TIME Japan

In Japan, New Okinawa Governor Pledges to Shut Controversial U.S. Air Base

JAPAN-US-POLITICS-MILITARY-POLLS
Former Naha mayor Takeshi Onaga speaks to reporters after winning the Okinawa gubernatorial election on Nov. 16, 2014, in Naha, the capital of Japan's Okinawa prefecture Jiji Press—AFP/Getty Images

Defeated governor Hirokazu Nakaima was elected on a promise to get rid of the Futenma air base but then changed his mind

The controversial proposal to relocate a U.S. military base on Japan’s Okinawa prefecture was dealt a blow Monday when an outspoken opponent of the plan was elected as the island chain’s new governor.

Takeshi Onaga won Sunday’s gubernatorial polls in a landslide and wants to get rid of Futenma air base altogether. Defeated incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima had agreed for it to move to a new location in the island’s north despite widespread public opposition.

“The governor’s decision in December of last year to endorse [the current government relocation plan] was proven wrong when I won this election,” said Onaga, reports the BBC.

The election result may prove a setback for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who has pushed for stronger military ties with the U.S.

The U.S. military has been present in Japan since the end of World War II and currently boasts around 26,000 troops and several bases around the East Asian nation. But the 1995 gang rape of a 12-year-old girl by U.S. troops largely turned public opinion against the ongoing presence of American soldiers.

TIME Netherlands

Dutch Blackface Tradition Sparks Festive Fury and 90 Arrests

Netherlands Belgium Black Pete
Police detain an anti–Black Pete demonstrator as St. Nicholas arrived in the Dutch city of Gouda on Nov. 15, 2014 Peter Dejong—AP

Revelers donning blackface, Afro wigs and red lips clash with antiracist protesters

A pre-Christmas children’s gathering in the Netherlands, held to celebrate the arrival of St. Nicholas, was broken up by clashes Saturday after demonstrators objected to a blackface character named Black Pete.

At least 90 people were arrested in the cheesemaking town of Gouda, the Associated Press (AP) reports, after scuffles broke out between traditionalists who claim there is no racist intention behind the Black Pete character and protesters who say Black Pete has no place in the modern Netherlands.

Part of the yuletide folklore of the Netherlands and Belgium, Black Pete character is a sidekick to St. Nicholas, carrying presents and giving out candy to children. Revelers who dress up as the character are almost always white. As well as blackening their faces, they wear frizzy Afro wigs and give themselves red lips.

The introduction of supposedly more diverse versions of the character this year — a yellow “Cheese Pete” (representing Gouda’s most famous product), a light brown “Stroopwafel Pete” (named for a Dutch biscuit) and a white-faced “Clown Pete” — failed to placate demonstrators.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told local media the clashes made him “deeply, deeply sad.” He said, “Everybody can debate one another, we can endlessly discuss the color of Black Pete, but we should not disturb a children’s party in this way.”

However, like many Dutch and Belgian liberals, Wouter Van Bellingen, a black Flemish politician, believes the character is an anachronism. “As a majority you have to be sensitive and show empathy for things that are hurtful to a minority,” he told AP.

 

TIME Japan

Japan Sinks Into Recession (Again)

A man holding a shopping bag walks on a street at Tokyo's Ginza shopping district
A man holding a shopping bag walks on a street at Tokyo's Ginza shopping district on Nov. 16, 2014 Yuya Shino—Reuters

An unexpected contraction in quarterly GDP shows that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s radical economic program is badly broken

If anyone is still holding out hope that Abenomics — the unorthodox slate of economic policies named after their inspiration, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — could rescue Japan from its two-decade slump, the news on Monday should dash it. The troubled economy surprised analysts by (once again) tumbling into recession. GDP in the quarter ended September shrank by an annualized 1.6% — far, far worse than the consensus forecasts. That followed a disastrous 7.3% contraction in the previous quarter. Speculation in Japan is that the bad results will push Abe to call a snap election only two years after taking office.

What’s going on in Japan is important for all of us. Since the economy is still the world’s third largest (after the U.S. and China), a healthy Japan could provide a much needed pillar to growth in a struggling global economy.

The current downturn is being blamed on a hike in the consumption tax, implemented in April to try to stabilize the government’s feeble finances, which slammed consumer spending. It is now expected that Abe will delay a further increase in that tax scheduled for next October. But the real causes lie much deeper — in the failings of Abe’s economic agenda.

The idea behind Abenomics was to boost the economy with massive stimulus from the Bank of Japan (BOJ) and the government combined with structural reform of the economy, or what has been called the third arrow. The problem is that we got the first two arrows, but not the third. While the BOJ kept its printing presses rolling, dramatically weakening the value of the yen, badly needed deregulation and market-opening has come extremely slowly. Some critical changes, like a loosening of labor laws, seem to be off the menu entirely. The result is that the actual potential of the economy has not been enhanced. Meanwhile, the welfare of the average Japanese family hasn’t improved either. Wages haven’t advanced much, while prices have increased.

If Japan’s situation proves anything, it is the limits of central bank policy to fix economies. Despite a torrent of cash infused into the economy through the BOJ’s “quantitative easing” or QE, Japan’s economy remains mired in slow growth and stagnant household welfare. That’s why it is hard to imagine that the BOJ’s October decision to increase its QE program will make a major difference. So that’s the takeaway for policymakers in the U.S. and especially a stumbling Europe: If you’re going to rely too much on central bankers to revive growth, you’re going to fail.

The question facing Abe is whether he can press ahead more quickly with important reforms, either in his current administration or after a fresh election, which his party will still mostly likely win. Based on his recent track record, we don’t have reason to be confident. But maybe one day Japan will give us a surprise — in a good way.

Read next: It May Be Too Late for Japan’s PM to Fix the World’s Third Largest Economy

TIME China

China Stock-Market Link Shows Promise and Frustration of Beijing’s Reforms

A banner introducing the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect is displayed in front of a panel showing the closing blue-chip Hang Seng Index at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in Hong Kong
A banner introducing the Shanghai–Hong Kong Stock Connect is displayed in front of a panel showing the closing blue-chip Hang Seng Index at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in Hong Kong on Nov. 10, 2014 Bobby Yip—Reuters

The new connection between the exchanges in Shanghai and Hong Kong is another small step toward prying open China’s financial system to the world

When Great Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, it did so under the formula of “one country, two systems.” Though officially controlled by Beijing, Hong Kong maintained a separate governing, legal and financial system from the mainland. Starting Monday, however, the relationship is changing to something more like “one country, two a-bit-more-connected systems.”

That’s because of Shanghai–Hong Kong Stock Connect, a pilot program that is linking the stock exchanges of the two metropolises together. For the first time, investors in Hong Kong and China will be able to directly trade shares on each other’s stock markets.

This may sound like an arcane event in the heady world of global finance, of interest only to a few local traders. But it’s not. Even though China is the world’s second largest economy, its financial system and capital markets remain fairly closed off. Controls limit flows of money in and out of the country, while foreign investors can buy Chinese shares only on a highly restricted basis. The Connect program is a step in a much bigger process with much bigger implications for the global economy — opening China up to international finance and upgrading its financial markets. The Stock Connect scheme “should increase the scale and relevance of these markets and also improve market efficiency and the robustness of China’s financial system in general,” HSBC equity strategists noted in a recent report. “We also believe the co-operation between Hong Kong and Shanghai shows the way forward for other markets in China — i.e. a coordinated and controlled approach to opening markets.”

If Beijing continues to reform its financial system — as its top leaders have pledged — the consequences could be huge. Already a titan in manufacturing, a China with a more open, professional and market-oriented financial sector could also become a major player in international banking and other services. Just as newly wealthy Chinese shoppers are reshaping global consumer markets, Chinese investors, once able to more freely take their money out of the country, would become much more important on the world stage too. HSBC, in its report, pointed out that if the Hong Kong exchange was integrated with China’s bourses (in Shanghai and Shenzhen), it would be the second largest stock market in the world, based on the combined value of their listed companies.

That is, of course, in theory only. China never employs the big-bang strategy when it comes to reform, and the Connect program is no different. At the start, the amount of money flowing through the scheme in either direction has been capped, to about $49 billion into China and $41 billion into Hong Kong. That may sound like a lot, but in fact, each figure is the equivalent of only 1% of the total capitalization of the markets in China and Hong Kong. Many investors may dither on the sidelines for the moment since there is some remaining uncertainty over how the scheme will actually operate.

Most analysts also doubt the scheme will be expanded quickly. “The Connect scheme has the potential over the medium term to become an important conduit for flows into and out of China,” commented Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at research firm Capital Economics. However, “most likely, the Connect scheme will be scaled up only slowly. And it has been devised so that flows will be monitored and could be curtailed if they threatened market or economic instability.”

So like much of China’s recent reform efforts, the promise of what could be and the reality of what actually is differ greatly. On a certain level, that makes sense. If China threw its unsophisticated and ill-prepared financial system to the trials of global money flows, disaster could result. At the same time, Beijing’s policymakers introduce change in such tiny steps it’s hard to tell when they might actually get somewhere.

TIME Afghanistan

Female Afghan Lawmaker Survives Apparent Assassination Attempt

Afghanistan
Afghan security forces carry the body of a civilian after a suicide attack in Kabul that targeted Shukria Barazkai, a prominent female member of Afghanistan's parliament, Nov. 16, 2014. Rahmat Gul—AP

Shukria Barakzai suffered only "small injuries" after a bomb blast

A prominent female member of Afghanistan’s parliament survived what appeared to be a assassination attempt in Kabul on Sunday, authorities said.

At least three people were killed and 22 injured in a bomb blast targeting the car of lawmaker and vocal Taliban critic Shukria Barakzai, the Los Angeles Times reports.

She suffered “small injuries” after a suicide bomber tried to crash his car into her armored vehicle before detonation, said Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

Sediqqi also dismissed reports that Barakzai’s daughter, who frequently travels with her, was killed in the attack.

A Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack, and no other group has claimed the bombing as their own.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the attack was an act of terrorism and called for an investigation. Women make up approximately one-quarter of Afghanistan’s parliament.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME Ukraine

Video of MH17 Crash Emerges as Officials Begin Clearing Debris

The footage shows villagers' immediate reaction to the crash

New video footage taken moments after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine has emerged as investigators begin clearing the crash site debris.

The clip, obtained by the Associated Press four months after the flight was downed in July, shows how close the crash came to hitting a village. Ukraine says Russian-supported rebels in the eastern part of the country shot down the plane, while state-run Russian media says it has evidence that indicate Ukraine’s air force was responsible. All 298 people aboard the flight were killed.

Dutch officials and authorities from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are transporting debris from the site to the city of Kharkiv, which, along with the Netherlands, is one site where the investigation is still being conducted.

[AP]

TIME isis

White House Confirms Latest ISIS Beheading

Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig ISIS Islamic State
Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig is pictured making a food delivery to refugees in Lebanonís Bekaa Valley in this May 2013 handout photo. Reuters

President Barack Obama confirmed the news

President Barack Obama on Sunday confirmed the murder of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig by militant extremist group ISIS.

A former U.S. Army Ranger, 26-year-old Kassig was working as a medical aid to Syrians escaping civil war when he was captured in Syria in October of last year, the Associated Press reports. He converted to Islam in captivity and went by the name Abdul-Rahman.

“Abdul-Rahman was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity,” Obama said in a statement. “Like Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff before him, his life and deeds stand in stark contrast to everything that [ISIS] represents. While [ISIS] revels in the slaughter of innocents, including Muslims, and is bent only on sowing death and destruction, Abdul-Rahman was a humanitarian who worked to save the lives of Syrians injured and dispossessed by the Syrian conflict.”

The 16-minute video, which claims the execution took place in the Syrian town of Dabiq, also showed the beheadings of several Syrian soldiers.

“[ISIS]‘s actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own,” Obama said in his statement.

The video, posted to websites previously used by the group, warns the U.S. to cease its airstrike campaign in Iraq and Syria, which the U.S. began earlier this year in order to halt the group’s expansion.

“There can be no greater contrast than that between Abdul-Rahman’s generosity of spirit and the pernicious evil of [ISIS],” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “During his time in captivity, his family, and the entire government, including his home state Senator Joe Donnelly, worked to avoid this tragic outcome. His mother’s searing plea directed to his captors is unforgettable. The fact that her appeal went unheeded is only further testament to the wicked inhumanity of the [ISIS] terrorists who have taken her son from her.”

In a statement released by the Pentagon late on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel saluted Kassig’s relentless dedication to serving others — first as a ranger and then later as an aid worker — during his short life.

“As we join his loved ones in mourning his loss, we also celebrate his service,” said Hagel. “And we celebrate his commitment – a lifetime commitment to, as he said, ‘stand beside those who might need a helping hand.’”

Read next: An Army Ranger Helps Syrian Refugees

TIME russia

Russia to Create Its Own ‘Alternative Wikipedia’

Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to journalist Hubert Seipel of the German TV channel ARD on Nov. 13, 2014 in Russia.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives an interview to journalist Hubert Seipel of the German TV channel ARD on Nov. 13, 2014 in Russia. Klimentyev Mikhail—Corbis

Putin has previously called the Internet a "CIA Special project"

Russia will create its own version of Wikipedia in order to give people access to “detailed and reliable” information, Russia’s presidential library announced Friday.

“Analysis of this resource showed that it is not capable of providing information about the region and life of the country in a detailed or sufficient way,” the library said, Reuters reports.

The creation of an “alternative” has already begun, using more than 50,000 books from 27 libraries, according to the announcement. It is unclear if access to the original Wikipedia will be affected or how freely citizens will be able to edit the pages.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously called the Internet a “CIA Special project.” Russian authorities have had the power to block access to websites without a court order since February, and two of the first websites banned were pages critical of the government.

[Reuters]

TIME Terrorism

Graphic ISIS Video Claims US Aid Worker Beheaded

Peter Kassig in front of a truck somewhere along the Syrian border between late 2012 and autumn 2013 as Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA) was delivering supplies to refugees before the American aid worker was held captive by Islamic State jihadists.
Peter Kassig in front of a truck somewhere along the Syrian border between late 2012 and autumn 2013 as Special Emergency Response and Assistance (SERA) was delivering supplies to refugees before the American aid worker was held captive by Islamic State jihadists. AFP/Getty Images

(BEIRUT) — The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria released a graphic video on Sunday in which a black-clad militant claimed to have beheaded U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig, who was captured last year.

The militant was standing over a severed head, but it was not immediately possible to confirm that it was Kassig, 26, who was pictured in the video. U.S. officials said they were working to determine the video’s authenticity and the Kassig family said it was awaiting the outcome of the investigation.

The video, which was posted on websites used by the group in the past, appeared to be the latest in a series of blood-soaked messages to the U.S. warning of further brutality if it does not abandon its air campaign in Iraq and Syria.

“This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen, of your country; Peter who fought against the Muslims in Iraq, while serving as a soldier,” the militant says near the end of the nearly 16-minute video. He speaks in an audible British accent despite his voice being distorted to make it more difficult to identify him.

The video identifies the militant’s location as Dabiq, a small town in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, near the Turkish border.

The video also shows what appears to be the mass beheading of several Syrian soldiers captured by the group. The militants warn that U.S. soldiers will meet a similar fate.

“We say to you, Obama…you claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago,” the militant said. “Here you are: you have not withdrawn. Rather, you hid some of your forces behind your proxies,” he said, apparently referring to Western-backed Syrian rebels, Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi military.

“Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.”

Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger, was providing medical aid to Syrians fleeing the civil war when he was captured inside Syria on Oct. 1, 2013. His friends say he converted to Islam in captivity and took the first name Abdul-Rahman.

Previous videos have shown the beheading of two American journalists and two British aid workers. The latest video did not show the person identified as Kassig being beheaded. Unlike previous videos, it did not show other Western captives or directly threaten to behead anyone else.

The group also holds British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has been shown in several videos delivering long statements in English on the group’s behalf, perhaps under duress.

Kassig’s family said in a statement they were aware of the reports of the video and were awaiting confirmation from the U.S. government.

“The family respectfully asks that the news media avoid playing into the hostage takers’ hands and refrain from publishing or broadcasting photographs or video distributed by the hostage takers,” they said.

“We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family, not in the manner the hostage takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause.”

The White House said the U.S. intelligence community was working to determine the authenticity of the video. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that if the video is authentic, the White House would be “appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American.”

The White House expressed its deepest condolences to Kassig’s family and friends, Meehan said.

The video emerged just minutes after President Barack Obama departed Australia for the U.S. The president was in Australia for the Group of 20 economic summit.

Kassig formed the aid organization Special Emergency Response and Assistance, or SERA, in Turkey to provide aid and assistance to Syrian refugees. He began delivering food and medical supplies to Syrian refugee camps in 2012 and is also a trained medical assistant who provided trauma care to wounded Syrian civilians. His friends say he helped train 150 civilians in providing medical aid.

ISIS has beheaded and shot dead hundreds of captives — mainly Syrian and Iraqi soldiers — during its sweep across the two countries, and has celebrated its mass killings in a series of slickly produced, extremely graphic videos.

The group has declared an Islamic caliphate in the areas under its control in Syria and Iraq, which it governs according to an extremely violent interpretation of Shariah law.

The U.S. began launching air strikes in Iraq and Syria earlier this year in a bid to halt the group’s rapid advance and eventually degrade and destroy it.

The fight against the militant group adds another layer to Syria’s complex civil war, now in its fourth year, which began as an uprising against President Bashar Assad.

ISIS emerged from the remains of al-Qaeda in Iraq and spread to Syria, where it battled both government forces and rebel groups as it carved out its self-styled Islamic state.

In June the group swept into northern Iraq, capturing about a third of the country, including the second largest city Mosul, and eventually prompting the U.S. to resume military operations in the country less than three years after withdrawing. In September the U.S. expanded the air campaign to Syria.

TIME

Suspect in Paris Synagogue Bombing Extradited to France

Hassan Diab
Hassan Diab, the Ottawa professor who has been ordered extradited to France by the Canadian government, listens to his lawyer speak at a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, April 13, 2012. Patrick Doyle—AP

Canadian university professor Hassan Diab arrived in France Saturday

A Canadian university professor has been extradited to France and charged with first-degree murder for his alleged role in a deadly 1980 bombing outside a synagogue in Paris.

Hassan Diab landed at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris on Saturday morning, the BBC reports, and was transferred to a Paris courthouse to face charges.

Diab, who was born in Lebanon, is the main suspect in the 1980 Rue Copernic bombing which killed four people and injured dozens. Diab fought for six years to remain in Canada until the Canadian Supreme Court approved his extradition on Thursday.

The 60-year-old sociology professor said his failed bid was “a very sad day for me, my family and supporters, and the state of extradition law in Canada.”

Diab will be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the French embassy in Ottawa said.

[BBC]

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