking representatives of CITIC Tower were drowned out by a cocksure protester with a loudhailer as they attempted to negotiate. Nimble young students in hoodies and face masks were also able to seize metal barriers before white-gloved, middle-aged bailiffs could reach them. The students then carried the barriers off to reinforce barricades erected elsewhere.

Pro-democracy legislator Albert Ho, who has been giving legal advice to the protesters, said the fact that a private entity such as CITIC Tower had to resort to a civil action to clear the barricades showed the government’s weakness.

“The only explanation is that the administration has lost its confidence — because of a lack of authority and a lack of legitimacy — to enforce the law,” he said.

Earlier in the day, uniformed and plainclothes police remained on standby as bailiffs read out a court order to smirking students before dismantling the makeshift barricades. But none of the expected clashes materialized. Instead, most demonstrators lazed in the bright fall sunshine, while 18-year-old student leader Joshua Wong nonchalantly skateboarded up and down the road.

Around the corner on Harcourt Road, the main protest area, dubbed Umbrella Square, lay unmolested. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of tents, formed a sea of color. At the western extremity of the site a large yellow banner read “Welcome to the Hong Kong Commune.”

Thousands of protesters have occupied crucial roads in the Admiralty district — a city-center area of gleaming corporate towers and the central government offices — and two other major commercial areas since a campaign of civil disobedience first commenced on Sept. 28.

They are seeking full democracy for Hong Kong, with the right to freely nominate and vote for candidates for the city’s top job. At present, the territory’s sovereign power, China, will only permit direct elections if it vets the candidates.

However, seven weeks in, the movement appears to be losing part of the goodwill it once enjoyed among the city’s residents. Ongoing traffic delays are forcing some parents to leave home before dawn to get their children to school on time, while retailers in the protest zones have seen their takings plummet.

A new survey published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong this week claimed that approximately 67% of the city’s residents are now in favor of the demonstrators leaving the streets.

But the feeble enforcement action on Tuesday shows that it will be difficult to dislodge the protesters, who continue to enjoy high levels of morale.

“Students and activists will respect the judgment of the courts,” Joshua Wong told TIME. “But it’s unnecessary to clear the whole of Tim Mei Avenue.”

For now, the protest site remains virtually unchanged. But many believe that today was merely a dress rehearsal for what is to come.

“This morning is more or less intended to be a show for the public,” said legislator Ho. He said he thought that the government also wanted to show the more radical protesters encamped across Victoria Harbor in the Mong Kok area of Kowloon, that it was serious about enforcing the law.

Others believe that it is only a matter of time before the government takes a tougher approach. “We think they are waiting for the right time to do something,” said protester Alex, 22. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

With reporting by Helen Regan / Hong Kong

TIME Israel

4 Israelis Killed in Jerusalem Synagogue Attack

Two Palestinian assailants stormed a synagogue attacked worshippers with knives, axes and guns

Updated: Nov. 18, 2014, 4:47, a.m. E.T.

(JERUSALEM) — Two Palestinians stormed a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday, attacking worshippers praying inside with knives, axes and guns, and killing four people before they were killed in a shootout with police, officials said.

The attack, the deadliest in Jerusalem in years, is bound to ratchet up fears of sustained violence in the city, already on edge amid soaring tensions over a contested holy site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel will “respond harshly” to the attack, describing it as a “cruel murder of Jews who came to pray and were killed by despicable murderers.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke to Netanyahu after the assault and denounced it as an “act of pure terror and senseless brutality and violence.”

Israeli police called it a terrorist attack and said the two Palestinian assailants were cousins from east Jerusalem. It was not immediately known if they were affiliated with any group. Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that runs the Gaza Strip, praised the attack but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said six people were also wounded in the attack, including two police officers. Four of the wounded were reported in serious condition. He said police were searching the area for other suspects.

Associated Press footage from the scene showed the synagogue, in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood, surrounded by police and rescue workers following the attack.

Wounded worshippers were being assisted by paramedics and a bloodied butcher’s knife lay near the scene of the attack.

“I tried to escape. The man with the knife approached me. There was a chair and table between us … my prayer shawl got caught. I left it there and escaped,” Yossi, who was praying at the synagogue at the time of the attack, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. He declined to give his last name.

A photo in Israeli media from inside the synagogue showed what appeared to be a body on the floor draped in a prayer shawl, with blood smattered nearby.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the attackers were Palestinians from east Jerusalem, which has been the scene of relentless clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in recent months.

Jerusalem itself has seen a spate of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. At least six people have been killed in the city, the West Bank and Tel Aviv in recent weeks, prior to Tuesday’s casualties.

Jerusalem residents have already been fearful of what appeared to be lone wolf attacks using cars or knives against pedestrians. But Tuesday’s synagogue attack harkens back to the gruesome attacks during the Palestinian uprising of the last decade.

Israel’s police chief said Tuesday’s attack was likely not organized by militant groups, similar to other recent incidents, making it more difficult for security forces to prevent the violence.

“These are individuals that decide to do horrible acts. It’s very hard to know ahead of time about every such incident,” Yohanan Danino told reporters at the scene.

Tensions appeared to have been somewhat defused last week following a meeting between Netanyahu, Kerry and Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman. The meeting was an attempt to restore calm after months of violent confrontations surrounding a sacred shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Israel and the Palestinians said then they would take steps to reduce tensions that might lead to an escalation.

In his statement, Netanyahu blamed the violence on incitement by both Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and said the international community ignores the incitement.

Kerry blamed the attack on Palestinian calls for “days of rage,” and said Palestinian leaders must take serious steps to refrain from such incitement. He also urged Palestinian leaders to condemn the attack “in the most powerful terms.”

Hamas’ statement praised the synagogue attack, saying it was a “response to continued Israeli crimes, the killing, desecrating al-Aqsa (mosque),” a reference to a recent incident at the holy site.

Much of the recent violence stems from tensions surrounding the Jerusalem holy site referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount because of the Jewish temples that stood there in biblical times. It is the most sacred place in Judaism; Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The site is so holy that Jews have traditionally refrained from going there, instead praying at the adjacent Western Wall. Israel’s chief rabbis have urged people not to ascend to the area, but in recent years, a small but growing number of Jews, including ultranationalist lawmakers, have begun regularly visiting the site.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Says Children Have a Right to a Father and a Mother

VATICAN-POPE
Pope Francis kisses a baby during an audience with members of the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors at Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican on Nov. 15, 2014. Filippo Monteforte—AFP/Getty Images

The statement seems at odds with the Vatican leader's push to make the church more accepting of nontraditional families

Pope Francis caused quite a stir on Monday with a statement that was criticized as a rolling back of his much lauded attempts to make the Catholic Church more inclusive of the LGBT community.

“Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother,” said the Pope during a speech at the Complementarity of Man and Woman conference in Rome.

The statement, made to the attending conservative religious leaders around the world, was the only concrete reference the Pope made to heterosexuality, with the rest of the speech remaining largely ambiguous on the concept of complementarity between man and woman.

Many religious leaders present at the conference took this to mean an unequivocal support of traditional families. “Pope Francis made clear that male/female complementarity is essential to marriage and cannot be revised by contemporary ideologies,” Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention tweeted.

However, the Pontiff’s announcement at the conclusion of his speech that he will attend Philadelphia’s World Meeting of the Families in September was conversely deemed a nod toward more acceptance of nontraditional families.

Sister Simone Campbell, an advocate on various social-justice issues who has taken on the church in the past, predicted that there would be several nontraditional families present at the Philadelphia conference. “He’s bringing in the various realities and letting people speak for themselves, and that creates change,” Campbell told the Washington Post. “He’s opening hearts. He’s not changing definitions.”

TIME Crime

FBI Looking Into Laws About Body Parts Shipments

Thailand Human Parts
Thai police officer shows a picture of a tattooed human skin which was found in a package of a U.S. tourist, during a press conference at Bangpongpang police station in Bangkok,Thailand. Monday, Nov. 17, 2014 Sakchai Lalit—AP

Shipment from Bangkok included an infant's head, a baby's foot and an adult heart

(LAS VEGAS) — U.S. investigators are trying to determine whether any laws were broken by two American tourists who police say tried to ship preserved human parts from Thailand to Las Vegas.

FBI spokeswoman Bridget Pappas said Monday that investigators are aware that Ryan McPherson and Daniel Tanner were questioned after Bangkok police confiscated the three packages labeled “toys.”

Police say they contained body parts including an infant’s head, a baby’s foot and an adult heart.

The 31-year-old McPherson and 33-year-old Tanner were released. They left Thailand on Sunday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Bangkok police say McPherson told them he thought the items were bizarre and wanted to send them to friends back home.

Efforts to reach family members or representatives in the Las Vegas area have been unsuccessful.

TIME russia

Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

President Putin gives press conference following G20 Summit
Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on at a press conference following the G20 Leaders' Summit in Brisbane, Australia. Klimentyev Mikhail—EPA

After a night spent debating the Ukraine crisis with the Russian President, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came out more determined than ever to push the Kremlin out of Eastern Europe

Vladimir Putin has long had a soft spot for Germany. As an officer of the KGB in the late 1980s, he was stationed in the East German city of Dresden, where he developed a love of the language and, according to his memoirs, for the enormous steins of pilsner he drank at a beer hall in the town of Radeberg with friends.

As President, Putin’s foreign and economic policies have always looked to Germany as a pivotal ally, a vital partner in trade and a sympathetic ear for Russian interests. He seemed to feel that no matter what political headwinds came his way, the German sense of pragmatism would prevail in keeping Berlin on his side. That illusion has just been shattered.

During a speech on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel predicted a drawn-out confrontation with Moscow. Breaking from her normally subdued political style, she even invoked the worst years of the 20th century in describing the West’s conflict with Russia over Ukraine. “After the horrors of two world wars and the end of the Cold War, this challenges the peaceful order in Europe,” she said, referring to what she called Putin’s “old-thinking” view of Eastern Europe as Russia’s stomping ground. “I am convinced this won’t succeed,” she said. In the end, the West would win out against the challenge emanating from Russia, “even if the path will be long and hard and full of setbacks,” Merkel told a conference in Brisbane, Australia.

It was in many ways the low point for Putin’s deepening estrangement from the West. During the G20 summit of world leaders held in Brisbane over the weekend, the Russian leader was broadly ostracized by the most powerful figures at the table, and some of them were far less diplomatic toward Putin than Merkel has been. In greeting Putin on Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly said, “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.”

Later that day, Merkel came to the Hilton Hotel in central Brisbane for an unscheduled meeting with Putin that reportedly lasted almost six hours, running well into Sunday morning. The subject was the conflict in Ukraine, and according to the Kremlin, Putin did his best to “clarify in detail the Russian approach to this situation.” But his efforts to win Merkel’s sympathy – or at least her understanding – appear to have done the opposite. He emerged from their encounter apparently so exhausted that he decided to leave the summit early, saying he needed to get some sleep.

The letdown seemed all the more painful considering his recent attempt to reach out to the German public. A few days before the G20 summit began, Putin decided to give a rare one-on-one interview to the national German television network ARD, whose correspondent grilled him on Russia’s support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Putin tried to sound conciliatory. “Of course we expect the situation to change for the better,” he said. “Of course we expect the Ukrainian crisis to end. Of course we want to have normal relations with our partners, including in the United States and Europe.”

Particularly for Germany, he argued, it is important to work things out with Russia, because their economies are so closely intertwined. Trade with Russia accounts for as many as 300,000 German jobs, Putin said, and by going along with the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia, Berlin risks hurting its own economic growth. “Sooner or later,” he said, “it will begin to affect you as much as us.”

The warning, more plaintive than defiant in its tone, was aimed as much at the political elites in Germany as its powerful business interests, which rely on Russia for natural resources and a huge consumer market. Last year the trade between the two countries was worth more than $100 billion, compared to less than $40 billion between the U.S. and Russia. To fuel its energy-intensive industrial base, Germany also gets a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and 14% of everything that Russia imports is made in Germany.

But Putin, for all his appeals to German pragmatism, was wrong to hope that Russia’s isolation could boomerang back on the German economy, or on Merkel’s popularity. Even as the sanctions war choked off trade between Russia and the West, Germany’s total exports reached an all-time high in September. At the same time, Russia’s reputation among the German public has been scraping bottom. In a nationwide survey conducted in August, a German pollster reportedly found that 82% of Germans do not believe that Russia can be trusted, while 70% called for tougher sanctions against the Russian economy.

“So it seems clear that Putin has miscalculated,” says Joerg Forbrig, an expert on Eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “Certainly when it comes to Germany.”

This is a costly mistake. In trying to sway Berlin, Putin pursued his best, and perhaps only, chance of breaking the West’s resolve against him. The business lobby in Germany is both more powerful and more sympathetic toward Russia than any major European state, and the German electorate has generally favored a neutral stance on foreign policy.

Just a few weeks after Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March, nearly half of Germans said that their government should not take sides in the conflict, while 35% urged their leaders to seek an understanding with Moscow. This core of German Russophiles now looks to have evaporated, and with it Putin loses the only Western partner that could have stopped the isolation of his country.

Many in Moscow have watched that turn in German feelings with surprise. “Even during the Cold War, we were laying [oil and gas] pipelines to Germany,” says Leonid Kalashnikov, vice chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament. “Back then nobody seemed to mind.”

Under Putin, those energy links have been vastly expanded. In 2011, he launched the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline to pump fuel from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. (In a sign of just how well-connected Putin was in Berlin at the time, Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, took a job as chairman of that pipeline project after his term as chancellor ran out in 2005.) But at the end of September, Merkel said the European Union may need to break its addiction to Russian fuel in the long term, especially if the Kremlin’s expansionist policies continue to violate “basic principles.”

But even the threat of losing the European market – disastrous as that would be for the Russian economy – is not likely to make the Kremlin yield. “There’s one thing the West just doesn’t understand,” says Kalashnikov. “They can use sanctions to coerce a small country. But Russia is not one of them. We will not get on our knees and do as we’re told.”

Thanks largely to his own anti-Western bluster, Putin’s support in Russia now relies more than ever on his defiance toward the West, and he will sooner accept the role of a pariah abroad than weakling at home. “We’re just not going to chastise him into changing his tune,” says Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Much more likely, the West’s ostracism will “foreclose” any remaining channels for swaying Putin through dialogue, adds Rojansky. But if Putin was searching for such a channel during his night of debating with Merkel, he has come up empty-handed. It’s not clear if he has anywhere else in the West to turn.

Read next: Russia to Create Its Own ‘Alternative Wikipedia’

TIME Syria

French Citizen Identified in ISIS Execution Video

More than 1,600 French nationals are involved with ISIS

France identified one of its citizens Monday as an executioner in the latest ISIS video showing the beheading of an American hostage.

A prosecutor in Paris identified him as Maxime Hauchard, 22, a convert to Islam whom French authorities have been tracking for years. He recently posted pictures of himself in fatigues in Syria. He also gave an interview to a French television network in July and claimed part of the credit for ISIS’ capture of the Iraqi city of Mosul.

Hauchard converted at 16 and has a felony conviction for driving without insurance, said the prosecutor, Francois Molins. He attended an…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Israel

EU Proposal Could Punish Israel for Settlements

(JERUSALEM) — An internal European Union document proposes unspecified “actions” against Israel for its settlement activities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, reflecting unhappiness with the lack of progress in Mideast peace efforts.

The document, known as a “nonpaper,” is a proposal that is meant to serve as a basis for discussion among the EU’s 28 member states. While it is far from becoming policy, the document noted that it was drawn up with “inputs” by member states, indicating at least some support for the proposals.

The document calls for unspecified moves against European companies operating in Israeli settlements. It also proposes actions against settlers themselves, including a “no contact” policy toward settler organizations, and a refusal “to engage with settlers,” including public figures who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The proposals reflect European frustration over the lack of progress in peace efforts.

The last round of U.S.-brokered talks collapsed in April. Since then, Israel fought a 50-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and advanced plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish areas of east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians as their capital. Israel has also experienced deadly unrest surrounding Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site.

The EU document was first published Monday by Israel’s Haaretz daily.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini played down the document.

“It certainly was not on the ministers’ table today and it was not at the heart of today’s discussion,” she said. “There was certainly no question of isolating or sanctioning anybody, rather how can we re-motivate people to get into a dialogue again.”

In a statement, the ministers said future relations with both Israel and the Palestinians would depend “on their engagement toward a lasting peace based on a two-state solution.”

Speaking with his German counterpart Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said attempts to link Israel’s relations with Europe to progress in peace talks are “misguided.”

TIME flu

The New Bird Flu Outbreak: Should You Worry?

birds
Getty Images

So far, bird flu cases in Europe have been identified as the H5N8 strain

Bird flu strain H5N8 has been identified on a duck farm in England and in chickens at a farm in the Netherlands. Should people be scared about a new pandemic? Experts say, no.

Where are the latest cases?

On November 17, bird flu was confirmed on a duck farm in East Yorkshire. About 6,000 ducks will be killed and a 6-mile surveillance zone is going up around the farm. The emergence comes just a day after bird flu was detected in the Netherlands at an egg farm. According to the BBC, the Dutch government has imposed a three-day ban on poultry and eggs transport. Officials are currently figuring out whether the two cases are connected. Earlier this month, bird flu also appeared in Germany.

Should I be afraid?

Not right now. First, it should be noted that there are several strains of bird flu, or avian influenza, and the recent strains have only so far emerged in birds, not humans. The Dutch and German governments determined their strains of the flu are both H5N8, a highly contagious virus that has never been found in humans. The British government has not yet said what strain of bird flu is circulating in the duck farm, but they have confirmed that it’s not H5N1, which can infect humans.

So what’s the big deal?

Farms with H5N8 outbreaks can face serious economic losses.

So it hasn’t affected humans before. Does that mean it won’t—ever?

Experts cannot completely rule out the possibility of human infection. “This particular strain has not been known to infect humans but, based on experience with H5N1, we know that H5 viruses have that capacity,” says Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior associate of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Center for Health Security. “Thus far, avian influenza viruses have very limited human-to-human transmission capacity, so the general public need not panic, however poultry handlers may be at risk for infection. It will be important to understand the dynamics of this outbreak and understand the potential of H5N8 to infect humans.”

What about H5N1 makes it so much more worrying?

H5N1 is the strain that can spread to humans from birds, and it’s infected more than 600 people from 15 countries since November 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. About 60% of people who have contracted the strain have died. The majority of human cases are among people with direct or close contact with sick or dead infected poultry, and the disease does not efficiently transmit from person to person. However, if that were to change, scientists say we’d have a serious problem on our hands.

Is there a treatments or vaccine for bird flu?

Not exactly. In Nov. 2013, the FDA approved a H5N1 vaccine intended for the National Stockpile and not for commercial use. The CDC has told TIME that the vaccine is not very effective and would likely require more than one dose. Researchers are working on other vaccines for bird flu and its various strains, though none are currently approved. Right now, preventing the spread of infection is the best bet for keeping cases low.

“Avian influenza will always be a major infectious disease threat. Certain avian influenza viruses—such as H5N1 and H7N9—have very high case fatality rates and are leading contenders for wider spread amongst the human population,” says Adalja.

And while the current cases of bird flu shouldn’t freak you out, it is important for the global community to pay attention to the various strains and support vaccine and drug development.

TIME ebola

Doctors Without Borders Says DRC Ebola Outbreak ‘Under Control’

Medical teams pull out of affected areas

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières said in a statement Monday that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is under control and its teams from the affected area have been withdrawn.

There were a total of 66 cases and 49 deaths, according to the World Health Organization, and the aid group said no new cases had been reported after Oct. 4. The outbreak began separately in August alongside the more larger, more severe one ravaging West Africa, where some 5,000 people are estimated to have died, primarily in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Throughout the outbreak, the charity said it tracked more than 1,000 people and disinfected homes, as well as supported “safe” burial practices and worked to quell fears about the virus’ risks. Its remote location helped, too.

“Distances are greater there, transportation is more difficult and people cannot move that much, so the outbreak remains limited and contamination is more difficult,” Núria Carrera, coordinator at the Boende treatment center, said in the statement. “In these conditions, the risk of dissemination of the virus is much lower.”

The organization said it had withdrawn the nearly 70 staff members who had deployed to help treat patients and set up two treatment facilities, but plans to continue to monitor the area and has others nearby who could travel back if necessary.

TIME energy

A Brief Guide to the Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

Construction Along The Keystone XL Pipeline
Workers move a section of pipe during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline, part of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, in Atoka, Okla. on March 11, 2013. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A handy explainer

What is the Keystone XL Pipeline?

It is a proposed extension of a pipeline that transports oil from Alberta, Canada to a major petroleum exchange in Cushing, Okla., and from there to the Gulf of Mexico. The existing smaller pipeline takes a more circuitous route. The Canadian company TransCanada’s solution is to build a larger-capacity, more direct link from Alberta to the existing pipeline. That project is known as Keystone XL.

Why is Obama involved?

Because the Keystone XL link would cross an international boundary between the U.S. and Canada, the project requires presidential approval. Proponents say Keystone XL will reduce the need to move oil by freight train—which can lead to potentially dangerous accidents—and create perhaps tens of thousands of jobs. President Obama, who has not taken a public position on the project, has cited a State Department analysis that concludes the pipeline will create only about 2,000 jobs during construction and 50 around permanent jobs once it’s complete.

Why is it controversial?

Climate activists have rallied around the Keystone XL pipeline as an environmental litmus test. They worry that it will intrude on property rights—courts have allowed TransCanada to run sections of the pipeline over private land, despite objections from the property owners –and warn that it could be vulnerable to environmentally dangerous leaks along its proposed 1,700 mile route. But their primary objection is that the project will encourage the burning of fossil fuels and worsen climate change. The oil shipped through the new pipe would come from Canada’s so-called tar sands, which climate activists say is dirtier and worse for the environment than regular oil.

A State Department review released in January found that Keystone XL would have little effect on the planet’s environmental health because the oil in Canada’s tar sands will be extracted and sold through another avenue if the project is blocked.

What happens next?

The southern portion of the Keystone pipeline connecting Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico will open for business in 2015. The northern extension—the one everyone’s arguing about—has yet to be approved. But the Dec. 6 runoff for the Louisiana Senate seat of Democrat Mary Landrieu gave the project a jolt in Washington, as Landrieu and her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, jockey to claim credit for getting it built. The House passed legislation sponsored by Cassidy allowing Keystone XL on Nov. 14 and the Senate votes on a similar measure backed by Landrieu on Nov. 18. President Obama has signaled that he may veto the legislation, but he has not taken a public stance. No matter what happens at the federal level, Keystone XL is likely to face court battles in states through which it passes.

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