TIME Kazakhstan

Doctors Can’t Explain Why People in Kazakhstan Are Falling Asleep For Days

A town's residents will fall asleep suddenly for a period lasting from two to six days and wake up with memory loss

Two years since a mysterious sleeping disorder in Siberia picked up steam, doctors appear to be no closer to figuring out why residents of a remote area in Kazakhstan are falling asleep without warning for days at a time, according to reports from the Siberian Times.

The ailment has affected hundreds people living nearby a uranium mine in the Kazakh village of Kalachi. The town’s residents will fall asleep suddenly for a period lasting from two to six days and wake up with memory loss.

Experts have conducted thousands of tests on patients as well as on local soil and water to determine the cause of the disorder but have come to few conclusions, according to the Siberian Times. Despite the location, tests have not found high radiation levels.

Sergei Lukashenko, the director of Kazakhstan’s National Nuclear Centre’s Radiation Safety and Ecology Institute, told the Siberian Times that he is “positive this is not radon” and speculated that carbon monoxide may contribute to the problem.

“We have some suspicions as the village has a peculiar location and weather patterns frequently force chimney smoke to go down instead of up,” he said. Carbon monoxide is a key contaminant in smoke.

Many of the town’s residents have left the village and officials say that it will be closed off in May. A Russian professor investigating the ailment told Newsweek earlier this month that it could spread.

Read next: Heavy Rains Wreak Havoc in Northern Chile, One of the Driest Places on Earth

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TIME Aviation

Prosecutor Says Germanwings Co-Pilot Purposely Crashed Plane

New revelations about a deadly plane crash

(PARIS)—The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings jet barricaded himself in the cockpit and “intentionally” sent the plane full speed into a mountain in the French Alps, ignoring the pilot’s frantic pounding on the door and the screams of terror from passengers, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s “intention (was) to destroy this plane,” Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said, laying out the horrifying conclusions reached by French aviation investigators after listening to the last minutes of Tuesday’s Flight 9525.

The Airbus A320 was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf when it began to descend from cruising altitude of 38,000 feet after losing radio contact with air traffic controllers. All 150 on board died when the plane slammed into the mountain.

Robin said the pilot, who has not been identified, left the cockpit, presumably to go to the lavatory, and then was unable to regain access. In the meantime, Lubitz, a 28-year-old German, manually set the plane on the descent that drove it into the mountain.

Robin said the commander of the plane knocked several times “without response.” He said the door could only be blocked manually.

“The most plausible, the most probably, is that the co-pilot voluntarily refused to open the door of the cockpit for the captain and pressed the button for the descent,” Robin said.

He said the co-pilot’s responses, initially courteous in the first part of the trip, became “curt” when the captain began the mid-flight briefing on the planned landing.

The information was pulled from the black box cockpit voice recorder, but Robin said the co-pilot said nothing from the moment the commanding pilot left.

“It was absolute silence in the cockpit,” he said.

During the final minutes of the flight’s descent, pounding could be heard on the cockpit door as plane alarms sounded but the co-pilot’s breathing was normal the whole time, Robin said.

“It’s obvious this co-pilot took advantage of the commander’s absence. Could he have known he would leave? It is too early to say,” he said.

He said Lubitz had never been flagged as a terrorist and would not give details on his religion or ethnic background. German authorities were taking charge of the investigation into the co-pilot.

Robin said just before the plane hit the mountain, the sounds of passengers screaming could be heard on the audio.

“I think the victims realized just at the last moment,” he said.

The A320 is designed with safeguards to allow emergency entry if a pilot inside is unresponsive, but the override code known to the crew does not go into effect — and indeed goes into a lockdown — if the person inside the cockpit specifically denies entry, according to an Airbus training video and a pilot who has six years of experience with the jets.

Airlines in Europe are not required to have two people in the cockpit at all times, unlike the standard U.S. operating procedure after the 9/11 attacks changed to require a flight attendant to take the spot of a briefly departing pilot.

In the German town of Montabaur, acquaintances told The Associated Press that Lubitz appeared normal and happy when they saw him last fall as he renewed his glider pilot’s license.

“He was happy he had the job with Germanwings and he was doing well,” said a member of the glider club, Peter Ruecker, who watched Lubitz learn to fly. “He gave off a good feeling.”

News of how investigators thought the plane crashed shocked the families, the airlines and everyone who heard the chilling, blow-by-blow description from the prosecutor. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said the airline was already “appalled” by what happened.

“I could not have imagined that becoming even worse,” Spohr said in Cologne. “We choose our cockpit staff very, very carefully.”

The families of victims were briefed about the conclusions just ahead of the announcement.

“The victims deserve explanations from the prosecutor,” Robin said. “(But) they have having a hard time believing it.”

Robin said the second black box still had not been found but remains of victims and DNA identification have begun, he said.

Lubitz had obtained his glider pilot’s license as a teenager, and was accepted as a Lufthansa pilot trainee after finishing a tough German college preparatory school, Ruecker said. He described Lubitz as a “rather quiet” but friendly young man.

Lubitz’ recently deleted Facebook page appeared to show a smiling man in a dark brown jacket posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in California. The page was wiped sometime in the past two days.

Lufthansa said Lubitz joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly out of flight school, and had flown 630 hours. The captain had more than 6,000 hours of flying time and been a Germanwings pilot since May 2014, having previously flown for Lufthansa and Condor.

The circumstances of the crash are likely to raise questions anew about the possibility of suicidal pilots.

In the 1999 crash of an EgyptAir jet off Nantucket that killed all 217 people on board, U.S. investigators found the co-pilot intentionally caused the plane to go down despite the pilot’s efforts to regain control. Egyptian officials rejected the findings, saying the crash may have been caused by a mechanical failure.

TIME portfolio

Take a Walk Through the Streets of Cuba

TIME contract photographer Yuri Kozyrev takes us to Havana

Cuba has light. Cuba has shadow. Cuba has decaying colonial grandeur. But what really matters is that Cuba has Cubans. Almost any place in the Caribbean contains the strains of African, Spanish and Anglo tradition that come together on its largest island. But nowhere else do they come together to such effect. Maybe it’s the land—after the Revolution uprooted the capitalists half a century ago, tobacco growers packed up seeds on their way out to plant them in Central America, but it turned out it wasn’t the seeds that made a cigar Cuban. It was the soil of Pinar del Rio, on the island’s western reaches. Apparently there is no place on earth like it.

The people are like that, too: Lively, sensual, verbal—the fastest-talkers in the Americas, some say—they project optimism as well as pride. Their country is poor and, without doubt, a security state, but also safe, literate and healthy. People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.

The question, now that the island is poised to receive Americans in substantial numbers, is whether Cuba itself will change. U.S. flags have begun showing up around Havana. Immigration to the States has been allowed since 2013, and remittances—cash via Western Union—accounts for a substantial portion of the economy. If reaction to U.S. meddling in Cuba was a factor in the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, a half century of defiant separation has done its work. The walls have been lowering for a while, the estrangement subsiding.

At this point, Cubans say they are ready to engage again. Yuri Kozyrev, a TIME contract photographer, spent 10 days there over the New Year holiday. The surprise of the Dec. 17 announcement by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro was still fresh, and hope was in the air. The Communist icons appeared a bit more iconoclastic after the news of impending change, the fading slogans a bit more faded. But the essential appeal of the place remained—nowhere more so than in Havana.

“A city is made by people,” Eusebio Leal, the official in charge of restoring the Old City, once told TIME’s Dolly Mascaernas. At the time, money was beginning to pour into Havana’s colonial core, funding restorations that pushed residents into the streets (where they had always half-resided anyway, the charm of a walk through Old Havana being life spilling out of the buildings on either side). Leal said a lesson was learned, one relevant to a country on the cusp of change.

”Beautiful buildings need life,” he said. “There is nothing more lively than the people that live in them. Cubans love the center of Havana. It is full of life and it will continue to be like that. There is no point in lifeless beautiful buildings. That is not a city, it’s a museum.”

Karl Vick is a TIME correspondent based in New York. From 2010 to the autumn of 2014, he was the Jerusalem Bureau Chief.

Yuri Kozyrev is a TIME contract photographer represented by Noor.

TIME Yemen

Saudi Arabia Masses 150,000 Troops to Support Airstrikes in Yemen

An armed man walks on the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015.
Khaled Abdullah—Reuters An armed man walks on the rubble of houses destroyed by an air strike near Sanaa Airport March 26, 2015.

The conflict risks becoming a proxy war between Shiite Iran and Sunni Muslim states

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia has mobilized 150,000 troops and some 100 fighter jets to rout Iran-linked fighters that have taken over swathes of neighboring Yemen, a security adviser to the kingdom told NBC News on Thursday.

The adviser, Nawaf Obaid, did not say whether any of Saudi troops had crossed the border into Yemen as part of the kingdom’s military intervention to arrest Yemen’s rapidly deteriorating crisis. But he said Saudi Arabia was in “complete control” of Yemeni airspace after launching airstrikes overnight and started implementing a no-fly zone.

Iran quickly condemned the airstrikes launched by Saudi Arabia and its allies as “very dangerous” for the region.

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

TIME Yemen

Iran Calls Saudi Airstrikes in Yemen ‘Dangerous Step’

Yemeni Huthi fighters stand at the site of a Saudi air strike against rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015.
Mohammed Huwais—AFP/Getty Images Yemeni Huthi fighters stand at the site of a Saudi air strike against rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015.

The U.S. is coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes – although many other regional players are involved

SANAA, Yemen — Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes Thursday targeting military installations in Yemen held by Shiite rebels who were taking over a key port city in the country’s south and had driven the embattled president to flee by sea, security officials said. Some of the strikes hit positions in the country’s capital, Sanaa.

The airstrikes, which had the support of nine other countries, drew a strong reaction from Iran which called the operation an “invasion” and a “dangerous step” that will worsen the crisis in the country.

The back-and-forth between the regional heavyweights was threatening to turn impoverished Yemen into a proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News reported that the kingdom had deployed 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and other navy units.

The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, were calling on their supporters to protest in the streets of Sanaa on Thursday afternoon, Yemen’s Houthi-controlled state news agency SABA reported.

On Wednesday President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a close U.S. ally, fled Yemen by sea as the rebels started taking over the southern port city of Aden where he had taken refuge.

Saudi ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir announced the military operation in a news conference in Washington. He said his government had consulted closely with the U.S. and other allies but that the U.S. military was not involved in the operations.

The White House said in a statement late Wednesday that the U.S. was coordinating military and intelligence support with the Saudis but not taking part directly in the strikes.

Other regional players were involved in the Saudi operation: The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia in a statement published by the Saudi Press Agency, saying they would answer a request from Hadi “to protect Yemen and his dear people from the aggression of the Houthi militias which were and are still a tool in the hands of foreign powers that don’t stop meddling with the security and stability of brotherly Yemen.” Oman, the sixth member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, didn’t sign onto the statement.

Egypt also announced political and military support. “There is coordination ongoing now with Saudi Arabia and the brotherly gulf countries about preparations to participate with an Egyptian air and naval forces and ground troops if necessary,” it said in a statement carried by the state news agency.

Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan were also joining the operation, the Saudi Press Agency reported Thursday.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Houthis are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.

Security officials in Yemen said the Saudi airstrikes targeted a camp for U.S.-trained special forces, which is controlled by generals loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The officials said the targets included the missile base in Sanaa that was controlled by the Houthis earlier this year. One of the Yemeni security officials said the strikes also targeted the fuel depot at the base.

The Houthis said in a statement to reporters that Saudi jets hit the military base, known as al-Duleimi, and that they responded with anti-aircraft missiles.

Riad Yassin, Yemen’s foreign minister, told Saudi’s Al-Hadath TV that the airstrikes were welcomed.

“I hope the Houthis listen to the sound of reason. With what is happening, they forced us into this,” he said.

The crumbling of Hadi’s government is a blow to Washington’s counterterrorism strategy against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen, considered to be the most powerful in the terrorist network. Over the weekend, about 100 U.S. military advisers withdrew from the al-Annad air base where they had been leading a drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

Yemen now faces fragmentation, with Houthis controlling much of the north, including the capital of Sanaa, and several southern provinces. In recent days, they took the third-largest city, Taiz, as well as much of the province of Lahj, both just to the north of Aden.

The Houthis are backed by Saleh, the autocrat who ruled Yemen for three decades until he was removed amid a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Some of the best-equipped and trained military and security units remained loyal to Saleh and they have helped the Houthis in their rapid advance.

Hadi left Sanaa for Aden earlier this month after escaping house arrest under the Houthis, who overran the capital six months ago. In Aden, he had sought to make a last stand, claiming it as the temporary seat of what remained of his government, backed by allied militias and loyal army units.

With Houthis and Saleh forces closing in on multiple fronts, Hadi and his aides left Aden Wednesday on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, security and port officials told The Associated Press. The officials would not specify his destination.

TIME Iran

U.S. Nuclear Talks With Iran Enter Critical Round Ahead of Deadline

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wait with others ahead of a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne on March 26, 2015 during negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program.
Brendan Smialowski—Reuters U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wait with others ahead of a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne on March 26, 2015 during negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program.

U.S. officials say the March 31 deadline is still achievable

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran entered a critical phase on Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meeting his Iranian counterpart less than a week away from an end-of-month deadline to secure the outline of a deal.

With the clock ticking, Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and their teams huddled Thursday in the Swiss resort town of Lausanne on Lake Geneva trying to overcome still significant gaps after nearly two years of negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. The top diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are expected to join the talks if the U.S. and Iran are close to an agreement.

U.S. officials say the March 31 deadline is achievable but remains uncertain. En route to Switzerland with Kerry on Wednesday, one official said the American side “can see a path forward to get to agreement” by the end of March as the last round of talks produced more progress than many previous rounds. The official was not authorized to discuss the talks by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The pressure is high. The seven nations have set themselves a March 31 deadline for the outline of a final accord they hope to seal by the end of June. Both President Barack Obama and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have spoken against what would be a third extension of the talks.

And, looming over this round of talks are the crises in Yemen, where U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia, have launched air strikes against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels that toppled the government, and Iraq, where the U.S. is now providing air support to the Iraqi government’s Iranian-backed offensive to retake the city of Tikrit from Islamic State group militants.

At the opening session of Thursday’s talks neither Kerry nor Zarif responded to reporters’ questions about whether the situation in Yemen would be discussed.

Opponents of a nuclear deal, among them wary American allies in the Middle East and hardliners in Iran and in Congress, stand ready to complicate the process if negotiators cannot reach a breakthrough in the next six days. American lawmakers have threatened new sanctions on Iran as well as the establishment of a process which would allow them to vote down any final accord.

The United States and its partners are trying to get Iran to cut the number of centrifuges it uses to enrich uranium, material that can be used in warheads, and agree to other restrictions on what the Islamic Republic insists is a peaceful nuclear program.

Speaking Wednesday morning to U.S. ambassadors in Washington, Kerry assailed opponents of a deal.

“What happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan that the rest of the world were to deem to be reasonable?” Kerry asked. “Well, the talks would collapse. Iran would have the ability to go right back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want… And the sanctions will not hold.”

Kerry said the whole point of years of U.S. sanctions was to get Iran to agree to limits on its nuclear program. He said it was the Obama administration’s job to “provide an agreement that is as good as we said it will be; that will get the job done; that shuts off the four pathways to a nuclear weapon.”

The alternative to diplomacy could mean Iran is left to “just expand its program full-speed ahead,” Kerry said. “You know we can’t accept that. So where does that take you? Anybody standing up in opposition to this has an obligation to stand up and put a viable, realistic alternative on the table. And I have yet to see anybody do that.”

TIME Burma

Seventy Burmese Students, Activists Charged for Taking Part in ‘Illegal’ Rally

Burmese activist on March 21, 2015, at the bank of Innya Lake in Yangon, Burma.
Khin Maung Win—AP Burmese activist on March 21, 2015, at the bank of Innya Lake in Rangoon, Burma

They face up to six years in prison for protesting an education bill they saw as regressive

Dozens of protesting Burmese activists and students are facing jail time on charges of insulting civil servants and refusing to disperse at an illicit demonstration.

The 70 protesters face up to six years in jail after violence broke out during a march from Mandalay to Rangoon calling for educational reforms, reports the BBC.

Although it was technically illegal, authorities had let the rally pass until they reached the town of Letpadan. There, incensed by the presence of a police line, the group attempted to break through.

Scores of students were injured in the ensuing confrontation. In one photo, four police prepare to strike an unarmed, prone man with their batons.

The quasi-civilian government of Burma, officially now known as Myanmar, insists it is legitimately prosecuting participants in the mid-March protests. However, critics see the case as proof of the Southeast Asian nation’s lingering authoritarianism despite the much-lauded transition from junta rule.

“People’s expectations are high because we’re a country in transition, but you can’t fulfill everything in one term,” said Burmese President Thein Sein told the BBC.

More charges relating to the protests are expected in coming weeks.

[BBC]

TIME Chile

Heavy Rains Wreak Havoc in Northern Chile, One of the Driest Places on Earth

Residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile, March 25, 2015
Aton Chile—AP Residents watch the rising flood waters of the Copiapo River, in Copiapo, Chile, March 25, 2015

Officials order evacuation ahead of further storms

Heavy rains in the Andes sent flash floods through Chile’s Atacama desert Tuesday evening, leaving thousands without power or running water. The area is normally one of the driest in the world.

Overwhelmed by runoff, the river that runs through Copiapo, Atacama’s capital city, overflowed its banks with more rain predicted over the next 12 hours.

Authorities, fearful of mudslides, urged locals to seek safety elsewhere. Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo advised “anyone in an at-risk zone in the Atacama region” to evacuate, the BBC reports.

Northern coastal towns were hit especially hard. The government described the coastal town of Chañaral as in a “critical” state, while the Antofagasta and Coquimbo regions were affected seriously enough to warrant health alerts.

Military units were deployed in Copiapo to lend assistance, and President Michelle Bachelet rearranged her schedule in order to fly to the besieged city.

Along with causing widespread flooding, the rainstorms also washed out roads and disrupted communications. Local officials say 38,000 residents are without power and 48,000 are without potable water.

TIME Aviation

Airbus Safety Record in Spotlight After Germanwings Crash

Tuesday's crash is the latest in a string of incidents involving Airbus

Following the loss of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 in the French Alps on Tuesday, which claimed the lives of all 150 passengers and crew, attention has been drawn to the safety record of the plane’s manufacturer, Airbus.

The French aviation company manufactured both the A320 plane that crashed and a Lufthansa A321 plane that lost altitude over Spain last November. Experts say there are similarities between the two incidents, reports the Guardian.

Germanwings said the A320 plane started descending one minute after reaching its cruising height. It continued losing altitude for eight minutes but did not send out a Mayday call.

The A321 plane took a sudden plunge after its automated systems misinterpreted data from the plane’s sensors. In this instance, the faulty data activated the aircraft’s alpha-protection system, and when mixed with other technical information, sent the plane into a nosedive. The pilot was able to recover the dive and landed safely.

Later it was found that the aircraft’s sensors had frozen after takeoff, only defrosting when the plane was coming in to land in Munich.

Airbus subsequently issued a safety alert and changed the flight manuals for all of its A300 aircraft.

According to the Guardian, some experts believe pilots have become increasingly dependent on plane-operation systems as they become more sophisticated, leading to difficulties if a fault develops.

In a 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447, involving an Airbus A330 leaving Brazil for Paris, the aircraft’s sensors had frozen and were giving incorrect data. Pilots then misinterpreted the situation and the plane came down over the Atlantic, killing all 288 people on board.

French safety investigators still don’t know what caused the Germanwings plane to suddenly dive but are analyzing the black box recovered from the crash site.

The operator said the downed aircraft was fit to fly after having maintenance work the day before.

Airbus has logged millions of incident-free hours in the air every year and manufactures some of the most popular aircraft used today.

[Guardian]

TIME Vietnam

Scaffolding Collapse Claims 14 Lives at a Vietnamese Port

Vietnam Scaffolding Collapse
Cong Tuong—AP Rescuers work through the rubble trying to find survivors after scaffolding collapsed in an economic zone in Ha Tinh province in central Vietnam on March 25, 2015

The workers were reportedly employed by a sub-contractor of Samsung

At least 14 workers were killed and 30 wounded in Vietnam Wednesday night when scaffolding collapsed at a seaport project in the Vung Ang economic zone of Ha Tinh province.

Provincial People’s Committee Deputy Chairman Dang Quoc Khanh announced on national television that many of the injured had been hospitalized. Authorities were working to uncover two bodies still buried within the debris, Reuters reports.

Phan Tran De, deputy chief of the zone’s managing authority, told local media that thousands of workers were on the construction site and casualty numbers may rise.

The seaport was being built on the grounds of a complex owned by the Formosa Group, a Taiwanese company. The government-owned Thanh Nien newspaper reported that the hurt workers, all of whom were Vietnamese, were sub-contracted from a branch of South Korea’s Samsung Group.

Vung Ang hit the headlines last year when riots erupted targeting Chinese workers.

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