TIME South Korea

Pope Francis Arrives in South Korea With a Message for All of Asia

Pope Francis Visits South Korea - DAY 1
Pope Francis walks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye upon his arrival on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pool—Getty Images

The Vatican says that Catholicism is growing faster in the region than anywhere else on Earth

Making the first trip to Asia by a Pontiff in 15 years, Pope Francis landed in South Korea on Aug. 14, beginning a five-day visit to one of Roman Catholicism’s few regional strongholds.

The Argentine, who made history as the first Latin American Pontiff, took the opportunity to hail the populous continent, where Catholic fervor is burgeoning in contrast to dwindling congregations in Europe. “As I begin my trip, I ask you to join me in praying for Korea and for all of Asia,” tweeted Pope Francis, whose visit will coincide with a large gathering of young Asian Catholics. In January 2015, he will return to Asia, with stops in Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

While in South Korea, the Pontiff will pray for peace for a divided Korean peninsula. On Thursday morning, less than an hour before Pope Francis landed in Seoul — where he was greeted by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, North Korean defectors and families of those who perished in the Sewol ferry disaster in April — North Korea fired three short-range rockets into the sea. Two more followed in the afternoon.

Much like in Eastern Europe during the Iron Curtain years, Catholic churches served as safe havens for South Korean human-rights defenders standing up to the dictatorships that held sway from the 1960s to the late 1980s. But the roots of Catholicism in Korea go back further than that. During his five-day visit, Pope Francis will beatify 124 Korean martyrs, including those who were persecuted in the 18th and 19th centuries by Confucian-bound dynastic rulers wary of foreign faiths. Around 10,000 Koreans are believed to have been killed for their faith.

Asia currently boasts the fewest number of Catholics of any region of the world, with only around 3% of Asians identifying as Catholics, according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center. But the Vatican claims that Catholicism is growing faster in the region than anywhere else on earth, outstripping even Africa. The greatest numbers live in the Philippines, with roughly 80 million Catholics, or around 85% of the national population. India counts about 20 million believers, and the faith is believed to be growing in Vietnam. Yet tensions between Catholic communities and adherents to majority faiths like Islam have erupted in South Asia and Southeast Asia, sometimes violently.

In South Korea, the Catholic congregation has grown to about 5.4 million, or roughly 10% of the population. President Park was baptized at a Catholic church although her official biography says she holds no religious affiliation. Protestantism remains a more popular religion, although the primacy of evangelical mega-churches appears to have waned from an apex in the mid-90s. (Other South Koreans are Buddhists.)

In China, the ruling Communist Party maintains an official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association that has to answer in part to atheist apparatchiks. The Holy See and Beijing do not have formal diplomatic relations, since China refuses to recognize the Vatican’s sway over what have been termed “underground churches” or those professing loyalty to Rome. Nevertheless, a religious revival in recent years has seen the growth of many faiths, including underground Catholic worship as well as belief in the state-sanctioned church.

In a rare hopeful sign, Pope Francis’ plane was allowed to travel through Chinese air space on its way to South Korea, something his predecessors’ jets had not been able to do. Following papal tradition, Pope Francis issued a radio message to Chinese President Xi Jinping as his plane passed over the People’s Republic. “Upon entering Chinese airspace,” the Pope said, “I extend best wishes to your Excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation.”

Still, some Chinese Catholics who planned to join the Asian Youth Day in South Korea were dissuaded by Chinese authorities. On the Chinese side of the border with North Korea, foreign missionaries and charities (both Catholic and Protestant) have been facing scrutiny in recent weeks for what is officially illegal activity.

Meanwhile, on Monday, in Seoul, Pope Francis plans to hold a special mass praying for peace and reconciliation among the two Koreas. The same day, joint military exercises involving the U.S. and ally South Korea are slated to begin. North Korea will surely not be pleased.

TIME Iraq

Obama: U.S. ‘Broke’ Siege of Iraqi Mountain

Displaced Iraqi families from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on Aug. 13, 2014.
Displaced Iraqi Yezidi families cross the Iraqi-Syrian border in northern Iraq on Aug. 13, 2014 Ahmad Al-Rubaye—AFP/Getty Images

"We helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives"

Updated 1:33 p.m. E.T.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that U.S. air strikes and humanitarian drops, as well as the efforts of Kurdish forces, have broken the siege of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, where thousands of members of the Yezidi religious minority had been trapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon from Martha’s Vineyard, where he is vacationing, Obama said a U.S. military and civilian team concluded Wednesday that U.S. efforts have dramatically lessened the likelihood that a rescue would need to be staged to free the civilians on the mountain.

“Because of the skill and professionalism of our military and the generosity of our people, we broke the [ISIS] siege of Mount Sinjar,” Obama said. “We helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives.”

U.S. military aircraft have carried out around a dozen air strikes in Iraq since Obama authorized military action a week ago, and U.S. transport planes have delivered more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water on the mountain in airdrops carried out over the past seven nights.

Obama maintained that the situation in Iraq remains “dire” for those Iraqis who live in areas under the control of ISIS, which has taken large swaths of territory and several of the country’s largest cities in offensives over the past several months. Obama said the U.S. stands ready to carry out similar humanitarian efforts elsewhere in Iraq if necessary, and reiterated that U.S. air strikes would continue in order to protect American military advisers and diplomatic facilities in Iraq.

Obama added that the burden for a long-term solution to the crisis in Iraq lies on the shoulders of the Iraqi government, saying that after a conversation with newly selected Prime Minister–designate Haider al-Abadi, he is “modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction.”

Al-Abadi would replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is struggling to hold onto power even as domestic factions and international leaders have withdrawn support. Al-Maliki insists that he should have a third term in office, given the success of his Shi‘ite-led faction in an election this past April. However, President Fouad Massoum has asked al-Abadi, a lawmaker from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, to try to form a government.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Sends American Missionary Back to Labor Camp

Kenneth Bae
American missionary Kenneth Bae, second from right, arrives to speak to reporters at Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang on Jan. 20, 2014. Kim Kwang Hyon — AP

The State Department has asked that the ailing Kenneth Bae be released on humanitarian grounds

American officials confirmed this week that North Korean authorities sent Kenneth Bae back to a labor camp in late July to continue serving his 15-year sentence, after he was discharged from the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital.

The American missionary has been in Pyongyang’s custody for two years, after he was found guilty of committing “hostile acts” while leading a tour in the city of Rason. The U.S. State Department has repeated its demand that the physically ailing Bae be released immediately.

“We remain gravely concerned about Bae’s health, and we continue to urge [North Korean] authorities to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” read an email by State Department officials that was sent to the Voice of America’s Korean news service.

Swedish officials, who act as diplomatic interlocutors for the U.S. in North Korea, visited the American earlier this week at the unspecified camp — the 12th such meeting between Bae and Sweden’s diplomatic corps since he was arrested. Representatives from the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang were unable to comment on the matter when contacted by TIME on Thursday.

Human rights groups slammed the North Korean leadership for continuing to use harsh methods to punish the American.

“Bae, like millions of North Koreans before him, faces injury or death by a regime that systematically employs forced labor to punish anyone that it accuses of undermining the government,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, tells TIME.

Bae’s arrest appears to be part of a wider campaign aimed at curtailing any form of proselytizing in North Korea, where officials view the act as a challenge to the ruling Kim dynasty.

Earlier this summer, two American tourists were imprisoned for allegedly performing acts that undermined the state. One of the men, Jeffrey Fowle, is suspected of leaving behind a Bible at a nightclub in Chongjin, according to the Associated Press.

In May, retired NBA star Dennis Rodman, who is the only American to have met Kim Jong Un, tapped the nation’s “Supreme Leader” to release Bae as a personal favor.

“I’m calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him ‘Kim,’ to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose,” tweeted Rodman.

Kim has yet to be moved, it appears.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Rallies to Test Government, Its Democracy

Pakistan
Ahead of planned antigovernment protests, Pakistani police force deploy in Islamabad on Aug. 12, 2014 B.K. Bangash—AP

Opponents of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif call for the government to step down and new elections to be held during a protest in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on Thursday

(ISLAMABAD) — Ahead of planned massive anti-government protests, Pakistan’s capital feels like a city preparing for a siege.

Shipping containers block roads leading into central Islamabad, placed by security forces hoping to halt protesters supporting either a fiery anti-government cleric or a cricket star-turned-politician. Police in riot gear can be seen taking up positions across the city as authorities suspended mobile phone service in some areas. Meanwhile, those worried the government may cut off fuel shipments to slow demonstrators have lined up at gas stations.

The protests Thursday represent the strongest challenge yet to the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, just a year after he took office in the first democratic transfer of power in a country long plagued by military coups. And how the country reacts to calls for Sharif’s ouster will show how far its nascent democracy has come.

“I think there is going to be a test of wills in Islamabad,” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, who heads the Institute for Strategic Studies.

Two men are at the forefront of challenges to Sharif.

The first is Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Pakistani cleric who’s also a Canadian national. He commands a loyal following of thousands through his network of mosques and religious schools in Pakistan. Last year, Qadri held a protest in the capital calling for vaguely worded election reforms ahead of the country’s May poll, grinding life in Islamabad to a halt. His followers already clashed with police this weekend.

The other is Pakistan’s former cricket legend Imran Khan. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is the third-largest political bloc in parliament. Khan’s attempts to win followers in Punjab province, the power base for Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-N, have rattled the ruling party.

Both men want the government to step down and new elections be held. Khan alleges last year’s vote is invalid due to widespread rigging by government supporters.

“A sea of people is coming to Islamabad and they are peaceful and you cannot stop them,” Khan said Tuesday.

Both men picked Pakistan’s Independence Day for their rallies, the day marking when the country became its own nation carved out of India in 1947. In the opaque world of Pakistani politics, where security services remain powerful, there has been wide speculation that the two men have other internal support, something they’ve denied.

Their representatives met Tuesday to discuss their strategy. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister backing Khan, said after the meeting that protesters would not resort to violence, but would resist any effort to impose martial law.

“We are working on a national agenda to bring real democracy in the country,” Qureshi said.

Sharif, himself overthrown in the 1999 coup that brought former army chief Pervez Musharraf to power, is taking no chances. He has met regularly with top advisers, and the government has invoked a rarely-used article in the constitution allowing the military to step in to maintain law and order if needed.

In a televised address Tuesday, Sharif said a Supreme Court committee would look into claims of fraud in last year’s election. He also warned that “no one will be allowed to create anarchy and play with the constitution.”

“It is not possible that in presence of parliament, decision should be taken on streets,” he said. “Here is nobody’s monarchy nor here is there any dictatorship.”

After Sharif’s address, Khan said the prime minister would have to resign before any probe.

Hanging over the planned rallies has been the question of whether the Pakistani military has had any role in fomenting opposition to a government with which they have increasingly been at odds.

This nuclear-armed country of 180 million people has had three military coups since independence. The military hasn’t commented on Khan or Qadri but generally says it does not meddle in politics.

Relations between Sharif and the military frayed when the government decided late last year to prosecute Musharraf for high treason. The military also has bristled at accusations that its powerful spy chief was behind the assassination attempt of a powerful television anchor.

Sharif and the military also are believed to be at odds with opening up trade with India, which it has fought in three wars, as well as whether to negotiate with Taliban militants.

But regardless of who is behind the protests, many believe Sharif won’t back down from the challenge.

“This time around he is going to stand his ground, firm and polite, no matter what the consequences,” said Rais, the analyst.

___

Associated Press writer Zarar Khan contributed to this report.

TIME Gaza

Egypt: Israel, Hamas to Extend Temporary Truce

Destroyed buildings in Al Shaaf neighborhood in Gaza City on August 11, 2014.
Destroyed buildings in Al Shaaf neighborhood in Gaza City on August 11, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

(CAIRO) — Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a temporary cease-fire for five days, Egyptian and Palestinian officials announced Wednesday, permitting the sides to continue to negotiate a substantive deal to end the war in Gaza.

Yet even as the extension was announced just minutes before a previous truce was set to expire at midnight, violence spiked, with Palestinian militants firing five rockets at Israel and Israel targeting sites across the Gaza Strip in response. It was not clear if the fighting was isolated or might shatter the truce.

Egypt’s foreign ministry and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team announced the extension, which began at midnight local time. A spokesman for Israel’s prime minister had no immediate comment.

The cease-fire extension is meant to grant both sides additional time to negotiate a longer-term truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory.

“We have agreed on a cease-fire for five days,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo talks. He noted that there had been “significant progress” but that disagreements remained over the wording regarding security arrangements, reconstruction efforts for the Gaza Strip and the permissible fishing area.

The lull in violence had been a welcome reprieve for Israelis and Palestinians living in Gaza. During the temporary cease-fire, Israel halted military operations in the war-battered coastal territory and Gaza militants stopped firing rockets, aside from the ones late Wednesday.

The two sides were considering an Egyptian proposal that partially addresses their demands, but deep differences have kept the deal in doubt.

Hamas is seeking an end to a crippling blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007. The blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people. It has also restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.

Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent arms smuggling, and officials are reluctant to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.

Israel wants Hamas to disarm, or at least be prevented from re-arming. Hamas has recovered from previous rounds of violence with Israel, including a major three-week ground operation in January 2009 and another weeklong air offensive in 2012. It now controls an arsenal of thousands of rockets, some with long ranges and powerful. Gaza militants fired more than 3,000 rockets toward Israel during the war.

Neither side is likely to see all of its demands met, but the Egyptian proposal tabled Tuesday offered some solutions. A member of the Palestinian delegation at the Cairo talks said the proposal calls for easing parts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, bringing some relief to the territory.

The proposal leaves the key areas of disagreement, including Hamas’ demand for a full lifting of the blockade and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm, to later negotiations.

The Palestinian negotiator said he had some reservations about the proposal and would try to improve it.

“We would like to see more cross-border freedom, and also to have the question of a Gaza seaport and airport discussed,” he said.

The Palestinian official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss negotiations with journalists.

As the talks continued, Hamas indicated it was sticking to its demands.

In recorded remarks broadcast on Hamas radio Wednesday, Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, said that “achieving a permanent truce can come only through lifting the blockade on Gaza.”

Israel, meanwhile, signaled it was ready to respond to renewed fire from Gaza following the end of the cease-fire.

“We will continue to defend, continue to operate. We will be ready for any effort, any way, at any time,” Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told reporters.

Amid the cease-fire, an Associated Press video journalist and a freelance Palestinian translator working with him were killed Wednesday when ordnance left over from the war exploded as they reported on the conflict’s aftermath.

Simone Camilli, a 35-year-old Italian, and Ali Shehda Abu Afash, 36, died when an unexploded missile believed to have been dropped in an Israeli airstrike blew up as Gaza police engineers worked to neutralize it in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. Four police engineers also were killed. Three other people, including AP photographer Hatem Moussa, were badly wounded.

The war began on July 8 with Israel’s air campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whom Israel blamed for the kidnapping and murder in June of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Nine days later, Israel sent in ground troops to destroy Hamas’ underground cross-border tunnels constructed for attacks inside Israel.

The fighting has so far killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and U.N. officials say. On the Israeli side, 67 people have died, all but three of them soldiers.

TIME Military

U.S. Boots Stepping Closer to Iraq

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Getty Images

Administration asserts they wouldn’t be in combat, but the enemy might disagree

Those increasingly loud footsteps you hear could be the sound of U.S. military boots marching closer to Iraq, following a visit Wednesday by 20 American troops to plot a way to rescue thousands of Yezidi refugees on a mountain surrounded by Islamic militants in northern Iraq. While they reported fewer stranded than originally thought, Pentagon officials said, a rescue operation still might be needed.

President Barack Obama made it clear two months ago that American combat boots wouldn’t be headed back there, where 4,486 U.S. troops died between 2003 and 2011.

“We will not be sending troops back into combat in Iraq,” Obama pledged.

But you can drive an M-1 tank through that “into combat” caveat. It implies, as a top White House aide suggested anew Wednesday, that U.S. troops can go into harm’s way in Iraq and avoid combat. The first rule of war, old soldiers say, is that the enemy always gets a vote.

Other aides have been making similar distinctions. “This is not a combat, boots-on-the-ground operation,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Marines on Tuesday in California about a possible Iraq mission. “We’re not going to have that kind of operation.”

Hagel’s spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, repeated that refrain Wednesday. “The President’s been very clear,” he told CNN. “There’s not going to be boots on the ground in a combat role.”

Deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes said Wednesday that U.S. troops might be put on the ground to help rescue Yezidi refugees stranded along the Sinjar mountain range in northern Iraq. “The role of U.S. forces is not one of re-entering combat on the ground,” Rhodes said. “In terms of the kinetic actions that are being taken” — bullets and missiles, in other words — “those are in the form of air strikes.”

But that assumes that if U.S. forces go into Iraq to help rescue the refugees, they’ll be calling the shots. Literally.

Unfortunately, the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, are eager to fight U.S. troops, Pentagon officials believe. Some are suicidal, and would like nothing more than to die in a firefight with U.S. soldiers or Marines.

There are limits to how much protection American troops on the ground can expect from U.S. warplanes and helicopter gunships above. And the nearer aircraft come to provide such firepower, the more vulnerable they become to whatever antiaircraft weapons ISIS has.

Whatever Obama decides, U.S. troops will be able to defend themselves. “Force protection is always a mission for U.S. personnel in any country in the world,” Rhodes said. What Obama has “ruled out is reintroducing U.S. forces into combat on the ground in Iraq.” In other words, if U.S. troops are sent into Iraq on a rescue mission, think of them as a football team that plays only defense.

TIME brazil

Death of Presidential Candidate Shocks Brazil

Brazilian presidential candidate killed in plane crash
Eduardo Campos, presidential candidate of the Brazilian Socialist Party, during an event in Brasília on Oct. 5, 2013 Fernando Bizerra Jr.—EPA

“The campaign has now gone into limbo”

Brazil was thrown into mourning Wednesday by the unexpected death of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash. The popular former governor of Pernambuco State in northeast Brazil’s was just 49 and his death threw October’s election wide open.

“The whole of Brazil is in mourning. Today we lost a great Brazilian,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said in a statement on the loss of her presidential rival — a former member of her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s left-wing Workers’ Party’s coalition government. Lula and Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) have run Brazil since winning in 2002.

Campos and six others were killed when the small Cessna plane they were traveling in from Rio de Janeiro to an event in Guarujá on the São Paulo state’s coast crashed in port town Santos after hitting bad weather, the Brazilian air force said in a statement.

His death sent shock waves throughout Brazil. Brazilians posted tributes on social media and the hashtag #RIPEduardoCampos was trending on Twitter.

“It is a huge loss for Brazil,” said André Singer, political scientist at the University of São Paulo and former press secretary for ex-President Lula. “Everyone is very shocked.”

Rousseff is currently leading the pack for re-election in October, with 38% according to the most recent poll. Campos, the candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) was in third place with 9% and seen as a “third way” politician with business credentials who believed in private investment but also invested in education and health.

Both Rousseff and Aécio Neves — the candidate for the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party, who, at 23%, was second in the recent poll — canceled campaigning Wednesday out of respect.

“The campaign has now gone into limbo,” says David Fleischer, professor of political science at the University of Brasília.

Campos first became a state deputy for the PSB in 1990. He won two terms as governor of Pernambuco state, in 2006 and 2010, presiding over an economic boom and major infrastructure projects. Under him, Pernambuco’s GPD grew an average of 4.9% from 2007 to 2013, compared with Brazil’s 3.5%, according to the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.

He was also heir to a political dynasty. His grandfather Miguel Arraes, who died on the same day in 2005, was a three-time governor of Pernambuco and was exiled during Brazil’s military dictatorship.

On Tuesday night, Campos was interviewed live on TV Globo’s nightly television news program Jornal Nacional. Now the expectation is that his running mate Marina Silva, a former Environment Minister who came in third in the 2010 election as Green Party candidate, will take his place. Silva had almost taken the same plane.

“I think she will be candidate. It is early to say what place she will occupy,” says Fernando Abrucio, a political scientist from the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. “In the northeast she won’t have the same votes,” Abrucio adds. “In the big urban centers she has more popular support than Campos.”

Abrucio says Silva is more likely to pick up the “protest” vote among young, more educated Brazilians who flooded onto the streets in mass demonstrations in June 2013. “A part could go to Marina, there is no doubt,” he says.

Campos had been wooing Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby, which distrusts Silva. “If she becomes the candidate, she is definitely going to insert the whole question of sustainability and the environment into the campaign,” Fleischer says.

Silva is an evangelical Christian, which helped her pick up almost 20 million votes in 2010. But this time Brazil’s expanding evangelical Christian population has its own candidate, Everaldo Dias Pereira, popularly known as Pastor Everaldo, currently in fourth place with 3%.

Abrucio says Campos’ main legacy is likely to be regional; his loss nationally will be felt more in what he could have achieved. “He was 49, he was not part of the generation that took part in the process of redemocratization in Brazil, like Lula and [former President] Fernando Henrique Cardoso,” he says. Two decades of military dictatorship ended in 1985.

“They did their job and we were starting a new cycle,” Abrucio adds. “He was a transitional politician.”

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